Chapter 5: Scavenging for Information
Oliver scrubbed the fifth step until the stair flashed his reflection. His hair looked like a train crashed into it since the loose strands lay wrecked and uncombed. Dandruff and dust lingered throughout. Stomp, stomp. Bang! Crr! Upstairs, the maid zipped between rooms. What’s going on up there? What’s the hurry? Crash! What just happened? Oliver glanced toward the upstairs.
Nobody fell in his sight. Charlie did the dishes, Lizzy dragged around that old mop, Ellie occupied another room with the duster, and oh, poor Jeffrey received punishment. He glanced one last time around to make sure no one came. He tossed the washrag and tiptoed up the stairs. As he tilted his hand around the last of the railing, he scurried to the wall. He peered his head around. Two maids exchanged paths across the floor. A few clothes and toys lay on the hallway ground. How peculiar? Did Ruth call for organization?
He kept eyeing the area, but nobody moved into the hall. He snuck into his parents’ room and hid behind the door. The room appeared dark and shallow like a haunted house no one had visited in years. The closet remained open and no one had made the bed. I should see if they left anything important behind. He peeked in the halls and Wilma dropped a few more clothes on the ground. Did that pile just get bigger? Who put my snow coat there? He shook his head and cleared the thought for the moment.
He closed the door and gazed around the room. It felt unfamiliar. He strode to the right of the door and rummaged through the drawers. He peered in every one of them, yet only extra socks and garments filled the drawers. He headed to another of the three sets of drawers. Only scraps of paper, art supplies, and a few empty notebooks resided.
There’s got to be something around here. They must’ve had something interesting or important, something that would explain our lives. Or anything. I’ve never seen any of their things before, now’s my chance to finally get to know them better.
He slipped into their closet. Father always said he kept his most important possessions in his coat pockets. Oliver hunted through coat after coat, but nothing remained. He must’ve kept it all in the coat he wore.
Oliver moved to the next set of drawers. He searched through each, sometimes examining the items. In the second row of drawers, several things caught his eyes. He encountered a couple bags of seeds, seeds for tropical plants. I thought these existed in the fairytales. I never thought I’d see them here. He peeked through the other drawers, picking out items labeled “soil,” a few pots, and a so-called “hose.” I heard mother talk about soil to Lizzy, but she said soil didn’t suit our home. The long and thin turtle-green tube puzzled him. It looks like a snake. He placed the three items on top of the dresser. He bustled through the final row, with nothing rather interesting or different than the others until he reached the fourth and final one.
He slid it open, where perched inside lay a stack of papers on the left and a bunch of opened envelopes on the right. He took each out and brought them to the bed to read. Who’d they write to? Or who wrote to them? Who could they know that we don’t? The first papers told of instructions and information on various planting styles. Manuals appeared with diagrams. He went through them all, but didn’t maintain interest. He shuffled them together when he noticed a different drawing, with no words except for “Sun Garden. To Evelyn,” written in perfect cursive.
He ogled the first two words; he knew what they meant, but didn’t understand them put together. He tried thinking about it, but it didn’t click. I see the sun, a few times a month normally, but Mother said we don’t live in a sunny area. She said she doesn’t know what constant sun feels like.
He twisted the picture around. The back remained blank. He viewed the words on the other side leaking through. Garden…garden…garden. How does a garden go with the sun? We have ice and snow gardens, but those aren’t even similar to the sun. What would the sun have the slightest bit to do with a garden? He set the other sketch on the bed and returned the other papers to their place. He grabbed the stack of envelopes and read through each.
James received many letters from business associates. Even his mother accepted delivery of letters from pals of the city. Most of the senders typed them on a typewriter and sent them in a white or brown envelope.
He flipped through and the last one caught his eye. The letter addressed to Evelyn Rubin, but this one in lavender, her favorite color. He peeked at the upper left. Nothing there. There’s no sending address. Someone must’ve delivered it. He recognized the loopy cursive twirls and handwriting from the sketch.
He turned it over to the backside and drew out the letter, only to encounter the same handwriting in navy ink. He read each word on the letter several times, and here’s the words that flowed at him:
It’s my pleasure to see you and my son James together. But I wrote this letter for more than a minor congratulations. I give you this letter for your eyes only.
You see, I left this house to you when my husband, William, passed away. I promised myself I’d never return. I’m shocked we survived our journey across the mountain. I don’t want to go near this house as I fear it. Seeing as I’m here though, you must be confused. I dreamed of doing something, but when I realized I couldn’t, I wrote this for you to do it.
Evelyn, I waited and waited for the sun to rise and the snow to clear to make my dream sun garden. I spent my whole life waiting for that day. I traveled the lengths with Will to arrive at the house of my dreams. He promised everything I ever wanted. With that failing to occur, I lay it upon you to make my dream sun garden with all the beautiful plants I gave you. I’m ill and won’t live much longer, so please, do this for me.
