A Christmas Surprise

November 7, 2009
By t.elizabeth SILVER, Rowley, Massachusetts
t.elizabeth SILVER, Rowley, Massachusetts
5 articles 5 photos 1 comment

I watch as my cousin Thomas slides towering stacks of dusty bent paper boxes across the floor and wait to see what will be revealed. I stand behind him expectantly, waiting to see my brother or sister or one of my other four cousins crouching on the other side, holding their knees as close to their chest as possible, hoping they aren’t the first one found, losing the game for their teammate. I was ready with my flashlight to shine the single beam of light into their face. Instead the wooden floorboards of the old attic creak slowly and the beam of light shines across the room picking up specks of the thin layer of dust covering the floor. The light ends in the corner of the room where the old wooden beams on the ceiling meet the worn wood that makes its way across the floor. There is no one else there, all we see is an opening in the dark corner illuminated by the flashlight of a twelve year old playing hide and seek. Thomas gently creeps toward the corner, stopping and looking around after each step. I hold my breath and wait.

Waiting, I began to imagine the scene downstairs, the same as it had been every other Christmas Eve for the past twelve years. Nana would be standing over the stove, barely tall enough to see over the boiling pots of water and simmering gravy. On occasion she scuffles across the kitchen in her pink slide-on slippers to the stove, as she opens it the rusty metal creaks and the scent of lobster fills the air. Papa always sits in the living room, making himself comfortable in the corner chair, the one everyone fights over for the way the cushions close in around you and make you never want to get up. Uncle Carmen lounges on the couch, his arms up behind his head, and my dad lies across the third couch. They all watch whatever is on TV, not really paying attention, drifting between sleep and awake. My three aunts and my mom float between the dining room and the kitchen, their voices drowning out any other noise. Usually I didn’t pay attention to their conversations, it was just background noise. Everybody’s voice but my moms and Uncle Derek’s could be heard from a mile away, my dad’s side of the family is louder than anyone I know. If I hadn’t been listening to them all my life, I would have thought they were yelling at each other and sometimes they actually were. Their voices carry throughout the entirety of the small house. But even with all those people talking, the most distinct voice is always Nana’s; her laugh alone drowns out the conversation between everyone else. She throws her head back slightly and her low cackle echoes through the kitchen, but more than that, her dark eyes brighten and the wrinkles around her eyes become more prominent and I can see the laughter in her eyes.

My mind comes back to the attic where I wait for Thomas to approach the opening in the wall and I wonder why the smell of Nana’s cigarette smoke mixed with the lobster she only cooks on Christmas hasn’t wafted through the vents or made its way up the winding attic staircase. Instead the smell of musty trunks and old Halloween costumes encloses me as I hold my breath, waiting for Thomas’s hand to beckon me over. Finally it comes, without turning around he whispers for me to come over and I see his arm lift over his head as he signals with his hand for me to move closer.

I make my way across the room, being careful not to step on the pink insulation that sticks up through the floor. Thomas’s neck is craned and when I finally reach him I see what he has discovered.
There was an opening in the corner of the small attic room and when I craned my neck around to look inside I saw a dark tunnel perpendicular to the room. By now I’d forgotten all about the game of hide and seek, and the fact that my cousins were hiding somewhere in my Nana’s attic, that wasn’t important now. We’d found a secret tunnel, and my twelve-year old self couldn’t help but think that this was the most exciting thing ever. It was like in a movie, I thought, and I couldn’t wait to see what was on the other end. Thomas went through first and I followed. The tunnel was narrow and the ceiling was low, we had to go one at a time, and we had to crawl. Holding our flashlights out in front of us as we crawled on our hands and knees we reached the other end. My knees ached a little when I climbed out into a room I recognized. The tunnel had brought us into another room, the room across the hall from the one we had just left. This room was filled with old trunks and hatboxes and various things collected over many years.

My mind rushed back to my cousins hidden behind boxes and underneath piles of clothes, suddenly I couldn’t wait to find them and show them all what Thomas and I had discovered in the tiny, musty attic of my Nana’s house. We ran into the narrow, dimly lit hallway and yelled out for the six still hidden, and then waited for each of them to realize it wasn’t a trick and emerge from their various hiding spots so that we could rediscover the hidden tunnel over and over again.

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