“Can it kill us?” Lauren asked.
“Only if it has bullets,” I replied, as my cousin and I stared at a rifle we’d found on the floor of our grandmother’s attic. Outside, heavy rain was pounding against the roof. We could almost feel it. The wet weather intensified the smell of the wooden beams and the heating ducts. Muffled voices were winding up the stairwell.
Our mothers were downstairs visiting their mother. I pushed the gun a bit with my foot. Lauren started chewing on a strand of her dark hair. Then we turned around and walked away, leaving the gun on the floor by the wall with the vents.
We looked around the attic. There were a lot of boxes and left-over ductwork. Then I heard Lauren squeal, “Look!” She was pointing to a barrel-topped chest.
“It looks like a treasure chest!” I exclaimed.
“Let’s open it!” We both lifted, then the top slung back, gaping open.
We gasped. Inside the chest, there was sparkling costume jewelry, giant pearls, and glittering rhinestone earrings that winked at us knowingly. We tried on broaches and faux-diamond tiaras like victors. I held up some earrings to my cousin’s face. Then I saw two fluffy boas in a chest and pulled on them, “We can be twins!” I exclaimed.
“Twins!” Lauren echoed.
I thought for a moment, “Why doesn’t grandmother wear this stuff, I wonder?”
Lauren looked at me, “I dunno,” she replied.
“Instead of stowing it up here.”
I picked up a feathered hat, “This would make Grandmother look extra spiffy.”
“Here,” Lauren handed me one of the boas, and we tossed them around our necks. I put a strappy thing over my hips. Lauren played with castanets and wore a sailor’s cap. I found two pairs of six-inch stiletto heels. I gave Lauren the green ones, and I had the pink. We labored to put them on, then helped each other up. Lauren and I wobbled around the attic floor, teetering only inches from the fifteen-foot drop of the stairwell.
Then my cousin put on a dark green 1930’s floor-length gown with a wide-brimmed hat. Lauren had to roll up the sleeves and hold up the skirt.
“You look like a little Mae West,” I remarked.
“Why don’t you come and visit me… now?” She stuttered. I narrowed my eyes. Lauren looked up to catch my expression, so I quickly smiled.
Next, I put on a bridal veil I’d found with a pair of orange bloomers. Lauren traded her gown for an army jacket with a purple petticoat and a pirate’s hat. We formed a procession, each holding walking sticks we’d found and sang The Star-Spangled Banner.
Afterward, I picked up the gun again and ran my fingers along its length. I imagined rows and rows of young men marching off to fight someone else’s war, their legs rising and lowering in unison with a whump whump whump. I wondered if deep inside, the men were a little bit afraid.
The rain continued to slam down. Suddenly, the attic door opened, and Lauren’s mother called up from downstairs, “Are you two behaving yourselves up there?” she demanded. The aroma of coffee swirled up.
“Yes, mother,” Lauren replied.
“You’d better be.” We heard the door close. I was still wearing the veil and holding the gun.
“This attic can be our hideout,” Lauren gushed.
“Yeah,” I agreed.
Then I noticed an old photo album. I put the gun down and opened it. The pages turned readily, even though the album had probably been sitting there for at least a decade. I looked at the photos with their black corners. I didn’t know who these people were, but someone once did.
“Daddy put training wheels on my bike yesterday,” Lauren announced.
“He did?” I closed the photo album with a slap.
“Yeah,” she continued. “Daddy helped my sister and me all day.”
“When he came home after work?” I asked, confused.
“No, all day.”
“And Daddy is helping my brother, keep track of home runs made by the Red Sox.”
I’d only known my father to go off to work. We’d see him at the end of the day. He worked six days a week, and on Sundays, he tried to fix stuff and yelled.
Then both of our mothers called up for us to come down. Their voices couldn’t be ignored. My cousin and I sighed. Lauren reluctantly put her faded dress back on. I rummaged through piles of multi-colored bloomers to find my brown sweater that had gotten buried.
My cousin picked up one of the boas, “What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m taking this with me.”