Good luck with little Oliver. Make that beautiful sun garden Evelyn, and live a fulfilled life with my boy, James. I’ll miss you, James, and my Oliver.
Yours truly, Eleanor Mary Rubin
Oliver scanned every word again, and one more time. When did I meet Grandma? Why did Mother or Father never mention her? Mother can never make her sun garden now. It’ll all be up to me, but can I even remember her? He searched his memory for an image of his grandmother, but nothing clicked. She must’ve taken been taking her last visit. Wait, oh, I remember her.
Into the clouds of the past his mind went, traveling to thirteen years ago. In whirled a tiny woman; skinny as a stick and sweet like a cupcake. She stood across from Evelyn as Oliver stood under his mother’s arm. Eleanor stood two inches shorter than his mother, bundled in a violet double-breasted coat. She kept her seal-brown hair up in a bun that sat under a matching beret. Her pale face strained beneath wrinkles, until she caught sight of Oliver.
Oliver viewed his mother’s golden hair glimmer above. She leaned over her right leg in a maize sundress. The dress swished over her knees, shadowing her white Mary-Jane heels. She swayed back and forth, clinging Oliver to her knee.
“Oh Oliver.” Eleanor lifted him into her arms. “I don’t think I can ever get enough of you,” she said. She smiled before hugging him. “I’m telling you Evelyn, he feels special. He’s going to do something great in his life. Even if you have more, they won’t have the same traits Oliver has.”
“Oliver does behave well. I think if we want more, we may wait a little longer. I can’t wait for him to have a playmate though, and to see what the other’s talents will be,” Evelyn said. She elevated her son into her arms and rocked him.
“Evelyn, when you’re alone, read this, but never show it to anyone else,” Eleanor said, handing her a sealed lavender envelope. Evelyn hesitated and slipped the letter between her fingers.
“What’s it say?” Evelyn asked.
“You’ll see.” Eleanor tugged on her beige-brown suitcase. “Well, I guess it’s time I must go, Evelyn.” She set her suitcase against the railing and leaned into Evelyn. Evelyn set Oliver on a bench. Evelyn embraced Eleanor as a tear dripped out of Eleanor’s eye.
“What’s the matter?”
“This, this home. It’s ruined me! As beautiful and wonderful as it may seem, I’ve grown so ill from this place. If I’d never left the city I could live at least ten more years.”
“So, are you saying this the last time you’ll come?” Evelyn asked.
“I’m afraid so, dear. As much as I love the three of you, I’m getting ill and can’t stay in this cold home,” Eleanor said. Evelyn turned to head inside, toting the envelope tight at her waist.
Evelyn crouched to Oliver. “Come inside soon, dear.”
“One last thing Evelyn, tell James I say goodbye,” Eleanor said.
Evelyn nodded and closed the door behind her. Oliver stared at his grandma. She took one step toward him and stopped. She gleamed at his face and picked him up.
She rocked him in her arms while strolling the porch. She stopped in her tracks and glanced at him, shaking her head. “Oh Oliver.” She peered beyond him at the house. “I’m so sorry to leave you. You know, I returned against my own words to meet you,” she said. “As soon as I heard of you, I knew I must meet you and what a pleasure I’ve had. You are my only true grandchild because I met you. I also need to tell you something you shan’t remember later on. I hope you can survive, but you live in a dangerous home and I wish you the best of luck. This house seems great, but it will become your doom. Leave your home and you’ll find your potential. Remember, you’ll do great one day,” Eleanor said. She bit her bottom lip as a tear fell out her eye.
She squeezed him and kissed his forehead. “Goodbye, Oliver. I must part, but I will always love you.” She saw him in.
As she shut the door, Oliver echoed two words. “Goodbye, Grandma.” He displayed his dashing dimples at her before the door closed her off. And on the perimeter of the house, Eleanor grabbed her suitcase, scurried down the stairs, and hopped into the back of a cab.
Every word she said spun in his mind. I can’t believe how important she thought I was. She believed in me and had no problems saying it, why could’t Mom and Pop have been the same? And how did Mom ignore her warnings of danger? Is it now my responsibility to get us out of here? But how? How did everything get this far? Oliver raised his head out of the paper. They must’ve wondered where I went. I should leave before they become suspicious. He stuffed the envelopes, except for the one from his grandmother, into the drawer.
As he stepped off the bed, his foot moved backward and banged against something. He set the envelopes down and peered under the bed, where he thumped his foot. A chest lay underneath. Looks like a treasure chest. There’s got to be something valuable inside. He dragged it out and opened the box. He lifted up the top where underneath compiled a stack of papers and jewelry. He shuffled through the stacks of gold and diamond bracelets and necklaces, where a few of the jewelry items stood out over the others.
