Annie was so very happy when her Daddy came home from work. He had been traveling out of town for several months. They had moved into the apartment at her Aunt Pauline’s when they had lost the farm. Aunt Pauline was her Daddy’s older sister. Aunt Pauline had been salty when her parents left Daddy the farm. Daddy said there was bad blood all around. Aunt Pauline and Uncle Ted lived in the city. As a last resort, Daddy had taken the family to stay there temporarily. When he left for work, Mommy didn’t feel welcome. She went downstairs and did what cooking she had to and would boil water for washing. It had seemed like forever since they had been outside. Uncle Ted would come up every morning and bring milk and sometimes doughnut holes. He would talk a little until Aunt Pauline would call for him. Daddy had said Aunt Pauline always walked in darkness, he said she was a bitter woman and that darkness had swallowed her whole. She kept the curtains drawn all the time. She wore dark clothes. Her red hair had turned silver and her eyes although blue were sunk into dark hollows. Aunt Pauline had not had children and she said she did not want to be bothered with them. She glared at Annie and said, “Look at you little Towhead.” Mommy told Annie later that was a term used to describe children with blonde hair.
It had been very hard on her family, her Daddy and Mommy had held hands and wept while the Auctioneer had systematically sold all their belongings. Everything had gone quickly at the second sale. The first sale was advertised in the local paper. Everyone knew Auggie Landers. Everyone in their little town had grown up together. Farmers for generations they had seen many prosperous years and had also endured hard times together. No one raised a hand to bid on any item at the first sale. The bank had advertised the second sale in the Gazette. It reached people all over the state. Strangers came with big flat-bed trucks. They didn’t know the Landers Family and they were happy to buy all their belongings cheap. Annie got to keep her clothes. She got to keep her rag doll. She kept her wooden box of crayons.
Annie remembered the kitchen in the farmhouse. It was much bigger than Aunt Pauline’s kitchen. The old farmhouse sink was wide. It was the perfect height for Annie to help with the dishes. Many times she had helped her Mother prepare meals for her Family. She had helped her Mother when she gave the twins a bath in the big sink. There was a curtain that hung under the sink. Her Mommy had called the fabric Gingham. It was red and white checked. It matched the curtains that hung over the two big windows that faced the east. The walls were painted white. The ice box was in the far corner and a smaller window was on the other side of the kitchen. It had a wooden ledge built on it for cooling pies or bread. It was also nice to open all the windows and catch the breeze when it was hot or sometimes when Mommy would give the kitchen a good scrubbing with hot water and vinegar and a dash of soap. Everything would be scoured clean and then dry “Lickety Split” as Daddy would say.
The apartment had a sink and toilet, a table and chairs, one big bed and three cots. Uncle Ted had hung two sheets from the rafters. One to section off the toilet and one to separate the sleeping area from the table and chairs. One little rectangle window rested between the eaves of the house. The light shone through in a stream into the room. You could see the rectangle of light on the sheet that hung by the beds. Uncle Ted had given Annie a package of paper he had gotten from work. He worked at the paper mill. To Annie it was a wonderful gift. She used several sheets of paper to form the windows and curtains, just like the ones at the farm. She drew and drew until she had made the sink, the big cook stove, the little window. She even drew a pie to cool on the edge. She drew Hedrow the big orange Tom Cat. She took her time and tried very hard to remember every detail of their beautiful kitchen. Her Mommy read her Bible and tended to the twins. She would smile when Annie would say “Look Mommy.” Annie was very pleased with herself. For a moment, it seemed to help. Everything seemed so dark in the city. The buildings were close together. The winter seemed to last forever and with Daddy gone. Annie felt if she could bring some light into their little home it might not seem so bad. It was almost Christmas and Annie remembered how Mommy would decorate the kitchen, with ribbons and popcorn, buttons and beads. They had a little tree every year and Mommy always put it in the kitchen instead of the parlor. She said that Christmas should be kept in your heart and the heart of their home was the kitchen. Annie began to work on her decorations. She colored until her fingers were sore. The twins were delighted with all the colors. When Daddy came home he had important news. He said he had been offered work on a big farm. They had housing there and the town had a great school. He was certain that they would love it. He said the family that owned the farm needed help and he thought Mommy could get a little work too. Annie listened to her Daddy. She watched his face to see when he would notice how she had transformed the little apartment into the kitchen from their farm. Finally, he looked around and said, “My goodness this looks so much like our old kitchen I thought I was there for a minute!” Annie smiled and said, “Really Daddy?” he reached out and pulled her to him. He had on a big itchy wool coat. His red beard was rough and over grown. Annie didn’t mind. She looked into his blue eyes. They sparkled with light and laughter. He spun her around and grabbed Mommy. Annie would never forget her Daddy singing “If you got the money Honey, I got the time”, Mommy in her blue housecoat and bare feet. Her blonde hair was pinned up and it fell upon her shoulders when he spun her around. The light that hung from the center of the room swayed back and forth. The twins ran around behind them squealing. Annie looked at all her hard work. She felt as happy in that moment as she ever had in her life. She would never forget the low light and the colors of her crayon kitchen on that happy night. Daddy had brought hamburgers wrapped in wax paper and ice cold Coca Cola’s. He had peppermint sticks and oranges and Mommy lit some candles. He told them they would pack their things in the morning and head to their new home. He told Annie they had cows, chickens and a big yellow cat with a whole litter of kittens. As Annie went to sleep the moonlight was so bright the little stream of light lit up the whole room. She thought to herself, she would never be swallowed by darkness. She knew that with a little effort you can always draw some light.
Short story and photo by T.K. Tolbert