The Alphabet [Short Story]

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The room had been decorated with alphabet wall paper and painted animals. The carpet was soft, the crib and rocking chair were plush and comfortable. A teddy bear sat on the chest of drawers, a price tag in the old money still attached to its ear. Three shillings and sixpence. The rest of the house had smelt of stale cigarettes and the distinct odour peculiar to old people, the colours almost universally a sickening blend of worn yellows and browns. Paintings were lost beneath layers of ash, curtains and wallpaper faded to a shade of soured milk by decades of sunlight, tar and nicotine. This room though had an air of fresh grass and sunlight about it. Here the carpet was clean, the ceilings unstained by smoke.

It was a waste, thought Louise, as she watched the decorators begin to scrape the childish images off the walls. The old couple had died childless, surrounded by decaying furniture and ancient newspapers, yet this room was preserved as a last reminder of what had once been their dreams for the future. The house had been sold for half of its market value, with all the decrepit furniture included. Apparently prospective buyers had found the place disconcerting. She couldn’t imagine why. Recently married and with some exciting career prospects in her near future, thoughts of lives once lived did not affect her.

Wandering around the place it was clear that all the other rooms of their home had been allowed to go to ruin, but every day the old lady had come in here and dusted the shelves of the dresser and aired the sheets. The old man had kept the wooden crib oiled to prevent it from splintering and the large bay windows were the only ones in the house not covered with decades of filth. The drawers were lined with more of the disconcertingly cheerful paper and contained small cloth sachets of lavender that must have been replaced shortly before the couple had died. Louise had asked what had happened to them; the estate agent said the wife days was taken by a sudden heart attack and he followed a few days later. He had just faded away.

This room was the best in the house. Well lit, with a view across the parks. Why had they not put it to better use? She planned on making this her office, with space for a yoga mat and perhaps even a few potted plants. Preserving a museum to something that had never happened made no sense to her.

Louise ran her fingers over the smooth back of the rocking chair and stared, lost in thought, at the brightly coloured alphabet dancing across the walls. She wondered what she would be like, in her old age, what parts of the now-present that she would always cling to. What unfulfilled hopes and dreams that she would never loose. No. She had goals, yes, but she knew she would achieve them. The stuffed bear stared at her quizzically.

A loud crash and a string of cursing came from downstairs, waking her from her daydreaming. Shaking her head clear, she started downstairs to help her new husband with their new kitchen in their new house. But then she turned and she instructed the decorators to throw all the nursery furniture in the skip outside.

She couldn’t quite place the source of the thoughts, almost a memory, but something about the crib, standing there unused for over fifty years, brought her too close to tears. Later that evening she went out to the front drive and carefully, almost tenderly, removed the dusty teddy bear from the skip and placed it on the sofa in her new office.

Image Credit: JamieCat* via Compfight.

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