A gold bracelet filled with charms and five of them spelled out Ellie. The other, a silver bracelet carrying four diamonds around the shape. The silver one connected to a paper. The right side said “to Lizzy.” The two together said “to Ellie and to Lizzy at the age of fifteen.” He laid the bracelets adjacent to the sketch and letter.
As he picked up the papers, he noticed another box, this one of watches. Three watches labeled for Charlie, Oliver, and Jeffrey to receive at the age of sixteen. A shiny silver one said “Oliver.” A golden one gleamed Charlie’s name. The last one assembled of bright bronze to match the hair of the heir, Jeffrey. He set them beside the bracelets.
On the inside part of each bracelet and watch were engraved the words “No matter how much you’ve grown, we love you and are so proud—Mom and Dad.” Next to the jewelry was a stack of five letters, all with the same thing written:
Now that you’ve grown up, we think it’s time you can go and explore and the world beyond our house. The jewelers who made this are some of our oldest and dearest friends and would love to meet you when you’re ready. This is our present to you and hope you wear it well and with the finest company and people you meet. Make your life your own, and have exploring.
The letters appeared incomplete, as if needed to be personalized to each kid upon the time they reached the age to receive their gift. To Oliver’s misfortune, they did not leave a name, number, or address of these people so Oliver had no way of reaching out to these people. He still remained trapped in his own little world.
He proceeded to the bottom of the stack. That’s where something caught his eye, a drawing. He examined the art on his lap.
He gazed at the detailed picture and identified each symbol without second thought. Across the picture, little black lines went across the illustrated mountains. With the word start next to tall buildings that symbolized the city, and the finish at their house, he realized he held a map.
He flipped it over to a small message in fine cursive:
This map brought our family here. If ever you can’t go through the roads or need somewhere to hide, you may use this to go over the mountain. This map must pass on through the generations, to your son, and then their kids. Never let go of it until the next child feels prepared.
As Harriet and I will head off and leave you heir to this house, it’s time you must take responsibility. It must fall into the correct hands, otherwise our heritage and home will vanish.
Best wishes, Irvin
Oliver read it once more. He recalled the name William, his grandfather, but after a few more glances, he realized Irvin was his great-grandfather. Irvin became the first to travel over the mountain to this house. Oliver returned everything to where it belonged, prodding the chest under the bed and placing the envelopes in the drawer. He picked up the sketch, letter from Eleanor, map, and jewelry and hid them in a special compartment. Why did Great-grandpa journey here in the first place? Where’d he get the idea? How will I ever know? He stepped toward the door. “Hope nobody finds anything,” he whispered. He drew the door open and sighed. Thank goodness nobody caught me.
“Young man, where have you been?” Ruth said.
“I went to my room,” he said.
“You have no business up here. Go finish scrubbing.”
“In case you forgot, it happens to be my room. You’re the maid of the house.”
“Don’t talk to me that way you spoiled brat. You granted me charge and I use it with delight.” she spat on him.
“How can one find this much pleasure in our misery?”
“Well, I never thought you’d start to understand me. Now, quit stalling. Get to work,” Ruth said. She splashed him with the water in the bucket and shoved him toward the stairs.
He dropped to his knees and spat on the sixth stair before wiping it into the stair. Oh wait. I wanted to see what the maids did with our things. Within seconds, he “finished” about twenty stairs and made it to the top three, swabbing them back and forth. He stared around the corner, seeing what the maids did. Oh, if only they could catch his tricks.
In the kitchen, Charlie, Lizzy, and Ellie received final instruction on making dinner. Betty sent them to their stations and left them alone. Lizzy went to the cupboards and withdrew bowls and cooking materials. Ellie moved on the countertop and delved out cups and plates. Charlie assisted Ellie.
And Jeffrey, what ever happened to him? Let’s go and see.
In Ruth’s room, Jeffrey lifted his head from the basket and his sleep.
“AH!” Jeffrey whacked the basket and tried to maneuver his way out. “Where am I?” He puffed out breaths. He hit at the basket, but that didn’t do anything. “Help! Help! I’m trapped! Save me!”
On cue Oliver darted in. Oliver had raced through the hall and propped the door open. He peered around the room, but couldn’t find anything. He glanced down. What’s that…is that a finger in the laundry basket? He approached the basket and pinpointed Jeffrey underneath. He threw the book on the bed and tossed the laundry basket at the wall. He lifted Jeffrey over his shoulder.
“What happened? What’d she do to you, Jeffrey? C’mon you can tell me,” Oliver said as Jeffrey exploded in tears. His face a tomato and his cheeks a river, Jeffrey couldn’t cough up any words. “Jeffrey, I’m here now and I’ll never let her lay a finger on you ever again,” Oliver said. “Why do you cry still?”
