Twelve-year-old Mindy Dunkle was a pale, slender little girl who wore thick-rimmed spectacles that magnified her bright green eyes and perfectly accented her short black hair. Her brother Garret, also thin, was three years younger with equally pale skin and eyes that held the same shade of bright green. He had jet black hair, and although it was not cut short, it was difficult to tell because he always kept it slicked back tight against his head. He preferred to wear only button up shirts and slacks and, more often than not, a clip-on tie. Tyler, the youngest of the three, did not look anything like his older brother or sister. For one, he was not as pale; he had sandy blonde hair and deep blue eyes and he did not own a single piece of clothing one could wear to church.
Life had been rather hard for the Dunkle children. Shortly after learning about the loss of their father in the war, Mrs. Dunkle became very ill and was forced to hire a nurse by the name of Miss Dorrey. Miss Dorrey was a mild-mannered, middle-aged woman with cool silvery hair and a warm smile. She took very good care of Mrs. Dunkle and doubled as the children's nanny. Yet, despite all of Miss Dorrey's efforts, Mrs. Dunkle's condition was not improving. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Miss Dorrey to tend to her needs while, at the same time, keeping a watchful eye on the children. Therefore, it was decided that the best thing to do was send the children away for the summer to stay with their uncle Tibias at his farm in the English countryside. It was news not well received.
"A right down waste of a good summer," Tyler said, kicking his suitcase across the floor and flopping onto his bed with huff. "Now what'a we gonna do, we'll miss the carnival. You know that, right? And this was supposed to be the year that I would finally beat that nasty litt'le sod Alec Milltic in the county bike races. I've been practicin' all year long and for what, so he can win again and rub it in my face. Stupid prat."
"Language, Ty," Mindy scolded. As the oldest of the three, she often took it upon herself to keep her younger siblings in line, "You could at least bring me your clothes while you complain." She picked up Tyler’s suitcase and set it next to her own. However, Tyler ignored her and continued thumping the bed with his fists as he ranted on.
"I bet that old geezer's never even seen children before - oh, oh and what if he doesn't even own a radio!" at this thought, Tyler leapt from the bed, dashed across the room and flung open the door. But only a few steps into the hall he ran straight into a wall of grey dress and fell back on his elbows. Moments later he returned to the room under escort of Miss Dorrey. Yelping and flailing his arms about, he struggled with all his might.
"Ged'off, ged'off me, I'm not going to some rotten old house and I'm not spending the summer with some rotten old geezer! I said let me go!" Tyler caught hold of the door frame and was now spread out like a spider, trying to grip the sides with both his hands and feet. For a moment, Miss Dorrey attempted to force him through, but Tyler would not be giving up so easily.
"Not for a million bazillion pounds – I'm not going."
"Oh Tyler, do behave yourself," Miss Dorrey pleaded. "Your uncle Tibias is rather excited about the three of you coming to visit him." But Tyler only pushed even harder against the door frame as he threw his head back onto Miss Dorrey’s chest, tears streaming off his face while he wailed at the top of his lungs.
"I don't care! I want to stay here, why can't we just stay here?"
"We ought' just lock him in the basement and be done with it," Garret said as he sat re-straightening the edges of his shirts. Mindy rolled her eyes, made an irritated sniff and shoved him so hard that he fell onto the bed, knocking his clothes onto the floor.
"Now whad’ya go and do that for?" Garret moaned. Mindy simply tipped her nose in the air and walked over to her youngest brother. She placed her hands on Tyler's shoulders and knelt down to be eye to eye.
"Uncle Tebbs lives on a farm, Ty," Mindy whispered as she wiped the tears from his cheeks. "Just think about it for a second. There will be animals, trees, huge fields, and we'll have it all to ourselves - for the entire summer. Doesn't sound that bad, does it? Besides, it just won’t be any fun if you’re not there."
"Well," Tyler was doing his best not to look interested, "I - guess it could be - oh, alright." He finally released his grip and stomped back into the room, kicking Garret in the leg as he passed. Furious, Garret tried to kick him back, but missed and fell against the bed, knocking all his recently re-folded shirts back to the floor. Miss Dorrey put her hand under Mindy's chin and smiled proudly.
"My dear, you really are growing up, I'm certain you’re going to take good care of them. Now hurry along and pack, the cab will be here at noon."
