At first, we played with dolls. We were having tea and made them join us. Then we had a bout of hide-and-seek. We ran up and down the stairs and opened the doors to every room, to aunt’s bedroom, as well. This was a marvellous room. The walls were covered with a deep yellow silk. In a corner stood an elaborate dressing table mounted by a triple mirror in gilt frames. On the wall opposite the double bed hung a man-sized painting of an officer in a fancy uniform and standing between the two sash windows was a pedestal with a lavish bouquet of silk flowers and peacock feathers in a turquoise vase.
It was a room out of a fairy tale and our aunt must have been the good fairy herself. We hardly dared breathe. We slid our hand along the satin bedspread and crossed the light blue expanse of carpet to the nearest window. There we pushed aside the heavy lace curtains and looked down on the garden below. The sun was shining, birds were singing and everywhere bloomed flowers so very pretty and gay. And in the midst of it there was a small pond and at its edge a little roe was drinking.
For a brief spell we stood gazing and then, at once, turned from the window, ran down the stairs and to the back of the house, but where ever we sought, nowhere there a door or window was to be found which opened onto the sunlit garden.
“Maybe the entrance is farther down,” I offered at last, and in the vastness of the house we went in search of a lower staircase. In a nook of the hall was a door that hadn’t occurred to us before and on opening it revealed a dark stairwell from which a musty odour sprang. On the wall was a switch and when I flipped it down below a light came on.
At first, li'l sister durst not proceed, but when I reminded her of the little roe and the floral splendour of the garden she gently followed me down the steps. Once in the basement she took my hand and together we set out for the back of the house where, supposedly, an entrance to the garden was to be found.
The front of the basement was lit by two naked bulbs. Racks with pots and flasks lined the walls and leaning against a pillar stood an old lady’s bycicle. Further up it grew darker and more disorganized, all kinds of discarded things and fabrics lying around in random heaps across the floor covered in dust.
“Let’s go back,” li'l sister whispered, “I’m scared.”
I tried to comfort her. It couldn’t be that much farther and once at the back wall, perhaps we’d see a crack of light from a door or window frame.
And so, in silence, we still moved on until there was only darkness. We kept close to each other holding hands tightly and I was at the point of giving up and turning back when in the gloom ahead a pale shimmer of light seemed to reach out for us.
“There, look!” I cried out of relief, “there’s something over there,” and my voice rang shrill in the surrounding blackness.