“Hello. I’m home,” Irene called as she opened the front door. “Anyone here? Hello?”
The house was quiet except for Irene’s footsteps in the foyer. She put the bag with its precious gift on the floor next to the coat rack. Removing her wrap, she carefully hung it on the hook, unpinned her hat, and placed it on the receiving table under the beveled mirror. She caught herself looking at her face. Raising her hand to her forehead, she pushed a lock of hair back into place and glanced down at the bag on the floor. She hesitated, and then lifted the bag by its handles. She was prepared for the weight, but not the movement. Irene quickly placed one of your hands under the bottom of the bag to steady it. She could feel the doll sitting in the bag on top of the tissue paper. The paper crinkled as she placed in on the coffee table in the parlor. She sat down on the sofa in front of the paper bag, her hands in her lap. The tissue paper crinkled. She wrung her hands and reached out to touch the edge of the bag. The tissue paper crinkled again. Taking a breath, Irene removed the tissue paper, folder it, and placed it on the table next to the bag. She reached inside and lifted the porcelain doll from the bag, and looked at its face. It did have a smile on its lips. She placed the doll next to her, leaning it against the arm of the sofa. Irene straightened out the beautiful laced dress. The crystal blue eyes were wide open and framed by the darkest lashes she had ever seen. The brimmed hat matched her dress perfectly, the thin silk ribbon cascading down the back. Irene stared at the doll. She stared a long time. The porcelain doll was definitely beautiful. The finely chiseled features reflected old knowledge and understanding. Irene could not believe she had spent so much on this doll.
She walked from the parlor into the kitchen. She pulled out a silver tray and placed a linen napkin on it. She selected a china cup and saucer from the cupboard and arranged it on the tray. Taking the tea kettle from the stove, she filled it with water and placed it on the gas burner. She watched the steam begin to rise while she prepared her silver tea ball with orange pekoe loose tea and dropped it into her porcelain tea pot. She watched as the tea seeped into the boiling water as it was poured into the tea pot. She covered the pot with its cap and placed it on the tray. The tea smelled sweet and warm as she carried the tray back to the parlor. She placed the tray on the tea cart and turned to see the doll sitting on the sofa with its hands resting in its lap and its back against the back of the sofa. Its lips were slightly parted and smiling. Irene gasped. “Sarah, are you home?”
There was no other explanation. “Sarah?” No answer.
Irene went to the sofa and quickly and unceremoniously scooped up the doll and placed it back into the bag, stuffing the tissue paper around it. She breathed a sign of relief. It was better if the doll was out of sight incase Sarah came home. Picking up the bag by its handles, Irene carried it upstairs to her bedroom and placed the bag on the floor in the corner of her closet. It was out sight and hopefully out of mind until Sarah’s birthday.
She heard the front door open and pulled her head out of the closet where she has just finished tucking the bag carefully behind her shoes. She closed the closet door and smoothed her skirt as she rose. A quick check in her mirror and Irene hurried out of the bedroom to see who was home. As she walked down the staircase, she saw Sarah close the front door. “Sarah, you’re home early.”
“Hi, Mother. It’s already 3:00.”
“Oh my! It is getting late, isn’t it? How was school?’ Irene felt a need to continue this conversation.”
“Fine,” was all Sarah said.
“Do you have work to do?”
Irene came to Sarah and put her hands on her shoulders. “Would you like to help me in the kitchen? You father will be home soon.”
“Sure. I would like that.”
Sarah put her books down on the table in the foyer and followed her mother into the kitchen. Irene began by taking out a cutting board and some fresh vegetables.
“Would you please rinse the lettuce and tomatoes for me?” she asked.
Sarah picked up the head and placed it in the sink. She turned on the water and began to wash the leaves.
Irene and Sarah looked up at the ceiling. “What was that?”
“I’m not sure,” Irene replied.
“I think I’ll take a look,” Irene said as she made her way to the kitchen door.
“Me, too,” Sarah chimed in as she dropped the lettuce into the sink and turned off the water.
Irene reached the stairs first and looked up to the first landing. “Maybe you should wait here.”
“Why?” Sarah asked as she bounded up the stairs.
“Wait! Sarah! Wait a minute!” Irene ran up right behind her.
Sarah turned when she got to the top. “Come on, Mother.”
Sarah started down the hallway and stopped short. THUD! The sound was loud and close. She turned and looked into her mother’s bedroom.
Irene touched her daughter’s shoulder causing her to jump. “Wait here,” she whispered. She stepped into her room. The closet door was ajar.
“What is it?” Sarah asked.
Irene strained to hear something, anything. Then she heard it – the rustle. The rustle of tissue paper. She closed the closet door, took a breath, and walked out of her room.
“It was nothing, dear, nothing at all. Let go back downstairs,” she said as she helped Sarah out of the doorway and into the hallway. It was time to finish making dinner before her husband came home. The closet and the rustle of tissue paper could wait till later.
Irene descended the staircase looking over her narrow shoulders a couple of times to reassure herself that nothing was there. As Irene walked down the stairs, she continued to resist the urge to run back upstairs, yank open that closet door and pull the China doll from its hiding place to be sure that it was still there, right where she had put it. Not somewhere else.
