The Closing of a Door, The Opening of a Window

Submitted into Contest #191 in response to: Write about a character who is starting to open up to life again.... view prompt

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Fiction Friendship Adventure

Her father’s voice sounded hollow. He glanced around the room as if looking for someone or something else besides the small maid before them. “Professor Alvin Trewella. And this is my daughter. May I see the...Madam?” 

“Right this way, sir.” 

The corridor was long and narrow. Cobwebs hung along the ceiling like so many little hammocks and the smell of moth balls was overpowering. The place gave the impression of a giant storage tote. 

At the end of the corridor, there was a plain brown door. The employee turned the knob and the door creaked open. 

“Who’s there?” The voice sounded as if it belonged to the place. 

“Professor Trewella and his daughter to see you, mum.” The maid that had led the way gave a small curtsy. 

“Daughter?” There was a certain element of bewilderment and fear in the way she said the word. 

Her father stepped forward, leaving her standing alone. She shivered.  

He coughed and cleared his throat. “Hello, Mother.” 

“Who’s that with you?” 

“Your granddaughter.” 

“I have no granddaughter.” The words came quickly; sharply.  

“That’s not so, Mother.” Her father’s voice was calmer now. She felt his hand on her arm as he guided her forward. 

Slowly, she lifted her eyes. Before her, in a huge plush bed that contrasted with the rest of the room, lay an old woman. The skin on her hands was so thin it was nearly transparent, and a dull frown further wrinkled her brow. 

“Where are my spectacles?” 

“Right here, mum.” The maid was at the woman’s side in an instant and handed her the glasses, carefully.  

After a moment of fumbling, the eyewear rested on the end of her long nose. Her gaze was piercing. “What is your name, girl?” 

“Sutton.” Her mouth was so dry that the word almost got stuck in her throat. 

The old woman harrumphed. “You certainly do not have the family looks, do you?” 

“No, ma’am.” Sutton’s face burned and she could feel her father stiffen at her side, but he said nothing. 

“Why have you brought her here, Alvin?” 

“I told you all that in the letter, Mother,” he explained patiently. “I must go away for a bit.” 

“This is becoming a specialty with you, is it not? What will become of her when I die?” 

He forced a laugh. “You are not going to die. You are young yet with a lot of life ahead of you.” He paused and when he resumed, there was a desperate note in his voice. “No one else will take her.” 

A long moment of silence ensued. Sutton glued her eyes to her scuffed shoes and felt the old woman...her grandmother’s, eyes bore into her. If only her father would tell her where it was that he was going and why she could not go with him. She had always gone with him before. What made this different?  

“Very well.” The words were croaked out reluctantly. “She may stay in this house, but I do not care to look at her. Jane will take care of her needs.” 

The maid dipped her head. “Yes, mum.” 

“Take them out now, Jane. I feel very tired. See that the girl has what she needs and do not let her bother the house help.” 

“Yes, mum.” Jane curtsied and left the room.  

Reluctantly, Professor Trewella turned away from his mother’s bedside and guided Sutton out of the room and down the hall after the maid. When they reached the front room, her father stopped and let go of her hand. 

He faced her. The top of her head leveled with his nose, she looked up into his eyes and saw tears forming in the corners of them. “I will be gone for...a long time, Sutton. You’ll be safe here and you won’t starve. Mother will see to that. She...she isn’t as she seems.” 

“Please take me with you, Father.” The words tumbled out of her mouth, even as she held them back. “Why can’t I go?” 

His facial features contorted briefly. “Someday, you’ll understand.” He glanced toward the front door. “I must go now.” 

He drew her close to him and she buried her face in his chest, refusing to cry. There were no tears left. “Sutton,” his voice cracked. “Don’t hide inside yourself. There is always life worth living. You just must find it. 

And then he was gone. 

*************** 

The room that Jane led her into was nothing like her grandmother’s room. The bed was no more than six feet long and two feet wide. A cot was perhaps the better word for it. Other than the bed, the room was bare, save for a single, tattered rug and a small window. 

“Supper is at six, miss.” With those words, the maid disappeared, leaving Sutton alone with her thoughts. 

Slowly, she sat down on the cot and felt, rather than heard, the springs protest. A giant storage container where her father was storing her. The idea somehow failed to move her. It was as if she had died inside. Her father had abandoned her. Life was worth nothing now because deep inside her heart, she knew he wasn’t coming back. 

Later, she heard the call for supper, but, ignoring it, she lay down on the bed and turned her face to the wall. 

*************** 

When Sutton opened her eyes again, light was streaming in through the window and the whole house was silent as a grave. 

Slowly, she sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. The bare floor was cold and hard beneath the soles of her feet. She listened hard but heard no sound. Doesn’t anybody get up in the morning around here? 

As she rose to her feet, the bedsprings creaked, breaking the silence, and her stomach rumbled. She felt different than she had the night before. Better. Maybe it was the brightness of the sun. 

She stared at the doorknob and then turned away and walked over to the little window, peeking out. The grounds were ill-kept, in keeping with the rest of the house, no doubt, and she could see a small barn in the distance. Squinting, she made out the form of a cow and calf in the pasture behind. 

Then it hit her: Her father was gone. He had left her here all alone and there was no one. Her grandmother hated her and even the maid seemed distant. She kept her eyes on the outline of the barn. Surely, there would be servants needed to take care of the cow and calf. 

Abruptly, she turned away and walked back toward the bed. Who cares about servants? I don’t want to see anyone anyway. 

As if in contradiction to her thoughts, there came a soft knock on the door. 

Sutton didn’t answer. Let them wonder. Maybe they would think that she had died in the night or something. 

