Elfreth’s Alley- E’s story
Red door, red windows, second floor. Red door, red windows, second floor.
The cobblestone pavement was hurting Emily’s feet and her clothes were soaked up by the summer shower.
The sun was now shining as if five minutes ago it hadn’t been raining cats and dogs. Red door, red windows…
She kept balancing her suitcase and her purse with one hand and in the other, she had the largest bouquet of flowers she has found at the market. It has been fifteen years since she has seen her great uncle and she was more than happy to be reconnected with him. Former army colonel, uncle Maximum, or Max, as anyone knew him, was the living proof that no matter how many times life knocked you down, you still have it in you to get up and start fresh. He lost his wife when he came back from the war, he lost his small business and the family farm shortly afterwards, then had to take the weirdest jobs to support his younger sister, Emily’s mom, before he joined the army and made a career out if it, being deployed all over the world, in dangerous and conflictual zones, sending Emily post-cards with weird names and strange buildings and foreign people on them.
Now he was retired, owner of an old house on the historical alley in Philly, far far away from the old Texas ranch where he grew up galavanting on the dusty and wide roads.
Emily’s fascination with this fantastic relative grew with every post-card and with every letter, and when she finally met him and was able to put a face to that glorious name, she was thrilled. And now Emily was keen on writing a book about him. About him and his adventures, the life of his generation and, especially of the people’s Colonel, as he was known in his circles.
Red door, red windows, second floor.
Emily stopped dead in her tracks. There was more than one red door. And definitely many many more red windows. Did he say there were red windows also on the second floor? Did she have somewhere written down the full address?
Red door. She stopped. Put her bags down, the flowers on top and started rummaging through her purse for an envelope with an address.
-Excuse me, Miss, you cannot block the entrance!
-Excuse- she started, flustered, annoyed and panicked, turning around to face her accuser. What do you mean blocking the entrance? There is enough space for you to get in! I am looking for something…
-Yes, said the voice, a better angle for a selfie, probably… Or the best light? Or something as trivial as this.
Emily finally faced the man and gasped. He was tall. Okay, truth be told, comparing to her height, everyone was tall. But this guy had to be at least 6 feet. Tall, blond and dangerous. Or was that dark and dangerous. Anyhow, this blond one looked dangerous enough to give the dark ones a run for their money.
-First of all, Mister… I’m not looking for my phone to take a damn selfie! I will not get a selfie stick out of my purse and I’m definitely not going to search for the best angle, light combination or whatever!
She realised she kind of yelled at him… but only when the elderly couple passing by snickered at her remarks while continuing to take pictures at every corner they could find. Wow, she definitely put her foot in her mouth.
-You’re still blocking my entry, Miss, he said condescendingly.
Emily grabbed her bags, allowing the annoying man to pass.
-By all means, do help a girl out… she said when she put the heavy suitcase down straight on the cobblestone.
-Not my monkey, not my circus, said the man entering the house, leaving her beyond shocked on the alley.
Closing her eyes and gathering her bearings, she took three deep breaths, centring herself. She then realised her hands were closed in tight fists, he nails deep in flesh.
-Damn you, blondie! she whispered and resumed her search.
An elderly lady, all posh and class turned on the alley, carrying a tiny dog, one of the ugliest Emily had ever seen in her entire life. And that said something, as she had volunteered in her teens at a vet cabinet and she had seen all kinds of weird-looking, gremlin-like vermin-fury creatures that somehow passed as dogs. The lady took out a key with her perfectly manicured hands and smiled at her, and a cloud of sweet perfume lingered in the air for a while.
-Yes, yes, Coco, said the lady caressing the dog wiggling in her arms, we’re almost home now. We’re going to have a nice supper and then you’re going to take a nice bath…
-Excuse me, said Emily watching as the lady opened the doors of the house next to her. Green door, white windows. Do you think you could help me?
-Sure, child, said the woman putting down Fifi, or Coco, whatever the name of the creature was.
As if it would have felt Emily’s dislike, the dog came sniffing her feet, and then raised one leg, and… oh, my…
-GOD! cried Emily not believing her eyes.