“She spanks me, hurts me, and…and she trapped me in a laundry basket,” Jeffrey cried. He clenched Oliver’s collar. “And, and after, I woke up, and I found myself trapped. I tried to get out, but I couldn’t.”
Oliver’s ears perked. “Quiet down, Jeffrey. We’ve got to escape. I think Ruth’s coming. Sh!” he said. He marched through the doorway and shushed his brother. Jeffrey wheezed a couple tears before they ran into Ruth.
“What do you think you’re doing? Give him to me now,” Ruth said. She lunged at Oliver. “If you don’t give him back now, I’ll punish you too!” She launched herself at them, but Oliver side-stepped her.
“AH! Don’t let her touch me!” Jeffrey said.
“I will never let you touch him ever again!” Oliver said. He kicked her and ran out of her room. Jeffrey bawled and squirmed. Oliver ran up the stairs and darted through the hall. He locked himself and Jeffrey in his room.
He set Jeffrey down on his navy-blue blankets. Jeffrey rolled around, rubbing his fists in his eyes. Oliver lay beside Jeffrey. Oliver shook his head ever-so-softly.
He lifted Jeffrey with a sigh. “Jeffrey, what more can you feel upset about?” Oliver patted him on the back.
“I, I, I…” he said, “I miss Mommy and Pappy!” He busted in tears.
“C’mon, Jeffrey,” he said. He cooed his cries.
“I’m scared. She’s going to hurt me again.”
“Not on my watch. Show me, where has she hurt you?”
“Everywhere!” he cried. “My…my arms have prints of the laundry basket and she cwacked all my fingers and hit my face.”
“Never again, Jeffrey, never.”
“But when I woke up, that was the worst. I was crunched in the teeniest of balls and I could barely move. What if she doesn’t let me out next time? Wh, what if I’m trapped and can’t breath. I never want to be put inside a small space again!” he shook and shivered and began to panic again.
“And I promise you never will,” Oliver said, rocking him back and forth and shushing him.
“How do you know it won’t happen again? You already let her get to me and make me the most hurt boy in the world, Oliver.”
“I’m so sorry, Jeffrey. I can’t believe I failed you like that. You’re right, it is my fault. I try so hard to protect you and I fear I’m failing, I fear something may happen. Oh I’d do anything to guarantee your safety.” Oliver squeezed Jeffrey and started to feel his heart burning a little of guilt. What have I done? Is there any possible way on this earth that I can save all that’s gone wrong?
Ruth appeared and hammered her fist at Oliver’s door. “Oliver, bring Jeffrey here now. You aren’t in charge and the longer you stay, the more trouble I’ll put you in.”
“We’re not leaving,” Oliver said. Jeffrey squirmed and ducked under the covers.
“Help! Help! Don’t let her in! Don’t let her in!”
“Shush, Jeffrey, you needn’t hide,” Oliver said. He towed Jeffrey’s legs out, but he kept crawling under the blankets. “Jeffrey, I’m getting up and you will too. There’s no reason to feel scared,” Oliver said.
“Well, if you guys don’t step out of this door, you can’t eat,” Ruth said.
“Fine. Leave! We won’t eat!” Oliver said. He seated himself, and Jeffrey crawled back on him like a cat refusing to let its owner leave.
“I don’t want her to get me!” Jeffrey said. Oliver sighed.
“She won’t get you, she’s gone,” Oliver said. He hushed him, but tears clouded the sparkle of his amber eyes. Oliver set Jeffrey aside. He tried to snatch Oliver down, but Oliver refused to budge. He paced along the floor.
“Oliver, sit. Pwease sit,” Jeffrey said. He extended his legs over the bedside and patted the empty spot next to him. Oliver gave him so much as a careless glance. Oliver continued up and down the doorway, taking Jeffrey’s eyes across the room. “Oliver?” Jeffrey asked.
Oliver crouched in front of Jeffrey. “Jeffrey, I want to protect you here, but we have three siblings who could get hurt too,” Oliver said.
“So, you’re going to leave me to get them?” Jeffrey asked.
“Jeffrey, I’m afraid we’ll have to go together. You can either hide in here and hope Ruth doesn’t find you, or go with me and try and avoid Ruth,” Oliver said.
“Do we have to? If we open that door, she’s going to attack me. I thought you said you wanted to protect me!”
“I did and I will. You have nothing to fear anymore, Jeffrey.”
“I’m scared of everything now. Mommy and Daddy can’t help me anymore. They’re gone, for a long time and I’m alone.”
“You’re not alone, but we can’t abandon Lizzy, Ellie, or Charlie either. They’re in danger too. So, are you coming with me or not?”
“I don’t want to stay alone so I’ll come,” Jeffrey said. “But don’t let go of me.” Jeffrey leaned into Oliver’s arms. Oliver hoisted his brother up and tiptoed across the periwinkle carpet. He creaked the door open and stepped into the hall and headed to the kitchen where the rest of his siblings were.
