By John Thomas Tuft
Baked bean sandwiches for breakfast, reading a book by flashlight under the covers, standing in front of the mirror trying to master the mechanics of lipstick, sitting on the landing of the staircase surrounded by the invisible cast of characters and creatures that made up the magic land of Goodland: she thinks of all these as she closes the car door and stares at the empty house. It’s not much to look at, but it stands for home. It stands for what is real, what is hopeful, what is necessary to making her who she is now. It is not hard to picture her mother at the door in her omnipresent apron, seeing her off on the walk to school six blocks away. Or her mother joining her on the basement stairs for the long train ride to the mysterious land of Philadelphia to see the old Army surplus insulated thermos cum Liberty Bell high on a shelf, and the amorphous but always welcoming, Aunt Gertie.
If only the world would be what we imagine it to be, she consoles herself as she reluctantly trudges up the front steps. Mother is gone now, and the house is to be sold. Nancy is there to say goodbye to one thing that she could not take, her mother’s piano. She slides the key into the front door lock, recalling how important and grown up she felt when her parents finally entrusted her with a key of her own. So long ago while only yesterday. Would Goodland still be in here waiting for me, she muses, then feels silly for the thought. Brothers could be mean, or they could be willing playmates, it was a roulette wheel. But Goodland was always there, welcoming her, opening its arms to a child full of anxieties and wonder. In Goodland, things were fine, comfortingly predictable, and everything was beautiful.
Nancy steps inside and turns on the flashlight she brought. “Why is so much of life about learning to let go?” she asks the shadows. The image of her mother sitting at the piano leaps to mind, hearing her softly singing, “Play it soft, play it slow/Play a sweet, sad song/For what used to be…” She wonders at the little girl sitting beside her even as her mother grew older, the work weary hands grew more fragile. “Why did I always feel like a little girl beside her?” she wonders. The beam of the flashlight rests on the now empty bookshelves, looking lonely for old companions in the dim room. Funny how she remembers the house as always being full of light, full of life, full of promise. This dusty, empty space could not be home. This dark cavern of memories cannot be Goodland. But she knows that it is.
She puts one hand on the railing as she slowly climbs the stairs. She recalls watching her mother strip the layers of old paint, each layer a sediment, a stratum revealing long lost hopes and dreams of color. Nancy was so proud to help Mother choose the newest color, the evidence for whoever came next that she had a say, that she mattered in a world of adults who made decisions over which she had no control. Like Father taking a new job in the dark and gray city, away from here. It ruined everything, and it was the hardest thing she ever did, leaving Goodland behind in what was supposed to be a forever home. She stops on the landing and sits down.
There in front of her is the door to Goodland. Some might call it an oddly placed linen closet, but to her it was a land of magic and comfort. The landing is the magic Threshold, the spot where the everyday world was laid aside and the vestments of long-ago lands with kings and princesses draped on her in prepartion to embark into Goodland. A piece of sheer curtain material draped just right, a headband bejeweled with rhinestones, a royal scepter disguised as a potato masher. She pulls the hood of her jacket up, holds up the flashlight, steels herself, and opens the door. She steps into Goodland, not with the old familiar pride and joy, but to her surprise, now with fear and trembling.
Nancy pulls the door shut behind her, turns out the light, and sits in stillness. The echoes of the piano music filter through in her imagination. “Goodland, I miss you,” she whispers. “I was never lonely, never afraid, never not enough for anyone when I entered here. It’s late at night and I’m afraid of letting go, and there is no king or queen to tell me what to do. I’m tired of letting go, I want to dance like I have dreams again.” She switches on the light and slowly plays it along the wall. They are still there. All the pictures she cut out of the Sears catalogue as a little girl. Pictures of people that always look happy, always like themselves, always knew what to wear, what to say and do.
The buzzing of her phone in her pocket intrudes. She reads the text: Mom I need you. When will u b home?
Words are magic and writers are wizards.