Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Batchelder Letters II

Dearest family:
The letters that this story is based on are real, they have been outrageously edited (they are extremely Eskimo) but the originals live in our attic still. On the other hand, I know that Hide, Bluff and Seek isn’t real (it’s not is it?) but it is a reflection of my fears of what really might have gone down on those rare evenings when I was gone. There is only one truly impossible thing in this chapter, can you all guess it? If you do, you win and you will get the winner’s privelege.

Dear Batch,
No business here. We live on corn meal and wear old clothes since our mortgages can’t pay their interest. The reduced dividends on stocks are all that keep the wolf away and soon I am going to drag him in and eat what meat he has on his frame.
Old Doc Yak

Chapter Two: Callie’s Discovery

Members of a large and sprawling family have something in common with bustling city dwellers. The search for solitude. It is a core value which influences countless decisions and daily negotiations.. There is a singular delight in being alone among many. These surrounded residents do not seek a secular cloistering or even a self denying, lonely seclusion. What is valued and enjoyed is a beatific peace. In cities there are parks with lovely, meandering and most importantly, narrow pathways. There are cafes with tables enclosed by banquettes to hide in and there are lofty and humble dwellings alike that have as their chief attribute, walls. In homes that successfully shelter large families there are nooks and crannies either built in or fashioned on the fly (anything will do- in a pinch, a box can work) to hide in. Perhaps this primal urge to separate explains the strong allure of the Clay family’s two favorite games. They both required self enforced seclusion and they depended upon rare sets of conditions which enhanced their value distinctly. One, Ghost in the Graveyard required hot summer nights when darkness came late and bedtime was not legislated. The other Hide, Bluff and Seek required an even more exceptional circumstance, Mom had to be gone. For several hours. Running. It wasn’t that the game took long, an hour would do for that but what necessitated the time was the clean up. Mom had a gimlet eye for certain kinds of detail and nothing could be overlooked or their pastime would be detected and that would never do.
Sam was sifting through the large coat rack on the back porch. It had boxes for boots at the bottom, hooks for coats in its midsection and almost above his sight line were two long rows of cubby holes for mittens, gloves, hats and scarves. For Sam the task of retrieving a piece of outer wear was an intuitive exercise. His eyes found the edge of a piece of synthetic wool; it was a gaudy two tone number of tomato red and lemon yellow. Sam dismissed it and moved on. Ahh, a plain blue scarf, maybe ten inches wide, made of fleece, it would be a little bulky but it was an acceptable color and it was soft, not scratchy. He made a small hop to give himself a little height, grasped the fabric at the peak of his reach and yanked. It came out of the rack’s cubby hole onto his head in a mass. It was enmeshed with three other scarves. Sam scrunched his eyes shut against the onslaught and took the tumorous object into his lap and began extricating the tangled mess. Four down and three to go, Sam did the math, he knew that he would need seven scarves, all long enough to wind around a head twice and fasten tightly and dense enough to keep out any vestiges of light. By deciphering an adult breakfast conversation, Bredon had discovered that both parents would be gone that evening and immediately afterward the revelries were planned. They would be able to play Hide, Bluff and Seek, a simple game with one very important complication. The scarves were Sam’s affair, he was commissioned by Bredon to find the right kind and bring them to his room. In Sam’s world there were orders and there were Orders. Bredon’s held the upper case distinction; everything that he requested was done with dispatch, attention to detail and devotion. Bredon’s was a benign monarchy, he wielded his power lightly if he was even aware of it and his requests were few and never arbitrary. After separating the scarves, Sam looked back up and decided to settle for the two toned muffler. He made a quick jump and grabbed it handily and another ball of tangled, synthetic wool rained on his head. After unsnarling the mess, Sam began to wind them one by one around his waist by holding them steady and pivoting slowly on his heels. It seemed a good way to transport his load, nothing would be dropped or forgotten and the act of straightening and winding the scarves around his small waist was mesmerizing. Finally with a vastly expanded girth Sam made his way up the stairs to make his delivery.