“Oliver, Jeffrey, where did you go?” Charlie announced as if he was talking to the entire house.
“Charlie, you ninny! Stay quiet. We want to get you away from Ruth to hide. Quick, grab some food and we’ll go,” Oliver said. He set Jeffrey down and searched the cabinet for food. Jeffrey reached for his arms, but Oliver nudged him away. Instead, he clung to Lizzy and she brought him into her arms.
She stepped to the cabinets where Oliver pulled out cans. “Oliver, I too yearn to rid our lives of Ruth, but we can’t hide away for a few months.”
Oliver dug his head out of the cupboard and scrutinized her like she spoke utter poppycock. “Folderol Lizzy, it’s possible and worth all costs,” he said.
“Oliver, you know better. We can’t hide forever,” she said.
“Lizzy, I’m the oldest and I’ll decide what’s necessary.”
“You’re being ridiculous.”
“I don’t need to hear Ms. Know It All.”
“Oliver, stop, you’ve know we have to be practical. If we all hid in one room we’d get cramped, hungry, bored, and there wouldn’t be enough beds for all of us. I hate this too, but it’s our only option. Admit it.”
Oliver stepped down. He peeked at Jeffrey and back at Lizzy. “I suppose you may have a point, but what can we do? We can’t put up with this any longer.”
“For now we must cope and protect each other, but we’ll devise a plan…b,” she said.
“Rightly so, you can’t hide forever,” Ruth said. She backed them into the corner. Ellie clasped Oliver’s hand. Jeffrey squirmed like a mouse about to get eaten by a cat. Lizzy clenched on Jeffrey’s hand. “Elizabeth, give Jeffrey to me right this instant,” Ruth said.
Lizzy refused. She handed Jeffrey to Oliver. Jeffrey placed his thumb in his mouth and whimpered. “Well, I see you may not wish to give him up Oliver, but you won’t have much of a choice,” she said. She stepped on Lizzy’s foot and yanked her forearm. Smack! Ruth slapped her hand across Lizzy’s rear, bringing tears to Lizzy’s eyes. “I hope you all witnessed that. Elizabeth, next time you dare cross me, I will make sure you feel that twice as hard,” Ruth said. “Now, go do some cleaning in the halls. And goodness gracious, stop crying.” Lizzy scurried out the door without a word.
“I hoped you all have learned your lesson. Oliver, give me Jeffrey,” she said. Both Oliver and Jeffrey didn’t move a muscle. “I SAID GIVE HIM TO ME!” Ruth cleared past Ellie and Charlie and launched Jeffrey into her unforgiving arms. She flipped him upside down, holding only his feet. Oliver charged after her, but she unleashed her palm, striking his face. Her nails slashed three cuts to his face. As he brought his hand up to soothe his face, she bolted out the room. She didn’t even show the slightest concern when Jeffrey banged his head on the door. “If any of you leave, I will drop him head first,” she said.
“Help,” he pleaded, but no one heard. Oliver, Charlie, and Ellie gaped as their brother was dragged away.
“Should we…” Charlie asked.
“Sh,” Oliver said.
Ruth brought him to her room. Blood gushed to his head, making his face appear like a tomato. He refrained from crying but his eyes watered and he no longer retained clear vision.
She dawdled to her bed, cushioning herself before caring to move him right-side up. She curled him up and over, so he lay on his stomach and over her knee. He wiggled and wormed, but she pinned him like a nail. She whooped him three times, and three times harder than the last ones.
“I told you that you couldn’t leave and you did, but will you behave now?” she asked. He nodded. “Well then Jeffrey, you will clean this entire closet without a murmur. This time, nobody will turn up for you,” she said.
She dropped him on his bum inside her closet. “Now, you will use this duster to dust every inch of this room,” she said. She plopped a duster beside him and slammed the door, flicked the lock, and went out the door before Jeffrey could request the light on. As he saw the black shadow close into him, he reached his hand toward the door, but the door had shut. He felt his hand on the duster. He thrusted it to his arms and let the tears pour. He lay back and hit his head on an unknown object, only to cry and cry to the darkness creeping him in.
“Alright, you three.” Ruth marched in the kitchen door. “Charlie and Ellie, you two didn’t bother me too much. You may go wait in the living room until I call you to cook. Now out,” she said. She stomped to Oliver and slapped his cheek. She yanked his arm out of the room. She tugged him to the stairs and stopped below the first step. “You will polish these stairs until I can see my reflection.” She shoved him to the bottom step, causing his to bang his head against the railing.
“I don’t know why you’d want to see your reflection,” he muttered to himself.
