Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Shhh. (02/18/10)
TITLE: If Basement Walls Could Talk
By Beth Muehlhausen
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“Charlie says snow came through the window last night onto his head,” Nettie giggled. A crackling fire in the wrought-iron kitchen stove belched wood smoke up the brick chimney. Seven siblings shoveled pancakes into their mouths and stared at Charlie from their spots around the oval table.
“Well, it did,” Charlie grumbled in self-defense. “That window leaks when the wind’s just right. How would any of you know – you don’t sleep next to it.”
“Charlie …” Mama’s voice sounded stern. “You keep making up stories like that and someday when you have something important to say we won’t believe you!”
A rugged six-year-old, Charlie was ready for his rite of passage. After his seventh birthday the team of horses would plow at his command until noon, and then he’d return for lunch and drive the mules until dinnertime. “But Mama” he mumbled through a too-big bit of pancake, “It’s true.”
“No but-Mama-talk, Charlie.”
Fortunately Abigail changed the subject. “I need more syrup – can I get it, Mama?” She flashed her best sweet-talk eyes. “I know where it is, on the shelf between the blueberry jam and honey.”
Mama looked at the table of eager faces before her. “It’s a wonder we still have any left.” She laughed. “Sure, Abby … just don’t touch that grown-up shelf in the corner … uh, it might hurt you.”
Abigail swished her skirts as she headed down the basement stairs. When she opened the creaky door to the pantry, rows of cobwebby shelves filled with blue glass canning jars greeted her. A dark curtain hid separate shelves - the untouchable ones - in the far corner.
The walls already knew. Bottles of home-brewed alcoholic root beer stood behind the curtain.
Shhh … walls, don’t tell.
“Joanne … Joanne!” Papa’s voice boomed through the kitchen door.
“Run down and unlock that coal chute window, would you?”
Thirteen-year-old Joanne tripped down the steep stairs from her upstairs bedroom to the kitchen, and then continued down a second flight to the basement. She could hear the coal truck’s engine rumbling outside as it waited to dump a load of black nuggets into their coal room – what once had been a pantry.
She could barely coax the rusty latch to open. “There Papa!”
“Alright!” Papa’s voice rose and fell with expletives as he and the deliveryman shouted back and forth.
Joanne backed through the door and stood next to the coal-burning furnace with its network of silvery, octopus-like ductwork. The dump truck did its job, and an avalanche of coal tumbled to rest in the coal bin. A smelly cloud of black dust billowed through the door.
The single basement window ushered a skinny shaft of afternoon sunlight to Joanne’s feet. Coal dust magically sparkled in the light as it settled to the floor. Did she have time?
Quickly Joanne slipped to a spot under the window where she wiggled a stack of loose bricks and retrieved a thin copy of The Taming of Laura by Rachel Lindsey. Her parents had strictly forbidden romance novels, especially those with too-colorful language, but maybe she could read a few pages before she was missed.
Shhh … walls, don’t tell.
“Neighborhood gossip says this room was originally a pantry but later became a coal bin,” Dan explained to Ann, the realtor who was soon to list his house. “This old farmhouse has been modified and remodeled many times.”
She smiled. “And how has your family used this room in the thirty years you’ve lived here?”
Dan squinted as he thought about his reply. “Well, for a while it was the kids’ game room. We displayed their finished puzzles … like a gallery. Then when they got a little older it became their techno-project room with acoustical egg crates stapled to the walls.”
More importantly, this room was Dan’s private God-place. He came here often to privately seek the Lord and pour out his heart. Dan smiled tentatively, not knowing how much to say. “Sometimes I come down here to get away from everyone … ummm … “
The walls knew the truth. It was an anointed place.
“ … and pray.” Then more boldly he added, “This is my Bethel.”
Ann’s face brightened. “Why let’s pray now, silently, in our own ways, that the new owners will be blessed within these walls,” she said, with her eyes closed.
Their heads bowed; God heard.
Shhh … walls, don’t forget.
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