For some reason Pricilla Ainsworth couldn’t explain, she found herself standing in the backyard of the house she had spent her youngest years in, staring at the neighbor’s gaudy fountain. She stepped over and looked closer at it. The water pouring over the fake, brightly-colored stones had been an endless source of fascination for a six-year-old.
“May I help you?”
Pricilla jumped and turned with flushed cheeks toward the older woman standing on the porch of the neighbor’s house. “I’m sorry. I used to live next door. I was just looking.”
The lady looked pleasant enough, although why, Pricilla couldn’t say, since there was a strange woman in her backyard. The lady was studying her thoughtfully. “What’s your name?”
“Cilla!” the woman cried. “I can’t believe it! I am Madolyn.” Madolyn continued speaking, seeming content to let Pricilla stand speechless, trying to connect the woman before her with a remembered face. “I’m sorry you missed Mother. She passed away just a week ago.” Madolyn wiped her eyes. “Would you come in for a minute?”
It seemed rude not to oblige, so Pricilla followed. As she stepped over the threshold, she was acutely aware of her high heels and dress suit that stood in stark contrast to the pink sandals and shorts that accompanied the memory of this house.
Turning to survey the blue kitchen, Pricilla caught sight of a yellowed paper and a bit of purple sticking out from under a stack of papers. She gave it a tug and gasped. It was a crayon drawing of a purple cat.
“I’m going to draw Mrs. Bythe one more picture before we move, okay, Mamma?” Cilla spread crayons and paper out on the floor and studied them. Her daddy had read her a story in the Bible that had the color purple in it. Purple was an important color, he’d said. Then Cilla’s gaze fell on her cat, Minnie, who had crawled in her lap when she had been sad about moving. Yes, a purple kitty was just the thing to comfort Mrs. Bythe if she got lonely.
Cilla took her time making the drawing just right. She added wavy whiskers and lots of long purple hair. At the bottom she proudly wrote her name.
“All done!” Cilla skipped next-door.
Mrs. Bythe’s adult daughter Madolyn opened the door. “Cilla! I’m glad you came over before you left.”
Mrs. Bythe was watching TV. Madolyn hollered over the noise, “Mother! Cilla’s brought you something.”
“You’re interrupting my show,” Mrs. Bythe frowned. But she didn’t complain when Madolyn turned down the volume.
Cilla handed the paper to the woman. “It’ll keep you company after I move.”
“Thank you,” Mrs. Bythe muttered grudgingly.
“Good bye!” Cilla beamed and skipped back to her house.
“We missed you so much when you moved away,” Madolyn was continuing as she poured iced tea. Pricilla wondered how much of the conversation she had missed. Madolyn looked up. “You know your visits and pictures meant a lot to Mother.”
Pricilla gave a short laugh.
Madolyn nodded. “Oh, I know Mother didn’t show her emotions. But she really enjoyed you.”
Perhaps Pricilla had been able to believe that as a child, but now....
“Cilla, I want you to see something.”
Curious, Pricilla followed Madolyn down the hall.
Madolyn put her hand on the doorknob of a room. “Mother wasn’t able to get out of the house easily, so she created her own little getaway. She filled this room with the things she loved.”
“A personal retreat room.” Pricilla nodded, but she wasn’t prepared for the sight that met her eyes. The walls were a dusty green and lace curtains flowed down the widow. Bright potted flowers covered the windowsill. A hand-crocheted blanket was draped over an armchair with a toy kitten curled on the seat.
It was the pictures that surprised Pricilla the most. They were of bright-eyed children playing with their pets, and right there on the back wall, with a real wooden frame around it, was one of Pricilla’s own crayon drawings.
Pricilla did not understand. The playful grace of this room just did not match the scowls of Mrs. Bythe.
“I wish she had let more people see this side of her.” Madolyn brushed away a tear. “But I wanted you to know, Cilla, that you really were a friend to her. Next time someone frowns at you, remember that hearts are not always as they seem.”
copyright 2008 Amy Michelle Wiley
Amy is a freelance writer and editor and a professional sign language interpreter. She is the director of Peculiar People--an international collaborative fiction organization. Her website is www.sparrowsflight.net