“Watch your mouth, Oliver. And don’t go halfway up the staircase.” she said. She strode past Ellie and Charlie in the living room. “You two may go back and cook dinner. And fast, I’m getting hungry.”
The hours passed. The five children worked hard as the maids went through their rooms. Ellie, Charlie, and Lizzy got called with the maids for a tomato-soup dinner. Lizzy received half of a bowl. Jeffrey and Oliver didn’t receive an invitation to the table.
The three slurped their soup with displeasure. Each stomach still gurgled from hunger after they finished. Ellie headed to the living room where Ruth sipped a cup of tea and ate her spaghetti with meatballs. She adjusted her hand on the armrest beside Ruth. “Ruth, I’m much too hungry. Could we please receive some more food?”
“Eloise, you should feel lucky to even receive food, yet you badger me for more. How dare you,” Ruth said. She jerked Ellie over her knees and walloped her twice. “Go to sleep, Eloise. You bother me too much.”
“But I’m not in my nightgown and the others aren’t sleeping…”
“Since when do you think you can back-talk me?” Ruth struck her across the face with stinging pain bringing teardrops to her eyes. “Lay down right there and sleep.”
“To sleep this instant!”
“I’ve never slept a single night without her and she helps me avoid having nightmares and…”
“Does it look like I care? What a rambler you are! Go, go to sleep.”
“But I need her…”
“Not another word from you!” Ruth slapped Ellie, grabbed her collar, and shoved her to the ground.
“OW!” Ellie covered her eyes and burst into tears. “I want my doll, I want my Daddy, I want my Mommy. I want Ruth gone!”
“Stop crying Eloise, you’re disturbing my peace,” Ruth said. She kicked Ellie and silenced her for the night.
The nighttime passed and they remained up way later than their normal bedtimes. Ruth had gone to sleep. The clock struck midnight with three children awake. Ruth had left Jeffrey and Ellie in their spots.
“Charlie dear, it’s time for bed,” Betty said. She grabbed his arm.
He eyes glared red. She escorted him to the couch above Ellie and laid him down without blankets or pillows. She returned to Lizzy who dusted the carpet. Lizzy’s eyes fluttered as her vision blurred. Betty plucked the duster from her hands and brought her to sleep beside Charlie. “Goodnight.”
Betty strolled under the staircase to sweeping Oliver. Oliver remained wide-eyed and awake. “Oliver, are you ready for bed?” Betty whispered.
“Yeah, I’m ready,” he said. He dropped the supplies and turned up the staircase.
“Oh no Oliver, you mustn’t go all that way to your room. Sleep here, across from your sister,” Betty said. She waved her hand at him and brought him down the stairs. He glared at her. My room doesn’t lie far away. Does she want me to protect them from Ruth? Preposterous. Ruth wouldn’t do anything in their sleep.
“It’s fine. I’ll go,” he said.
“Oliver, wait. You can’t go up there.”
“Why not? What’s going on?”
“Goodnight Betty, but I refuse to sleep anywhere but in my own bed. He trotted up the stairs and hopped in bed before she stepped on the first stair.
And outside the house, well, nothing has changed. Chunks of snow whizz at the ground. No calming this storm.
Bring, Ring, Ding. Morning bells rung, but much earlier than the usual seven o’clock. Betty strolled through the living room, waking the children.
Charlie rolled up and opened his eyes. “Where am I?” He looked to see he had fallen asleep on the couch and slumped back on the sofa.
Lizzy rubbed her eyes. She shook her hair and curled up.
Ellie stretched her arms. “It’s freezing.”
“Good morning, dearies,” Betty said. “Unfortunately, Ruth requests you up to prepare her breakfast.” Several groans erupted. “Come now, kids. It’s time to get up and head to the kitchen.”
Charlie rolled off the couch and jogged to Lizzy.
Ellie caught up last. “Say, where’s Jeffrey and Oliver?” They entered through the kitchen door where Betty dug out supplies and materials.
“Jeffrey fell asleep in Ruth’s room and Ruth will deal with him. Oliver went in his own bedroom and I will get him soon. It’s time to begin,” Betty said. “Lizzy and Charlie, you two will cook Ruth scrambled eggs, make toast, and a warm cup of coffee. And Ellie, you will set up a warm and comfy seat in the living room. I will put up a fire.”
“And us?” Lizzy asked.
“What will we eat?”
“I don’t know. You will eat if Ruth decides you behaved well,” Betty said.
“But I’m starving, Betty. I’ve barely eaten the last couple of days.” Lizzy set her hands on her stomach and made puppy eyes at Betty.
“I know, dear. It’s cruel and inhumane, and I can barely stand watching all this take place, but I don’t know what we can do.”
“Anything! Please make me some more food or I’ll ache of hunger.”
“I’ll do my best to persuade Ruth,” Betty placed a hand on Lizzy’s shoulder and gave her a hug. “We all go through rough times, sweetie, and I promise, I promise we’ll make it through this too.”
