I learnt about the Crystal Palace Exhibition in my European History class at school, and I read a...
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News and a Change
The big festival in town is coming up. Walking down the stairs of our cottage, I think of the big fight cousin and I had the night before. Cousin is my favorite cousin who attends the University of Paris in France, but comes home often. She is always bugging me to go to Paris with her and see the universities there, because I deserve to get a good education. I told her that I could get just a fine education here, without having to move, thank you very much. She told me that she did not think that women have good opportunities here as they do where she is. I told her that that was precisely why she turned out the rebellious and crazy woman she is now. I don’t think Cousin will be sending me any more letters for some time. I enter the kitchen to find mummy cooking some Kedgeree over the pot and dumping in as many spices as our storage cabinet contains. Hudge, our family monkey, is staying still for once as he watches Sister try and open this box with one of the keys she has created. Sister has loved keys ever since she was a little one. When she was 4, Father handed her a key of one of his stocking rooms to hold while he was looking for something. When he turned around, he saw Sister not doing the obvious baby act of sucking on it, but turning it over with amazement and wonder. That was the first day of her key obsession. The school mistress thinks that a woman should not spend her time with keys, unless it is they keys to a man’s’ heart. I do not think that is what a schoolmistress should say. Sister is planning on attending the University of Wales next year, and I am very sad. She will be so far away from home. Sister and I were so close ever since she discovered her “key” passion. When I was born, she was jealous that she did not have all the attention any more, but apparently after the “key” awakening, she feels as if she is getting as much attention as she warrants. Today is a Monday, which means that all I have to do is retrieve the fish, dry the fish, salt the fish, take Hudge to the monkey trainers, churn the butter, bake the bread, and clean the house. We live near a lake, that’s why most of my chores involve fish. I exit the house and see a family walking up to the cottage in front of us. The cottage has been vacant ever since the Moodun family moved to the city (Father says Industrialization is going to drive everyone away from the countryside.) I crane my head around the giant hose to see a mother, two sons and a little girl. I look around for a father, but see none. Trying to be the courteous and friendly young woman mother tells me to be, I go over to the family and introduce myself. In the course of a few minutes, I find out that the family is from Paris (mention of the city makes me sad for the fight Cousin and I had.) One of the boys is 18 (Sister’s Age!) and the other, 15 (my age). The little girl is 4. When I shake hands with the mother I am surprised to receive such a firm handshake from a seemingly frail woman. I suspect the father will be coming soon. I bid my adieus to them and tell them that I must get back to my house duties. They all look at me as if I’m some sort of angel for going over and greeting them. I don’t know how people in Paris do it, but this is the how we do it in Berkshire. I leave the family alone and get started on my fishy day. When evening comes, I throw the last tilapia in the ice bucket and flop on the grass. I am too busy looking up at the sky that I do not hear footsteps next to me. I do not bother to look to see who it is, because I am and sure it is Sister. To my surprise, I turn around to see the new neighbor boy (the younger one) standing in front of me. He looks odd. I was never really a fan of romance and so-called “young people romances,” and I spent my breaks in school trying to fix toy planes I find at local fairs, while all the other girls were pulling their charms on boys. When the girls cheered on the new boy they snagged, I cheered once fixing yet another plane. I first discovered planes when I went to the fair with father one weekend. He allowed for me to buy one thing that I liked. I contemplated between jeweled necklaces, charms and pendants but the man at the toy airplane booth lured me over. He motioned for me to come over as I was making my decision between two purple necklaces, and I consented. He took up a broken plane, and to my utter surprise, within minutes it was flying around. I asked him if all of his planes were broken, and he winked at me and told me that there are no “broken” planes. I did not know what he meant, but I bought the plane. When I got home, I rushed to fix it by mimicking the man’s actions, but to my disappointment, it remained the way it was. I thought about it on and off for days, but after the seventh day I took up the little airplane again. Instead of trying to copy his hand movements, I tried to use my brain to figure out how to fix it. My fingers moved nimbly to a kind of beat I had created, and within hours, I was done. The plane could fly. Back to the topic of young men, because of my otherwise preoccupied dealings, I have never, in fact, interacted with a male who was not my father, the local fish seller and of course, the airplane booth man. The boy does not seem to care about who I do or do not talk to, and sits down beside me. I scotch away. He does not say anything for many moments. I begin to wander if he just came to sit beside me because he has a particular fascination with grass, as I do with airplanes and Sister does with keys, when he looks up. I look into his face, and see the all-too-familiar eyes of the people I see at the Institutions for the unsighted. He is blind. I gasp a little, and flop again backwards into the grass. I hear him flop next to me, and for the first time in my life, I do not have anything to say. After a few minutes, he gets up, holds out his hand to me (how very kind) and upon my getting up, he walks away without a word. Since he did not say a word, I wonder if he is also deaf? I shake my head, and walk back to the house, stripping my fish apron that is reeking of dead shrimp. Mother is surprisingly not in the kitchen, and Father is surprisingly not in the living room. I look for sister, and find that she is surprisingly not in the garden shed (where all the