Authors: Mary Downing Hahn
"There's only three of us," I said.
"You forgot Mr. Bear." Emma sat the teddy in the extra chair and laid a fork, knife, and spoon in front of him.
I laughed a little louder than I'd meant to, in relief, I guess, that Mr. Bear was joining us ... not the ghost from Emma's dream.
Dulcie brought over a big yellow bowl of spaghetti and set it down in the middle of the table. "The sauce isn't as good as my ex-mother-in-law's," she said, "but it's not bad with plenty of parmesan sprinkled on top."
She tucked a napkin around Emma's neck and served us each a heaping portion.
"Don't forget Mr. Bear," Emma said. "He hasn't had anything to eat for years and years and years."
Dulcie put a small amount on a saucer and set it in front of the bear. "Eat up," she told him. "I don't like bears who waste food."
After dinner, Dulcie lit a fire. Emma and I sprawled on the rug and roasted marshmallows. I let mine turn black on the outsides and sucked the gooey white insides into my mouth. "Yum."
"Ugh," said Emma. She liked hers barely toasted, but Dulcie burned hers even blacker than mine.
We washed the marshmallows down with hot chocolate, then lay still and watched the flames devour the logs. Our faces felt warm, but our feet were cold.
On the sofa, Dulcie sighed happily and stretched her long legs toward the fire. "I'd forgotten how chilly Maine gets at night," she said. "We'll need extra blankets. And cozy flannel jammies."
Emma yawned and rubbed her eyes.
"Look like someone's ready for bed." Dulcie scooped her up and gave her a hug. "Let's go, sleepyhead."
"You come, too." Emma stretched her arms toward me. "And bring Mr. Bear. He's scared of the dark."
Carrying the bear, I followed Dulcie and Emma to the small room at the back of the cottage. As soon as Emma was ready for bed, she found
The Lonely Doll
and handed it to Dulcie. "Read this one."
"But I read that book last night and the night before and the night before that—"
"It's my favorite," Emma insisted. She climbed into bed and tucked the bear under the covers beside her. "I bet Ali wants to hear it—don't you?"
"Sure." I stretched out on the bed beside Emma and listened to Dulcie begin the story.
After she'd read a few pages, Emma interrupted her. "It's so dark outside my window. Why aren't there any lights or any people? I don't even hear any cars."
"We're out in the country now, Em, where it's peaceful and quiet."
"Will you pull down the shades so I don't have to see the dark? Ghosts could be out there, watching me."
Before Dulcie could move, I jumped up and shut out the night with a few yanks on the blinds. Emma was right. It
dark out there. Very dark. No lights anywhere. No sounds but the lapping of the lake against the shore and the wind in the treetops. The cottage was spooky at night, dark, full of shadows, not at all the way it was in the daytime.
"There," I said. "Is that better?"
"I guess so." Emma's voice was low, almost a whisper. She held Mr. Bear tightly. "Read, Mommy."
Dulcie read three
books, as well as
The Cat in the Hat, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, Horton Hatches the Egg,
The Owl and the Pussycat.
But it was
that finally lulled Emma to sleep.
Leaving a night-light glowing, Dulcie tiptoed out of the room, and I followed. She closed the door softly and leaned against it for a moment.
"Let's hope Emma adjusts to nights in the wilderness quickly," she said. "I could barely stay awake to read those books."
She yawned and gave me a hug. "I'm beat from all that driving, Ali. I'm going to put out the fire and get into bed."
More tired than I'd realized, I climbed the stairs to my room. Trying to ignore the darkness beyond the bedside lamp, I snuggled under Great-Grandmother's quilt and opened
To Kill a Mockingbird,
number one on my school's summer reading list. I'd seen the movie, but I'd never read the novel. Dad said the book was even better than the movie, but Mom said nothing could beat Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.
My bed faced the casement windows, slightly open to the cool night air. Through the pine branches, I could see the moon, tipped into a crooked smile. Insects chirped, an owl hooted, the pines sighed in the breeze, and the lake washed against the shore.
With Rufus M. tucked in beside me, I tried to read, but after half an hour, I gave up. It wasn't the book. I loved the story, and I loved the way Harper Lee wrote. I simply couldn't stay awake another second.
