As soon as I pushed open the door to our house, someone held my hand. It was unexpected, so I instinctively reached out my hand to push them away.
I looked up, and saw Mrs Baker.
“Mrs Baker? What are you doing here?” I asked in a mixture of surprise and confusion. And maybe just a hint of unwelcomeness.
“Oh, honey. I thought you might like to live with me,” Mrs Baker’s concerned face was enough proof to me that she was telling the truth.
“You are really that concerned about me?” I asked, just to check.
“But why? Why do I need to live with you?”
Mrs Baker looked a bit hurt - just a bit. “Well, the letter, of course, dear.”
The letter. The shock and remembrance hit me like a tidal wave. The letter!
I was helping Mother wash up the clothes while trying to get Alexander and Tom to calm down and stop chasing each other.
Tom whizzed past me, his hair flying, and coat flapping frantically as if trying to escape him.
“Tom, settle down!” I tried to stay as calm as Mother, but I was panicking. What if they knocked something down? There would be hell to pay.
Ignoring me, Tom ran precariously close to a pottery set that Mother had been hoping to sell.
“Tom,” I warned. He laughed and zoomed away again, out of my reach. Turning to mother with a long-suffering gaze, I groaned at her. “Tom’s being so naughty.”
“Leave him be,” said Mother, her kind, patient voice always the voice of kindness. “He’ll stop eventually. No point hassling him.”
Next Alexander ran past, laughing and giggling as if he was a madman. “Calm down, Alex,” I said, trying to use my very reasonable voice. He started to shake his head, and just as I was about to scold him, the doorbell rang.
“You’re lucky,” I growled as I went to answer the door. I hurriedly wiped my hands on my apron to dry them.
I got a huge surprise when I opened the door. There was a large man standing there, his toe tapping.
“About time, too,” he said curtly, flicking his curls impatiently back from his chubby face. “Here, your house is for sale. Goodbye.”
He thrust a letter into my hands and left. The letter was a scented envelope made of marbled paper, but there was time later to marvel at it - our house was for sale!
I stood there, shocked for a moment, then ran into the house, trying to find Mother. She was now hanging up the clothes to dry, and as I burst out the news to her, she dropped the clothes-basket with a cry.
“No, it couldn’t be,” she said, her voice shaking. “Open it, Emma.”
With unsteady fingers, I ripped open the pretty envelope, daring its contents to come out and reveal themselves.
There was another horribly pretty piece of paper in there, again, scented. Written in messy, scrawled writing, not at all matching the pretty paper (as if they hadn’t bothered to write neatly for mere villagers) was:
Dear the Trafford family,
It has come to our attention that the overdue fee of five hundred dollars is to be paid immediately. If this fee is not paid, your house will be sold.
Thank you, wishing you a happy day,
Chairman of the Bankers association
Mother fainted, and could hardly recover from the shock weeks after. After three weeks, the twins fell ill. Fatally ill.
I sighed, remembering fond memories of our mother. The twins had recovered a bit from that illness, but it was still a very fatal condition. One wrong step from them or their carers could result in something gone horribly wrong. I shivered to think what could happen to my remaining two relatives.
We hadn’t even paid the money yet! I told myself to prepare it straightaway. Mrs Baker’s slow, steady voice interrupted my thoughts.
“Emma, dear, someone came in your house while you were away.” Her warm eyes looked gently into my small, panicked ones.
“Who?” I demanded - a bit too forcefully I think.
“It was the mortgagee.”
“A short, fat man, with slightly balding hair,” Mrs Baker prompted.
“Oh, him,” I said, trying to bring some cheerfulness into this grim conversation, “the last time I saw him he was still young - no balding yet!” I added a chuckle at the end for emphasis, but Mrs Baker seemed not to notice. She didn’t laugh.
“Yes, my dear. People do get older as time goes on. There are dark times ahead, Emma. Please bear with me.”
“What did the mortgagee say?”
“He said ... he said that you were going to have to move out. You haven’t paid your fee: it’s been too long already. They’re going to sell your house,” Mrs Baker hesitated, “and you are going to be kicked out.”
“But we’ll get it in sometime or other!” I exclaimed.
“Emma, I think it’ll be safer if you stay in my house for the time being, whether you are going to get the money in or not - they might come in while you are still living in here.” Mrs Baker shook her wise head, “No, I will not be having that.”
“But Mrs Baker,” I persisted, “you have to at least allow us to -”
“You can’t stay, Emma. And that’s it: you just can’t stay,” Mrs Baker said. “Come, let’s get your belongings packed and ready. You don’t want to leave anything valuable in an empty house.”
I unwillingly drag my un-responding feet up the creaky staircase. When I finally reach my room, I take it all in, like some huge sponge. My eyes aren’t just for seeing anymore: they’re for remembering.
