At seventy two years of age Time and Life had taken much of Louise’s mobility and health, but not much of her hearing. Maybe because in her younger days she was a singer of some note, or maybe because she had to discern entire instruments from each other in the subtle editing of Orchestral Recordings. A profession she ruled for almost forty years.
It was her “Golden Ear” that allowed her to be the Queen of mixing tracks in post-production. It was also the reason she was single…and alone…at seventy two. Her life had been the Studio. She knew almost all the famous people there were in the Music World. Her walls were covered with Gold and Platinum records, accolades from Stars of all kinds, and, of course, she was most noted for bringing Classical Music to the Masses in numbers that hadn’t been seen since the old Disney Scores.
She always wanted children. Family. Maybe even a husband. It wasn’t in the cards for her. Not many men wanted to sit in an empty house waiting for her to come home from the Studio at some insane hour, only to sleep for four hours and return to whence she came. She had flings when she was younger…and those were so empty and shallow, bereft of any true human contact except for sweaty body to sweaty body…that she gave them up as Life’s empty calories. The emotional equivalent of table sugar. Sweet, but no nutrition for the soul, romance, or love.
One hip went at sixty two, the other at sixty four. Then both knees went in the same year. By her late sixties, she was forced to retire from Public Life. Arthritis in her hands took away the fine motor control she needed at the soundboard. That was okay with her. Her career came not only with fame, but money.
That money allowed her to have a cook and maid during the day. It did not buy a companion for the time from Supper to morning breakfast. She didn’t need any companionship anyway. It was music that took the place of a beau, a pet, or friends. Tonight was different.
She heard the pitter-patter of little feet in the hallway.
And a giggle.
'It must be the pain. My arthritis is getting worse. Maybe I should start taking those medicines they keep trying to hawk on me.'
That was the thought running through her mind as she heard the pitter-patter of little feet out in the hallway outside her room. She heard a couple of soft giggles too. It was difficult for her to get out of bed. Sometimes, on bad days, she had to wait for the Maid to come in at Seven AM and help her get out of bed.
But curiosity is a partial cure for some things. Louise so wanted to see what was causing the giggles and pitter-patter in the hallway that she managed to ignore the pain in her legs. With an effort that at any other time would have seemed heroic, she casually crawled out of her bed, waiting for the inevitable first rush of pain to settle back as weight was put on her aging knees and hips.
That only took a few moments of holding the post at the foot of her bed before she could walk to the door. For the first time in decades…she tip toed. No meek mouse ever scurried across a floor with less chance of being noticed than her silent padding to her door. She left the light in her room off…and then cracked the door enough to let one eye survey the hallway.
She almost had a stroke.
So did they.
The three children stopped their play. Frozen in place, they all turned as one to look at the eye peeping out of the doorway. None of them were taller than two feet and a couple of spare inches. All were lithe wraith-like formed, but definitely children. Or, at least, child like in so many ways that it blurred the definition to meaninglessness. They were…for all practical purposes, children. Children caught playing in the hallway. The pitter patter of their tiny feet having given them away.
They stayed put. Smiles of hope lighting up their faces as they waited for the eye to do…well…something.
The eye blinked.
Louise blinked again- hard. Then again. They were still there. It wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t her imagination. It was real. Three of the cutest, sweetest, most heart wrenching children were staring back at her with dawning smiles. She opened the door. They didn’t bolt. That made her smile. For she knew if the situation was reversed…she sure would have.
She flicked the light on in the Hallway as she swung the door open. In the bright light that flowed into the hallway, thoughts of the children being some kind of Leprechaun, sprite, or wraith, were gone. They weren’t human children, but were drenched in humanity. It was a joy to just look at them. They were stuffed to the gills with innocence, eager to play, and as unconcerned as any child with the intrusions of grown up life. Only puppies have a clue of how those children looked and reacted to Louise stepping into the hallway.
They scrambled in a mad pile toward Louise, tugging on her nightgown, hugging her legs, one rather cheeky child was tugging at her hand to pull her along the hallway to the spare bedroom.
Louise couldn’t help it. She went along with them without a qualm. She was giggling like a child herself when they got to the spare room. But then she stopped. Tears sprang to her eyes unbidden, unstoppable, unbelievable. The three children were confused and closed in around her in concern. She reached down to tussle their hair a bit to reassure both herself, and them, that she was not crazy.
Her spare room had three tiny beds in it now. Not the rose colored Queen Size bed she had ready for the occasional overnight guest. A guest room that never found an occasion to be used. The inlaid rosewood headboard, with matching dresser…gone. So was the writing table and antique chair that she thought added a kind of charming long ago feel to the room.
