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As she touches the tarnished brass knob, the door awakens from its deep slumber. As she turns her wrist and the door opens on cracked, rusted hinges, and the sun peaks through. It sends a flame of light across the shadowed, desolate hall once thought forever to stay in darkness. She enters through the narrow door frame and walks along the very edge. As she gingerly steps further in she runs her wrinkled, delicate fingers along the cracked wall. Sounds of laughter echo beneath her gentle touch, all the years are trapped inside the once elaborate halls of the estate.
“It's good to be home,” he sighed, setting his hat down on the hall table. They moved entered the room to the right but stopped at the door. The feeling of home lingered just in front of them, as if all it took was moving forward one more step and it would sink in. But that was only a apparition, that feeling had long since vanished with their childhood, and would never return.
“Yes, it is,” she echoed, running her young, dainty fingers on the wall as she watched the many maids uncovering their furniture. She walked over to her favorite window, by the piano, and opened the curtains. The sun's rays felt like warm kisses on her face and she breathed in deeply.
“This, however, I did not miss,” he laughed, dragging his handkerchief along the dusty mantel of the fireplace. The brother and sister laugh together gently, but it wasn't the dust, it was the sudden flood of memories that filled them all at once, like water filling a broken cup.
She moves further into the room to the right, her slow, careful footsteps break the thin silence much like the tick of the clock that used to stand tall in the back corner. It is the only sound in the vast emptiness. It hasn't changed, only now it seems much wider to her, without the masked people that had roamed it for years. Quietly, she moves to a window and draws back the curtains, letting the soft light cast dancing shadows across the broken floorboards.
“Come here, my sweet girl!” her father beckoned her over with his hand as his other twist and turned the dials of the radio. She curiously obeyed, abandoning her book and pranced from her spot on the chair to her father's side. Her mother glanced up from her needlework, but only clucked once in disapproval before returning her eyes to her work. The girl leaned in slowly and cautiously as suddenly a melodious tune broke the silence. It burst forth from the small contraption, intriguing her, for how could that wonderful music come from such a small wooden box? But before she could begin to ponder it, her father pulled her into his arms.
“Lets dance,” he cried, whirling her in circles. They spun around and around, laughing at the simple joy that moment brought until, just as suddenly as it began, the music came to an abrupt stop.
“I will not have you flinging our daughter around like a hooligan,” her mother said, her voice perfectly steady, and she returned from the radio to her needlework once more, as if nothing had been disrupted. The father let go of his daughter and after clearing his throat, returned to his study. His “sweet girl” returned to her book and continued to read. Everything was like it had been except for a small tear falling from the young woman's cheek.
She cautiously approaches her favorite window in the corner; the window that looks out upon the river still flowing over it's rocky bank. She looks at the reflection in the glass. A person stares back at her, but it is not the face she used to see. Outside, the still, tender air begins to chill; autumn will start to settle in with winter just behind it. The leaves have already begun to change and rustle in the wind, waiting to fall to the cold ground. The spacious sky grows darker, and with that, the advancing long night grows colder. All the wildflowers in the vast fields beyond her view, have begun to wane and pass away, to become part the grass. Bird follow the warmth of the sun and take off south. And so commences the fresh season, but some will miss the summer, and the freedom it carries but does not leave behind.
“Come away with me,” he pleaded, his eyes meeting hers, and she is forced to look away.
They stood facing each other in his small wooden boat, beneath them, the river followed itself where the shore twisted and turned around it. He was holding fast onto the small dock, waiting to let go, and let the river do just that, take her away.
“You know I can't,” she answered although it made her heart ache to say it. Her tears fell on his hand which held her face.
“You can't or they won't let you,” he whispered in her ear.
She had a choice to let him take her away from her life, or let life take her away from him. And although it would have been easy to just run, she knew that she would not be free her from the chains that binded her. For she could only go so far before they would pull her back again. With her heart beating fast, she pulled her self up, sitting on the dock, out of the boat. His hand fell onto hers and he squeezed it gently, before letting go of both her and the dock and began slowly drifting down the Mississippi.
“I love you,” she choked, tears staining her face, “I'm so sorry!”
“I'll love you till the last star burns out,” he shouted, and he gave her one last smile. That smile, on the face of one she had loved so long, that had made her laugh when they were young and untroubled. She wanted so badly to reach out and trace her fingers along his cheek, but he had already been swallowed up by the shadows of the river. And now, only her candle gave light and warmth to her broken heart.
Only the once grand piano remains, alone in the barren space. She walks over to it slowly as if it might vanish like a sweet phantom of the past. She reaches out to smooth away the dust. She bends over to place her cheek upon the lid, closes her eyes and spreads her arms out. She is reunited with an old friend. She opens the lid gently, revealing the black and white keys discolored to a brown through the many years. Her wrinkled, delicate fingers brush across them gathering her long ago movements with the sweep of her wrist. She sits down on the hard wooden bench, and begins to play.
“Really Miss! Miss just arrived and Miss is already playing that thing!” The old dark maid came up behind the girl and closed the lid, almost smashing the girl's fingers. She grabbed her young mistress's hand with her own raw, strong one and whisked her toward the stairs.
“Miss's mother says unpack now, play later!” she whispered loudly. The young girl tried for one last quick glance at her beloved piano, but the wall of pictures along the staircase blocked her view. And with each step, the child envisioned the pictures giving her a sly, wicked grin sending chills down her spine. But, she focused on the warmth of her nanny's hand and the demons in her head slowly began to change.
The song seems to just flow from her mind to her fingers like the peaceful movement of the river. She closes her eyes and breaths in deeply. Something inside her falls into place, as if she found the missing puzzle piece, forever thought to be lost in the ruble of her memory. The ones who once filled her life whisper to her.
They call her name.
“Nana? It is time to go,”
Outside the window a gust of wind sends a leaf descending from the tree. As it slowly falls, it sways back and forth, before settling on the cold ground. One life seems to end, with the promise of beginning anew.