A Childhood Like No Other

A Childhood Like No Other

“Let’s run away!” Simon said.

“Why?” My voice is a little cool as I am enjoying the afternoon on the beach with the perfect weather to paddle by the sea shore.

“Because we need to see somewhere else. We always come here and it is boring.”

“I don’t think it is boring! I like it here.”

“But Millie, you said the other day that it would be fun to go a little bit further.”

“Yeah, I know I said that but we can’t go too far.”

“Oh, come on Millie let’s just go ‘round the corner by those rocks and see what’s there.”

“We should tell Mama where we are going.”

“No, we shouldn’t. That’s the point of running away, you don’t tell anyone, you just do it.”

“Can we just have our lunch before we go or else they will be looking for us soon?”

“Oh, OK then but you promise, after the meal we run away.”

I am not too keen on the idea but then during lunch Mama tells us that we are due to visit her aunt later in the afternoon and I am not too keen. She is very old and never says anything funny or interesting. When we go there we are not allowed to play games and just sit in the dining room in front of a huge plate of cakes and have some tea. The cakes are not very nice anyway I think she cooks them herself and they are always the same. Now that’s boring! She is a very big lady and her house is tiny with lots of funny little objects behind glass that we are not permitted to touch. It is a collection of things she has brought back from when she was traveling. I cannot imagine Aunt May ever under one hundred. Her face is all wrinkled and she smells of talcum powder and something else that I don’t like much. Once Simon and I hid under the table whilst Mama was helping her prepare tea and they looked everywhere for us but couldn’t find us. In the end Simon suddenly barked from our hiding place and Mama came running in the room. We were both giggling and thought it was really funny that they couldn’t find us but she was not laughing. She was not pleased and apologised for ages to her aunt for what she called ‘our antics’. That evening we were told that as a punishment we would have to go to bed at 9 o’clock. 9 o’clock! That’s when babies go to sleep and we tried to argue that we were twelve years old and on holidays but she did not give in and Paps refused to intercede in our favour. After that, we were always quiet at Aunt May’s but it was so boring. Anyway, today we are not going as me and Simon are running away. 

Mama has brought a picnic and Paps has carried the table and chairs so we can sit under the tree, in the shade. We are just at the end of the garden and as the house is by the sea we can see the waves. After the meal we ask if we can go and play. Mama says yes but we mustn’t go too far. Paps is having a siesta in the hammock and Mama is busy taking everything back inside. We play for about ten minutes and once we are sure that Paps is asleep and Mama inside we make a run for the rocks at the end of the creek. It is low tide and we can climb over them quite easily. There is another beach and it looks deserted and there is a house that looks really spooky. It is made of stones and wood, not at all like the others along the road. I don’t think we have ever seen it and we would remember it if we had. I don’t think anyone lives here as the garden is quite thick and overgrown with weeds and suddenly it feels like we are on an adventure. Me and Simon always said we would love to go to an island where the two of us would discover treasures in the sand ever since we read Treasure Island. We are twins but not real ones. Mama says we are ‘dizzy go tick’ twins but I am not sure I understand what that means. Anyways, Simon is looking through one of the windows on the ground floor and is calling me to come and have a look. The window is quite dirty but I use my sleeve to clean a panel and I can see what looks like a dusty room with lots of shelves and many books on them. There are many windows and all have what looks like shutters but on the inside and there are metal bars on the outside. I ask Simon if he thinks that this was maybe a prison a long time ago but his reply is firm.

“No, this place is a house but I think they were worried about burglars or something or they had some treasures that they did not want to be stolen and that’s why they put these bars on the windows.”

“So, you think this place is very old?”

“It must be as old as Aunt May.” He laughs his head off and I smile at the joke.

“Yeah, it is as wrinkled as her…”

We are in hysterics after that but suddenly we hear a noise inside and we stop laughing.

“Did you hear that”, I ask.

“Yeah, probably rats running.” He sneers.

I don’t feel so confident as the noise was loud as if someone was walking with a stick. Aunt May had a stick and when she was in her room upstairs and we stood underneath in the dining room we could hear that same noise, like a three foot walk above our heads. 

“Do you think it is a ghost”, I ask with a bit of panic in my voice.

“Nah, ghosts are more quiet and they don’t have three legs.”

“I’m not sure we should stay here.”

“Don’t be a sissy sister. Ha, ha that’s quite funny…”

“I don’t see anything funny let’s go back!”

“Come now, Millie. It is mice or something. Let’s go and have a proper look.”

Simon moves towards a terrace that has big glass doors and looks inside.

“Oh, Millie, this is beautiful!”

“What is?”

“This room is full of toys.”

“What?”

“Toys!”

