“Ninety-Seven, Ninety-Eight, Ninety-Nine, ONE HUNDRED. Ready or not! HERE I COME!” I spun out of the corner I had smushed my face into. The herringbone parquet flooring glows golden, reflecting the light from the hallway lamps. My Mary-Janes slap against it as I run towards the giant mahogany staircase. I reach the carpet covered stairway and start thundering up them with the abandon of youth and enthusiasm. As I run, the crystal tear drops of the chandelier tinkle as they vibrate and shake from the force of my passage. Mrs McIntosh, the housekeeper always says that me running up the stairs reminds her of how the earth shook under the floor of her first flat every time a train passed. I find that quite odd. I’m only six. I can’t make as much noise as a train. Can I? I slow, dragging my hand, as children do, along the baluster’s, revelling in the slap, slap sound as my fingers bounce from post to carved post.
I reach the top of the stairs, pausing. Which way? I wonder as I try and catch my breath. “Jack!” I call softly, “Jack, I’m not playing anymore” I cry, hoping to trick him. I wait, ears straining. I look at the three hallways branching off the landing. Which way? I tap a finger to my lip like Mum does when she is thinking. The first hallway is in darkness and leads towards Poppa’s room. He would not be there, not after the last time we were caught there. I can't decide between the hallway leading to the servant stairs or the one leading to the back of the house. I’ll spin, I decide. I step towards the middle of the landing, close my eyes and spin around and around until I completely lose my balance, as children do. I fall in a heap, giggling to myself. I lay, arms and legs wide, staring up at the ceiling until the giant ceiling rose stops moving.
Once I am steady, I push myself up to my elbows, shake my hair out of my eyes, as children do. And look down to see that my Mary -Janes are now pointing me towards the back of the house. I scramble up quickly, decision made. I walk forward, my eyes landing on the pale green wallpaper covered in beautiful emerald peacocks, their trains standing up behind them, Poppa says they can have up to 175 feathers in their trains, I can’t count that high yet, but I think it's a lot more than 20. In-between them, are the indigo butterflies, Poppa says, the blue colour comes from peas, but he must be wrong because peas are green. And in amongst the peacocks and butterflies are the golden hummingbirds, Poppa says that they are the only birds that can fly backwards, why would they do that though? The green colour is sage, and Poppa says its special Chinese silk that he found in the orient when he was there for the war. I don’t know where the orient is but Mum says people do not call it that anymore and I shouldn’t either.
I continue down the hallway, dragging my fingers along the wallpaper, as children do, loving the tingly feel in my fingertips. I lift my hand from the wall as I reach the large window, I want to climb onto the sill and push my face to the glass, but Mrs Mac made me clean 3 whole windows the last time I did that. I stand and carefully put my hands behind my back. As I look out across the normally green lawn and towards the oak and birch trees, the wind gusts and rain hit’s the window like water thrown from a bucket. I jump back, alarmed, and give a little shiver, glad to be warm inside Poppa’s house on such a miserable day. I turn from the window and start moving forward again, trying to count the butterflies on the wall.
Lost in my thoughts, I almost forget why I am here and then, my ears prick a little, was that a creak? I know what makes that creak, “I’m coming Jack! I found you!” I yell as down the hallway towards the single flight of wibbly wobbly stairs I go. Of course, Jack ends up where he is not supposed to be, now we will both be in trouble. I mount the stairs and notice the big blue door is not quite closed. I hesitate for a moment, Mrs Mac told us to stay out of this room today. I bite my lip, what if Jack is in there by himself? What if he breaks something? My heart pounds at the thought, remembering the blown glass horse figurines on the desk and the blue vase as tall as I am, oh no, what if he knocks it over? Fearing the worst, I push the door open quietly, holding my breath and tip toe into the room as children do. The attic is huge, as large as the whole house. One wall is all windows with a lovely wide window seat, perfect for curling up with a good adventure story, which you could easily find on one of the other three walls which are floor to ceiling shelves overflowing with books of every kind.
I sneak forward slowly. “Jack?” I whisper. “Hello poppet” says a voice that is gravelly and smooth all at the same time. It’s coming from the big red armchair in front of the roaring fireplace. There is a precarious pile of books on one side and a table with two mugs and a plate of biscuits on the other. “Hello Poppa,” I say. I walk towards the chair. “Jack! You traitor!” I exclaim as I see that Jack, my faithful hound, my supposed hide and seek playmate is curled up on Poppa’s lap enjoying the warmth of the fire. Not hiding at all. Poppa chuckles, “Come sit down and tell me about your day, Mrs Mac brought you up a hot chocolate.” I flop down on the rug and sigh as children do, wondering how she knew I would end up here? I shrug and reach for a biscuit.