This is a short story I wrote a few years back and returned to this week.
I hope you enjoy reading A Place Called Louis as much as I have enjoyed writing and rewriting it. If you like it, I hope you’ll share it with your family and friends.
Until Next Time,
A Place Called Louisa
The beautiful girl liked being with me and now wanted to spend even more time where I am. That truth caused a little tremor in my timbers.
Her grandfather, the kind old man who was putting me back into tip-top shape, looked around the room. Sometimes, when he worked on me, he told her about the tools he used and what he was doing. She often listened and sometimes asked questions. Other times I’d feel her breathing change and knew she was dreaming while sitting on his work stool swinging her legs.
The old space that I am had once been an air-raid shelter. Later, it was where someone made a concoction called liquid moonshine. The man never told the girl who the maker he was, but I knew. His friends called him other names, but his son, the man who was fixing me up, called him Pa.
The girl got up and sniffed the old barrels in the corner. “Grandpop, these smell worse than Grandmom’s cough syrup, black licorice, and the stuff she rubs into her achy spots all mixed together!”
He chuckled. “I guess it’s time to get them out of here.” As he moved them, he mumbled, “Your grandmom used to wear Topaz perfume.” His voice did that thing it always did when he slipped into telling the child with white-gold hair that looked like the sun even on the darkest of gray days, things about his past.
On that day, she wasn’t ready for his stories but had words of her own to share. “I can hardly wait until we’re done fixing up this hidden place. I love the new door – thank you for painting it green. I love green, you know.”
He grunted, but she gave him no time to say anything. “I love that my table and chairs match the door.”
She was quiet for a moment before saying, “I wonder if the small squares of material Grandmom is sewing together late at night will be a quilt I can sit under in the rocking chair you have hidden in the garage that is just the right size for a girl like me.”
When she took a breath, he asked, “You saw that, huh?” He winked. It was his signal to her that it was okay.
She put her hands on her hips covered by a flouncy dress – I know it was flouncy because it’s how she’d described it to me when we were alone. Then she said, “If you two are going to hide things from me, you’re going to have to work a little harder at it.”
She watched him closely. “Are you rubbing your whiskers because you’re mad at me or you’re trying to hide a smile?
His voice held a new tone when he said, “Wouldn’t you like to know?” He chuckled low like faraway thunder. She knew and he knew she knew, and I knew it too.
She joined in, and the notes of their laughter danced through the air, bounced across my walls, and settled into my nooks and crannies. Their joy had the power to reach deep into my beams and the old stones that she tells me are my skeleton.
The old man brushed off his coveralls and turned toward the new green door. “I’ll get the rocker for you now. Your Grandmom will bring the quilt when she’s ready. If you keep finding your gifts, you won’t have any left for your birthday.”
Something in the air around us changed. She stood in the middle of me silently, and a thin line creased her forehead. It reminded me of the small grains in my wood. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Is it because there’s only one window in here? Is it too dark for you? Too sad?”
“Oh, no! I love it. Thank you for adding the window – it will be the perfect place to sit in my new chair and read whatever books are coming my way. And I’m very glad I can open it up and let the smells of the woods and the song of the ivy in.”
He took her hand. “Okay, Sweetie, then what’s up?”
She let out a whoosh of air. “In a few days, my age will always have two numbers in it. I’m getting old.”
Crystal drops fell from her eyes to her cheeks. He handed her a neatly folded white rag he pulled from his pocket. “You dry those tears. Just think. Maybe someday you’ll have three numbers in your age.”
He left her with those words, and although it took her a moment, her giggle waltzed around the air in me.
After he shut my door, he put his hand on it and bowed his head. “Please bless her in this place she loves so much, Lord.”
The girl stood at the window and ran her fingertips down the curtains. “I love you, Mama. I’m so glad Grandmom is making me these lovely gifts for this space. I know you looked beautiful in this dress – I have a picture of you in it. I wonder if I can bring it out here. I would love that. The blue flowers almost match the tea set Grandmom said I could bring out to have tea with my thoughts. Of course, I’ll have that tea with these friendly old walls too.”
She touched one of my ribs – the beams that run from my floor to my ceiling. “Somehow, I trust you and feel like you hear all my secrets and treasure them.”
Then she glided around the room and swished her broom around the wide planks under her feet, wondering out loud, “Why do I love to sweep you, dear old floor, and don’t like this simple chore in Grandmom’s kitchen?”
A knock at my green door startled her, and if I’m honest, the sharp rap did the same to me. The old woman called out, “Mary Ellen, can I come in?”
The girl skipped to my door with the broom still in her hands and pulled it open. “Yes, Grandmom – I’m so glad you’re here!”
The lush ivy vines on both of my sides and roof swayed with so much grace in the breeze I was fascinated, but the girl’s voice distracted me. Mary Ellen took what the woman held out to her. “I love it!”
Grandmom’s voice was softer than I’d ever heard it. She carried a hush in her spirit, and I knew whatever she’d placed in Mary Ellen’s hands was important. “Every square in this quilt is from a dress your mama wore — dresses I made for her. There were enough pieces to make you a couple of pillows too. I’ll bring them here tomorrow.” From her pocket, she withdrew a small picture frame. “I thought you might like to put this on the windowsill near the curtains.
