F. S. Washburn
Hands covered with wallpaper paste, Karen Harlow led her grandfather back into the living room. “It's okay Grandpa,” she murmured. “Mom will be home soon.” Karen wondered how her mother Jean had the time to care for her elderly father. After all, the old man seemed to have gone batty in the past few months.
“Thyme en chain,” Russ yelled as he tapped his fingers on the side of his chair. "Timenchain!"
Karen didn't have the slightest idea of what the old man was saying, but she was aware that his words hung in the air and repeated themselves like a skipped record. And she wished that her mother would return soon. It hadn't been easy trying to finish wallpapering the dining room and entertaining her eighty-six year old grandfather at the same time.
She had scraped old, gray zinnias from the walls for the past six hours, and the job was almost complete. She knew that she had to stop and make her grandfather a sandwich, but Karen didn't want to. The sooner she stopped looking at the ugly paper, the sooner she'd be able to hang the new print that she had purchased; the one with the lovely tea roses. She'd prepare his lunch later.
From the next room,“ Thyme en chain” played over and over. Karen wanted to scream at the old man, but she knew that at his age he had trouble hearing, so instead she tried to block out his voice. It waved in and out of her head. After awhile she hardly noticed. She had been too busy staring at the large crack in the wall.
Now I know why the room is papered, she thought as she leaned forward to examine the unsightly crack. Ugh! Her hands reached out to feel the damaged wall, and cold air seemed to escape its interior.
Suddenly, the gap widened and Karen Harlow stared inside the wall. A field of ugly, gray flowers awaited her. Intrigued, Karen stepped inside the wall. Seconds later, the crack closed. Karen banged on the plaster, but it had been useless. She no longer heard the sounds of her grandfather, so it didn't surprise her that he didn't hear her.
Wading through the field of flowers and dried grass seemed endless. Karen stopped to rest for a moment. Nearly six feet in front of her she spied a wall. She ran to it and brushed her hand along the plaster looking for an opening. Then the young woman pounded on it with her fist. Slowly the plaster separated. Peering inside, she decided to step through.
Karen realized that she had stepped back into her own home. What was that all about? she thought as she entered the dining room. But Karen noticed that although she had entered her home, some things were different: brass sconces covered with opaque glass shades adorned the wall. A scratched mahogany table and four chairs had replaced the cherry dining room set. Candles instead of pictures lined the mantelpiece. A milkman yelled from outside. “Dairy milk. Nice and fresh! Special today!”
As she looked for an exit, Karen had been stunned that the crack in the wall had disappeared. She gazed at the dull, gray flowers that lined the wall as she listened to the heavy footsteps in the hallway.
“Darn it!” a man yelled. “Where's my watch? Didn't anyone in this house see my watch?” Karen shivered as she realized that it was her grandfather's voice.
The back door slammed shut. “Calm down Russell,” a woman said. “Maybe Jeanie knows where you put it.”
As Karen heard footsteps approach, she tried to ease her way into the kitchen, but Russ spied her. “Jeanie, did you happen to see my watch?” Speechless, Karen shrugged her shoulders.
“Jean, I am talking to you! For Pete's sake, why are you dressed that way?” Karen glanced at her jeans and paste covered t-shirt.
“Have you been out playing baseball with that Harlow fellow? I told you that's a man's game. If he wants to take you out, let him pay for a decent meal.”
“Time and change. That's all a man has in this world!” Russ yelled as he stormed the house looking for his watch. “Hmph!”
Home from the store, Sally strolled into the dining room. Glaring at Karen standing against the wall, she gasped “Jeanie! What have you done to your hair? And your clothes?”
Karen stared at the middle-aged woman. Fascinated by her smooth, rosy face and her brunette hair tied in a French knot, she thought, Grandma? Oh my, what a pretty woman.
“March right upstairs and change into something decent,” Sally instructed. She told her granddaughter that when she returned she could see the new wallpaper that she had ordered from F. S. Washburn. At first Karen froze. But when she noticed her grandmother's face grow stern, she hustled from the room.
“Darn time and change,” Russ said as he peeked inside the glass covered sconces. He stared at his wife and laughed. “I just don't know Sally. I guess it's been one of those weeks.” Sally smirked at him.
“Don't tell me you've lost your watch again,” she asked in jest.
“Sally, I have a business meeting,” Russ replied. “I don't have time for nonsense.”
Dressed in a pink sweater, and a gray corduroy skirt, Karen returned to the dining room. She noticed her grandmother standing on a chair tearing the old paper. With a quick yank, a large piece of zinnia-laden paper fell to the floor.
“What did we agree on?” Sally yelled to her husband who had left the room in haste. “That you'd put your watch in one certain place.”
Karen spied the crack in the wall, and silently encouraged her grandmother to expose it. C'mon! she thought as she clenched her fists. I have got to get out of here!
Sally turned to Karen and explained that she'd be back in a minute. “We agreed that he'd leave his watch and change on the mantelpiece,” the older woman murmured as she strolled over to the wooden ledge. Peering behind the crystal candleholders, the woman lifted a gold pocket watch. “Here it is,” she whispered to Karen as she strolled from the room.
Time and change, Karen thought as she remembered the garbled words. “That's it!” She grabbed the watch, and stood in front of the opening in the wall. “Please get me out of here!” she muttered. At once the plaster opened up, and Karen leaped through the hole, twisting her ankle as she did.
Karen limped her way back to the pasture. Gratefully she noticed the zinnia field. But she hadn't been grateful for her bobby sox and three quarter length skirt. Perhaps at some other time, like a Halloween party, she thought. The tall, wiry grass chafed her legs. It seemed like hours before she found the wall. Its back to her, the wall had been void of a crack.
“Time and change,” she cried. “I've had enough change.” Tears welled up in her eyes as the barrier began to open.
Back in the nineteen-ninety style home, Karen rushed to see her grandfather. The old man slept in the overstuffed chair. Karen touched the sleeve of his navy sweater. “Grandpa,” she whispered. “I found your watch.”
Blue eyes opening, Russ glanced at his granddaughter as he opened his hand. “Timen chain,” he said. Crinkled eyelids half closed, he stared at Karen. “You look just like your mother.”
Placing the watch in his cold hand, she replied, “Yes Grandpa, I know.” He leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek.
A resident of Cape Cod, MA., Georgia Browne completed her BA in Writing. Currently, Georgia is working towards her MA..
Her first short story, "The Couch," won the Hemingway Resource Center's fall contest. Along with her second short story, "Salt and Pepper," it may be viewed on-line at "Panic Attack Magazine." Presently Miss Browne is working on her first novel.