The rules were very simple- it was, after all, a game Bee had made up herself from snatches of books she'd read and half-forgotten dreams. They, scabby-kneed Tobey, shy Anna and confident Bee, crowned with the authority of being the oldest, at nine, were peasants in another country. Russia perhaps, somewhere long-distant where the winter nights blurred into days and there might still be people living primitive, Spartan existences. Not only were they peasants, but they were peasants in hiding from the rich lord who had sufficient authority to have them killed, and any departure from their ramshackle shelter in the woods must be carried out in the utmost secrecy in case of death or injury. Sometimes, Bee’s friends would join on their visits- Mrs. Merritt, laid back, allowed her children’s friends to ‘come round’ far more often than most other mothers- and then the matriarch would become twin older sisters, and an unlikely romance would blossom between Bee’s character and the lord’s son.
It was their favourite game, and it seemed that they played it incessantly, the curtains drawn and the lights switched off to create an artificial night in the spare room. Their occasional trips to the spring to fetch fresh water to cook with were dashes across the landing to the silver taps of the bathroom sink, and the Lord’s manor, imposing but intriguing, was their parents’ bedroom, which the children had always looked upon with a sense of awe. Every day, when the older two returned from school, they would disappear into the darkness, with Anna’s old baby blankets as shawls for the girls and a bow made from a coat hanger for Tobey.
The years passed, and the children grew up. Bee became popular, shedding her quirky habits and childish make-believe to share cherry lip-gloss and talk about boys with the popular girls. Tobey was given glasses to correct his vision and learned to play the violin, while Anna, shy quiet Anna who never seemed to have caused anyone any bother, drowned in the pond when Tobey was thirteen and Bee, seventeen. They coped in their own way. Bee reacted by becoming more involved with her friends, going to wild parties and staying out too late to forget her unhappiness, while Tobey withdrew into himself and his music, sadness festering beneath his skin. The winter game was too painful to speak of, too painful even to think of. Gradually, as time went on, it took on a dream-like quality, until by the time Bee went to university, it was all but forgotten, and the house which had been filled with children’s voices was silent except for the mournful notes of Tobey’s violin.