Betty released Lizzy. She escorted Ellie to the living room and opened the fire. “Have you found Alice, Betty?”
“Alice? Pardon me, but I don’t know who this Alice is.”
“My princess doll.”
“Oh Alice. Yes it’s strange, I don’t know where she could be,” Betty said.
“That’s because Ruth took her. I was hoping you’d found it and return it to me.”
“Oh dear, Ellie,” Betty said, kneeling and resting her hand on one of Ellie’s shoulders. “Well, I’ll try and find it, but Ruth has awfully good hiding places.”
“I need Alice. She’s my best friend,” Ellie cried. “I can’t do anything without her.”
“My, my, I promise to search for her all day until I find her. Stay calm and don’t worry because I will find her.”
“But I need her now!” Ellie shook her head and cried into her hands.
“Come here, dear.” Betty wrapped Ellie into her arms. She let go and grasped Ellie’s arms. They shook and shivered. “You’re freezing, darling. Why don’t you come stand by the fire for a couple of minutes.”
Ellie neared it, placing her hands close to the protective racks. “Ah,” she said. The orange and yellow blazed halfway up the fireplace, with smoke sending itself up the chimney. The warmth filled her cold-stricken body.
“Now Ellie, when you’ve warmed you must prepare Ruth a comfortable place on the couch for breakfast. Clean the area and grab some blankets,” Betty said.
Betty headed up the stairs. She marched down the hall to Oliver’s room. “Oliver, it’s time you leave your room.” Betty knocked twice. She twisted the doorknob and headed in. “Oliver, it’s time you came, so stop what you’re doing and head on down.”
Oliver set a comb down and approached Betty.
“Betty, I appreciate your concern, but I’ll make the decision when I want to. Off with you,” he said. He waved his hand in her face. She scowled, but left. Oliver fixed his comb through his hair one last time. He strutted to his closet to change. When he opened his doors, he found only a few items remained. He yanked open all his drawers to find almost all his possessions gone. Watches, socks, belts, and other small dressing items no longer remained. Where’d they go? Wait! The clothes down in the hall and the toys sitting as the maids passed through our rooms. Betty and Ruth sensitive about me going upstairs, my brothers and sisters sleeping in the living room, it all makes sense now. Does it though? Why do they need our clothes and toys?
He ran to the hallway, but no clothes and toys sat on the floor anymore. Instead, boxes sat on the sidewalls. Since when have those been there. Did they put our stuff in there? Oliver tore open some of the boxes on top and found folded up clothes. Coats, dresses, shirts, pants, and more stuffed the insides. My sweater, and Ellie’s doll! I have to save this stuff. He drew a few of his siblings’ toys and items and carried them to his closet.
He returned to shut the boxes he opened. He noticed a white label. Little black letters appeared in the form of an address. The label claimed to be sent from Fourth Avenue in a place called Zurich. What’s that? Where’s that?
And who’s Alexander Blauch? I don’t know who that is, but the name sounds familiar.
He stared at the ceiling. Where’d I hear that name again? He stood and paced. He pressed his fingers behind his back. I did see a bunch of addresses on those envelopes. He must’ve sent one.
He ran to the master bedroom and shut the door. He went to the drawers under the windowsill, but noticed the curtains open and the storm still alive and thriving. He peered down at his back porch as snow punched the ground. He gazed at the mountain not far in the distance. An image appeared. A car drove over the road, but snow bombarded it until it veered off the road and into a tree.
He opened the drawer and shuffled through the stack of envelopes once more. He tilted each one to see the address. Where is it? It’s got to be somewhere in here. Aha! Here it is!
Oliver set the stack of envelopes next to himself. He flipped the letter to its backside. He lifted out the message. He read through the scribbled words and noted some of the following lines:
-Evelyn, thanks for sending me those misfits. I’m sorry I couldn’t get the proper size for your children. Speaking of which, will you ever bring them to Zurich? I’d love to meet them.
-Don’t forget you may always ship me old clothes and toys to sell. They make great sales.
-Your children must care for them so well. I appreciate your generosity and offer you this money in return. Stop by soon, and with James as well. How old are they now? Jeffrey’s four right? Goodness, they grow so fast. I hope to meet them soon.
So when Mom and Pop go to the city, they go to Zurich. I can’t believe they planned on bringing us to the city. Why didn’t they?
I didn’t think she talked to anyone but Father. But why are they taking our clothes. We still use them a lot. How does Ruth know about Alexander and where to send these? Who will pick them up in this storm?
Oliver returned the envelopes to the drawer, but kept the letter from Mr. Blauch. He snuck out the door and peered around the hallway corner.
Ruth hopped up the stairs and stopped Oliver. “What do you think you’re doing up here, young man?” She crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot.
