ELLIE CLOSES THE BOOK "Why that page, always that page?" Old Ellie echoed her words around the walls of the empty basement. Walls that had no ears to hear. No eyes to see what had happened behind closed doors so long ago in the days of the Great Depression. No need to think about why the old book always fell open at the same page. "Why that page?" Ellie said it aloud again, but she knew why. She had always known why. Perhaps it was the cold and the damp of this underground place or that musty smell that comes with neglect. But mostly it was memories of long ago that made her hurry to be out of there. Hurry to be back among ordinary people going about their lives in the autumn sun on the street above. Once she was back in the light of day, Ellie soon felt her old shoulders straighten out. All around she could see leaves dressed in the last of the year's red and gold; some were falling. She ran thin fingers through silver- grey hair until all the dust of the basement was gone. The book was now safely zipped into the black plastic document case she had bought specially. Clutching it tightly on the bus home, Ellie tried not to think how much it looked like a body bag, a small sad little body bag. She glanced around at the other passengers. How young they looked and how well insulated. For some a global economic crisis might mean no holiday in the sun this year or no new car. Ellie could see her house from from the bus and there were two cars in the driveway. Both her grandchildren were already there. All grown-up now, they still came round to visit on the first Sunday of each month. "Did you get the book Gran-Ellie?" said Alice. "Never mind what my cynical old brother says. I think it's really sweet." Ellie held up the book like it was some sort of trophy. "Of course it was still there. Quarter inch steel plate is just fine for securing doors and windows. No one gets into the old house unless I say so." "And nothing much gets out, even your memories Gran-Ellie," said Bob "and I'm not cynical, just practical. Anyway, I got a small casket just like you wanted. Ellie had the three of them sit around the table in the kitchen. A table with a little white casket placed carefully at its center. Alice said, "Tell us the story again Gran-Ellie. One last time, please." Ellie let the book fall open. Alice and Bob checked the page. Ellie didn't need to look. She knew. A faraway look took old Ellie in its grasp as she started her story. "It was not long after my sixth birthday. These were the worst days of the Great Depression. I knew something bad was happening in the world, even at that age. Father had been away for weeks looking for work. He didn't find any, of course. There wasn't any. He looked sick and he had a terrible cough when he came back. He told me he'd been staying at the Bush Hotel and it wasn't very nice. It wasn't 'til years later that I understood he'd been sleeping rough, under a bush as it were. And it wasn't until later that I understood the other things as well." Alice wiped something warm and wet from her own face. She reached across and took her Gran's hand, and then her brother's. When Ellie closed the circle by also taking Bob's hand he struggled to keep a straight face. Oh God, he thought, here we are holding a seance with an old children's book and an empty casket. But there was a hint of something in his eyes too. Ellie looked back at the book, quickly, not wanting to be interrupted. She continued her story. "I'll always remember that day when father came back. It was the same day that little Flo disappeared. She was my special friend." "And that's why our Mom is called Flo," said Alice. Bob let out a muffled snort of a laugh. Alice tried to squeeze her brother's hand hard enough to hurt and told him to shut up. Old Ellie just ignored them both and carried on like it was important she should bear witness. "I looked everywhere for Flo. Then next day father sat me down. He had a strange look about him. He said Flo would never be coming back. But he wouldn't tell me why. For days afterwards I spent as much time as I could in my room in the basement. I didn't want to see anyone else, only Flo and she had gone. I had my book, with the picture. OK I knew it wasn't really a picture of Flo, but I was six years old and to me it looked like Flo. After a while, I found if I dropped the book it would always open at that same page." Alice and Bob looked at the book. They had seen it for themselves. They both leant forward a little in their seats, determined to catch every part of the story as their Gran continued. "I told my mom and dad about the book opening at Flo's picture. Dad said he was busy and went away to do something. Mom was nice, she was always nice. She said if you open a book often enough at the same page it'll do something to the binding so that it will always open there. But I never told them about the other thing. That was just between me and Flo." Ellie paused here and looked at the book. Alice and Bob knew what the other thing was for their Gran. She had told them the story often enough. They listened. "You won't be able to hear, Flo only speaks to me," said Ellie. The old lady's fingers were trembling as she took up the book in both hands. From time to time she nodded as if deep in conversation with an unseen presence. Alice and Bob barely noticed that their own hands, still linked on the tabletop, were locked together so much tighter than before. Finally, Ellie said it was all done. She closed the book and very gently laid it in the casket. "Can we leave the casket open until we put Flo to rest tomorrow?" said Alice. The next morning, Ellie was glad to have Alice and Bob at her side for the simple service. It was in a quiet corner set aside from the main body of the cemetery. They held hands, shuffling their feet through a fresh carpet of fallen leaves. They cried together as the little casket was covered up and then they knew that Flo was finally at rest and it was all over. "Alice, Bob, thank you so much for being with me in this. You two go on home now. I want to stay here for a while," said Ellie. The air seemed clearer as old Ellie made her way alone into the cemetery proper. She tidied the leaves where her parents lay together. Now she could tell them she had forgiven them for that day so long ago. The day that Flo disappeared. The day they had meat on the table during the dark days of the Great Depression. The day they wouldn't tell little Ellie what she was eating. For to Ellie it had always been more than a picture of a bunny rabbit in a children's story book and now she had closure. end Ellie Closes the Book was published in The Straitjackets Magazine, 2011.
home    poetry    stories    photos    more
Copyright  Colin W Campbell A Sarawak based writer.
www.south-east-asia.asia from a sarawak based writer