I closed my eyes, expecting to fall asleep immediately. But the moon shone in my face. In the woods, the orchestra of insects chirped and thrummed and buzzed, louder and louder.
I found myself thinking of Mom and Dulcie, sharing this bed when they were younger than I was. Had they talked and giggled together? Or had they quarreled the way they did now?
I hugged Rufus. "If you could talk, you'd tell me," I whispered to the old bear. "You were there."
His glass eye glittered in the moonlight, giving him a slightly wicked look. But if the bear knew anything about those long-ago summers, he wasn't telling. Like Mom and Dulcie, Rufus M. knew how to keep secrets.
It rained during the night. In the morning it was still coming down, darkening the lake to black and blurring the trees. The air smelled like wet earth and old leaves. A squirrel perched on the deck's railing, his droopy tail wet and pitiful. A few sparrows hopped about here and there, looking almost as wretched as the squirrel.
After breakfast, Dulcie handed out umbrellas and led Emma and me down the steps to the dock. Flinging open the door of the small shingled building, she said, "My studio. Isn't it marvelous?"
Large skylights let in the gray light of the rainy day. Blank canvases leaned against the walls, primed and ready to paint. A long table ran along the back wall, holding paints and brushes, stacks of drawing paper, and books. Above it, built-in shelves bulged with more art supplies and books.
A wood stove and a couch draped with a faded paisley print bedspread occupied one corner, along with a couple of well-worn easy chairs and the potter's wheel Dulcie used to make bowls, mugs, and platters.
I breathed in the smells of paint, turpentine, and linseed oil mingled with lake water and damp, mossy woods. "It's perfect," I said. "I want one just like it!"
Dulcie smiled and pointed to an easel in the middle of the studio. "What do you think of my latest?"
I stared at the large oil, washed in shades of blues, greens, and grays, splashed with flashes of yellow and white. "It makes me think of water."
Dulcie grinned. "It's the first of a series based on the lake and its moods." She turned to the window and stared at the water, dull and gray in the rain. "I want to capture the power in water and rocks and trees—capture it as it captures me." She stood silently for a few moments, toying with a long strand of curly hair. Almost as an afterthought, she added, "Maybe I'll manage to free myself."
I wasn't sure what she meant or even if she were talking to me, so I simply nodded.
"Mommy, can I show Ali my pictures?" Emma asked.
Without looking at either of us, Dulcie said, "Of course. Your folder's on the table."
Emma carefully untied the strings holding her folder closed and began spreading pictures on the table. "I made these in New York," she explained, "and the moving truck brought them here, just like it brought Mommy's paintings."
I looked at the array of rainbows, birds, suns, and flowers, painted in bright reds, yellows, greens, and blues. In some, people with huge smiling faces and long stick arms and legs floated just above the ground. She'd printed her name in big sloppy letters across the top of every picture.
"These are great, Emma. I love the bright colors and all the happy people."
"I'm going to be an artist when I grow up," Emma said, "just like Mommy."
"Me, too. We'll all three be artists together."
Emma clapped her hands. "And this will be where we paint—all three of us. And we'll live together in the cottage. And we won't be lonely."
Dulcie had finally left the window and was now mixing paints on her palette. A new canvas faced her. As she lifted her brush to make the first splash of color, she turned to Emma and me. "Would you girls like to paint, too?"
Emma grabbed a box of tempera paints and handed it to me. "You open the jars," she said, "and I'll get the paper and the brushes."
Soon all three of us were absorbed in painting. Rain pelted the skylights, the lake slapped the shore, the wind blew. Dulcie's CD player was loaded with classical music, Bach and Mozart—or was it Haydn? Well, no matter who it was, the music was perfect, and so was the rain and the wind and the sound of the little waves.
I watched Dulcie wash her canvas with thin layers of color in grayed shades of blue and purple and green: a rainy day at the lake. I tried doing the same thing with the tempera paint, but my brush was too wet. The colors ran and pooled and wrinkled the paper.
"Look, Ali." Emma held up a painting as blotchy and runny as mine, its colors mainly dark blues and blacks with a blob of white.
"Is that the lake on a rainy day?" I asked.
Emma looked at her painting. "Yes, but it's got something else." She pointed to the white blob. "This is a skeleton ghost. See? Here's its head."
