Elaine drove down a residential road lined with aspen trees, their leaves had turned into the orange and yellow of autumn. As a child she didn’t know the road’s name, but now she knew it to be called Bryce Street. Memories flooded into the front of her consciousness. The events of these memories shaped her personality and every moment going forward. Many other things seemed so insignificant upon reflection, but Elaine couldn’t forget how she came to live at Burdock Institute. For years she had avoided returning in an effort to escape her past, but this year she relented.
In between two houses along the road was an iron gate with a long driveway leading up to a rough-cut, large bricked, limestone building. A playground with a rusty swing set stood erect in a corner; the swing moved or twitched with the breeze. She pulled into the driveway, stopped in front of the gate and closed her eyes, forcing herself back in time.
A very tall woman, by Elaine’s standards, stood above her four-year-old self. This place looked scary. Her mother, Dee, told her to go play and meet some other children. Mommy Dee said she would be back in three hours. Elaine didn’t have a clear concept of time. The other kids were complete strangers. She felt abandoned when Mommy Dee left her at the school. All Elaine could do was hope that she had been left in a safe, trustworthy place. She played with the plastic bucket and shovel in the sandbox and swung on the swing. Sharing things was difficult since she didn’t have any brothers or sisters. Everyone else seemed to know how to handle themselves in a group setting. A little girl with two long, black braids invited Elaine to help build a sandcastle and led her back to the box. They built a two-story castle.
Elaine’s least favorite thing to do was lay down at nap time with a blanket and pillow. She really hated quiet time; the teacher read them stories from The Brothers Grimm. Elaine had read them as an adult, all 200, with all the convoluted grammatical construction that was difficult to comprehend. She realized the teacher had altered the stories while reading them slowly with her voice modulating up and down. The other kids would fall asleep to the teacher’s melodic voice, but Elaine could not as she had a vivid imagination. Many of the stories scared her.
When Mommy Dee returned at the end of the day, Elaine would run to her and engulf her mother’s leg with hugs. She never cried in front of the teacher, but some of the other kids did from time to time. If Elaine wanted to cry, she saved her tears for her pillow at home when she went to bed.
As Elaine sat in her car with her memories, she felt a bit hallow inside. The teacher, Miss Jones, was so kind. They’d been together for only half a year. Another woman came in as a substitute. When Miss Jones finally returned, she had a metal brace on her leg.
Elaine asked Mommy Dee, “What is it, Mommy?”
Mommy Dee bent down and whispered, “She had Polio, I’ll explain later.” But Mommy Dee never explained.
Miss Jones was very nice and was Elaine’s teacher for years in the small school. Eventually, she got two leading rolls in the school plays. The first was Hansel and Gretel; she was Gretel. The second; a play about Jesus, she was mother Mary. Mommy Dee was very proud. Elaine’s new found popularity spurned her on to go chasing the boys around the playground when she was only eight. If that wasn’t enough, she invited little Billy to her school’s carnival. She thought Billy would make her friends jealous or the school boys, but it didn’t work.
Billy lived next door. They spent a lot of time together outside because there weren’t any other little girls in the neighborhood. Sometimes they’d go in each other’s houses, but only when Mommy Dee could divert herself from household chores to supervise. Yet, most of the time, Mommy Dee didn’t like visitors in the house.
Validation was what Elaine craved in those days, along with attention. Billy liked her, but he wasn’t enough. One day they’d gotten in trouble at home. Elaine had made a mud bath in the backyard. She invited him over and they sat in mud in their underwear, rubbing the mud all over their arms and legs. Mummy Dee thought it was cute at first, but she was also angry. Mummy wanted to know why they were practically naked. The only response Elaine could think to say was that she didn’t want to get her clothes dirty.
That was the last thing Elaine could remember about Mommy Dee. The very next day she took Elaine to school and never returned. Miss Jones told her that Mommy Dee had died in a car accident. In time, Miss Jones became known to Elaine as Mommy Claire. They lived together in the cottage on the school grounds. Now, Elaine was grown, and neither of them lived at the school anymore.
From the driveway the house looked empty and overgrown, but there was a light coming out of the attic window and one on the front porch. She thought it looked haunted, and maybe it was, with all the spaces in time that the children inhabited during their years at the school. Some say; as we pass through time, we leave a piece of ourselves behind and take a piece into the future within our hearts. With that thought, Elaine put the car in gear and drove away, vowing to never return.