Hilary McKittrick was a precocious child. She had the run of her grandparent’s Belfast farm and loved exploring the large piece of land. She often told her parents about her friends and their adventures and they laughed at her vivid imagination.
She was excited to move to America but would miss Jackie, the little boy she often met in the barn loft. He didn’t talk but happily jumped in the hay and swung on the ropes hanging from the rafters with her. He always hid when Mother or Father came looking for her. Grace was a friend that only came out to play after dark when everyone was sleeping. She’d appear at Hilary’s bedside and tug at her covers and they would slip out to the garden to play hide and seek. Hilary hoped she would make friends in her new country.
Father had found a lovely home that needed some work and just finished the main floor the week before they arrived. The second floor was still untouched and Hilary had been warned not to venture upstairs.
Father blocked the stairwell, but it didn’t stop Hilary from pushing the wooden planks aside and scampering up the stairs when Mother was busy preparing supper on their second day in the house. The landing opened onto a sitting room. Pieces of furniture looked like faceless ghosts in the corner, covered in sheets and a layer of dust. The curtains were tattered and beams of sunlight streaked across the bare wood floors. Hilary sneezed and walked across the floor to peer into a small, dark room at the back of the house. The windows were boarded up and she could just make out a cast iron twin bed frame, small dresser, child’s desk and chair.
The door to the adjoining bathroom creaked, opening an inch into the bedroom and letting in muted light. Curious, Hilary went to the door and peeked thru the crack. The room was tiled in soft pink with a white clawfoot tub, toilet and porcelain pedestal sink with a stool tucked underneath. Above the sink was a medicine cabinet with a mirror in the middle.
Hilary stood on the stool and using the apron of her pinafore, wiped a circle in the dusty mirror. She smiled at her reflection … and then frowned. She had blonde ringlet ponytails and blue eyes. The face looking back at her had short ginger locks and green eyes like a cat. She blinked. The face blinked with her. She stuck out her tongue and the face did the same.
“Hello there. Who are you?” she asked. There was no answer, just the face of another child looking back at her.
“Hilary! Where are you? Father told you not to go up there!” Mother called from the bottom of the stairwell.
“Coming, Mother!” Hilary shouted. She hadn’t noticed that the bathroom door had shut behind her. She reached for the knob but it wouldn’t budge. She twisted one way and then another. It was stuck.
“Hilary, come down here this instant! I don’t want to have to come up there to get you!”
She heard a high-pitched giggle behind her and turned quickly. No one was there. She looked in the mirror and the red-headed girl was smiling. The door opened by itself and Hilary waved saying, “Cheerio! See you soon!” before heading down the stairs.
Mother was waiting at the bottom with her hands on her hips.
“Just what were you doing up there, young lady? And look at you! You’re a filthy mess! Go change before Father gets home for supper.”
* * * * * *
“Father, who lived here before us?” Hilary asked over the evening meal.
“I’m not exactly sure. The owner bought the house after it had been abandoned but decided not to live here. Furniture, clothing, everything was left behind. I’ve yet to clear out the top floor but it looked like a child’s nursery. Why do you ask?” Father answered.
“I just wondered,” Hilary said, glancing at Mother who didn’t give away her naughty venture up the stairs.
* * * * * *
Hilary waited until Mother and Father had been in bed for what seemed like hours. She listened to the sounds of the house and the occasional passing car on the street. When she was sure they were asleep she quietly crept through the parlor and tip-toed up the stairs, blindly making her way across the sitting room in the pitch black. When she reached the bedroom doorframe, she took the candle and matches out of her nightgown pocket and lit the wick.
The fire glow illuminated the little room and she made her way to the bathroom. Standing on the stool again, she gazed at the reflection. The green cat eyes stared back at her, eerie in the flickering light.
“Hello. Who are you? I’m Hilary. We can be friends. I just moved here. Maybe this will be my room when Father fixes it up.”
The face looked back at her, expressionless. The medicine cabinet door swung open a tiny crack. Hilary fitted the candle into the sink drain and slowly opened the cabinet door. On the center shelf was a brown glass bottle.
“Is this yours? I can’t read these big words,” she said, holding the bottle close to the flickering light, “N-e-m-b-u-t-a-l. For a-n-x-i-e-t-y.”
She opened the bottle and poured the tiny yellow pills into her hand. She heard the high-pitched giggle again and shut the cabinet door to look in the mirror. The green eyes had slit-shaped pupils and gold, dancing flecks. She was mesmerized with their intensity.
Her hand moved to her mouth of its own volition. She tasted an almost metallic flavor in her mouth and then swallowed. The face in the mirror smiled and began to waver, then went out of focus, as if underwater. Hilary felt herself falling, down onto the hard, cold pink tile. The last thing she heard was a child’s voice saying, “I don’t have any friends.”
Written May 2018 and read as part of To Live and Write in Alameda’s special Shared Stories event at Books Inc. in June 2018.
Ten writers were given the challenge of each choosing a different decade and writing a short story that took place in a Victorian house in Alameda and included a reference to a medicine cabinet. The stories were read in chronological order and woven together by the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, Hank Hedland, who spoke between readers.
This story took place in the 1940s.
If you have a writer’s soul and live in Alameda, please join our group! No experience necessary … members range from those who dream of writing the Great American Novel to published authors. No dues … unless you choose to be a Cohort as I am … many free daily/weekly meet-ups, reasonably priced workshops and focus groups and retreats, and tons of encouragement and support.
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