[I need a little writing time so I thought I would cheat on my travel posts a bit with some short stories I wrote a few years ago. It will free me up for working on my neglected novel.]
THE OLD TOYS
The blackness made me shiver. I pulled the quilt up higher to snuggle into the warmth of the bed. There was certainly no light pollution out here in the country. That was why we moved here, to get away from the pollution of the city’s lights, air, and noise.
What woke me? A glance at the alarm clock told me I had only been asleep for two hours. I turned over, closed my eyes, and tried to relax. I’m not used to all the creaks and groans of the old house yet, I thought, and drifted off to sleep again.
“How did you sleep last night?” Chris asked as he stood looking through the glass in the kitchen door. “I slept like a baby. Isn’t it great? Not one horn…not one screeching tire…not even a barking dog.”
He opened the door and breathed deeply. “And smell that crisp morning air.” Cold air swished into the kitchen sending a shiver down my spine.
“Close the door…please,” I pleaded. I was never as energetic as Chris in the morning. I needed a cup of coffee—make that two cups—and a little time to get my eyes open. Chris, on the other hand, bounded out of bed each day, eyes wide open, energy level high and ready to burn.
“I’m glad you had a good night,” I said. “I guess I’m going to have to get used to some of the house noises. Something woke me up a few times.”
“Well, maybe once we get up in the attic and do some repairs…improve the insulation…” Chris was making his mental list. “…some of that noise should be taken care of. Lots to do. But that’s what we expected when we bought this ‘house with potential.’ Right?” He grinned as he playfully pulled my hair.
I was beginning to wonder if I was ready for this house with potential. After my second cup of coffee, I pulled out the box of tools I needed to start stripping the old wallpaper in our bedroom. The stereo played a little music to work by and I began my task of soaking, scoring, and scraping.
The wallpaper began coming off the old plaster walls easier than I had imagined it would. The putty knife made soft scratchy noises as the paper fell to the floor. I began to notice, however, that the noise didn’t always stop when I did.
It’s the radio, I reasoned. I turned it off for a time, but the noise persisted.
Mice. We must have mice in the attic. Grabbing the broom, I headed for the attic door. Mice didn’t frighten me. A snake could send me into a major frenzy, but mice I could handle.
The door to the attic was stuck tight. I remembered the realtor having it open the day we walked through the house. The dampness from all the rain the past week must have made the wood swell. I laid the broom down and gave a good tug.
It gave way suddenly, setting me flat on my backside. I made a mental note to add planning the attic door to Chris’ list.
The attic was cold. Chris was right. If we didn’t get more insulation, our heating bills were going to be astronomical. The stairway was dark and smelled of old wood. My childhood fear of the dark clutched at my throat. As a rational adult, I knew there was nothing to be afraid of, but the old chilling feeling was still there.
Dust particles danced in the beam of light that filtered in through the small shuttered window at one end of the big old attic. I crossed to the window to open the shutters and light the room. I didn’t mind mice as long as I could see them.
Cold air swept in from a small space where the double-hung window had not been closed completely. I pushed down on the window and it slid into place. At least the mice would be warmer.
I surveyed the room. The air was full of dust and it had the musty smell of years gone by. With the addition of a skylight or dormers, it would make a perfect studio for my ventures into the creative arts.
I looked carefully for the evidence of little visitors but, with limited light, it was impossible to tell what, if anything, inhabited the attic. The wallpaper was top priority today, I told myself. I added mousetraps to my mental list.
Saturday morning, Chris complimented me on my wallpapering job just before he left to pick up the insulation to begin his work in the attic. I cleared away the breakfast dishes, humming a nonsensical tune as I cheerfully looked forward to spending the day with Chris—even if it meant stuffing insulation in the attic. I was still a little stiff and sore from my week of wallpapering but it would be fun to work on a project together. I looked forward to a little companionship.
Country living did have its drawbacks when it came to a social life. Neighbors were farther away. “Folks are pretty friendly once they get to know you,” the realtor had assured us.
Chris returned from the hardware store and lumberyard with his supplies and we carried the things up to the attic. I didn’t understand exactly what he was doing but I helped by fetching and holding as he measured, cut, and nailed pieces of lumber into place.
“This should reinforce the roof,” Chris explained. “Maybe it will cut down on those creepy noises you claim you hear at night.”
As Chris stretched out over one of the eaves where the floorboards ended, he stopped and stared down. “Well, how about this?” He went down on one knee and braced himself with a hand on a rafter as he reached out and pulled something out.
“This attic must have been a special hiding place for someone.” He handed me a wooden tiger, then an elephant of a lighter wood, and the engine and box cars of an old train.
“Oh, won’t they look beautiful on the shelves next to the fireplace,” I said. I examined each item with the attention of an archaeologist on her first dig.
“Wonder if they’re worth anything?” Chris stood and took the train engine from me to examine for himself.
“Just like you to think in terms of dollars and cents,” I teased. “I’m going to take these downstairs where they’ll be safe from our urban renewal project.”
After dinner, I cleaned the dust off the toys and set them on the fireplace shelves. They fit perfectly. My first antiques. I was excited as I envisioned the fun it would be adding to the collection.
“Honey, I know you think I’m materialistic, but I really think we should take those toys to a dealer and have them appraised in case they truly are valuable…for insurance purposes…you know.”
“I know. I planned to get back to the city for a visit with Mom tomorrow. Why don’t I take the toys? She’ll know where to have them appraised.”
Dinner was a little late after my trip in to see Mom but I couldn’t help it. I forgot how bad the traffic was heading out of the city for the suburbs. Chris and I talked about my trip to town while I finished putting together a chicken stir-fry.
“The antique dealer was an older gentleman who had his own collection of antique toys in his home,” I told Chris. “He invited Mother and I to visit his home on my return trip.”
“So, what are they worth?” Chris asked grabbing a piece of green pepper before it was dumped in the wok.
“Not as much as my mother seems to think they are.” I laughed. “I had to leave them with her so she could check out a couple more places.”
“Now who’s materialistic?” Chris teased.
“Well, I thought it would be good for Mom to have a project. She seemed real excited about doing the research. Who knows? Maybe this will be a venture into a new career.”
“Why not? She could use a good hobby.”
It had been a long day. I sighed as I reached the top of the stairs and turned toward my bedroom. A hot shower and the prospect of a soft pillow to cushion my head enticed me. I flipped the light switch and stood aghast in the doorway.
“Chris!” I screamed. “Chris, come here!” I heard his hurried steps come up the stairs behind me. He stopped short as I pointed to the wall. Scrawled across my new flowered paper was, “Give me back my toys!” in red crayon.