Esther loved the window seat best. She loved covering herself with the quilt that always lay folded there, that always smelled like cinnamon sticks and sunshine. She had a way of arranging the pillows for maximum comfort: two behind her back, one behind her neck. Then she’d curl her legs under her, tuck the quilt around her, and that was that.
Sometimes Nana gave her a glass of cold sweet tea on a coaster.
Sometimes the sun streamed in and made the quilt too hot.
But mostly it was perfect, as long as the book was an old one with heavy covers and thick, well-worn pages that could stay open on their own. That way her hand didn’t tire with holding it. Nana’s house had plenty of these kinds of books. Esther could lay them open across the pillow at her side, right where her gaze naturally fell, and read, read, read until the daylight faded away.
Nana’s house was so quiet. Just house sounds and that was all: the clock ticking, Nana’s footsteps as she moved slowly in the kitchen. No laughing, running brothers. Esther had lots of brothers. They were cheerful boys. Sometimes too cheerful. Mostly too loud. She didn’t normally mind, but then she’d come for an afternoon at Nana’s and she’d smile and hug herself, because the silence was sweet. As sweet as Nana’s sweet tea.
She’d come here more and more lately. Probably because her mother knew she was tired.
Her mother’s eyebrows would wrinkle together and she’d say in a gentle voice, “Enough for being industrious today, Esther. What if Papa drives you over to Nana’s for the afternoon?”
And Esther knew when she looked in the mirror why her mother worried. She knew she wasn’t quite right.
Eleven-year-olds shouldn’t have dark circles under their eyes.
Eleven-year-olds should be able to climb the flight of stairs to the second floor without puffing.
Eleven-year-olds should be gaining pounds, not losing them.
Esther remembered when she’d been able to climb stairs, when she’d been able to keep up with her brothers around the barn. She remembered liking food and eating platefuls of it.
Now a knot of worry settled in the pit of her stomach. Every time her mother’s eyebrows creased, the knot tightened.
Then one night she’d slipped downstairs after she should’ve been asleep. She wanted water. She stood at the bottom of the stairs to catch her breath. Her father and mother sat at the dining table in the front room. She heard the scuff of a chair scooting back, and her papa’s low voice, gruff when he was upset, saying, “We’ll find a way to pay for it, Anna, but you must take her in.”
“They won’t see her unless we prove we can pay.” That was her mother’s voice, so soft and quiet.
“Dr. Marchen would see her,” her papa said.
A long pause with only the clink of a spoon against the side of a mug. “There’ll be tests, though, Paulie. He can’t tell just by looking at her. Tests cost money, he said so himself.”
Esther crept down the hallway and out the back door. There were three steps. At the bottom, the cats were gobbling scraps her mother must have just set out. Barefoot, Esther crossed to the pump and felt the frigid water slide over her hands in the black stillness of night.
And all the while she thought. All the while the knot in her gut cinched tighter.
But at Nana’s house, it eased a little. Because it’s hard to stay worried in sunshine, in silence, with a book open at your side, a book with a hard cover and thick, well-worn pages. The books and the silence took her away. Just for those few hours. And the quilt – the old, familiar quilt – smelled of cinnamon.
Thank you to Esther for her inspirational words industrious, reader and cheerful. And I know for a fact that Esther is turning thirteen in just a few days, so if you leave a comment, please wish her a very happy birthday! Happy birthday, Esther. I hope you liked the story.