Mom had been gone for ten minutes; long enough to be sure that she would not return to check for keys, glasses checkbooks or forgotten forehead kisses. The center staircase was their meeting ground, the it spot and safe haven. Gwen had hung the seven scarves over the banister and motioned to her younger siblings that the moment had arrived. Each one in turn took a scarf and solemnly wound it around their heads. Ben and Sam tied each other’s scarves, ensuring neat windings that did not allow for fabric cracks. The unique condition of Hide, Bluff and Seek was that all the participants were blindfolded. According to tradition the first seeker was the oldest because the first hiding places were always the best. Everyone was fresh to the game and had time to plan their secret spot carefully. Gwen gave her scarf a final twist and put her face to the corner of the stairwell and began her count, a slow, sonorous one hundred with Mississippi droned between each number. The disbursement was rapid, when the count ended there would be no grace given, Gwen would begin her blind but none the less relentless search. Ben grabbed Sam’s hand and began to feel his way up the stairs, he had formed his plan that afternoon and he needed Sam’s physical presence to bolster his courage. Eyes firmly shut he felt his way along the banister one step above his younger brother. The stairs were the easy part; the railings were the perfect guide for the sightless. After the final step, Ben felt carefully along the hallway wall. Yes, there it was, the bathroom door, Ben trailed his fingers along the smooth wood and felt the protrusion of the frame on the far end. Now, in twelve steps along the wall he should get to the attic door, he knew this, he had practiced it many times. With Sam in tow, Ben found the door, with his free hand he niggled his scarf a bit, letting in a tiny sliver of light. The attic stair had no banisters and the top had a drop off that required a little light to navigate. Ben tried to adhere to the letter of the visionless law but attic stairs were attic stairs, scary even for the sighted and he did have Sam to think of. He wiggled his fingers further into his fabric covered face and parted the folds a little further. He could just make out the set of sixteen steps; he clutched his brother’s hand a little tighter and made his way up. Having made their way to their destination both boys turned toward one another and nodded their heads and removed their blindfolds entirely. They were in forbidden territory and the rules of the game had changed. Ben put his hands on his hips and looked around. The attic was a vast, high peaked room filled with places to hide in. Ben’s eyes lit on a particularly interesting corner, it held a very large pile of cardboard boxes. They were of about the same shape as the type he had seen in nurseries, large, light building boxes. Sam followed Ben’s glance.
“We could build a kind of shelter out of those Ben. It would hide us pretty well.”
Ben and Sam began their work with a will and soon had a shelter worthy of hunkering down in.
Gwen began to pick off her siblings one by one. Callie was the first to be found, she hadn’t gotten far, she was inside the window seat on the stairs. Gwen was curious that it came down that way; usually Ben and Sam were the first to be found, hiding like ostriches with their feet sticking out from under the piano or their heads peeping out from the heart of a desk. Gwen wasn’t too surprised though, Callie lacked a certain amount of competitive spirit for this game. It was understandable; it took a burning desire to win to withstand the boredom of sitting in a dark hole somewhere waiting for someone to find you. Next came Madie, it was her own creativity that did her in. She was perched in the cabinet over the washing machine but she couldn’t resist leaving a small cord trailing out of the closed cupboard door for insurance in case it locked on her. Rosie was next; Gwen knew how to find her, all she had to do was to look high, very high. She was on top of the refrigerator behind two strategically placed five gallon buckets, one filled with dry milk powder and the other with “rich people’s” peanut butter. The buckets weren’t normally up there, Gwen shook her head, it must have been tough to haul them up silently and with a blindfold. Now, Gwen was starting to worry a little bit. Bredon was usually very hard to find, it wasn’t that he was a daredevil or especially clever at camouflage, it is just that he had a very deep knowledge of the house. He knew every nook and cranny and he loved to measure its spaces and map it out. He knew just the right spots for concealment. Gwen wasn’t worried about him, she was concerned about Ben and Sam, this was not typical at all.
