Gwen Parsons balanced her cell phone between her shoulder and her ear as she carried an overflowing laundry basket up the rickety basement stairs. They creaked with each step, and for a while after moving to New Hampshire she had worried she might plummet through the stairs and break her neck on the dirt floor below. Those fears had diminished and had been replaced by a sense of curiosity about the person who had constructed those noisy stairs beneath her feet so many years ago. The Historical Society sign outside the house said 1767 and Gwen wondered, Are these stairs two-hundred and fifty years old as well?
"Gwenny," the phone garbled, "are you losing me again, honey?"
Gwen reached the top of the cellar stairs and entered the kitchen, closed the door behind her with her foot, and set the laundry basket down in front of the sink -- all while managing to keep the phone in place, "I'm sorry, Lisa, the cell reception up here is dreadful. I have dropped calls all the time now. You should come up and visit so we could talk face-to-face."
Lisa barked a sharp peal of laughter on the other end of the call, "Yeah, like that'll ever happen! You're like, six hours away and you live in some quaint village where the only activity is churning butter. What, do they still have gas street lamps that the guy on stilts has to light every night?"
Gwen smirked but replied, in all seriousness, "Of course not, but I'll tell you one thing: the internet provider is a hamster in a wheel."
"Jesus," was the moan which surely accompanied an eye-roll, if Gwen knew her college roommate at all.
Gwen looked at her watch and declared, "Hey, listen Lisa, I've gotta let you go so I can make Amy some lunch. Call you later?"
"Sure, I'll be home around seven. Call me then. Let me ask you: how's Amy doing?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you know... new environment, she's like, on the other side of the universe from everything and everyone she's ever known. Is she bumming?"
"No. She's actually made a couple of friends already."
"What, like, on her first day of school?"
Gwen chuckled, "Lisa, we've been in New Hampshire for nearly three weeks now."
"God, it seems like forever."
"Hey, call me tonight. Or better yet, Facebook me. Oh, that's right -- wood-burning internet. You should invest in carrier pigeons."
Gwen laughed aloud, then said, "I'll look into that. Bye, Lisa."
Gwen disconnected and set the phone on the counter by the sink. If anyone but Lisa ever called her "Gwenny," she'd most likely put a boot in their mouth, but Lisa, welllllll... Lisa was Lisa.
Gwen set about making her daughter a sandwich.
Five minutes later she was carrying a tuna on wheat and a cup of milk upstairs, calling out when she reached the top, "Amy, honey! I've got your lunch for you. Are you hungry?"
No answer. Gwen walked down the hall and peeked her head around the half-open door to Amy's room. Many of the moving boxes in the child's room had been emptied but not yet broken down, so it still looked as though they were living out of a suitcase.
"Amy," she called but she knew her daughter was not in that room. She set the plate and cup on the corner of the little girl's desk, by the closet, and left the room whilst tapping her finger on her chin in thought, Now, where would a curious little girl like to explore today? Gwen heard the unmistakeable giggle coming from just above her head, seeping through the ceiling.
Ah, the attic!
She walked to the stairs leading up and called softly, "Amy? Are you up there, baby?"
There was no response, but she could hear the soft tones of Amy's voice gently carrying through the dust and the cobwebs of the attic and down the stairs. Gwen climbed the stairs and saw how smooth and knotted the ancient wood appeared beneath her feet and wondered if those were created about the same time as the cellar stairs.
Upstairs, Gwen stooped, not because the ceiling was low but because of the multitude of cobwebs which hung in the balmy attic air. Amy's voice softly carried to her from around the corner, and Gwen found the girl sitting at a chessboard in front of the window, staring keenly at the white and black pieces haphazardly assembled around the squares.
"Hey kiddo. Whatcha doin'?"
Amy looked up and smiled broadly at her mom, "Abigail's teaching me how to play chess."
"Abigail? Who's Abigail?"
Amy's shoulders sagged and she rolled her eyes dramatically, clearly expressing to Gwen, God, the things I have to put up with around here! She answered sternly, to make sure her slow mother understood, "You know... Abigail? I told you about her the other day, Mom."
Oh right! She HAD said something, didn't she? Gwen snapped her fingers, "The imaginary friend!"
Amy folded her little arms over her chest and pouted, "She's not imaginary, Mom, she lives in the mirror."