“What do you think you’re doing with our clothes and possessions?”
“Oliver, this is not the time,” Ruth said.
“Now’s as good a time as any!” he said.
She rested her hands over her hips. “Oliver, those things will get sold so we have enough money for food. Without your parents here to work, we don’t have money and this will have to do for now,” she said.
“Then why give up our things instead of yours?” he asked.
“You don’t understand and you can’t.”
“Of course I can. Tell me.”
“If you insist. Look, your items hold more value than mine,” she said.
“Back to work.” she kicked him towards the steps.
He stomped down each stair and Betty scurried over to him. “Oh Oliver, you will sweep right away. I’m sorry, Ruth,” she said. She handed Oliver a broom.
“Don’t worry, Betty. He’s a rather troublesome child,” Ruth said.
The day went on and each child scrubbed away. Jeffrey reappeared, but Betty regarded his every move as he cleaned the living and game rooms. They received two meals of cabbage and tomato soup, neither enough to silence their grumbling stomachs. Charlie worked alone in the kitchen while Ellie and Lizzy cleaned the maids’ rooms. Oh and poor Oliver, he swept the snow off the front porch. At least Ruth allowed him to put on a coat.
Outside, bone-chilling winds blistered at him. Snow swept in his face as he blocked flying ice. He used an old broom to wipe it away, but the efforts had no use. Some snow cleared, but if it continued this way, snow would cover the porch again.
He glanced at the snow as the white chunks flew down, smashing the pile below. Out in front, a car drove across the driveway. The vehicle didn’t stop. Snowballs hit it hard, blocking the driver’s view. The car tried moving from the snow, but crashed into a tree on the right side of the road. Oliver recognized the car as his parents’. Not again. Why must I always see this? Every time I see the snow, I see their crash. This mustn’t go on. He shook the image away and dashed inside.
Inside, Ruth’s hand greeted his face for claiming to finish early. After taking off his coat, he dusted every corner. All the kids received their share of punishment today. She spanked and slapped Ellie and Lizzy’s faces. Blood gushed from her sharp nails while tears rolled down their cheeks. Ruth spanked them every time they cried. She slapped Charlie in the face twice. But poor Jeffrey. Ruth slapped, spanked, or shoved him any time a noise popped out of his mouth. The same came for Oliver with every word he talked back.
The day passed into the late night with all the children working away. A poor soul with the bravery to travel through this storm picked up the boxes. Ruth readied herself for bed after giving final duties to the children. Most of the kids worked in the lower hallway or game room. Ellie and Lizzy moved to dusting the staircase and underneath the stairs. Charlie organized books and Oliver swept the upstairs hall. Ruth tromped to Jeffrey. “Jeffrey, it’s time you mopped the carpet over here,” she said, pointing to the living room carpet. Jeffrey wouldn’t budge. He stayed put against the wall across from the staircase. On the other side, a brick wall stood.
Ruth glared, but he wouldn’t move. Ruth crossed Jeffrey’s sight. “It’s not an option, you will go mop. Now!”
Out of the blue, everyone stopped and stared. Jeffrey cringed and cowered against the wall. “You have one chance to go,” she whispered, grabbing his chest.
“I don’t want to,” he said.
Ruth had had enough; she grasped his shirt and shook her head. The others gaped in horror, but didn’t dare cross her this time. Lizzy gulped. Charlie crossed his eyes. Ellie covered her and Alice’s eyes.
“Let me go!” Jeffrey said, “help!”
“Fine!” Ruth set him down and heaved out her hands. She shoved him head first into the brick wall. Bam! Charlie dropped the mop.
“AH!” Elli screamed.
“Jeffrey!” Lizzy said.
Ruth stepped back dazed, and propped her mouth open.
Oliver headed to Jeffrey who had red oozing out the back of his head. The blood streamed down from his wound. Jeffrey tried stopping it with his hands, but the blood and pain went through his fingers.
“Help!” Jeffrey cried, “help!”
“Don’t close your eyes Jeffrey. Stay awake and I’ll be down there in a sec,” Oliver said.
“NO! Don’t any of you step near that boy unless you want the same fate as his!” Ruth said.
Jeffrey fell to the floor, clutching his head and screaming louder than ever before. “All you brats! Come downstairs and sweep these floors,” she said. She got a towel and wrapped it over his gash.
“HELP! Make it stop! Make it stop!”
Ruth nudged him toward the staircase, but he wouldn’t get up. She levered him into her hands. “You’re going to bed this instant, young man. No more tears,” she said. She hauled him up every stair, holding his head away from her body. She set him down in his own bed. She managed to find a bandana and wrapped it around his head.
She hushed him once more, but the pain became too much for him to stop swelling tears. Even so, she slammed the door and left the room. She allowed him to cry his way to sleep.