Then we crawled on top of the heating duct. Lauren had the boa around her neck. There were sharp edges that were held down by a screw every few inches. We started down the stairs that were only slats. It wasn’t easy getting a foothold. We grunted and grimaced until we finally made it to the first floor. Lauren almost stepped on my hand once by accident, but I moved away in time.
When we reached the first floor, my cousin and I turned around and closed the attic door. A minute later, the door opened again. Lauren’s mother had taken the boa and tossed it back.
The next week, my mother told me that my cousins were moving to Virginia. I could feel the heavy cover of the treasure chest snap shut.
“But why?” I moaned.
“Because there’s another shipyard down there that Uncle can work. You know they closed the one up here.”
I tried to picture Virginia on the spinning globe in Mrs. Dooley’s classroom, tracing my finger down from Massachusetts, “I thought Uncle couldn’t do anything, anyway.”
“Stop it; that’s your father talking.”
“Oh.” My mother and I paused.
Once my Uncle had found me crying because my doll’s arm had fallen off, “Here,” he’d offered. “Let me have a look. I think I can fix Suzy.”
While he tried to twist the doll’s arm in place, I noticed his hair was falling over his eyebrows, and he was pursing his lips. After my Uncle left, my father fixed my doll in a matter of seconds, “That Uncle of yours is a real prize,” he growled.
“So, your cousins won’t need their winter jackets anymore,” my mother continued.
“But what happens if that shipyard closes?” I asked.
“Where will they go next, Key West? Then they won’t even need their sweaters.”
She turned away, ignoring me. I remembered Key West from a family trip we had taken. I wasn’t sure, though, if it had a shipyard.
The next week, Lauren and I were holding hands and spinning around in her back yard. The grass was finally dry from the bout of rain we’d had. Lauren’s mother had ordered us, along with the younger sister Sheila, to keep out of the way. That was fine by us because there was a big, dirty truck in her driveway that said, M-A-Y-F-L-O-W-E-R M-O-V-E-R-S on its side. It had a lingering diesel stench. My bones hurt just looking at it.
Armis, Lauren’s older brother, was walking toward the truck. He was carrying a box full of baseball cards. Armis’s tweed pants were about two inches too short. One of the movers glanced at him, and then their head swiveled back for a second look.
Just then, Lauren did one of her cartwheels. She flung her hands down to the ground and lifted one leg and then the other. Lauren only got her feet about twelve inches off the ground.
“How was that?” she asked, getting back up and out of breath.
“That was great,” I lied.
Sheila leaned down to do a cartwheel also. Her feet only lifted about six inches.
Then I saw my Aunt and Uncle walking toward the truck. My Uncle was carrying a large box of fancy drinking glasses. My Aunt was fretting. She didn’t want the stemware that they never used to get broken. My Aunt had said that they needed them in case any influential people ever came to visit them.
The sun was starting to drop down behind the trees when my Aunt called my cousins and me over. I noticed the worn-off tread on their back stairs for the first time. It was hard to imagine that it wasn’t going to be their house anymore.
“Lauren and Sheila, say goodbye to your cousin,” my Aunt instructed, standing stick straight.
“Then get in the car.”
I felt something lodge in my throat. Lauren’s eyelashes were wet and clumping together. I stood alone and watched as the moving truck backed out of their driveway. One of the movers was in the street directing. The mover made hand signals. The two men called instructions back and forth. The movers had the routine down like a pair of soldiers. When the truck rolled into the street, the mover who was directing jumped back in. The truck spewed more exhaust as it idled in front of 52 Oak Street. The movers were preparing to start the long trip down Interstate 95.
My relatives’ car, with the scratch on its side, backed up behind the moving truck. I could see Lauren, Armis, and Sheila’s row of heads in the back seat. I started to feel cold.
My Uncle was preparing to follow the van. Their car made a steady whum whum whum sound. It was like the hum of a thousand feet, boot-clad and preparing to march.
I raised my hand to wave, but I don’t remember seeing them drive away. All I could think of was how close Lauren and I had come to falling down the stairwell that day, in our pink and green shoes.
Cyndi Cresswell Cook is a frequent contributor to The Raven’s Perch Literary Magazine.