NEVER EVER AGAIN

By Marguerite Quantaine 5.16.17

When I was five, we lived in a drafty, 1860’s, two story, white clapboard farmhouse insulated with wads of newsprint dating from the Civil War. It had a coal furnace to heat the water pumped into cast iron radiators for warming in winter and bathing year round, wafer thin linoleum covered floors, and a narrow pine brown painted staircase just inside the front door vestibule with nine stark steps heading straight up before snaking left for three more and leveling off to a thirteenth step at the top.

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Facing directly ahead was the bedroom I shared with my two sisters. To the left, at the end of a hall papered in remnant rolls of Depression era patterns, was a bedroom for my three brothers. And at the right, flushed with the wall, was the entry to a closet containing a second, much smaller door leading to an exposed beams, no floorboards attic.

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“Never, ever, under any circumstance open the door inside the closet at the top of the stairs,” my mom instructed us, “because, if you do, you’ll fall through the ceiling.”  To be clear, she never added the words “and die” to the edict. So, I opened the door.

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It wasn’t that I was a bad little girl, or even an overtly rebellious one. I simply had a ferocious curiosity which challenged every easy, accepted, purported, and fabricated reason given to blindly follow orders. And, anyhow, it was all Alice’s fault — she being Alice In Wonderland from the animated Disney film that Mom had taken us to see when it came to our town in 1951. Our subsequent incessant playing of the film’s score from a set of eight, six inch, 78 RPM Little Golden Records ensured I knew every word and melody, making it Alice who implanted the lyrics to Very Good Advice in my mind as a mantra, and Alice who told me to open the door and search for a lavender and white striped Cheshire cat in a garden of talking flowers.

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But unlike Alice, I needed no key to unlock the door, nor mushroom to shrink myself for passing through, since even though the inner closet portal was half the size of a standard door, it wasn’t nearly as small as me.

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I might have opened it to a virtual sea of history if only I could read the papers packed in layers there. But since I couldn’t, my focus was on the solitary object sitting in the slanted roof room — a flat top, oak slatted, seasoned pine steamer trunk wrapped in one inch black lacquered tin ribbons, Moiré Metalique corner plates, and latches on each side of the lollipop-looking lock hanging open.

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My feet were smaller than my age and fearless. I scurried along the beams like a ballerina on a tightrope, reaching the trunk with ease. Opening it proved somewhat of a struggle, but the anticipation of releasing a fat lavender cat far outweighed the weight of the lid. I pushed it up and it plopped backwards as I fell forwards, landing on a black jacket with brass buttons the color of dirty mustard. Standing and stepping back out, I took care to balance on the beams as I reached in and pulled the jacket after me, dragging it across the crumpled insulation, out the Alice door, through the hallway door, and into my bedroom.

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The jacket was found fortune from a treasure chest. I marveled at the buttons, their background bumpy to the touch, with a spread winged bird standing atop a broken cross in it’s claws. I had heard the word ‘war’ without knowing what war was, could not conceive of what war did, and wouldn’t comprehend what the swastika signified for many years to come, so these beautiful buttons appeared as gold to me. I’d found gold!

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Certain my mom would feel as thrilled as I about my find, I put the jacket on and, with the sleeves dangling down long over my hands and the bottom of the jacket threatening to trip me as I shuffled along, I scooted down the stairs on my butt, one step at a time, shambling through the dining room and into the kitchen where my mother was standing at the long, white porcelain, wall hung cast iron sink washing breakfast dishes.

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She stopped, turned towards me, and stared as if stunned before asking, “Where did you get that?”

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“Through Alice’s door,” I beamed. “Inna trunk!”

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“Upstairs? In the attic?”

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I nodded, vigorously.

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After a moment she reached for my grandma’s black handled sewing scissors and approached me. Kneeling, she gently removed the jacket from my shoulders before sitting back on her bent legs and slippered feet, systematically cutting off each bird button. Upon finishing, she checked the pockets and found a folded scarlet band with the broken black cross imprinted inside a white ball. She scissors-shredded that, too, before doing something she’d also told us never, ever, under any circumstances to do.

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She descended the basement stairs, opened the heavy iron fire door on the coal furnace, and tossed in the buttons, the jacket, and the remnants of the band.

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The knob of her nose was red and her eyes were wet when she returned to the kitchen. “Go play now, honey,” she urged.

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I often wonder if a daughter remembers the first time she made her mother cry.

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Mine is of then and of there.

 

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.

Never Ever Again © 9.29.17

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I sincerely value your opinion and appreciate your sharing this with others.

Please select LEAVE A REPLY  from below the headline

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IMOGENE’S ELOISE : Inspired by a true story by Marguerite Quantaine

is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

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MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK by Marguerite Quantaine

is due for release in October 2017 on Amazon in paperback and Kindle

 

4 thoughts on “NEVER EVER AGAIN

    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      Thank you, Teryl. That’s the emotion that’s kept me carrying the story around all these years. Another reader wasn’t “sure about the jacket” — as if the similarity to our own national symbol during the Civil War and the one the world’s primary enemy adopted during WWII lacked clarity. It’s subtext, but still, perhaps too abstract. Perhaps I stumbled here.

      Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      That’s quite a compliment, Rickie. Thank you. I’ll try not to disappoint. By the way, my brother contacted me after reading this and said our father had yet another Nazi jacket, and a jade ring with a swastika on it that was given to him. He wore it until he found out what it symbolized. It was a difficult memory to reveal, especially since my father served in the Merchant Marines during WWII on what were considered to be unarmed tanker suicide missions, i.e., the refueling of battleships at sea during combat.

      Reply

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