Instead there were three tiny beds. Not cribs, not conventional sized beds, not even bunkbeds. Just three perfect pieces of furniture for a room filled with the disarray of slightly spoiled, but loved, children. Stuffed animals, books with bright colors on the outside and small paragraphs with illustrations on the inside, filled a bright yellow open sided book niche on one wall.
Crayons of all kinds, some jumping ropes, and were those Jacks? Why…my golly, they are! Thought Louise.
Louise couldn’t help it, she sunk to the floor onto a carpet that she knew she didn’t put there. Instantly one of the children was on her lap, the other two took up sentinel on either side of her back. Tiny hands settled on both her shoulders as she turned to survey more of the room. The child on her lap had already dozed off. Safe. Warm. Comfortable. Louise wasn’t even aware that she was humming a lullaby from her own childhood. A song she hadn’t sung in more than sixty five years.
She felt her mother smile in her memory.
The other two children crowded Louise’s legs on either side, letting their heads rest on her lap. There they sat/slept/listened. Louise sang another lullaby. Content to listen to even shallow breathing from three small beings who’s snores were the best music she had heard in years.
Later she would place each of them back in their beds with a half asleep wiggle, a warm hug from tiny caring arms, and a quick kiss on their foreheads that elicited what Louise could only call : Angel smiles. She tucked them all in their remarkable beds, tip-toed to the door, took a last look and blew them all another good night kiss. She picked up a toy or two from the hallway; a purple Unicorn with silver hoofs, a magic wand complete with sparkly handle and shining star, and a stuffed raggedy Ann doll that was well worn with both love and play.
She gathered them as the treasures they were. Placing them in her own bed as she crawled under the covers. For the first time in seventy years…she prayed. Not for anything. Not for anyone. Simply to say thanks.
The Maid was surprised the next morning at Seven AM. Louise was not only awake…and dressed. But smiling. She got a bigger surprise when Louise asked her how she liked her coffee.
“You made coffee?”
The Maid could hardly keep the surprise out of her voice.
“Oh, yes. I had a really good night last night. I may even go out today.”
The Maid didn’t know what to say to that…so she didn’t.
The Maid didn’t know what to say when Louise told her that the spare bedroom was now locked…and Louise would appreciate it if she didn’t try and go in that room.
“I will take care of it from now on if you don’t mind.”
The Maid didn’t mind. That room was never used anyway.
Later, when the Cook came for the day, the Cook got a surprise too.
“Could you bake me a cake with sprinkles on it? Oh, and I am going to need some small sandwiches, some cookies, and chocolate milk too. If we don’t have any, would you mind going out and getting some chocolate milk and cookies.”
With that Louise handed the Cook a hundred dollar bill.
“Buy at least three kinds of cookies, and a gallon or so of Chocolate Milk. Keep the change for your efforts.”
The Cook was dumbfounded, but wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. The grocery store was less than a mile away- and eighty bucks in change made her ignore the bizarre change in Louise. Louise asked the Cook to park to the far right of the garage.
“I am going out later today. So I need room to get my car out of the garage.”
The Cook smiled. That was fine with her. It was a four car garage after all, and no old lady could accidentally hit her car backing up in that huge driveway. The Cook did wonder for a bit what kind of car Louise had…for in the six years she had worked for Louise, not once did she see her drive, or even leave the house during the day.
The Cook smiled again as Louise went back to her room …humming a child’s lullaby.
The Maid was a bit flustered. Where in the world had these things come from? Lined up on the pillow next to Louise’s still rumpled pillow and sheets, were a stuffed Raggedy Ann (worn by love and play), a purple Unicorn with silver feet, and a Magic Wand like a four year old Princess might play with.
The Maid made the bed in her usual manner. After a few minutes thought she lined the playthings back on the pillow - just like a Mother might line them up for her children to fetch later in the day. The Maid smiled. It felt right.
She closed the door.
Louise had come back late in the Afternoon. A delightful day spent at several thrift shops, a couple of high end stores, and even a visit to a candy shop had filled the hours with happy thoughts, careful choices, and anticipation.
She thanked the Cook for the lovely white cake with vanilla frosting smothered in sprinkles.
“Oh, the children will love that!”
She clapped her hands with glee.
The cook gave a bewildered smile, but didn’t mention what she was thinking.
After the Cook left the house, Louise locked the side door, sat down and ate her supper. Smiling the whole time. Her usual bedtime was about Nine or Nine thirty…so she would stick to that schedule. At about Ten O’clock PM she heard the pitter-patter of little feet in the hallway.
It was no effort to get out of bed. The pain in her hips, knees, and hands seemed to have vanished. She opened the door to her room to gaze down the hallway. Three small children raced to greet her…