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August 01, 2022

Transitions 47

By Sand Pilarski

Forty-seven: Kids Without Forts

One of the problems that really bugs me is that we're still finding stuff out by spying. I know it's not right, but we're not like little kids any more, we're all hearing stories at school that are a lot more hairy than anything we hear at home. Why can't Mom and Uncle Bodie and Aunt Andersol just tell us, or include us in on the family strategy sessions? Do they think we're still innocents? Do they think that I can't refrain from giving Michel noogies while they're talking, or that Marca will whine that she wants to watch television?

It's getting harder and harder to pretend we don't know what's going on. Sooner or later we're going to be caught out, and then there will be hurt feelings and suspicions and anger ... and lectures that go on forever about how we're supposed to be trustworthy and circumspect and responsible. But we are that, already. Well, we would be if we were trusted with information and didn't have to resort to being undercover agents.

I have no doubt that Aunt Sully knew we'd been up to something tonight. We're not supposed to keep a door closed, but we had, and no amount of scraping and shuffling could disguise that Michel was at his homework later than all the rest of us instead of joining the communal studyfest. He had no excuse ready at hand; we were used to Mother ignoring us in the evenings -- Aunt Sully prowling the halls was a surprise to us. Had she been listening outside our door in the same way we'd eavesdropped so many times in the past?

She never let on if she had. When Oesha opened the door and found Aunt Sully face to face with her, we Five all stammered and got red-faced and didn't know what to say, until I put on a mask of teen-aged aggrievement and said, with pseudo-insulted dignity, "We were speculating on your closed door session with Grandmother and what it might have concerned."

Oesha took her cue from me, and said, "Yes, I would like to know why I was kicked out of Grandmother's rooms when you all came to visit her. Were you talking about us?"

"No," our aunt said, a frown chasing over her face. "Are any of you up for an all day ride tomorrow?"

Kelsa emphatically said no, as she was still annoyed over her pony's behavior during the big storm, and Michel was uncertain. I volunteered, of course. Maybe Michel will wake up early enough ... should I slip him a sleeping pill so that he dozes through the morning?

It was cold in the morning; Aunt Sully and I had on insulated coats, ski gloves, and warm hats as we walked to the stable in the morning. Michel had not emerged from his bed, so I was delighted to have the aunt to myself.

Our saddles had been augmented by packs which contained water, fruit, and sandwiches enough for a hearty lunch. She had been serious about a long ride. Through the dees in the back of the saddles, long laces hung so that we could shed the heavy coats if necessary and carry them behind us. Our horses were eager to move out, lifting their feet high in the chilly air, their breaths making them look like they were breathing smoke.

Instead of heading up the ridge road, we went down to the main road (Reich Road), crossed it and turned left on a dirt track that ran along cow pastures, observing the fences to be sure that they were in good repair. By ten o'clock, we were to the "green belt" stretch of forest that lay between our estate and other people's properties. The cattle were not permitted in that area, but we opened a gate and rode in. Aunt Sully led us in a weaving back and forth, checking the pasture fences and the Greenland fences. At several points, there were trees down, breaking the barbed-wire and chain-link fences almost to the ground. She stopped, asked me to hold Zigzag's bridle, and jotted down information in a little notepad.

On we went, hour after hour. "Don't the grooms do this?" I asked her while we ate sandwiches and oranges under the high sun.

"No, it's not their job. They inspect the horse pastures and take care of the horses. Sometimes, while they're out exercising the horses, they see things and report them, but it's not their responsibility. I've been trying to figure out who is supposed to be responsible, but your mother doesn't know, and Redell just looked like I'd pulled his pants down to his ankles when I asked. Your father never mentioned it ... "

"There's nothing in his journal about it, either. I wish he'd have kept a journal for longer than a half year."

"He had a journal?" my aunt asked, her eyes wide.

Blushing, I admitted that he'd kept one from the beginning of 1996 until he died that summer. "He never mentioned who was responsible for what."

"There were no previous entries?"

"No, the book starts with January and ends some days before he died." My eyes began to water a little, burn a little. "God, I wish there was more."

