By Lady Euphoria Deathwatch
Mrs. Hillary Wiggins could hear the children cheerfully playing in the playroom upstairs. Their four distinct voices were giggling and cooing.
Six year old Benny fancied himself a soldier, but was playing the father to Gracie’s Momma part. Freddie and Lilly were crawling about on the floor. In her minds eye, Mrs. Wiggins could see all the dolls, stuffed animals, and kitchen playthings set about the room with the children intent in their games.
Freddie will be crying for a late morning nap soon, with Lilly fussing not far after. Benny will defect from his father part since the babies will then be gone and Grace will want to eat. Yes, best to enjoy the peace now. The older two should go outside to play while the little ones slept if the rain stayed away. They would all play again together later in the afternoon. Yes, after lunch they will do just that. While the children are out of the playroom Hillary would go up and straighten in there, then choose a book to read to them in the evening before bed.
All the children liked to be read to in the evening. In fact they won’t sleep well at night without it so a book must be chosen. On the nights Mrs. Wiggins had forgotten to read to the children, they didn’t sleep well at all. They would fuss in the night until a book was read a few times over and they had all fallen back to sleep. She tried to keep them on a schedule, because it was better that way.
Mrs. Wiggins thought about the difference in the house since the children had arrived. Before they came the days ran together, quiet and still. Now there was laughter and many things to do. Lilly was her child, born three years ago this past spring. She never learned to walk but that didn’t stop her from getting around by crawling everywhere. The others were the children of relatives. The country house had been in the family for generations and was where the children in the family were sent for their health when the summers grew too hot in the city.
Mrs. Wiggins liked children, so it didn’t bother her to care for so many that were not her own. Children needed care and she didn’t have anything else to do. They didn’t cause much fuss so she took care of them all. She made them clothing when their play clothes wore out and darned their little socks.
The Wiggins’ housekeeper Mary came to the door of the sitting room and announced that luncheon was served. Mrs. Wiggins went to the dining room and sat at the head of the table and ate her meal all alone. She listened to the children eating their own lunch upstairs. When she heard the older two on the stairs and heading out the door to the back garden, she folded her napkin.
Mrs. Wiggins went up to the playroom to pick up the toys. There was milk spilled on the floor and a puddle in the corner. Someone needed to learn how to use the potty again. She peeked out the window to see the tree swaying with the motion of the swing. It looked like rain again so she returned to her work in case they came back inside earlier then they usually did, she wanted it tidy for them when they returned.
Once all the toys were back on their shelves, she stood before the bookshelf on the wall that was too high for the children to reach. ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ was chosen again for tonight. The children all enjoyed that story and by now Hillary knew it by heart. She placed a snack of cookies for them on the play table and left the room. She put the book on the night stand in their bedroom for later and listened to the babies sleep, breathing and cooing in that baby way. She tiptoed out and went back downstairs to work on the mending.
When she heard the children come in, she put away her sewing and went into the hall. Muddy footprints were left behind on the polished wooden floor. Hillary cleared them away. She could hear the children playing again upstairs and she went to the kitchen to see when dinner was to be served.
Mary told her that ‘The Mister’ would be late again. He worked long hours to keep them fed in these hard times. Hillary asked for her meal to be served at seven. From upstairs there came a scream. Mrs. Wiggins rushed up to find blood droplets on the floor. Benny had picked at his scabby knees to make Gracie cry when he bled. Mrs. Wiggins wiped up the blood and told them that if they didn’t behave she would not read to them before bed. She went back down the stairs, taking the now empty cookie plate to the kitchen.
“Are they trying your patience, Miss?” Mary asked.
“No, not really, boys will be boys.” Mrs. Wiggins replied.
“Yes, Benny picking at his scabs.” Mrs. Wiggins sighed. “Since I have the time, I think I will go shopping and see if I can find some yarn to make more socks for my tribe. I’m re-darning the same holes again and again.”
Mrs. Wiggins put on her coat and hat, not forgetting to pick up her umbrella in case it showered again. On this cool, damp autumn day, she walked down the lane the few minutes it took to get to the shops.
There wasn’t much of a selection. She was hoping for something bright but only found un-dyed ‘seconds’ wool yarn, so she bought the whitest yarn she could find. Hillary made plans to save onion skins to make it a sunny yellow when she had enough of them. She had dyed yarn before when she had to. It was not a pleasant job but was worth the effort. Lilly liked yellow and some of her socks had gone missing again. “How do babies lose socks in the house that were never found again?” She thought to herself. Mrs. Wiggins planned on getting better yarn in the spring, after the sheep were sheared.
When she returned home she asked Mary to save the onion skins so she could later dye the yarn. Mary told Mrs. Wiggins that there was already a bag of them hanging in the basement stairway.
Hillary checked the bag and found more then enough onion skins to dye the yarn that she had just bought. She listened from the hallway and could hear the children playing quietly. Benny and Gracie had awakened from their nap while she was gone. She got out the copper dye pot and filled it with water, placing it on the back of the stove. When the water was hot she added the onion skins and boiled the color out of them. She carefully skimmed out the spent skins and added the vinegar and the pre-wetted yarn. After a while some dull yellow yarn was drying on a screen in the pantry by the open window.
After Mrs. Wiggins had finished with her work, Mary opened the other windows in the kitchen to air out the pungent odors before preparing dinner.
Hillary was tired but happy as she climbed the stairs to change for dinner. As she passed, she listened at the playroom door. Benny was telling the others a story. It was a war story in which he was saving the day again but the others didn’t seem to mind.
She went to her room and changed her now yellow stained house dress. She put on her dusty pink, the one her husband liked, forgetting he would be late. After eating dinner by herself, she waited for him by reading a book in the sitting room. She quickly looked up at the clock when she heard the key in the lock. The children must have fallen asleep long ago. She came out into the hall and walked with her husband up to their bedroom. The children were quiet so she didn’t even look in on them.
They dressed for bed and went to sleep for the night.
In the middle of the night, the door of the bedroom opened, and the light from the hall came in. A book, ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ floated across the room a foot off the floor and landed on the night stand with a bang. Mr. Wiggins shook his wife’s shoulder. “Your children are back and they need you. You’re the only one that can settle them down.” He pulled the covers up over his head as she got up, finding her slippers and the flash light.
She put on her heaviest robe and collected the book from the night stand, pulling the door closed to shut out the hall light as she left the room.
Out in the yard on the cold stone bench, she read the book aloud twice by her flashlight beam before the children stopped their crying and fussing. She straightened the flowers and brushed off the leaves of the four little graves huddled there. She kissed the headstones of Benny, Gracie, Freddie, and baby Lilly.
This had been her whole world for the last year and a half since the fire took their small lives as they slept in their beds. They hadn’t moved on, so she continued to care for them, as she would to the last day of her long lonely life.