I take in the old wardrobe in the corner, so tiny it can barely contain my few clothes, my worn rug under my bed that looks more like a strip of old carpet now, my little study table which I keep my books stacked on, my three-poster bed - Mother got it cheap from a rich family who wanted to get rid of it because one of its posters snapped off (I have to be careful not to touch the sharp part) -, and finally my cupboard. I keep everything in that cupboard, and whenever I tell people, they always say, ‘everything?’ in that tone of voice and a crooked eyebrow, and I reply quite proudly, ‘yes, everything that I ever owned which doesn’t include my clothes or the things that I have given away and no longer own,’ then they look at me oddly, and I smile satisfactorily. And I do keep everything in there - apart from my clothes -, my souvenirs from my father’s overseas trips, my mother’s gifts that she sent me as birthday presents, even my two brothers art pieces that they created long ago, even though they weren’t strictly mine.
I smile fondly at the thought of my whole family, together, then laugh at the silliness of it. It was impossible, and I knew it.
I sighed and locked those memories securely into my mind. That silent moment of just standing there, looking at my room, would be part of my memory forever.
“Emma, you ready up there?”
“Yes, nearly,” I answered absently.
Damn it. Mrs Baker. I had nearly forgotten what I was there to do, so before I could stray off task anymore, I opened my cupboard and was greeted with the sight of very many things that I missed: my souvenirs, my presents, my gifts - all manner of things.
I searched around for a bag to put things in and succeeded with an old canvas bag for storing potatoes in. I opened it up and tried to blow as much dust out of it as possible, then quickly bundled as much of my cupboard as possible into that tiny canvas bag. I tossed in a few clothes, too, in the space that I had left for other items. I wouldn’t need many -- I wasn’t staying in there for that long, anyway. I could just reuse my clothes, and buy other necessities...but only if necessary. I couldn’t risk to waste any more money in a time like this.
Finally, when I was finished, I went back downstairs, carrying all my possessions. Then I remembered that I had brothers.
“Where are Tom and Alexander?” I asked, panicked. “Where are they, Mrs Baker, where? Oh my goodness, have you lost them? Don’t tell me you have, oh Mrs Baker, please, spare me!” I was just reaching out to grab her shoulders to shake when she gently eased my frantic hands away.
“Calm down, Emma. I know you must look after them but please, settle yourself. They are already at my house. Go and check up in their room if you don’t believe me,” Mrs Baker said, smiling reassuringly.
“Yes, thank you. I’ll have to do that to get some peace with me before I leave,” I said, gratefully.
I ran up the stairs, two at a time. I opened Alexander’s bedroom door and was greeted with an empty room. The only thing left were some clothes and his little toy horse that he had given to Mother on her birthday.
Smiling at the memory, I tucked the little horse into my pocket. If he didn’t have any time to take it or any space left to spare for it; I certainly did. I’d take it for him.
I walked to Tom’s room, now in a calmer state of mind, and was thoroughly surprised when his room turned out to be a mess. The usually neat Tom was messy? I tried making up excuses, like the fact that he was rushing, or maybe because Alexander had come in and accidentally messed it up, but I still knew that I wasn’t quite convinced.
I checked his room anyway, and could find nothing. It was spotless, but the covers were thrown back, his bed-sheet coming loose, his mattress moved off the bed frame, and his bookcase shoved roughly to one side. Why Tom would want to look behind the bookcase was beyond me, but you never know boys silly ways.
I went back down the stairs, now a bit confused, and followed Mrs Baker into her little coach, which wasn’t quite a coach.
I heaved my sack onto the coach, leaving just enough room for Mrs Baker and I to sit together, slightly squashed.
“Up you go first, girl,” Mrs Baker said jollily. “Don’t be shy of old Mrs Baker.”
I shyly climbed up onto the coach, pushing my sack a little more to the side to give me some room. Mrs Baker followed, heaving herself up to sit next to me.
“Oh, and I had a thought. Because you’re going to be staying in my house for a period of time,” Mrs Baker began.
“Yes?” I asked curiously.
“I think you should call me Angelina instead of Mrs Baker. I mean, I am a person too, you know.” Seeing my face, she laughed. “Yes, it isn’t rude to call an adult who is sheltering you by her first name. Especially when that particular adult happens to want it.”
I shrugged. “Whatever you say, Mrs - Angelina.” Her name felt odd on my tongue, as if it didn’t like it there. An adult should be called a Mrs, and not a name like Angelina. It just didn’t feel right.
Then Mrs Baker -- fine, Angelina whistled a strange, piercing whistle, which prompted the horses to trot forward slowly. The trundling of horses’ hooves on the cobbled streets made me feel drowsy.
That feeling, combined with the stress that I had endured during the day, made me slowly fall asleep.