We encountered Reich Road by mid-afternoon, the sun already lowering to just above the ridge that looked down on our house. The horses were wet with sweat along their necks, in spite of the walking pace we'd kept, and I was as tired as if I had marched the whole way on my own feet. "Any idea what the cook is making for supper?" Aunt Sully asked.

"I have no clue," I said. "Since Maledicci left, I don't even worry about it. All our meals have been good. I wish we were having steaks and baked potatoes and sliced tomatoes and fresh French bread with cream cheese and strawberries and hamburgers on the side, but whatever she comes up with, I'll eat the whole thing before I ever taste it. I'm ravenous."

"I am, too. Thanks for riding along with me."

"You've been riding a lot lately -- and that's great, I'm riding more, too. I like having you stay here, you know."

"Good, because I have about come to the conclusion there's no point in me going back to Riverton to live. The commute is kind of long, but without Bodie and Andersol next door, and Gabe gone, well ... John's mother called me this past week and told me that she and Mr. Albert are on the waiting list for the new senior apartments being built down town. Without her next door, I just can't see the point in me staying there."

"But I can see a lot of point in you living here," I said emphatically. "We miss you all the time when you're not here. Hey! When the third floor is done, you could take over one of the suites up there and we could be neighbors!"

"Don't think that hasn't crossed my mind," she said, smiling a little, "but I have to talk to your mother about it before I make any permanent decisions."

I was elated by her admission. If she were to move here permanently, I was going to be one lucky estate-inheriting dog. The idea of trying to step into my father's shoes was terrifying, but if Aunt Sully lived here, she could be a guiding force and an immeasurable resource. When we entered the little paddock in front of the stables, I dismounted and offered to help un-tack and groom the horses; Maida laughingly shooed me away. Gary was at my aunt's stirrup to help her dismount, holding her legs so that she didn't jar when she hit the ground. Expecting her to snarl at him, I was surprised to hear her thank the groom for the help. A bit stiffly, she turned to me and waved me to join her on the walk to the house. "Are you okay?" I voiced my concern.

"Owen, I'm just getting older, and need some help now and then. If I rode more, I wouldn't stiffen up so." Redell greeted us at the door, and Aunt Sully mumbled something about repairs, handing him the small notebook. "See you at dinner," she said to me, and then climbed the stairs.

"Did you have a good ride?" Redell asked me.

"Glorious, Redell. I've never been down by the eastern cow pastures before. I love the green belt! There were paths in there that had to be made by kids. I even saw a little cave carved out of blackberry brambles -- why haven't we ever been allowed to play there?"

"Ahh, probably because of the chance of picking up ticks and Lyme's disease," he said, sounding like he was hedging.

Our play was not something he'd ever had control over, so I didn't press him. In all probability, our mother had no idea that the green belt between the pastures and the suburbs even existed. We hadn't been allowed to play there at least in part because Mother didn't know it was there. I'd bet almost anything that she had never bothered to look at it.

And the staff wouldn't have dared to tell us about some foreign clime across the road. What if someone kidnapped us for a huge ransom? Or simply took out on the Reich-Ambris kiddies some misguided revenge for us being born rich? You just never know.

After my shower, but before we were called to dinner, I got out my journal again.

You just never know. We could have been born on the other side of that fence, and spent hours and days playing in the woodland belt by the cow pastures. We could have been 'just anybodies' and been happy.

And it's not that we aren't happy now ... but we're not 'normal.'

Wait, it's not that I want to be 'normal' the way the other kids in school are 'normal' -- don't get me wrong. I like being who I am. Tonight I'm just envying that cut-out cave underneath the blackberry brambles. Dad, did you ever get to play in the woods above the house? Did you have a secret fort up there? Did you want one?

Is that why I want that suite on the third floor? Is that my 'fort?'

Yes, I thought, closing my journal, perhaps it is. And if it turned out to be inadequately heated, or somehow over-heated, as I'd heard the adults discuss, it wouldn't matter. It would be my cave, one that I had more or less carved out of the labyrinth of the house.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-02-08
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