-Oh, no, no, no, Coco! said the lady at the same time. I am, oh so sorry! Please, let me make it up to you, she said, raising a 20 dollar bill and handing it to her. Please take it! Get it cleaned properly!
A burst of laughter came behind her and the lady turned to a very flirtatious voice in a blink of an eye.
-Oh, Jackson… look at what my little Coco did to this poor young lady… I am flabbergasted!
-Perhaps Coco should receive a medal for best action against tourists leaving their luggage whenever, wherever. Time for them to understand that this is our home, not just a photo attraction.
Emily did not have the heart to turn, besides, it was not even necessary. She knew that voice. Oh, and she already hated that voice.
-Jackson, do not be mean to this poor child… Tell me, love, how may I be of assistance?
-Turn around and to your left, you’ll find a taxi station. For sure it can take you somewhere else, offered the so-called-Jackson, as known as the bane of her existence.
Emily ignored his snide and answered the lady, who in the meantime, grabbed Coco by the leash and was holding it far from the leaky luggage with her foot.
-I am looking for my great-uncle, Colonel Maximus-
-You’re Max’ niece?! said the voice behind her in utter shock.
The lady clapped her hands and said:
-Oh, you must be little Emily! Oh, oh, please, you must come inside for a drink. Your uncle is not here.
-Little Emily? said Jackson and Emily wished he would leave already.
-What do you mean uncle Max is not here? Where is he? He was supposed to expect me…
The lady tilted her head to the side and whispered:
-He received a call yesterday. That is all we know. Right, Jackson? He gave us the keys and asked us to welcome you, well… he said little Emily, anyway… and help you get accommodated until he will be able to be in contact again.
-No… said Emily, all the sudden wanting to curl into a ball and cry.
-Jackson, you have the key, right? said the lady. Oh, and I am Miss Marianne, I live right next door from you and Jackson.
Emily turned pale. She felt the need to sit. She and that… man… would have to share a damn roof? Noooo… Oh, was it too late to book a hotel room on the other side of Philadelphia? Or perhaps fly back to London until her uncle would come back?
-Now, let’s get you inside, it looks like it’s getting ready for another reprise of rain. We had some weird weather lately, said Marianne, grabbing her by her elbow and motioning to Jackson to pick up her bags.
-Come on now, dear old Jacky boy, take the lady’s suitcase. And careful with those flowers, now!
She should have at least enjoyed the face the man had when he was forced to carry the leaky bags inside, but she was still upset by the lack of comfort she was expecting. She needed Uncle Max more than anything that day and she found an empty house, well, it would have been actually better if it would have been really empty…
-It’s on the second floor, said Marianne guiding her on the narrow stairs. Oh, it’s so good to have a man in the house, that’s what I say! I was spoiled having my husband with me for more than 40 years, and now, I’m with these two fine gentlemen, right next door on the alley, oh, a man is always such a help. Don’t you think?
When they reached the second floor, Marianne turned on her heel and yelped.
-Oh, sweet mama of… I forgot Coco! Love, Jackson will take good care of you, and after you settle in, come for a drink and a home-cooked meal. I am at home most of the day, except for mornings and late-afternoons when I am waking Coco. Cius!
Emily felt like she will burst into laughter when she watched the old lady running down the stairs her coat trailing behind her like a superhero cape, on the way to save her precious Coco. Then she met her neighbour’s gaze and lost her appetite for laughter.
-You can leave them down, I’ll manage from here. Thank you, she said bitterly. It was a hard thank-you for sure.
-I cannot leave it down. It is still leaking and the carpet is an original one, so we’ll need to get them to the bathroom and then I can put them down.
That was it. Seeing Jackson holding the suitcase so close to him, his coat drenched in Coco’s dejections, and the priceless look on his face, contorted in utter disgust, she gave in. Emily sat down on the stair and burst into laughter, tears falling down her cheeks, and gasping for air.
-Why-why are you laughing?
His question started another laughter fit and she got up, drying her cheeks with her hand and opened the door to let him in. After he dropped the suitcase on the marble floor, he turned around to leave.
Emily handed him the 20 bucks from Marianne and when he looked incredulous at her, she said, before closing the door in his face:
-To properly clean your coat.