Wait in Peace

The dark brick home stood at the end of the long driveway. Elizabeth felt the home watching her when she debarked from her bus, but that was silly. It was just a home for lost children.

She picked up her bags and walked to the front door where a woman in a black silk dress stood waiting.

“You must be Elizabeth Chase. I’m Mrs. Worthington. I oversee the place. I’ll show you to your room. Then you can meet the children.”

Her room, located in one of the turrets, had large windows and comfortable padded window seats. The wallpaper was faded, but the pattern of blue birds on a cream background was lovely. Blue had always been her favorite color. She looked over the fields and woods, and Elizabeth saw a small stream bordered by weeping willows. Charming, she thought. Really, it was lovely here, a good place to start over after Robert. The accident. She remembered so little about the accident, but she knew she had to start her life again, to press on without him. Elizabeth took a deep breath. She would put herself back together in this place. Indeed it seemed almost a haven.

Mrs. Worthington said. “If you come along, classes will be ending, and you may meet the children.”

Elizabeth heard the lilt of children’s voices when she walked downstairs and saw children in their formal uniforms crowding the halls. It wasn’t quite what she expected. She supposed she had been warped by tales of orphans from Oliver Twist or the girls in Jane Eyre. These children looked well fed and clean, but she supposed the watchful Mrs. Worthington would allow for nothing less.

A small girl with round dark eyes saw Elizabeth. She stopped and gave her a solemn smile. “You’re the new night nurse.”

Elizabeth nodded. “I am Ms. Chase. And who are you?”

“Oh, we don’t have names here. I’m number 57.”

Elizabeth looked at her in horrified puzzlement. “Why on earth wouldn’t you have names?”

The girl took Elizabeth’s hand, her face sympathetic. “You don’t know, do you? You see, once you come, you leave all that behind.”

“But I don’t understand.”

The girl sighed as if she were a very slow classmate. “Once you come, you never leave.”

Elizabeth felt her hand go to her throat. “I was hired to replace the night nurse. She must have left.”

“Well, yes. They let her go beyond the willows.”

“What does that mean?”

“This is just a waiting station. Eventually we all go beyond the willows. I’m in 57th place. That’s why my name is 57. I think it has to do with when they find your body.”

“But I can’t  . . .” Elizabeth closed her eyes, remembering the shriek of tearing metal and the roar of wind, the expanse of wide gray ocean below.

“My father buried me in our basement,” the girl said.

“No,” Elizabeth said. She could feel herself trembling. “They’ll never find me.”

“They will eventually. In any case, you’ll get used to it. I’ll even call you by your name, like we do Mrs. Worthington and all the other teachers. Adults have a harder time, accepting that is. The rest of us, well, most of us come from places we’d rather forget. It’s peaceful here. You’ll see. Mrs. Graystone, she was the old night nurse, was very sad to move on, but they say it’s even better beyond the willows.”

“But there must be some mistake. I came on the bus.”

“The purple bus. It only comes here. Mr. Worthington drives it. He’s the only one allowed off the property, and he has to stay in the bus. But I bet you don’t remember the train down.”

Elizabeth tried very hard to think of what came before the bus ride, but all she could remember was wind and ocean and the ripping of metal.

“Someone I loved was killed in that accident as well.”

“Well, he may have been sent to another wait station, or he may be waiting for you, Ms. Chase. Hang a light in your window at night, and maybe you’ll see one waiting for you beyond the willows.”

Dust Storm

The winds came every day, and dust swirled in great clouds till the air turned black and gritty. The house shook, and though Ma had us stuff rags into every crevice, the dirt seeped inside till everything was covered in a fine layer of dust. It was black all the time, and the wind would shriek till we all thought we’d go crazy.




Ma would sit in her rocker with baby Joe, his little blue blanket with the white flowers wrapped tight around him, and creak back and forth, her face frozen like she was in pain, but she never said a word. Sally and I knew better than to say anything and we’d sit on the floor in the parlor. Sometimes we’d play checkers, and I tried to teach her to play chess, but she never did get the hang of it.




Every morning Pa and Daniel would tie ropes around their waists and go tend the horses, and we’d wonder whether they’d ever come back from the black.




Ma just sat there rocking while the wind shrieked, and the dust swirled.




Then one night Pa and Daniel didn’t come back, and Sally said, “We should get dinner started,” and Ma said, “Not yet.” So we waited.




Sally and I went out to the kitchen and saw the ropes were untied from the door, just flapping in the wind. I heard Sally cry, “No, please,” before I ran out the door.




Sheriff Michaels said Ma went crazy that day. Early in the morning she followed Pa and Daniel to the barn and shot them with Pa’s revolver he kept in the dresser drawer.  She smothered baby Joe and stabbed Sally with a kitchen knife before she cut her own wrists.




I don’t know why she let me go.  That’s what I told Sheriff Michaels. He said I was a lucky boy. He also said dust storms made a lot of people crazy.




My Aunt Lilly moved in to take care of me until I turned eighteen. Then one day she just up and disappeared. They never found her.




Now I live alone. Just the way I like it.  


Of Irish Bookshops, Cabbies and Poets

Recently I was in Dublin taking my youngest daughter to college. She’s decided to get her joint honors degree there, and we spent a good deal of time walking through the streets as well as taking cabs.

I should note that we arrived in Ireland on the day of Noble Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney’s funeral, which was rightly a case for mourning throughout Ireland and the literary world.

In a world growing less and less filled with the beauty of verse, Heaney was a much beloved figure, even beyond Ireland, which is a country that loves poets. Almost every cabbie who drove us had something to say about the death of Mr. Heaney, and I had one who quoted him extensively. (It was a lovely thing to hear “Bogland” recited in a delightful Dublin accent.)

It did occur to me, however, that the Irish have produced an inordinate share of great writers and poets. Perhaps it is because they seem to love books. In Dublin I counted numerous bookshops–not giant chains–but honest-to-God shops. There is for me something delightful about walking into a book shop. I believe it’s the smell of books; you breathe it in, and your mind begins to expand. You can’t get that from an electric device (and I do own one of those as well).

Because the weather was so delightful, I had the luxury of spending time just sitting in St. Steven’s Green with the other locals, reading and watching the ducks and swans and occasional heron. There was a certain magic to the experience.

I know Ireland, like the U.S., has been hit by a tsunami of economic problems, but it still retains a bit of it’s magic. As one of my wise cabbie friends said, “Oh, Ireland always calls you back. It’s possessed of a deep magic.”

Deep magic, indeed. He was right.