Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Key, Chapter 22

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 22

     The voices of Mom and Sam arguing grew softer and softer with each step we took away my.  But with each of our strides the excitement built within our trio.

     An idea came to Jack.  “Hey, maybe we should take Rocky on the quest with us.  He’s got a good dog nose.  Maybe he could find the house we’re supposed to be looking for.”

     “Nah,” I countered, “the Thompsons would never let us.  I’ve asked before and they never let me.”

     “What about Rocky’s dog house?” asked Emily.  “That is little and red and doesn’t have any windows.”

     “Used to be red,” I corrected.  I am sure ten years ago the dog house was brand new with a shiny coat of red paint.  Now though, the paint was faded and chipped over top of the weak and rotting wood.    “Plus, there is no chimney.”

     “And no star,” interjected Jack.

     “Rocky is the star,” I said, fondly thinking of my furry friend.  “He’s my star anyway.”

     Sometimes your steps lead you away from something and sometimes they lead you toward something.  Right now, our tracks led us directly into the path of my grandfather’s workshop which happened to be red.
     “Hey, do you think this is it,” asked Jack?  “This is kind of like a little red house, and it has a brown chimney out the top.”

     Grandpa has a workshop of his own.  He is out there all of the time.  I think he only comes inside to eat and to sleep. I asked Grandma once what Grandpa did out there all of the time.  She told me that he prayed to the Tool God.  I think she was joking, but I can never be sure with Grandma.
     I noticed that there was smoke coming out of the chimney.  Grandpa crafted a big burn barrel in the middle of his workshop to get rid of old newspapers and stuff.  In the winter he made fires in it to keep his workshop cozy-warm while he worked on projects like the Polly Picker Upper.  That meant that Grandpa was probably inside.

     “I doubt it,” I said.  “That would be way too easy.  Mom’s puzzles are hard.  Plus his work shop has windows and doors so it doesn’t fit the puzzle.”

     The door was open to my Grandfather’s sanctuary and we could hear clanging coming from within.  It sounded like metal hitting metal. When we peeked in, we could see grandpa sitting on his stool at the back of the workshop hammering away at something.  He looked like Santa Claus making toys, minus the white hair and red suit.

     “Hey, Grandpa,” Jack said.

     Grandpa, who unlike Grandma had perfectly good hearing, twisted around to face us.  I had to stifle a snicker because he was wearing goggles of some sort that protected his eyes.  They went right over top of his bifocals and the two together had a magnifying effect.   His eyes looked ever the larger.  I looked over at Emily and we giggled.

     “Hey there kids.  Why you look like the three amigos!  Where you headed?” Grandpa asked.
“We’re on a quest,” Emily piped up.

     “A quest, you say.  Well that sounds important.”  Grandpa turned to face us the full way now and put his hands on his knees looking very interested.  “What are you looking for?”

“Well,” I said, “it sounds kind of strange, but we are looking for a little red house with no windows and no doors and a chimney on top and a star inside.”

     Grandpa scratched his head and said in puzzlement, “a house with NO windows and NO doors, you say?  How would you get inside?”

     “That’s what I said!” yelled Jack.

     “Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, now does it Jack?” said Grandpa warmly, patting him on the shoulder.  “You are my grandson you know.  We must think alike.”

     Jack looked over Grandpa’s shoulder while Grandpa was praising him, and seemed to take a sudden interest in what he was making.  “Whatcha workin’ on Grandpa?” asked Jack, changing the subject.

     “Oh, this?” said Grandpa turning back to his project.  “This is my latest invention.  It is a tool I am going to use to take down tree limbs.  Grandma says I make her too nervous when I climb the tall ladder and frankly, I can’t stand her crabbing at me anymore, so I made this.”

     Grandpa stood and grabbed the handle of a very long tool.  I recognized our old flagpole.  We had a shorter one, but after the 9-11 attacks, my parents took it down and put up a taller pole in its place.  They bought an even bigger flag to fly from it like many Americans did.  Grandpa couldn’t see the sense in throwing that old pole away and took it out of our recycling bin and put it in his “pile” in the backyard. Mom nicknamed him “Squirrel” because of it.

