Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: The Family Home (05/29/08)
TITLE: SANCTITY OF SILENCE
By Fiona Dorothy Stevenson
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I was settled comfortably when a frantic rapping at the door startled me. My first thought was, “Can’t they see the doorbell?” as I hurried to answer. My younger sister stood in the doorway, a teddy bear under her arm, shopping bag in her hand. “Jack, please can I come in?” She greeted me with sobs. “You may.” I stepped back.
While she settled herself in my favorite armchair, I poured a cup of tea. Terri didn’t drink coffee. I moved my notes and Bible. “What are you doing in my part of the world, Terri?” There was a fresh outburst of sobs. “I was so lonely, Jack. After Bobby died I thought I could manage, but I couldn’t. Oh, Jack…” Her shoulders sagged as she buried her face in the teddy’s tummy to stifle her sobs. I bent to put my arm clumsily around her shoulders. “Terri – Terri-girl, hush up. You’ll find yourself in time. God will see you right.”
She looked into my eyes, a half-smile interrupted the sobs. “Oh, Jack, you sound just like Mum!” Did I? What a thought. I almost shuddered. Just like Mum? Heaven forbid. – Another of Mum’s expressions, heaven forbid!
“Right now I miss her so much. I miss everyone, even the visitors we didn’t want. I miss the color and the rush and the noise.” Her voice was forlorn. She looked around my spotless room, taking in the austere comfort of my choice, before turning back to search my face. “But I forgot, Jack, you were always the one who stood aside. You tidied up. You made the right moves, said the right things, but you weren’t really one of us, were you?” Her eyes didn’t leave my face as she stood, reaching for her shopping bag. “I’ll find a motel.”
I pushed her back roughly. “Stay where you are. What sort of monster do you think I am? You’re my sister, for heaven’s sake.” Overwhelmed with longing I knelt beside the chair. “Terri, sometimes I get lonely, too. I love the peace and quiet, nothing out of place. But there are days when it seems sterile, and I get lonely, too.”
For a minute or two we sat, privately looking at the past. Then I stood. “You’ll have my bed, I’ll take the couch. But first, you’d better wash your face while I get some fish and chips.” Fish and chips had been Terri’s favorite party meal. Passing the telephone I remembered the study, and called to let them know I had an unexpected visitor and would not be there.
We pushed the chairs back, put a picnic rug on the floor, with the fish and chips on the paper in the middle and sat cross-legged on either side. Terri grinned at me. “Jack, you are a star. I really needed this.” She broke off a piece of fish, licked her fingers with obvious enjoyment. “Do you remember when the ‘Hum-frum-diggelumph’s came?” Did I? The ‘Hum-frum-diggelumphs’ were our pet family hate. On three occasions they invaded our home. We wondered why Dad allowed them to stay. They treated Mum like a servant, until even we became indignant.
Our home had grown with the family. The furniture multiplied as necessity demanded, practical rather than ornamental. When visitors came we were turned out of our bedrooms, made comfortable in out of the way corners. Nor were Mum and Dad exempted, always first to make way for unexpected guests. They came from near and distant places: all walks of life. All were welcome. Mum fed them with her often indifferent cooking, sometimes sending us post-haste for fish and chips when there wasn’t time to prepare a meal, or the larder empty.
For some time Terri and I lay on the floor, remembering when. The old house and garden grew and blossomed in memory, the love and laughter enfolded us. As the words grew few, the pictures remained. I could see Mum standing over us, smiling with her eyes. Terri rolled over, pushing herself up. “Mum says…”
I struggled to rise, rolling the fish and chip paper into a ball. “I know. ‘Time you two were in bed. There’s all day tomorrow.’ Night, Terri.” She hugged me. “Night, Jack, and thanks.”
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