I’m pretty sure there is a tall, slim old man with enormous ears hiding behind the door. He’s sitting on a stool, waiting for me.
If I open the door, he will stand and raise his arms and come after me, chanting, “I’m going to con-tam-in-ate this little girl!” Over and over. And I will run as fast as I can, so my legs hurt and my hair is flying in, getting into my eyes. If I try and look back he never gets much closer or further away.
The chanting continues as I run, on and on and on… into the drug store, through the shop, into the back room, where I slip through the trap door, and slide, speeding through the darkness.
I land with a bounce on my bed, which wakes my sister, who screams, bringing my mother in to comfort her. Never minding me, no one is interested in hearing where I’ve just been or what just happened to me.
One day I’ll lock my sister in there – and never come back.
This lonely winter garden reminds me of so many things. When I came upon it, somewhere in Lower Manhattan, it took my breath away – that sense of deja vu, of knowing something about it I couldn’t quite name, but could feel, in the same way my grandmother springs to life if someone walks by wearing her perfume.
The passing of Maurice Sendak and now Ray Bradbury has somehow sparked the storyteller in me, the lover of the non-rational, non-compliant, somewhat cuss-ed point of view. I was an avid reader from the minute I figured out how to do it (at the unremarkable age of six.) I had a lot of Little Golden Books. They were pretty, with lovely watercolour illustrations. But I was mostly dissatisfied with the stories, too many morality plays that bored me even then.
The Grimm Brothers were more to my liking, the more gruesome the better. My favourite was the luridly horrific The Little Goose Girl. I must have read it a hundred times, squinting in the dark after I’d been sent to bed – moving the book along the stream of light on the floor where my bedroom door had been left ajar. Never gave me nightmares, though… Not that I didn’t have nightmares, but the monsters in them were mostly the adults in my life. It confounded me that children were always being punished but badly behaved adults just got away with it, no matter how bad they were. And then it confounded me even more that when the grown-ups finally had to pay for their bad behaviour, it meant the children got even more punishment.