keys are.) What has gone on in our household! I go upstairs to change and once coming down I see each one of them. Father is in the kitchen, Mother is in the shed and Sister is in the living room. To repeat, what has gone on in our household? I rush over to father, who is wearing an apron and stirring a huge bowl of porridge over the heat, and ask him whatever is wrong. He says nothing is wrong, he simply wanted to cook for the family, sister wanted to relax from packing so much, and mother was looking for a drill. Mother, LOOKING FOR A DRILL! I begin to think that I am having an odd dream, when Mother enters the kitchen. She dusts her garden boots on the kitchen rug and walks over to give Father a kiss. They both look at me with strange smiles, and I begin to get the feeling that this is the part of the dream where I should be running. Mother asks me why I have such a horrid facial expression, and I lie and tell her that I just finished reading another chapter of this horror book I’m reading. I can tell she does not believe me, but she chooses to ignore my wrongdoing and instead calls sister in to the kitchen. Father and mother look like they did when they told us that our Grandma Jui, who lived in Germany, would be moving away there, or that our pet iguana was unfortunately crushed by a travelling tractor when he rushed outside; they have news for us. Sister gets the message too, because she’s seen that face one extra time than me, when Mummy and Father told her about my upcoming birth. We sit down at the wooden table and brace for the worst. Mother gives a huge grin and gives us the news: She and Father have been offered to go to London for the upcoming Crystal Palace Exhibition by a recommendation of one of their influential friends. The Crystal Palace Exhibition is the opening of the amazing building The Crystal Palace that will show off our countries advancement in technology and other fields. We dominate the industrial world right now and the architects of this would like to show that. Father has been offered a position in welding, and mother has been offered to be one of the many cooks working on the opening banquet. Sister and I drop open our mouths at this wonderful opportunity of Father and Mothers and we hug them both. As I hug them, my mind begins to affix on practical matters like who will take care of us. Mother, who almost always can read my mind, pulls us out of the hug and tells us that we will be staying with the de Chemises, the French neighbors who moved in across the street. I gasp at this because I find it somewhat strange to be staying with a family that Father and Mother have just met today, but once again, Mother, using her mind-reading skills qualms my worries by telling me that the landlord who sold them the house said they were very delightful and trustworthy. At this point, we are all jumping up and down like the bunnies I see in the meadows sometimes. After dinner, Sister and I go to our room that we share. We flop on the bed (I’ve been doing a lot of flopping today), and talk for some time. Although Sister is three years older than me, I feel as if Sister is almost like my age. Sometimes, I take care of her. We soon fall asleep and nothing is heard except for our embarrassingly loud snores. The next few days are busy and hectic. Sister will not be leaving for another month to university, and so her packing is not priority now. Finally, the day of their departure, Mother and Father breathe for once, and take us out to the lake. We have a family picnic, and I begin to feel a little sad. I will not be seeing Mother and Father for many days. A little tear falls from my cheek, and Sister, involuntarily catches it with her palm when reaching for a slice of cheese. She takes no notice of it, but I smile, thinking of it as some sort of message. Mummy and Father get up, dust their laps, give us final hugs and pick up their luggages and begin walking to the train station that will take them to London. Sister and I wait outside of the door waving until they disappear into the distance. We pick up our own suitcases and walk over to the de Chemises. We knock on their sturdy wooden door, and a middle-aged looking man opens it. He gives us a little frown, but invites us in. I expect that this is the husband. Miss de Chemises comes over and gives us both big hugs. She seems more robust and healthier than the last time I saw her, maybe because her husband has returned. Her little daughter peeks behind her skirt and looks at us shyly. Her eldest son comes down the stairs and I look to see sister give him a look. I look closer and see that he is holding a particularly interesting keychain, and realize that that is what Sister is looking at with wander. He walks up to her and they immediately strike up a conversation, all the while, sister eying his keychain. I look around for the younger brother, and see him nowhere. It is almost late and I am relieved to find that the family follows our dinner schedule. We eat dinner in their barely furnished room, and I look at all the glowing faces by candlelight, still wandering where the youngest son is. While we are slicing our hams, I make the mistake in asking Miss de Chemises if she was happy her husband was back. Sister kicks me in the leg, and the table falls silent. The mother, who is very polite, tells me that her husband left her and the children when they were young. I almost gasp. A single mother, what a scandal! Nevertheless, knowing what I did was rude, I manage to apologize, but thrust my head over to the man at the other head of the table questioningly. She understands my inquiry and tells me that he is the children’s’ uncle, her disparu husbands’ brother. I do not eat another bite of ham. It is quite dark now, and Sister and I thank Miss de Chemises for the meal. We bid goodnight to Cadeau, the name of the little girl, and Janvier, the name of the eldest brother. Before we leave, Janvier gives Sister his keychain, which she superficially tries to refuse, but later accepts with excitement. I can see that his face is interested and intrigued by the character of my sister. We go upstairs to the room that Miss de Chemises has prepared for us. It has a beautiful golden-pink bedspread with intricate blue patterns. I change quickly, and fly into the bed, hoping that sister will not reproach me about what I said at dinner. She is too busy looking at her new distraction to do any such reproaching.