Everyone already found was gathered at the it location.
Gwen cleared her throat and made an announcement, “Ok everyone, take off your blindfolds.”
Everyone took off their scarves and looked at Gwen in alarm, this was almost unprecedented, Gwenny was a stickler for the rules.
“I haven’t found Ben and Sam yet. I need everyone to help me. Callie, you take the first floor, look everywhere you can. Ben and Sam can’t climb that high but they can burrow. Look closely at the fireplace, not just the base, look up the flue. It makes a good perching place. Also check the hall closet and the book shelves, especially the glass ones with the encyclopedias they’re pretty deep. Rosie you take the second floor, I might not have checked under Mom and Dad’s bed, it is usually so full of those bags of things we leave around that I didn’t think anyone would be able to get under there but the boys are pretty small and could squeeze in the cracks maybe. Check every closet, especially linen, it’s capacious and I might have missed something. If anyone finds Bredon, tell him to find me immediately. Madie, you take the basement, look first in the most dangerous spots, like the chemistry table, and then in the boiler room we’ve got to make sure they didn’t hide there first.” Gwen paused to think, don’t worry too much about Dad’s work room, it’s not so dangerous, Dad always unplugs everything. Now run!”
Everyone obeyed Gwen instantly, she was perfectly cool in a crisis and commanded their respect. They knew they were in good hands. Gwen thought hard about where Bredon might be. She snapped her fingers, there was one place she hadn’t looked yet, frankly she hadn’t thought that he knew about it or that he would resort to it this early in the game. She made her way to the hall closet and opened the door. To her right was a very large drawer, close to the ground. Gwen pulled it all the way out and placed it on one end beside the door, then she laid on the ground and rolled into the opening that it left, she pulled a flashlight out of her pocket and made a 360 degree circle of light.
“Bredon?” He was huddled in the corner of a little hidden room. It was the same size as the foundation of the stairs, five feet high and four feet square. Bredon had his muffler on, it was hardly necessary as the room was pitch black without the flash light.
“Gwen, it isn’t fair, you have your scarf off.” Bredon sensed the flashlight’s glare. He was outraged, getting in this particular spot wasn’t easy but it was nearly impossible, blindfolded.
“ I can’t find Ben and Sam. You’re going to need to help me with this. I have everyone looking but you.”
Bredon looked thoughtfully at Gwen, he knew what had to be done. “ I think I have something that will help us, it’s in my room.”
Gwen wasn’t looking forward to going into Bredon’s room; she hadn’t looked there in the game because she knew that no one would ever hide there. It was in a constant state of flux, there were no containers made to withstand the amount of rustling Bredon did with his things. There were piles of cardboard cut into tiny pieces and bits of string, every tiny toy collected and snatched from Mom’s constant decluttering fingers. Clothing was pushed into corners, regarded as unimportant, but most of all there was paper. Vast piles of the stuff, stacks that appeared to be disorganized but in fact were carefully collated and systematized. Bredon reached for one particularly wide stack, it was a pile of outsized, perforated paper all connected accordion style, a left over ream from the old dot matrix printer.
“I’ve got about four different ones of these, I’m still working on the electrical but here are the water lines, intake and outflow, the heating system and main bearing walls. If we follow this one carefully,” Bredon patted the last folded piece of paper, “we shouldn’t miss anything. You follow me, I’ve got this.”
Bredon held a homemade map of the house in his hands, Gwen noted that it was carefully drawn to scale and each wall was placed properly with windows and doors indicated.
“Bredon, these are amazing! We need to start in the attic, I don’t think they would be brave enough to try it but well, they’re still gone and it seems possible. Do you have that floor?”
Bredon nodded his head, “It’s the least interesting level, just one big room but the edges have lots of crawly spaces that I mapped out a couple of weeks ago. If you’re willing to get on your hands and knees and face down a few possible spiders you can go all the way around the perimeter of the room, they connect.”