“Oh! Grandmom! How did you know?”
The woman’s shoulders shrugged. “Sometimes, I listen to what my heart tells me.”
The ivy swished gently against my sides as Grandpop reentered. “Here’s your chair, Sweetie.”
Mary Ellen pointed to the space under the window. “Please put it here. It’s the perfect spot to rock and read.”
Grandmom crossed her arms. “You’re going to need a side table, aren’t you?”
The girl stood with her arms crossed the same way. “That would make this space even more perfect!”
The woman turned to the man, her eyes shining. “It won’t be a surprise, but you know the table I’m thinking about, right?”
One side of his mouth lifted. “I do.”
Mary Ellen said, “Grandmom, I love it when you smile with your voice. It sounds like it has a lilt in it like a song that is all your own.”
Grandpop grinned. “It does, doesn’t it?”
The woman said, “You two are good for what ails me.”
“What ails you?” the girl asked with a hint of concern in her voice so soft only those of us who listened to her often would notice.
The lilt was still in the woman’s voice when she said, “Orneriness.”
Grandpop smiled and kissed his wife’s wrinkled cheek. Before the woman left, Mary Ellen said, “Maybe on my birthday we could have tea and cake in here. There are three chairs, and we could use the blue-flowered tea set. I think it might all be more delicious and wonderful.”
Grandmom smiled and nodded before she exited. This time the ivy barely moved since she was unassisted by the girl.
After the rocker was in place, Mary Ellen sat down and put the quilt over her knees. “Please tell me about the men in white again, Grandpop.”
He sat on one of the green chairs. “When I was a boy, we lived by a deep pond, and although my father and uncle told me to stay out of the leaky rowboat, I disobeyed. After all, even though I couldn’t swim, for some reason, I was sure I could handle it. That day, I’d worked hard in the summer heat and wanted to cool down. I went toward the pond to lay in the tall grass. The bugs were nasty that day, and I decided a short row out on the water would be the best escape.
He paused to shake his head.
“By the time I got to the middle of the pond, the boat was sinking fast. I had nothing to bail the water out with and no time anyway. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was under the water fighting it with all my might. I kicked and threw my arms around. I almost made it to the top once – but not quite.
“I tried to breathe, which was stupid, but it was the only thing I knew to do. Well, almost the only thing. I prayed. Just three words, “God help me.” A strange calm came over me, and I stopped flailing and looked around. The water was green, and when a snake slithered by, I kicked briefly but not to escape the water. Instead, I wanted to avoid contact with the nasty looking reptile.
“A silvery school of minnows glided by and the old rainbow trout Father called Goliath gave me a curious glance before swimming into a shadowy spot by the shoreline that was so close and so far away.
“Above me, a yellow light hovered on the surface. My lungs were full of water, and I thought for sure they’d explode. A second later, everything in sight became strangely clear, peaceful, and beautiful. As I sunk, I knew I was going to die.
“The yellow light above me shone brighter, and two giant men dressed in white light reached into the pond and grasped me by my arms – one on each side. Their power raced through me as they lifted me out of the water and put me on the bank. They didn’t exactly drop me, but they set me down hard enough that I started to cough, and green water spewed out of me onto the ground.
“I heard my father and uncle yelling my name at the side of the pond. They saw the boat was missing but hadn’t seen us yet. The men stood beside me until I caught my breath and was able to call out ‘Here I am!’ Father and Uncle turned toward us and stood still as if stunned, their eyes wide open and fixed on the giants. That was when the men in white evaporated.”
Mary Ellen leaned forward. “They were angels, right?”
He smiled. “They were. I was glad they stayed long enough for Father and Uncle to see them. If they had left before, then, who would believe me?”
She went to him and put her arm around his shoulder. “I would.”
He embraced her. “That’s true.”
I guess he knew, the same thing I did: sometimes Mary Ellen knew things she couldn’t know without hearing and trusting the things the Spirit in her said to her.
She leaned in closer to Grandpop. “That’s the boat out by the old shed, isn’t it?”
He nodded, and she asked, “Why do you keep it?”
“My father thought I needed to see it now and then to remember why obedience to wisdom is so important.”
She took a small step back. “Can I have a boat? Maybe we could clean it up and paint it green, and it could be my bed out here. All I’d need is an old mattress or two. Oh, please, Grandpop. I’d love to sleep in a boat that was so close to angels! And we could name her Wisdom.”
His eyebrows rose. “You want to sleep out here?”
She nodded so hard, her curls bounced.
“Won’t you be afraid?”
She stood a little taller. “I think a girl with two numbers in her age can be brave enough to sleep here. Of course, if I had a dog to alert me to anything strange, we’d all feel better, I’m sure. You know the Gray’s are looking for a home for their dog named Bruiser. He’d be perfect for a girl like me and a place like this.”
Again, his laughter rolled. “We’ll have to talk to Grandmom about that. Are you ready for tea?”