I walk to where he stands and look inside. I can see a rocking horse, a giant dolls’ house, little desks and some tiny easels like they were made for dwarfs. There is also a train set with rails and railway station so big that you could almost sit on the wagons. The room is big and light but there does not seem to be much dust inside. Simon pulls the handle towards him and the door opens without making a noise. Inside we stand with our mouths open, this is a kid paradise. There is no TV or video player or anything like that but all the toys make the promise of an adventure. The dolls have beautiful dresses and when I press one against my chest she says – Mama I am hungry – I don’t know much about proper dolls with pretty dresses I have only played with Barbie and they are kind of thin plastic mini girls that dress in modern clothes but these are really something. Simon is more interested in the train set. It is a proper railway with barriers and crossings and passengers and all. He suddenly pushes a button and the locomotive starts to move. The tracks go all the way around the room and the station has benches where I sit for a while watching Simon move the wagons from tracks to barrier to station. We decide we need passengers and we place the dolls inside the carriages. We are having such fun that we don’t realise that someone is watching us. As the train arrives at the station to deposit the pretty passengers Simon and I roar with laughter at the success of the operation when we hear two hands clap with joy.

“Bravo, bravo!”

We turn around at the same time to see an old lady standing by the door.

“This is marvellous and so much fun to watch.” exclaims the voice.

Me and Simon stand looking at the place where the voice has come from. In front of us is an old lady dressed with almost the same clothes as the dolls. There is something like a bird about her. She is old, at least as old as Aunt May, but somehow, she has the grace of young people mainly because there is a smile on her face that is similar to the one Simon and I had before she clapped.

“We are so sorry”, I say. “We thought the house was empty. I mean we thought it was abandoned, I mean we thought it was a ghost house. I am so sorry. Come Simon, let us go back home and visit old Aunt May and hope Mama has not discovered we ran away.” 

“You ran away, how delightful!”

“I am not sure Mama would agree with you. We were supposed to visit boring Aunt May. Well she is not really our Aunt, she is Mama’s aunt and she is not much fun.” That’s Simon telling the truth for once.

“I see and the two of you just decided to come and visit me instead.”

“We didn’t even know the house existed until we came via the beach.” I add.

“Ah, you took the scenic route!”

“The what?” Both of us echo each other.

“The scenic route as in the pretty one instead of the direct route, I suppose. Yes, that would be a good definition.”

“We leave in the house just over the rocks, we are neighbours I suppose”, adds Simon “but how come we never saw yours from the road?”

“I guess it is very well hidden or perhaps it is an enchanted house that only appears to naughty children. That would be a good story don’t you think?”

We look at each other and in turn at the old lady. She is smiling but she also blinks once. Maybe I imagined it all after all as she is not a nasty person or anything like that. 

“Why do you think we are naughty?” I ask.

“Well, it is quite simple. You are here on your own and I doubt your parents know where you are. To me that seems quite naughty.”

“But we didn’t know there was a house. We found it by accident.” I wonder if we should just run back before it is too late and face the parents and Aunt May’s bulldog face but then she adds;

“It is a long time since this house has seen children playing but you know I quite liked watching you.”

“So, you don’t really mind us being here?” Simon is hoping that we can stay a bit longer.

“No, not at all. I don’t have many visitors. Would you like some lemonade and cakes? I just baked some little cupcakes with blueberries. Does that sound good enough to you?”

“Lady,” I say “we don’t want to be any trouble.”

“Oh, but that would be lovely if you could stay a little longer and tell me about yourselves and particularly old Aunt May. By the way, my name is Emily and I am probably as old as that lady myself.”

“But you are not at all like her. You are not fat, you don’t wear silly dresses with big flowers and you are not at all boring.”

“Yes”, agrees Simon “You are nice and your house is nice and this is like a treasure island.”

“Well, I thank you for the compliments but come let’s go to the kitchen for some refreshments and tell me about you.”

As Emily prepares plates and glasses we tell her first our names, Molly and Simon Webster, then we describe Mama and Paps and finally explain that we don’t have much family and that old Aunt May is Mama’s only relative. We tell her about the time we hid under the table and how everyone was looking for us when we were right there. She laughs with us and she is a bit like a child when she does. We also play a little game of Snip Snap with a pack she gets from the playroom. 

“You don’t have grandparents?” She asks as Simon is furiously winning.

“No, we never met them. And you, do you have any grandchildren?”

“No dear, the last children to have been in this house were my own babies but that’s another story and they are long gone.”

“What happened to them?” I dare ask.

She hesitates. “They drowned.” Her voice is weird. “They were about your age I suppose when it happened. There were playing by the shore when a big wave took them and before I could do anything they were gone.”

“I am sorry.” I say not knowing what else I am supposed to say.

“Don’t be! That was a long time ago and they are at peace now.”

Simon is looking troubled by the story and he is keeping quiet which is not normal for him.

“Emily”, he says “isn’t it funny how we don’t have grandparents and you don’t have grandchildren? I mean it’s odd, no?”

“It certainly is rather of a coincidence, I must say. But then it happens.”

“Yeah, I guess so but perhaps it is why we came here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well we could be your grandchildren and you could be our grandmother.”

“Oh, that’s a lovely thought but you cannot adopt grandchildren.”

“Perhaps, but we can adopt a grandmother I’ve seen it on Facebook.”

There is a silence after which Emily suggests that she drives us home and we arrive at the front door. Mama has not yet realised we were missing and is a little puzzled to see us there. We introduce everyone and Mama and Paps are quite charmed by Emily. We tell the truth to the parents; how we were planning to run away and climbed over the rocks to discover the house and played in the children’s room. That afternoon we don’t go to Aunt May. The next time we go it is with Emily and we discover that Aunt May has many stories to tell if you want to hear them.

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