Tracings in Snow
“When Matthew was sixteen years old, he ran away from home. He did not return until Christmas Eve fourteen years later. He showed up on the lawn late at night, while the family was gathered around the tree…”
Welcome to February. I hope this has been an excellent year of reading for you so far. If anyone is looking for a good book, I highly recommend “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio. Although it was originally written for children, it is incredibly moving for adults too. I received it for Christmas, and could not put it down. (In fact, I would have read the whole thing in one sitting if it had not been forcibly removed from my grip by a person who shall remain unnamed.)
If you’ve read a great book this year, list it in the comments section! I hope you enjoy this week’s read, the next installment of “Tracings in Snow.” As always, I value your comments enormously.
Have a wonderful Monday,
◊ Installment 6 ◊
On the day Matthew ran away, Walter hid under the porch. He had planned an elaborate surprise for Matthew’s homecoming that year, and it involved Walter hiding under the porch. It was cramped down here, Walter thought; also darker than he remembered. He hadn’t been under the porch in years. When they were kids, Walter and Matthew had used it for a hiding place. Walter still remembered, with a thrill of reminiscent excitement, the moment at the age of eight when he had discovered that, by turning sideways and sucking in his stomach to its utmost capacity, he could squeeze through the slats just beyond the kitchen steps. Matthew was older and taller, but more slender than Walter, and he could fit too. Just past the slats, the ground sloped affably down to a crawl space in which one could sit or stoop quite comfortably, as long as one kept one’s spine curved in a C-shape, and remembered not to stand or look up too suddenly. Matthew made Walter swear a solemn oath never to tell anyone about their secret hiding place. Walter had tingled with excitement as he repeated the oath. He never realized that, just as he could easily look up through the slats and see their mother, walking on the porch above them, so she could almost definitely look down and see them, and more than definitely hear them, considering that they frequently bawled camp songs here at the top of their lungs. She never said anything about it.
Later, after the tree house was built, crouching in a dark crawl space for hours at a time lost most of its original charm, and Walter could not now recall the last time he had been down here. A cat, or a raccoon or something had paid a visit in the interim, he noticed, for there were tracks in the dirt, and the remains of a partially digested rodent moldered in one cobwebby corner.
The surprise Walter had painstakingly prepared was that, while Matthew was away at school, Walter had taken apart the old, broken down dirt bike Matthew had purchased at a garage sale last summer, with the intention of repairing it. Matthew never got around to it, so after he left, Walter bought a manual on dirt bike repair and got the bike running himself. He could just imagine the look of delighted pride on Matthew’s face when he saw what Walter had accomplished. The bike now stood, shiny and new looking, under a fresh coat of paint the color and texture of a cherry skittle, beneath a large “Welcome Home” sign Kalli had hung in the backyard. The plan was for Walter to hide under the front porch, give a secret whistle when Matthew arrived, then crawl around to the back door so they could all leap out and surprise him together.
While Walter was under the porch, the telephone rang. He could not hear who picked up or what was said, but thirty minutes later he began to notice that the house had grown very silent. He had never noticed this particular quality of silence before, although he had been alone in the house many times. It was as though a shroud had been dropped over it, dimming the light, muffling the street noise. Strangers who walked past seemed to do so on tiptoe, as if observing a respectful silence for the residents inside; condoling with a grief Walter did not yet know the reason for. It was the first of many such silences.
Walter remained under the porch for an hour. Matthew would be home any minute, he kept reminding himself, and if he caught Walter in the act of climbing out, it would ruin the surprise. When twilight descended over their street and crickets began to chirp, Walter finally emerged. The automatic porch light went on over the front door, glinting in the dark bay window. Walter could see his own face reflected in the glass, a smudge of dirt on his forehead. When he trudged into the backyard, the dirt bike did not look so shiny and new anymore. It looked like something worn out and abandoned, something no one wanted anymore. ♦
(To be continued…)