A few sunrises later, she entered into the space that is me and said, “Good morning Dear Place. Today I am ten.”
The wagging tail of the dog beside her moved the air the same way her giggles did. “This is my new friend, Bruiser. I think the three of us are going to have great times together.”
She waited in her rocking chair, looking out the window. The big black and white dog rested at her feet. A few moments later, he lifted his head and his tail slapped my floor in what I was sure was delight. He was the first one to know the party was on its way to us.
The four of them ate cake, the humans drank tea, and she opened presents. Grandpop gave her a green side table. Grandmom’s gifts included a girl-sized apron, something she called a braided rug that was mostly green for my floor in front of the rocker, and a stack of books. The brand new ten-year-old exclaimed over each gift as if she’d never received any others. I knew she had because she always brought them to me and told me all about them. She called it “show and tell.”
This was her way with them and me and now Bruiser. Her new friend explored my corners and sniffed, sneezing from time to time, his tail moving the air in his friendly way, I liked him and was pretty sure he liked me too.
Grandmom started to put the left-over cake and dishes in the large basket she’d brought them in. “Mary Ellen, I think you will love Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery – it’s as if the author knew you when she wrote it. Little Women, by Louisa Mae Alcott, is my personal favorite.”
There was something in the way she said, Louisa. The girl cocked her head. We’d both noticed it.
Grandpop told Mary Ellen that he would deliver the Wisdom to her in a few days and mentioned something about curing and paint drying and told her that new mattresses to fill up the deep shell of the rowboat would arrive soon.
She hugged and kissed them and clapped her hands the way she did when especially pleased. “That is great news, Grandpop! I think the Wisdom is big enough to hold Bruiser and me on our camping nights. Thank you so much for everything! I wish I knew the words to tell you how much I love you!”
When Grandmom and Grandpop left her and Bruiser with me, she sat in her rocking chair and talked. Dear old place, I know I tell you this all the time, but I have to say it again. I love it here with you! It’s like there are pieces of the others still here who spent time with you long ago. Maybe even Mama, although I haven’t asked them if she came here because talking about her, makes us all sad. But if she knew about you, how could she stay away? And Bruiser! You already own a part of my heart. You are a prince of dogs!”
He wagged, and I took in the great exhale he released into the room.
“Back to you, dear place. I don’t mean I feel ghosts or spirits, although Grandmom knew one or two in her lifetime.” Mary Ellen giggled. “I’m sometimes a naughty girl. I found some of her journals and read a few pages. What she wrote didn’t scare me one bit. I might like to know a ghost or a spirit or an angel.” She sighed. “One of these days, I will confess. It’s only right. I’ve told God and you two, now it’s time to tell her. She might be right – maybe I am too curious for my own good.” She followed this with another giggle and said, “But maybe not!”
She paused to do some more thinking and then spoke to the dog and me again. “It feels like all those people who came here before me left some of their germs behind. Or fingerprints. Or bits of their breath got caught in your walls. I wish I had known them all. Even the moonshiners who could have been brewing it for medical reasons – I’ve read about that.”
If I had whiskers like her Grandpop, I would have tried to hide my smile too. As he once told me when we were alone, “Mary Ellen likes to believe the best about everyone.”
A wind blew up just then, and the ivy around the door tickled my sides and sounded very much like the soft chuckle Grandmom sometimes shared with my walls when she came to sweep cobwebs out of my dark corners and off my rough-hewn walls. On those days, she sang happy songs to God and told my walls about the things Mary Ellen said and did.
The girl reached for one of the books on her new table. “Speaking of reading, let’s spend some time with Little Women.”
When she read, her voice lifted and dropped in ways that told me as much about the four girls and their mother as the words themselves. When the light from the window faded, she closed the book and said, “I love this story better than all the ones I’ve ever read! Maybe someday I’ll be a writer. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
After a few moments, Mary Ellen stood up. There was something new about her. Maybe that was part of being ten. She turned all the way around slowly as a deep quiet settled around us the way it did when Grandpop prayed for her and Grandmom when it was just him and me. Bruiser watched her his ears raised and his tail still.
With one hand on her heart and the other on my wall, she said, “Dear Place, I am going to call you Louisa.”
A gentle breeze came through the window. She raised her hand to her cheek. “Did you feel that? It felt like a kiss.”
I caught the scent of lavender and wondered if it might have been from the curtains made from her mother’s dress. I hadn’t noticed it before, but sometimes it takes a bit of air for that to happen.
When she shut my door for the day, Mary Ellen rested her hand on the knob a moment longer. I knew soft-touch held the thing she talked about the most. Love.
She whispered, her breath close to the painted surface where tiny nooks and crannies waited to hold what she had to say. “I can hardly wait to see you again, Louisa!”
Bruiser walked on the path beside her, and she rested her fingertips on his head.
As the sun disappeared and the night nestled in around me, her sweet germs, fingerprints, and breath settled in. A bit of our new canine friend did the same.
I would be waiting for her. For them. For us to be together again in this space, that is me – a place she called Louisa.
The photos in this story are from the generous artists at Pixabay.