Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Carvings

by Kerri Leigh Grady

Maggie ran her hand over the smooth wood of the bed frame. Her dry eyes fought to focus on the beautiful carvings John had spent hours creating. This was her favorite gift, her favorite belonging, and now she would leave it behind.

“Margaret, it is time.”

Maggie closed her eyes against the harsh sound of her mother’s old voice. She dragged one finger across a swirl in the carving, memorizing the texture, the smell, and the color of the wood. The hay mattresses had never been worthy of this bed. Not even goose down would have been worthy. She turned to face the bedroom door. Her mother stood there, the skirts of her ornate dress disappearing behind the sides of the door frame. She had jammed her hands inside a furry muff. Her lips puckered in disdain.

Mother had not wanted Maggie to marry John, in spite of his family’s wealth. Her only daughter deserved an older family, her mother always said. And now Mother had her wish. Maggie was no
longer a married woman. She had whispered a prayer last night to God, asking him to care for John and thanking him for making her barren. She simply could not bear a reminder of the love God took
from her.

“Well? Quit your dawdling, child. The carriage is waiting.”

“I’ll be there directly.”

Her mother jerked her chin, turned with a swish of her massive skirts, and left. Maggie listened to the click of her shoes against the wooden floors and pretended for a moment the noise was bolder – the sound of John's boots.



She would miss this house and the memories within. She would dearly miss this bedroom where John had proved her mother wrong about men in beds. She smiled to herself. Indeed, her mother had denied herself a grand part of life. Maggie knew, as she traced the bed post one last time, that she would miss much more than she had ever considered.

She whispered another prayer, this time asking that the new owner of her beautiful home would create more loving memories. And with a last word to the spirit of her dead husband, Maggie walked down the front steps, into the waiting carriage.

The cold, dry air took her tears before she could shed them. And as the carriage rumbled down the hardened streets and around the corner, Maggie could almost hear the house sigh its goodbye.

* * *

“It’s a very old house,” the real estate agent said. Her nose had turned red as the cold air chafed against every exposed bit of skin. “But it’s in great condition. You’ll just love it. Nobody ever turned it into apartments, so everything’s just about like it was when it was built.”

Amanda looked up at the old Colonial-style house with its block features and stark face. She had specifically requested Victorians only and was about to say as much to the agent, but something stopped her. As if the house itself beckoned to her, she walked up the steps towards it.

“It’s really beautiful, isn’t it? Has personality, I like to say.” The agent – Patsy? Paula? – watched Amanda from behind her sixteen layers of clothes.

“Yes, personality is a good word. What do you think, Jake?” She turned to find her missing husband. He leaned against the agent's car, a map of Newport in hand.

“Yeah, it’s great. Looks just like the last one.”

The agent shook her head, but it only resulted in moving her jacket, earmuffs, and scarf about her.

“No, the last one was Victorian. Very different, Jake.”

Jake smiled. “They all look like houses to me. Find the warmest one, and we’ll take it.”

“Shall we see the inside?” the woman asked and led the way to the door. After playing with the frozen lock, she finally swung the heavy oak door open and stepped inside.

Amanda followed her and immediately felt as if she had stepped into another world. The old style of the house captivated her, made her feel as if she were one of the hoop-skirted women of yore. She reached for a fan she fancied would be around her wrist and grasped only air.

“Lovely, isn’t it?” the agent asked.

“When was this house built, Paula?” Jake asked. No doubt he was considering the repairs that would need to be done.

“Oh, I think the owner said during the 1760s. It’s pretty old, but like I said, it’s been taken care of. The plumbing is all modern, of course. The heat is gas, so winters won’t run you so high. And the
fireplaces work, too, which is a miracle up here with the fire marshal so stingy.”

“I’m sure it’s for the best. These houses are really close to each other.” Amanda looked at the sloping wooden floors.

“Yeah, that’s the sign of being in a really old house, there.” Paula laughed with a little snort. “My floors are like that, too, but it doesn’t matter too much. The furniture will still work all right.”

Amanda nodded and followed Paula around the first and second floors of the house. It was well-kept to be sure. Someone had worked very hard to restore this place recently. And the house definitely had character. The walls whispered tales of joy and woe, and the floors creaked their satisfaction at being used again.

She wanted this house.

Jake caught up with her in the master bedroom and kissed her cheek. “What do you think?”

“You just want to get this house hunt over with,” she said with a small grin.

“You know me so well. I like it. There’s work to be done, but it’s not so bad. I can convert the carriage house into an office so we don’t have clients coming through here all day.”

“There’s a carriage house?” she asked.

“Of course.” Jake smiled and looked around the room. “It’s a good house. I could definitely get used to it.”

“Can we afford it?”

“Yes, my beautiful bride.” He turned her, swept her into a low dip, and kissed her nose. “We most certainly can.”

“Ohhh!” Paula’s nasally voice filled the room. “I can definitely tell you’re newlyweds. Don’t worry, kids. You’ll outgrow it.” She snorted again as Jake righted Amanda. “So does the search end here or should we see another?”

Jake looked at Amanda. “Your call.”

Amanda smiled and kissed her wonderful husband. “We’ll take it.”

A month later, Amanda had no regrets. New furniture arrived for the living room, beautiful braided rugs warmed the floors of the dining room and smaller bedrooms. The only room still without
furniture was the master bedroom. Nothing they had seen looked right for the house, nothing fit into the Colonial style she wanted to create.