“Miss?” The door slid open, and Jane peeked in. “Miss? Oh, there you are.” 

Sutton didn’t move a muscle but simply stared at the maid, whose face was ashen.  

Jane pushed the door open a bit further and stepped into the room. She was wringing her hands and kept glancing about as if searching for a focal point other than the skinny girl before her. “I have some bad news, Miss. I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but, you see,” she looked down at the floor, “The Madam, she-she passed away during the night.” 

Sutton started, but she felt no emotion. So her grandmother was dead. Even the sentence was meaningless. 

Jane looked desperate. “She died,” she said, as if thinking that Sutton did not understand. 

“So you said.” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. 

The maid took a sudden step back and her facial expression changed. “There will be no breakfast. I must see to arrangements.” 

She paused as if expecting Sutton to make a comment but when nothing was forthcoming, she left as quietly as she came. 

No breakfast! Sutton’s stomach rumbled again, louder this time, but she ignored it. Her grandmother was dead and there was no reason to stay in this forsaken hole of a room any longer. Without wasting another minute but now without some difficulty, she opened the window and wriggled out, dropping lightly to the grass below. 

She glanced around and, seeing no one, started towards the village at a fast walk. So what if Jane saw her leaving? What could the maid do to stop her? 

“Hey!” 

At the sound of a male voice behind her, Sutton froze mid-step and then resumed walking forward. She could hear footsteps scuffing the gravel, getting closer and closer, and she was tempted to run, but knew that it would do no good. 

Within minutes, a raggedly dressed young fellow of about twenty drew even with her. “Hello. I saw you...leave the house. Where are you going?” 

Sutton refused to look at him and didn’t answer. 

“Can’t you speak?” In spite of his persistence, his tone was kind. 

“It’s none of your business.” 

“Who are you? What’s your name?” 

She was quiet for a minute. What did he care who she was or where she was going? Finally, she decided to ask a question of her own. “Who are you?” 

“I am... related to the Madam. But I worked sorting trash and doing odd jobs; her trash boy. At least,” he shrugged, “I was. Jane told me to leave just five minutes ago because of the Madam’s death this morning. Apparently, she is dispersing the house.” He gave a laugh. “If I was rich, I would make a bid on the place.” 

Sutton nodded. A question was forming in her head, but she was hesitant to ask it. This boy was a servant. What could he know? Perhaps something, if he was related to her grandmother. 

He looked at her for a long minute. “May I continue with you toward the village?” 

“You may.” 

They walked for a long while in silence. The day was warm and the weather much more pleasant than the previous day. Sutton was not sure how far away the village was, and she was glad when she could make out the buildings in the distance. 

“I’m pretty thirsty,” the boy remarked suddenly. “What about you?” 

She nodded. “I’m thirsty too.” And quite hungry, but she had no money to buy food and she doubted that he did either. 

“Say, why did you leave?” 

“You said yourself that Jane was dispersing the house.” 

He grinned. “Yeah, but why did you escape out the window?” 

She looked at him then for the first time. His face was thin and rather nice looking, and he didn’t appear like he had had a good meal in weeks. “You saw me.” 

“Yes.” 

She sighed. “I am the Madam’s granddaughter and my father left me there yesterday. I didn’t know my grandmother and she didn’t appear to want to get to know me. So, when Jane told me that she had died, I decided to leave.” 

He said nothing for a long couple of minutes, plodding along with his facial expression rather grave. Finally, he spoke, “What do you plan to do, then?” 

“I must find my father. He left me and I have no idea where he went, but I must find him.” 

“And how do you plan to go about that?” 

She shrugged. “Ask around in the village, I guess, for a start, but I know he was leaving for somewhere far away.” 

A wistful smile came over the boy’s countenance. “I always wanted to travel.” 

She stopped walking and turned to face him. “I am no fool. I am fine alone.” 

“How old are you?” 

“Old enough.” 

“Come on now, it won’t twist your arm to tell me.”  

She had to admire his tenacity. Most people left her alone after a couple of tries. “Sixteen.” 

He shook his head. “You can’t travel alone. It’s not safe and you know I’m right. I’ll go with you.” 

She bit her lip. Perhaps what he was saying was true. Maybe she could even come to enjoy his company and she couldn’t recall when she had last had a friend besides her father. “I’ll think on it.” 

 “Good. So, now can you tell me your name?” 

“Sutton Trewella.” 

His eyebrows shot up. “Oh. Um, wow.” 

She scrutinized his expression. Surprise was apparent. Was he making fun of her name? After a minute, she decided not and resumed walking. “So, what yours?” 

“Alfie. I’m twenty.” 

“Just Alfie?” 

He grinned. “Just Alfie.” 

By that time, they had reached the well hole in the middle of the village square. The cool water felt wonderfully refreshing as it trickled down Sutton’s dry throat and she handed the dipper to Alfie. “If you want to go with me, that’s fine, but I will not tolerate anything that is not right. I am only allowing this because there is no one else.” 

He finished his drink and laid the dipper down on the stones. “I won’t touch you.” His expression was serious. “I promise. And I will do all I can to help you find your father.” 

“Why are you doing this for me?” The question had been nagging her over the last couple of miles and she had to ask it. 

His eyes searched her face. “Because your father is my father too.” 

March 28, 2023 14:18

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2 comments

Mary Ann Ford
23:43 Mar 28, 2023

Wow! It would be a great long story if you ever had the time. Great description of the "tomb". :) I feel like there was something else I wanted to say but I can't remember it so . . . keep writing!

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Molly Layne
12:47 Mar 29, 2023

Thank you so much! Yes, I plan to make a long story :)

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