Dulcie took the picture and looked at it intently. "What gave you the idea to paint a ghost in the water?"
Emma shrugged. "It's something I dream about." Her voice sank to a whisper. "Bones in the water, bones that come out and chase me."
The studio was so quiet, I could hear raindrops splash against the skylights. A cold draft slipped under the door and wrapped around my ankles. I shivered.
Emma hugged Dulcie. "Don't be mad, Mommy."
Dulcie stared at Emma. "Why would I be mad?"
Emma stroked Dulcie's sleeve. "I don't know."
Dulcie laid the picture on a stack of paper on the table and picked Emma up. "How about painting a rainbow and a smiling sun and a flower?" she asked. "Can you do that for me?"
"I already did lots of those, Mommy." Emma picked up her pictures and sorted through them. "One rainbow, two rainbows, three rainbows," she said. "And here's you and me sitting under a rainbow, and here's one flower, two flowers, four, five, seven flowers."
Dulcie looked at them. "Very nice," she said. "Much better than bones in the lake, don't you think?"
"I guess." Emma went to the window and looked out at the lake. "I wish the rain would go away."
"Me, too." I joined her and frowned at the dark clouds over the dark water. In the glass, I saw Dulcie's reflection behind me. She was sitting at the table, staring at the ghost picture. The expression on her face made me uneasy.
That afternoon, I read to Emma until she fell asleep. While she was napping, Dulcie came in from the studio and made a pot of tea for us. We sat at the kitchen table, warm and snug and dry. Rain gurgled in the downspouts, poured from the eaves, and ran down the windowpanes in large drops.
"Emma has an amazing imagination," I said.
"Sometimes I think she spends too much time alone," Dulcie said slowly. "I wonder if it's good for her."
"I'm an only child, too," I said. "It might be nice to have a brother or sister, but I'm perfectly happy the way things are."
Except for Mom,
If only she was like you—never depressed, no headaches, full of energy, going places, doing things.
I stopped myself, guilt stricken.
Dulcie opened a tin of fancy cookies and offered me one. They were thin and crisp, smelled lovely, and tasted even better. Given the opportunity, I could have eaten every one and not left a crumb.
"In New York, we live in a neighborhood with lots of artists but not many kids," Dulcie went on, talking to me as if I was her age, her equal, not a little kid. "I've kept her at home because I can't afford preschool."
"She'll be in kindergarten this fall, won't she?"
Dulcie nodded. "Maybe she'll make friends then."
"Of course she will." I took another cookie. "And this summer she'll have me to play with."
Dulcie smiled and patted my hand. "I'm so glad Claire decided to let you come."
"She almost didn't."
Dulcie shrugged. "Your mom worries too much."
"Has she always been like she is now?"
"Pretty much." Dulcie sighed. "Our mom overprotected her—said she was 'sensitive, delicate, sickly.'"
"I don't know. I was just a kid myself." Dulcie peered into her teacup as if the answer might be there. "Every time we had a fight, it was my fault. I got blamed for everything." She looked at me. "Sometimes I think Claire played it up to get attention."
Shocked by Dulcie's unkind words, I leapt to Mom's defense. "She has horrible migraines, and she's always feeling bad. Grandmother was probably right about her."
"I know, I know. Believe me, I know." With that, Dulcie gathered the empty teacups and carried them to the sink. "I have to get back to the studio. Please fix Emma a snack when she wakes up. Cookies and juice. Not too much, though, or she won't want dinner."
I jumped up and followed Dulcie to the door. "Are you mad at me? Did I say the wrong thing?"
She gave me a quick hug. "I had no business criticizing your mom. We're just so different, you know? It's hard for us to get along. Always has been."
I watched Dulcie leave the cottage and pause at the top of the steps. She stood there for a few minutes, staring out across the lake. The rain had stopped, but the water was still dark under the gray sky. The wind tugged at her hair, pulling curly strands from her ponytail. She looked small against the churning clouds.
I went back to reading
To Kill a Mockingbird.
After a while, Emma came into the kitchen, still sleepy from her nap. I closed my book and fixed her a glass of juice and a couple of cookies. Outside the rain started falling again and the wind blew. I began to worry Mom had been right about the weather.