     Grandpa had a pile of stuff that he saved that Grandma hated.    Jack and I like to go check out the pile every now and then to see what he saved.  The last time we looked, he had that flag pole, a whole bunch of other rusted pipes, my old doll stroller, and a toilet seat.  I guess he found a use for the flag pole after all.  We could only wonder about what he had planned for the toilet seat. 

     “See here,” Grandpa said holding it up.  “It can extend up to thirty feet.” 

     Attached to the end of the telescopic pole was a curved blade with jagged teeth.  It looked like part of an old saw he attached to the end.  Grandpa made a sawing motion to show that the pole could saw a dead branch off of a tall tree while standing on the ground.  I had to admit, I thought it was pretty clever. 

     “That’s cool, Grandpa,” I said.  “Did you think of a name for it yet?”

     Grandpa always named all his tools, almost like Mom had nicknames for everyone.  I couldn’t wait to see what he had chosen.

     “Sorry, Darlin’—I haven’t thought of one yet, and now you’re going to have to wait all the longer now that you’ve all got me thinkin’ about houses that don’t have any doors or windows,” Grandpa remarked.   “Let me guess.   I bet that is one of your mother’s hair brained ideas, isn’t it?” 

      “Be careful Grandpa,” I warned.  “You know what you just said to Jack, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Don’t forget Mom is YOUR daughter.”

     Grandpa chuckled.  “Oh, no.  She’s not the apple, my dear.  Your mother is the nut that fell from the branch of the mighty oak.  That makes me the mighty oak.”

     Grandpa was about to say more, but we were interrupted by a loud blast—WWWAAAAHHHHHHH!

    Emily and Jack nearly jumped out of their skin.  Grandpa and I were already becoming desensitized to the sound of Grandma’s air horn. 

     “Darn it!  I thought I hid that better,” Grandpa said.  “Now what the heck does she want?”

     Jack, Emily, and I moved toward Grandma’s house which was also red, but had tons of windows and many doors.  The old farm house had two fireplaces, so it had two chimneys.  That couldn’t be the house either.  Grandma was standing in her doorway waving to us.

     “Good job, Ellen!  You came when you were summoned,”  Grandma said.  “That was just a short blast, which means that I spotted storms in Ohio on the radar.  One short blast means that bad weather could be on its way.” 

     “OK, Grandma,” I said.  “We’ll keep an eye on the skies.  We’re going for a walk down in the park and we’ll be back in a little while.”

     Grandma nervously looked to the west and checked out the sky which was still a glorious blue.  She patted her pockets for her cigarettes and lighter.  “Don’t go too far now, kids.  Stick close by and listen for this horn.  If you hear it, run home.”

     I made eye contact with Jack and shook my head side to side ever so slightly to indicate not to say anything further.  She was his grandmother as much as she was mine, but I knew her very well from all these years of living next door.  Some things were better left unsaid or we would #1—never get to go on our quest today, and #2—never get out to the rest of the game. We'd never get to go with the threat of bad weather on the way.  Jack seemed to catch my drift and nodded up and down very subtly.

     “All right, Grandma.  We’ll listen.  We better get going now so we aren’t gone too long,” I said and moved forward to give her a hug.

     We turned east and headed toward the path that took us through their yard and into the park.  When I turned, Grandma saw the pack on my back.  “Ellen!   Another A plus for you today.  You brought your survival pack.  Good thinking!  Do you have your phone in there?”

     “Yes, Grandma, I do,” I said smiling politely.  I made a quick eye contact with Emily and rolled my eyes a little.
     “Hey,” said Grandma.  “Do you remember the story of Little Red Riding Hood—the good one that I used to read to you when your mom wasn’t around—not that watered down preschool version?”

     I nodded.  Grandma was a fan of the Brothers Grimm, the German brothers that recorded the fairy tales in writing.   My mother tells me that German people were very tough and sometimes weren’t soft and fuzzy with their children.   That is how the real fairy tales were, kind of harsh. 

