Chapter IV

IV

Christmastime brought everyone together in the upstairs drawing room.

“Be sure to stick it through the centre,” Mother pinched a large, dull needle and a kernel of popcorn just above her knees, before the eyes of little Lulu. Piercing it firmly, she pulled the puffed kernel along the string to meet its brothers. “Your turn,” she handed the needle to Lulu before standing from the settee and crossing toward the window, the Christmas tree, and me.

Up the hill across the long lawn, dark patches in the snow showed melt of a warm day ending. Spotted among them I could see the arc of my own footprints, that morning’s escape plan executed through a particular space between the trees chosen for its darkness. Snow 3

“She said they never found you today.”

“No,” I clipped a fine silver candle holder onto a flat branch end, “they didn’t.” Running uphill had winded Mrs. Loftus and the gardener who answered her calls. They didn’t expect the sudden turn into the treeline and, by the time their eyes adjusted to the shadows, I was gone.

I retrieved another candle clip from the wooden box perched on the nearest chair. 

“Where did you go?”

“Into the bracken.” Pinch branch with one hand, squeeze clip with the other, release. 

“Coco,” The warning voice, “You cannot keep doing this, especially in this weather! What if you had gotten lost?”

Turning and taking a step, I retrieved another small silver clip from the box.

“You think this is funny?” Anger, now. “You could freeze!”

“Oh, Mother,” Pinch, squeeze, release. “I could never be lost out there.”

Turning once more, I saw her cock her hips as her hands rested on them. “Of course you believe that, but all sorts of strange things happen to people too deep in those woods.”

Pinch, squeeze, release. Pivot, step.

“Are you even listening?”

Pivot, step. “Of course, Mother.” 

“Mama! I got it!” Lulu’s sticky cheeks beamed across the room from the settee.

“Good girl!” Mother’s reply a little sharp, her praise was interrupted by the sound of the dogs barking echoing from the courtyard. Chillingham Snow 2

“Daddy’s home!” Lulu clapped, dropping the big, dull needle into the bowl of popcorn. The half-full string lay draped along the rug, catching her foot as she bounced toward the door and spilling the popcorn all over the rug and under the big glass table.

“Lulu! Come here,” Mother stooped toward her, arms outstretched. “I’m sure Pigeon or Rufus will clean that up.” Scooping Lulu to her hip, she carried on through the doorway toward the stairs. 

Moonlight had settled on the snow, footprints dark and icy now, sloppy, gleaming jewels.

Pinch, squeeze, release. Pivot, step.

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