She frequented the small antique shops along Thames Street and even down the narrow back streets. Still, nothing worked. Jake’s complaints about sleeping on the floor grew more vehement every morning as he woke with a new pain.

“I’m just fine, Jake. I don’t know why you’re in so much pain,” she’d said that morning.

“We’re sleeping on a hardwood floor, hon. I don’t know how you do it."

“Get off it, you big wuss. There’s a brand new mattress between you and the floor.”

“How are we supposed to start making babies when it's this cold?”

Amanda felt she needed to do something. Even if they hadn't planned to start a family, the cold air pooling on the floor made decent sleep less attainable. She could see he was on the brink of losing his cool, and so was she. But she couldn’t do anything for now. A new snow storm was headed their way, and she didn’t feel like learning to drive the precarious roads to Warwick. She'd just have to hold out a few more days.

Amanda walked the entire first floor looking for the door to the cellar she knew had to exist, but she couldn’t find it. The huge barn-like doors built into the ground outside were crusted with ice, and it would take a chisel, a blowtorch, and seven body builders to get it open. Exploration wasn't enough justification for that much effort.

When Amanda couldn’t find the entrance, she gave up the search and moved to the second floor to get to the attic. She had found that door the day after they’d moved into the house, but she’d saved her
investigation for a rainy, or rather snowy, day. The old door hadn’t been used recently. The wood had warped to the frame and didn’t want to release its hold. But Amanda’s impatience won over the door’s impertinence, and it finally gave with a loud whump.

She couldn’t find a light switch and ended up scouring the closets for a flashlight. By the time she made it back to the open stairwell to the attic, she found she’d need an extra layer of clothing to be able to stand the drafts. So she pulled a jacket from her bedroom and headed upstairs.

At first, she couldn’t make sense of her surroundings with only hard angles and smooth edges
showing up in the beam of her flashlight.

Gradually, however, her eyes adjusted to the dark room, and a dangling string caught her attention. She yanked it, and the attic came to life with yellow light.

“Junk,” she said with a grin. Old junk, and lots of it. She maneuvered to a corner of the surprisingly dry attic and rummaged through the pile of old boxes, Christmas decorations, and broken toys. At the bottom of the pile she found an old wooden trunk, and with a little work, it opened.

Papers filled the trunk, papers so old, she was afraid to touch them. The ink was faded and the handwriting difficult to decipher. Amanda closed the lid and moved to another pile.

An hour later, she found the bed. Its wooden frame had cracked in some spots, and dust encased the whole thing. Someone had pulled a piece of plastic over it, but the bed had probably already been damaged. She touched the headboard gently and imagined she could feel the spirit of a woman during another time touching it the same way.

“It’s perfect,” she said. She traced the carving on the headboard with her fingertip, and the warm sensation of something very close to deja vu filled her. This bed had stories to tell, just as the walls of this house did.

Amanda raced downstairs, thumbed through the thin yellow pages, and found the name of a man in Jamestown who could come to look at her newest discovery. If she could have it refinished …
Jake sighed late that afternoon when Amanda insisted he come see what she’d found, but he trudged up the steps behind her anyway.

“Thank God! A bed.” He squinted at her with a wry smile. “And what a coincidence that you found it in our very own house. You were hiding this from me, weren’t you?”

Amanda shook her head. “I didn’t know anything was up here at all.”

“So when do we get to sleep in it?”

“I called a man to come see about it. He said he’d be here tomorrow after the storm passed. But what do you think? Do you like it?”

“It’s a bed, isn’t it?”

The next day, Harold Smith of Jamestown whistled between his teeth. “She’s an old one.” He patted the wood with his callused hands. “But in great shape. Amazing, really. I can have her fixed up for you in about a week,” he said.

“I’ll give you a hundred dollars more to have it done sooner,” Jake said.

“Deal.”

By the following Tuesday, Amanda had the bed set up in the bedroom. The mattress didn’t quite fit, but she was sure Jake wouldn’t notice. After she’d found the bed, she had taken another tour of the old antique shops and purchased dressers and tables to fill the rest of the huge bedroom.

That night would be special. She threw a quilt over the plain white sheets and marveled at the job Mr. Smith had done. If the bed could have been made any more beautiful, he’d certainly have found a way to do it. The wood shone as if it had just been built.

Amanda sat at the edge of the mattress and stared. Jake wouldn’t care so much about the beauty of the bed, wouldn’t sit with his ear next to the headboard, waiting to hear it whisper its tales. He wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the other flat furniture and this wonderful creation.

But she would know.

A soft smell filled the room, a smell of sadness. As if someone had cried herself dry and cleaned her soul with her sorrow. Amanda let her imagination flow with this scent, but it faded before she could form a picture in her mind of the bed's previous owner. She smiled at her ridiculous thought. Must be the chemicals Mr. Smith had used to restore the wood. Maybe she needed some fresh air.

By that evening, Amanda forgot the dizzying moment on the bed and lost herself in the domestic festivities. They dined on all of Amanda's favorite food and toasted their completed home with wine. After they watched a movie, they retired to their new bed to start a family.

Later, as Jake held Amanda in his warm arms, she offered a silent prayer to God. She prayed that He would keep them safe and happy in their beautiful home and grace them with many children.
Her eyes closed, and as sleep edged closer to her mind, she could swear she heard a woman’s contented sigh.




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2 comments:

Theresa said...

Aww. Sweet story, KL. You have a beautiful way of stringing words together kiddo.

Donnell said...

KL, what a beautiful story! I want that house, AND that bed. Well done!