“…. and that’s when I told him to pay for the hole in the roof!”
Both ladies, young and old, burst into laughter. Despite this being the hundredth time his wife had told the story, Ed couldn’t help but chuckle either. After all, the addition of Hannah to the family gave the tale a fresh humour. Ed wondered whether his wife had realized that the clock hanging beside their dining table had long past 5.30.
Nevertheless, Jo continued her story for another 5 minutes.
“In the end, we had to scrap the tricycle after it fell through the sixth time!” After a bout of giggling, Jo looked over to the 15-year old seated beside her. Hannah was gazing out the window, as if she were searching for something.
“Dearie, would you like to go out? Ed and I are gonna stay here to clean the tools, so we won’t be needing the bike. You can bring your art supplies to the hill, just be sure to be back before sundown.”
Hannah smiled. “Thanks Aunt Jo, I wanna catch this amazing sunset on canvas.”
“What happened to the one you painted last week?” asked Ed. “Mailed it to my cousin in town, but I don’t think he’ll get it ’til tomorrow,” Hannah replied. With that, the girl stood up and headed to the door, fetching a large backpack on her way out.
“Dearie, don’t forget to clean your plate!” hollered Jo, but Hannah was already cycling down the path, eager to finish another masterpiece.
The bicycle rattled and creaked with every turn of its wheels, zooming past the hedges and trees that led to Hannah’s favourite painting spot. Surrounding the path were broken pieces of a wooden fence which all but decayed over countless years. Hannah beamed as she raced down the last slope, the rush of wind greeting her once more. The basket mounted in front of the bicycle shuddered slightly as she slowed to a stop.
After reaching her usual spot below the apple tree, the artist unpacked her backpack and set up the miniature easel she’d been using ever since she moved in with Ed and Jo. It had been nearly 6 months since she met her new family, and to Hannah those were the happiest six months of her life. She did miss her old life, but she had long resolved to keep those days safely locked in the quiet corners of her mind. From then on, she wanted to start anew, on a blank canvas. From there, she could shape her life any way she wanted, finally free to use any brush she chose.
As the Sun dipped below a cloud shaped vaguely like a whale, the first strokes of paint met the blank canvas. First blue, then pink, then white, then yellow. Slowly but surely, the scenery around her was immortalized in streaks of acrylic. Hannah took a step back, thinking about how much she had improved since she first moved here. Perhaps it was the freedom of a new life, or the beauty of her new surroundings, or simply her own mindset to live up to something. Whatever it was, she was glad it was here and she was glad she had found it.
Hannah had just completed her painting when she heard a faint noise. Behind the tree, something was moving towards her. The rustling of tall grass gave away its location, but at the same time concealed the creature within.
With a soft meow, a bundle of orange and white fur emerged from the grass. The cat cautiously approached the tree before freezing in its tracks at the sight of Hannah.
She smiled, kneeling down to face the animal. “Awww, hey there! Don’t be scared, come here!”
The cat tilted its head, probably wondering why the human in front of it would ever think it could understand English. Nevertheless, the cat trotted towards her and laid on its belly. It squinted its eyes as it faced the girl.
Hannah sat beside her newfound friend. The fields shimmered as wind whistled through the blades of grass and wheat. From the hill, it looked like a massive golden ocean undulating back and forth below a purple sky. Hannah leaned back on her beloved tree and lifted the cat onto her lap. If she could, she would pause time right there and enjoy the moment for the rest of her life. The cat, however, began to feel restless and walked over to inspect Hannah’s backpack. Sticking its head into the largest compartment, the animal pulled out ribbons and papers, notebooks and brushes, heartbroken at the lack of food. Hannah laughed as her friend began clawing at imaginary mice, getting tangled in a bunch of ribbons in the process. She gently stroked the cat’s back, before untangling the mass of decorations that clung onto it.
Then, she saw it. A billowing cloud of gray and black, rising from the last field. It grew and grew, rising like an angry monster that was swallowing the sky. At the monster’s base were tentacles of orange and red, which also began snaking up higher and higher.
Fire, she realized.
Hannah gazed in horror as the flames spread like waves engulfing a beach. Soon, the entire south field was blanketed in red, orange and black.
Find Ed and Jo now. Find your family.
She panicked, picking up her supplies and stuffing everything into her backpack. She put the cat into the bicycle’s basket and strapped her backpack closed, hoping she would be able to reach the house before it was too late. With a swift kick of her leg, the bicycle’s stand flipped upwards, and she raced towards the house.
As the wind picked up, so did Hannah’s fears. She couldn’t lose everything. Not again.
Unbeknownst to her at the time, she had already lost something. Hidden in the grass, laying beneath the apple tree, was a pocket-sized notebook. It wasn’t hers; it belonged to a family friend, the only other person who understood loss. The pocketbook, filled with drawings, pictures and letters from the war, was nearly as old as the field it lay in.
And soon, the book burned with it. All the memories, all the secrets that were never shared – reduced to ashes.
The last page to disintegrate contained a rough sketch of a submarine, below the words: “To my darling, my deares-“.