For the rest of the morning they packed quietly. Garret busied himself by sorting his clothing into neatly stacked piles; first by type, then by color, and once again by occasion. Mindy, on the other hand, had hardly managed to do any packing of her own as she was far too busy making certain that Tyler packed something other than his toys. This took a very long time because he kept sneaking them back into his bag at every opportunity. Eventually they made their way down stairs, each toting an overstuffed case. Just as they set down their luggage by the front door, Miss Dorrey suddenly called down from the top of the stairs.
"There’s someone who wishes to say goodbye to you before you go."
Without a seconds hesitation Garret and Tyler bolted up the staircase, fumbling over each other all the way down the hall. Mindy was close behind but careful to avoid her wrestling brothers. Miss Dorrey positioned herself in the doorway to head them off. She had to reach out just in time to catch Tyler as he tripped over Garrets foot.
"Easy lad," she chortled, and from somewhere in the room there came a soft, weak voice.
"Is that my Ty'bear?"
"MUM!" Tyler pushed himself free of Miss Dorrey’s grip and vanished through the door. Miss Dorrey simply gave a heavy sigh and followed in after him. Garret was close on her heels, but for a long moment, Mindy remained put. She was not quite as excited as her brothers were, to see their mother. It had been over three months since they had even been allowed near this room. At last, she took in a deep breath and held it as she passed through the archway. Compared to the rest of the house, this room was very dark. The heavy curtains blocked out all the daylight and it was also very musty and cold. The only light came from a small oil lamp on the bed-stand. Mindy could see Miss Dorrey was leaning over the lamp and fetching up various bottles to examine in the firelight before taking one or two pills from each to put into a single cup. At that moment, she looked up from her counting and there was a certain expression of understanding in her eyes as she spotted Mindy still lurking in the doorway.
"It's alright dear," she whispered, motioning to Mind, "come on over."
Mindy closed her eyes and moved a little further into the room. Clenching her hands together over her chest she wished with all her might that perhaps this time when she saw her mother, she might at least recognize her face. She opened her eyes slowly to see Garret kneeling down next to the bed. Tyler was on the bed, lying curled in a ball with two very thin and very frail looking arms wrapped around his shoulders. Feeling the tears beginning to well up in her eyes, Mindy quickly wiped them away and approached the bedside. Somewhere deep down, Mindy felt that she did not want to see her mother this way. She would've rather remembered her as she was before she became ill. Her rosy cheeks, so full of life, and the bright sheen of her long black hair, the way her eyes lit up when she smiled and the beautiful sound of her laugh. But Mindy could no longer remember the sound of her mother’s laughter. The color in her cheeks had become faded and cold and, for poor Mrs. Dunkle, a simple smile had become terribly painful.
For the first time in a very long time, they were a family again. Garret and Tyler chattered on and on about anything and everything. They talked about school and new friends and how they recently had their first trip to the city Zoo with Miss Dorrey. Mindy busied herself with helping Miss Dorrey prepare her mother’s medicine and tidying up the room. She had just finished fluffing the chair pillows for what was possibly the tenth time when she turned and was surprised to see Miss Dorrey standing directly behind her.
“Don’t be frightened dear,” Miss Dorrey whispered as she placed her hand on Mindy’s cheek. “I know how difficult this must be for you. But she is still your mother and she still loves you very much.” Mindy could feel the tears welling up again, and again she fought them back as she pressed her cheek into Miss Dorrey’s hand.
“I don’t know what I'm supposed to do.”
Miss Dorrey smiled softly, “You love her right back and you keep believin’ that everything’s going to work out alright.” With that, she kissed Mindy on her forehead and walked back to the bed where Garret and Tyler were now arguing over which of them was the fastest runner. Mrs. Dunkle lay listening to them in silence. Her eyes were still closed but there was no mistaking the look of contentment on her face, however slight it may have been.
“Alright then you two,” said Miss Dorrey. “I need a couple of strong young men to help me carry your mum’s supper up from the kitchen.”
“Yes Miss Dorrey,” both Garret and Tyler replied. Tyler leaned over carefully and kissed his mother on the cheek. “Don't worry mum, we'll be back in a flash.” Miss Dorrey led them out of the room and closed the door behind her. The room was now silent and peaceful, shadows danced along the walls in the orange glow of the lamp light. Every passing second felt stretched out into minutes. Finally, she began to step closer toward the bed. As she reached the bedside, Mrs. Dunkle turned her head and slowly opened her eyes just enough to look up at her daughter. Somehow, despite all the pain and difficulty, she managed a little smile.