Bredon’s eyes were shining despite the seriousness of their mission, he couldn’t help himself, he loved this stuff. Gwen heard the part about the spiders, they held no particular dread as far as she was concerned, she was ready. As they made their way up the large central staircase, Madeleine, Rosie and Callie joined them with three shaking heads, their searches had come up empty.
As they entered the attic, Bredon assumed command. He pointed out four spots indicated on his map. ”There are loose spots in these parts of the paneling, they can be removed. Madie, Gwen and Rosie, if you loosen them they will come off easily, we can always screw them back in later. Let’s get in there and see if the boys are hiding behind the walls.” Gwen looked at her watch, they still had some time. Mom may be upset with the five gallon buckets on the fridge, strangely angled bookshelves and missing pieces of the attic walls but far worse would be the loss of Ben and Sam, it was unthinkable. Everyone took their Swiss army knives out of their pockets and readied the little screw driver attachments and began to loosen their panels. Soon there was a rustling in the walls, like four oversized rodents scurrying to crumbs.
Callie glanced around, she felt a little left out but there were only four corners after all. Perhaps Ben and Sam weren’t in the walls; she thought it was a long shot anyway. She wondered what she would do if she were still five or six. She would have made a blanket house, Callie looked over at the large container of extra blankets, Mom said once that it seemed that their family bred blankets somehow, there were so many. The container was undisturbed. Boys, Callie thought, I guess they are different than me. Her eyes lit on the corner stack of boxes, they were very similar in shape to blocks. Suddenly she knew where Ben and Sam were, the pile had a suspiciously symmetrical look to it, it was recently constructed she could tell.
“I see you guys.” There was a rustling behind the stacks and Sam’s head popped out from the lowest wall.
“You’re not blindfolded, Callie, I am going to tell Gwen.”
“You’re not either, Sam.” Sam noted Callie’s rolled eyes and felt around his neck, the scarf still dangled; somehow he felt that its presence gave him a small advantage, and he thought of protesting, given the fact that he didn’t see one anywhere near Callie. Then he looked at her face and thought better of it. She looked angry and maybe even scared.
Ben stood up, “Callie, this is the best hiding place ever.” Callie walked over to where they stood and inspected their hovel.
“These are pretty cool, Ben and Sam.” Her interest was piqued and it dissipated her anger. She took one of the boxes and felt around its edges, they were fabric covered and brittle. Some of them looked worn, as if they were very old, on the side of each box was a date, some from as long ago as 1901. Callie opened the box in her hand carefully and drew in a sharp breath. They were filled with letters, beautifully hand scripted and collected, a treasure trove of correspondence.
“Hey you guys can come out of the walls, I found ‘em.” Callie called her siblings and looked around. She heard a stampede of hands and knees headed for the nearest loose panel, she guessed that those spiders were more than just a possibility, everyone seemed to be in a pretty big hurry to escape.
Gwen, Bredon, Madie and Rosie emerged looking a little cobwebby and smudged. Gwen put her hands on her hips and looked at Ben and Sam with a new found respect. “Well you guys, this is a first. You won. Well Callie kind of won but she had to take her blindfold off to find you and besides she wasn’t it, so I guess you did it.”
They beamed. Ben and Sam both chose not to fess up about their lack of third floor eye coverings and Callie didn’t see what the point was of unmasking them.
Madie looked at her watch and Gwen noted it from the corner of her eye. “We’ve got about 30 minutes you guys, it’s gonna be pretty tight. Take the floors you were looking in. Ben and Sam, you guys have to take the worst mess. Winner’s privilege. It’s a six bath towel business, peanut butter and dry milk powder in the kitchen, I guess Rosie was in a pretty big hurry to get down.”
While Gwen, Bredon and Madie screwed in wall panels, Rosie stepped over to her sister. She looked at the box Callie held in her hand and began to sort the stacks, peeking at the inside of one in the process.
“Hey Cal, what are these?”
Callie looked up from the mass of paper clutched in her hand. “Rosie, I think they’re letters, a whole life time of them.”


Blogger Madeleine said...

This is wonderful, mom! I wish we had played hide, bluff, and seek. It sounds like a lot of fun.

6:16 PM  
Blogger jenny said...

Why thank you honey, are you sure that you didn't?

6:16 AM  

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