'Emily'

Story Time

November 21, 1999|By Michael Bedard

Editor's note: When a mother and daughter pay a visit to their reclusive neighbor Emily, who happens to be a poet, there is a memorable exchange of gifts.

Downstairs, Mother played. Tomorrow she would visit the yellow house. I asked her and she said that I might go. It made me feel afraid.

Perhaps the lady in the yellow house is also afraid, I thought. That is why she hides herself. That is why she runs when strangers call. But why -- you cannot say. Maybe people are a mystery, too, sometimes.

The next morning the snow had begun to melt from the garden. A robin settled on the sudden grass. It was a sign of spring. Across the street the hedge had lost its veil. A shade rose in the window of the upper room.

Mother wore her new silk dress, the one that whispered when she walked. The dress I wore was white, like the disappearing snow. The pockets bulged with something I had brought. Father stood and watched us from the door.

Our feet rang on the wooden walk. The yellow house slipped down behind the hedge as we came near.

"Come in," said the woman who answered the door. "Oh, we have a little one, I see. Emily will be pleased."

She walked us down a whispering hall, past a door, a spill of stairs, into a parlor at the rear.

The curtains were drawn. The room was stiff and dim. The piano stood against the wall. A pot of hyacinths bloomed upon a table. The air was dizzy with their purple smell. I turned and saw a rush of white escaping up the stairs.

"Please make yourselves at home," the woman said. "It was so good of you to come. My sister is unwell today and fears she cannot join you. But she will hear you when you play." She showed me to a chair and left the room.

Mother settled at the stool. Her fingers seemed to tremble on the keys as she began to play. The music drifted through the darkened room. My hands went to my pockets and hid themselves away.

When Mother stopped she turned to me. A sound of clapping rippled down the stairs, and then a small voice like a little girl's.

"Dear friend, you put the robin's song to shame. Play more. Already I can feel the spring."

Now when the music started I crept quietly from the room. I tiptoed to the bottom of the stairs. My heart beat quickly as a little bird's. I started slowly up. At the winding of the stairs I stopped.

There at the top sat a woman all in white. At first she did not see me. She sat on a tiny chair; a stub of pencil flashed across a paper on her lap. Then she looked up.

"You little rascal, you," she said. "Come here."

I stood beside her. Our dresses both were snow. I looked down at the paper in her lap.

"Is that poetry?" I asked.

"No, you are poetry. This only tries to be." Her voice was light and brittle.

"I brought you some spring," I said. From the pockets of my dress I took two lily bulbs and laid them in her lap. "If you plant them they will turn to lilies."

"How lovely," she said. "But surely I must give you something too." Her pencil dashed across the paper on her knee, as Mother's fingers flashed across the keys. She folded it and handed it to me.

"Here," she said. "Hide this away, as I will hide your gift to me. Perhaps in time they will both bloom."

Who has not found the Heaven -- below --

Will fail of it above --

For Angels rent the House next ours,

Wherever we remove --

Lovingly,

Emily --

From EMILY. Copyright c 1992 by Michael Bedard. Illustrations Copyright c 1992 by Barbara Cooney. Published by arrangement with Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House Inc.

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