“My sweetheart,” whispered Mrs. Dunkle, “I have missed your lovely face so much.”
Mindy could no longer hold her tears at bay and she fell onto the bed, curling herself into her mother’s arms. “I’ve missed you more than you could ever know.”
“I am so sorry this had to happen to us,” Mrs. Dunkle said as she hugged Mindy as tightly as she could manage, with what little strength she had. “I wish we’d had more time. You’ve had to grow up so quickly. I wish so much that you would've had a chance to be a child.”
“I don’t care about any of that, mum,” Mindy sobbed. “I just want you to get better. Then we can have all the time we need.”
“There, there sweetheart. Don't you worry yourself. Your mum is well looked after.”
“But I could help mum,” Mindy cried. “I'll do anything you need. Just please, please don't send us away.”
Mrs. Dunkle rested her chin on Mindy's forehead, tears streaming down her face as she whispered in a soft quiet voice, “Don't you understand? You must go. You must have one last chance to be a child. A child without the burden and worry of her ill mother. A child without the responsibility of looking after her younger brother's, only because there's no one else to do it. I want my little girl to be a little girl just this one last time. If you can do that for me, then I promise, when you come home you can be as grownup as you like, and I won't say a word.”
Suddenly, Mindy heard a noise, which at that moment felt like the most terrible noise she had ever heard in her life. The bedroom door opened and both Garret and Tyler passed through the archway carrying two large silver trays. Garrets tray held a short, fat silver teapot and two porcelain cups. Tyler’s tray was rather empty, apart from a small white bowl filled to the brim with a very thick and ugly looking brown soup. Just as they sat each tray on the small round table at the foot of the bed, that terrible sound filled the air once again. Garret reached into his coat pocket and removed a small gold pocket watch; a gift from his father before he went off to war.
“Noon,” he said in mirthless tone. “I expect that'll be the cabbie.” Slowly, Mindy lifted herself up and gave her mother a kiss before climbing down off the bed to stand beside her brothers. Together, all three children huddled in close, holding hands and giving their mother one last hug goodbye. It was a very long hug as no one wanted it to end. But nevertheless, with a storm approaching and the cabbie growing impatient, it was soon time to go. In a slow mournful procession they marched down the stairs and out into the chilling mist. Garret lead the way with Mindy following close behind, a sobbing Tyler clung to her side. Garret was the first to climb into the carriage in order to help Tyler, who was too small to reach the step. Just as Mindy was about to climb in, she heard a voice calling out from behind. She turned to see Miss Dorrey racing down the front steps while cradling a brown package under one arm.
"You didn't really think I could just let you leave without saying goodbye," said Miss Dorrey as she wrapped her free arm around Mindy and squeezed her close.
"I'm going to miss you so much," Mindy said. After a long moment, they finally managed to pull themselves apart. Miss Dorrey straightened herself up into her usual proud and proper form and sniffed back a few tears as she dabbed Mindy's cheeks with her handkerchief. She then handed the brown package to Mindy and let out a tiny giggle of excitement.
“Go on then dear. Open it.”
Mindy wasted no time and tore open the package to reveal a beautiful forest green shawl.
"Your mum and I made this for you," she said as she wrapped it around Mindy's shoulders, "it was supposed to be a birthday present, but..."
Mindy pulled the shawl up around her cheeks. It was warm and soft and smelled of lavender and mint.
"I love it, I'll never take it off"
Miss Dorrey beamed.
"Here, you can fasten it with this." She retrieved from her pocket a small emerald brooch that was in the shape of a dragonfly. “He's always been my favorite,” she said, patting its tiny emerald head. “He's got a name. Would you care to know it?”
“Tell me, please,” Mindy replied.
“I call him Mischief,” Miss Dorrey said while carefully pinning the brooch onto the shawl. “I’ve had'em since I was your age. But now he's yours.” Mindy looked down at her new friend and marveled at his shiny features.
“I think he's smiling at me,” she said with an excited whisper.
“Of course he is,” Miss Dorrey replied. “Clearly he likes you.” Both Mindy and Miss Dorrey were suddenly startled out of their moment as the grumpy old cabbie began coughing and grunting in disapproval. With one last hug, Miss Dorrey helped Mindy climb into the cab. The moment they were all in there was a sharp crack and the carriage lurched forward, snapping and popping along the cobblestone road.