Irene entered the kitchen with Sarah in front of her. She picked up a paring knife and began to peel potatoes, split them, and plop them into a pot half filled with cool water. The light brown skin pieces lay scattered on the newspaper that would later be folded around the scraps and thrown in the garbage. Sarah sat at the kitchen table and carefully ripped the lettuce into bit-size pieces then piled them into a glass salad bowl.
“Mom, do you want me to slice the tomatoes?”
“That would be nice,” Irene said as she scooped the sliced cucumbers and placed them on top of the lettuce.
Chopping the slim celery stalks, Irene watched her daughter piercing the red firm skin of the tomato. The knife slipped easily through the meat of the tomato leaving a thin line of juice on the cutting board with a seed or two mixed in. Sarah placed the half face down on the cutting board and continued slicing the tomato. When she finished, she slipped the knife under the slices, lifted and placed them on top of the cucumbers. The colors were fresh and vibrant. Sarah could not resist sneaking a piece. As she put the crisp vegetable in her mouth, savoring its flavor, Irene smiled.
She wondered if the China doll was the right gift for Sarah.
“Sarah, would you please set the table? Your father will be home soon.”
Sarah smiled. “Should I use the good plates?”
“I think that would be a very good idea,” Irene said.
Sarah drifted off to the dining room and opened the hutch to a set of white China dishes with a gold leaf edge. She carefully removed three plates from the shelf and placed them on the mahogany table. Each place setting sat on a hand-embroidered placemat to protect the finish on the table. Irene watched from the kitchen as Sarah placed the silverware on each side of the plate. Sarah returned to the hutch and from the left side removed three water goblets. “Should I fill the glasses now or later?” she asked.
“Wait until your father gets home,” Irene answered.
Sarah returned to the kitchen. “Is there anything else you need me to do?”
“No, I think that’s it.”
“Okay, then I’m going upstairs to finish my homework,”
“Alright, I’ll call you when dinner is ready and your father is home.”
Sarah ran upstairs taking two steps at a time. Irene chuckled to herself. Sarah was a bit of a tomboy at times. Maybe the doll wasn’t such a good choice after all. Irene was so taken by its unusual beauty that she could not resist buying it for Sarah.
Irene jumped. Dropping her dish towel on the counter, she rushed from the kitchen and ran up the stairs calling, “Sarah! Sarah! Are you okay?”
Sarah met her mother at the top of the stairs. “What was that, Mom?”
“Are you okay? You didn’t drop something on the floor?”
Sara could only shake her head from side to side. They both looked at Irene’s bedroom door at the same time and then at each other.
“Hello? Anyone home? Where is everybody?” Irene’s husband called from the front door.
Sarah jumped, gave a nervous chuckle, then totally distracted, ran downstairs to her father. “I’m here, daddy!”
She threw her arms around him and hugged him as though she had not seen him for days. “Did you have a good day, Daddy? I did. I had a very good day. Do you want to know what happened today, Daddy? After I got home, I was helping Mom in the kitchen, when we heard something banging upstairs, so we both when up to see what it was, but then we didn’t know where it came from. I thought it came from the bedroom, YOUR bedroom, but then I wasn’t sure.” Sarah barely paused to catch her breathe.
Irene reached the bottom of the stairs and glanced up to the second landing. She smiled at Edward and interrupted Sarah. “Sarah, your father just walked in the door. Give him a chance to at least put his coat down.” She reached for Edward’s coat. He handed it to Irene, gave her a quick peck on the cheek, and returned his attention to Sarah.
So, Sarah, what happened? What did you find?”
“Daddy…” Sarah began.
“Sarah, dinner is almost ready,” interrupted Irene. “Let’s go into the dining room and let your father at least sit down for a minute.”
“Daddy…” Sarah continued, “I think it came from your bedroom. I think there was something in your bedroom that made the noise, Daddy.”
Edward looked at Sarah with the loving eyes of a father. Sarah was such an imaginative child. She always was. Full of stories. And interesting ones at that. “So what happened next, Sarah? What was the sound?”
“Daddy!” Sarah said impatiently. “Daddy, I don’t know! You came home and I ran downstairs and I didn’t go into your room to find out, so I don’t know.”
“Well, if you are going to finish the story, Sarah, we need to know what the sound was.”
“Daddy, I’m not kidding! There was a LOUD sound coming from your room! Mom, tell him. Tell him what you heard!” Sarah was persistent.
“Oh, Sarah. Edward, I was working in the kitchen when I heard a-a-a thump of some sort from upstairs. I thought Sarah had dropped something or fell – I don’t know. That’s all. Nothing else.”
Sarah’s eyes got big. “Nothing else??? Mom, we both looked at the door at the same time!”
Edward was watching this conversation with great interest. He had not seen Irene avoid a subject like she was today. And Sarah… He has not seen Sarah pursuing a topic like this one today either. My goodness! What had happened right before he got home? “Okay, okay. I think that for right now, let’s have dinner and then we can investigate. How’s that?” He prayed for an agreement.
Sarah looked at her mom and then at her dad. She paused. “Okay.”
“Good. I’m starving. What’s for dinner?” Edward looked at his girls and wondered what this evening would bring.