When I was a child, we would play this game where one child was the refugee and the others would hunt them. When I was the hunted, my heart beat in my throat with the urgency of survival; my form slipped soundlessly through the door into the arched vault of the little used dining hall and around the corner to the back stairs. I tiptoed down the stairs, the worn wood cool under my feet, my fingers trailing along the wall, into the damp smell of the cellar spaces.
I would place my feet carefully in the dark, along the oil stained concrete floor, avoiding the arms of angular and mysterious mechanical equipment. I would follow down the narrow back space, past the walk in deep freeze with its ominous steel door, thick and covered with a sheen of ice.
Back further into almost complete dark and then up a step into the store room beyond, where the ceiling lowered down so far even I had to walk bent over, where discarded toilets made the space seem tainted and then out, out through square, wooden door.
Beyond the door lay a small, level green lawn, bordered by trees at one edge and facing a set of stone steps set roughly into the steep hill. The sunlight would be sweet and strong and the silence heavy. Poised like a bird for flight, I would wait, listening to the silence, for any small sound beyond it.
I could hear the distant conversation of two Bible School students, so far away their voices were like faint music, and the rustling of a small creature in the woods, the clank of mechanical work going on in the shop beyond the short, steep hill. Nothing else.
I would dart across the lawn, my feet fearless on the grass, across the rim of the hill and into the copse of woods beyond. I would flit up through the trees, around the red painted Carriage house with its clean, white trim. Before me the garden, with its traitorous open space and the clothes lines, draped with linens lightly lifting in the summer air, pale pinks, buttercup yellow and pinstripe blue.
When I was a child, there were cookies kept in the pantry down the long, narrow back hall and a little door into the cooler into which the sweating, cold jars of fresh milk were passed. There were deep drawers in the kitchen, one for sugar, one for raw oats, one for flour. There was a vast basement with long, angled corridors, dusty and cobwebbed, where the shelves held the jeweled colors of canned vegetables.
There was a secret passage up into the attic and there were window seats up there and discarded books. I sat curled up there for hours, reading an ancient etiquette book, learning how to curtesy, how to recieve calling cards and how to assemble a warddrobe. The sun fell in long shafts through the window panes, turning all the floating dust motes to glittering gold and faint I could hear voices from outside, from three stories down.
I would go out into the sweet evening air, my feet calloused and trustworthy on the roughly paved roads, back home to where dinner waited; I would shake the milk and the cream into a froth and drink it in one long, thirsty swallow.
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