     Grandma had a big book of Fairy Tales that her mother used to read to her.  The book was old and had a green cover.  It didn’t have many pictures or fancy printing, and it smelled like someone’s basement.  My mother said that Grandma used to read those fairy tales to her and my aunt when they were little and they used to scare the crap out of her. 

     Mom told Grandma a long time ago that she was not allowed to read them to me when she baby sat me—only the versions she sent in my back pack.  Grandma likes following other people’s orders about as much as my mother does, so from the old green book we read.

    “If you are heading down to Farmer Richter’s, bring back a bottle of wine for your dear old Granny.  Ask him if the new batch has fermented yet,” Grandma joked.

     Although Grandma made a joke as she often does, the basis for it was actually correct.  In the original version of Little Red Riding Hood, Little Red was bringing wine and cakes to her Grandma, not milk and cookies like the newer versions my mom made us read.  Grandma and I always thought that was funny thinking of Little Red Riding Hood being given a bottle of wine to take to her dear sweet Granny, and sent off into the woods alone. 

     I smiled and turned back to Jack and Emily.  “What was that all about?” Emily asked.

    “Never mind,” I said.  “Let’s get going, just in case Grandma is right again about the storm.  She was right last night, remember?”

     Jack, Emily, and I approached the narrow path that cut through the trees and underbrush that buffered our properties from the noise of the community park.  We fell into a single file line and I took my normal position, bringing up the rear.

     I am not a leader and never go first.  I am stuck in the middle in my life at home, being that I am the middle child, so I never opt for that place.  I prefer to be in the back.  I’m used to it because I am the tallest in my class and I have been looking at the back of everyone’s heads for the last five years because I sit towards the back of the classroom.  It is fine with me because I never have to actually see Nasally Nick picking his nose—I can just view the wing like movement of his elbow and I know what he’s doing.
The three of us started that first leg of our journey in silence.  I dropped back and thought of Little Red Riding Hood.  I pictured myself in a hooded cloak of red velvet instead of my black Huskie Hoodie, heading off into the big woods.  My mother warned me of the Big Bad Wolf and told me to keep my wits about me.  Grandma asked me to bring her back a bottle of wine.  Everyone takes from a story what they want, I suppose. 

     My Grandpa’s workshop was still in sight when it hit me.  I thought of a name to call the tool.  I stopped in my tracks and turned around to see if Grandpa was anywhere in sight.

      I could see my Grandparents in their driveway talking with one another.  It must have been a heated conversation about the air horn because Grandma was clutching it to her with her right arm and shaking her finger at Grandpa with her left.  The cigarette in her mouth bounced up and down like a bobber on a fishing pole. 

     I figured now was as good a time as any to change to the tone of that conversation so I cupped my hands together and shouted through them, “GRANDPA!”

     They stopped arguing and looked to see where the noise was coming from.  Without hesitation, I went on, “GRANDPA!  I THOUGHT OF A NAME FOR YOUR NEW TOOL!” I yelled.

     “Already?” Grandpa yelled back.  “Whatcha think of, Sweetheart?”

    “Branchasaurus.  It looks like a big, long necked dinosaur that eats dead tree limbs.”

     “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ellen.  That’s great!  Branchasaurus it is!” Grandpa shouted back.  “Thank you!”

     By this time, Jack and Emily had stopped too and waited for me to catch up.
“Branchasaurus?  Really, Ellen?” said Jack.

     “Oh, be quiet, Jack.  You’re just jealous because I thought of it first.  See, maybe TWO apples didn’t land that far from the tree,” I said with an air of superiority.

     “No, I’m the apple,” said Jack with a twinkle in his eye, “you’re the nut.” 

     I frowned at his funny comment and we started on again.  Apple or nut.  It really didn’t matter.  I am part of something that came before me.  Whether I am the fruit of the apple tree or the nut from the mighty oak;  I couldn’t help where I came from.  One day my seed will grow into a tree and I’ll probably send my own children on a quest to look for a little red house with no windows and no doors and a chimney on top with a star inside.  I sure would like to see the key to that house.  What would that key even look like?

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