By Susan Coleman
Beulah Bean sat on the long pink couch in her living room and considered the puzzling question that had occurred to her, which was actually the reason she felt the need to sit. She tried very hard to position herself in the exact middle of the long, soft piece of furniture. The last time she had sat was north and the time before was south, so it was the middle’s turn again. Even though she considered the possibility that she was probably the only one living in the house, she wasn’t really sure. It was that very idea, the very question of her solitary existence that made Beulah want to sit and think in the first place.
Where had everyone gone?
She remembered well her father and mother, their comings and goings, but could not for the life of her remember the last time they had left, or whether they had ever returned. She would often see evidence of someone besides herself in the house, but couldn’t say for sure who that might be. A cushion would be moved, a book would be on the end table instead of the shelf where it belonged, and then there were the kitchen messes every morning.
Since she hadn’t come to any conclusion about her apparent isolation, she thought she would go to the attic. She counted “one, two, three,” with the first three steps, counting higher as she went, just as she had when she was small and learning to go up. As she did, Beulah recalled the day she had turned thirteen. She felt that something very important had happened that day, but she could not remember what it was.
It was the first time she could ever remember finding herself in the attic, sitting in her grandmother’s chair as always and facing the tall mirror, without knowing how she had gotten there. She could see herself, the reflection of her rocking horse and all the things she had seen and played with many times before. And on the day she turned thirteen, she also saw a strange man sitting in her grandfather’s chair.
For the longest time, he did not move, not even a little. It was as if he was a part of the wood.
“It’s hard to see you,” she said finally. “I have to almost stand sideways and tip myself this way to even see your hand.”
“I like it when you do that. You look comical,” he responded. His voice was very deep.
“I don’t want to look ‘comical.’ Why can I only see you in the mirror?”
“I’m a shade, a ghost. I was your grandfather and am here to look after you.”
“Really? Do my parents know you’re here? Didn’t mother ever see you? She was always up here for one thing or another, but she never said anything about you.”
“She didn’t take the time. She was always too busy to sit down and just look around to see what she could see. Your grandmother was here first, now it’s my turn.”
Beulah felt that conversation was several years ago. So, on this day when Beulah was perplexed and puzzled and seemed to be forgetting more things than she ever really knew, she felt the only place she could go would be to the attic, to her grandfather. He had always been honest with her, even when it hurt.
“Grandpa, am I alone in the house?”
“I’m here with you.”
“Are mother and father here too? I can’t remember the last time I saw them.”
“No, they are no longer here.”
Beulah thought about that for a moment and said more to herself than anyone, “I didn’t even see them go. “ She felt close to tears.
Sometimes Beulah would ignore the mirror all together and just face the empty chair. When she got to the attic this time, she stood again in front of the chair.
“Grandpa, how old am I?”
“You’re thirteen, Beulah.”
“No. I was thirteen when I first saw you here. That was a long time ago, and I must be older now. I have sat on the north, south and middle of the pink couch many, many times, for years and years, so I must be older than thirteen. I have cleaned the kitchen more mornings than I care to remember and I am always putting the books back where they belong.” She barely noticed that now she could actually see her grandfather without looking in the mirror.
“I’m so lonely,” she said in the tiniest voice. “How long have I been alone?”
“Sixty nine years and six days. I think you are ready now, Beulah.”
Shocking, thought Beulah. Sixty nine years?
“Ready? What for?”
“It has been a long time, hasn’t it? The books, the messy kitchen, even the pillows on the pink couch, they all belong to someone you can’t even see.”
“Who? Who else is in my house?”
“Well, let’s see. The first family after, was the Smith family. They only stayed a short time. You kept putting books away and cleaning up after them. When they left, the house was empty for a while. Next came a family with many children, who wrote on walls you were always scrubbing, making lots of noise. Do you remember any of this?”
“After what, Grandpa?”
“You said ‘after was the Smith family.’ After what?”
It was after you died.”
“Yes. You tripped on your cat at the top of the stairs on your thirteenth birthday and down you went. That’s the age you will always be, but you did take a long time to be ready.”
Everything was falling into place for Beulah Bean.
“Am I ready now?”
“Yes, you are.”
“And where are we going?”
“Up, my darling girl. It was always up for you.”
He held out his hand, and Beulah took it. She was alone no more, and no longer perplexed. The answers had been there all along, if she had just taken the time to look.
About the author:
Susan Coleman was born and raised in Chicago where, in sixth grade, she was taught by an nun from Ireland who was an inspiration. The nun’s merriment over SueC’s written assignments was infectious. Sue was ten years old, and has been writing ever since. A story about this nun resides on her website entitled “My Sister Mary Story.” http://www.susancolemanwrites.com
Susan Coleman’s education has never been focused on writing, but while studying to be a paralegal, she found research and writing to be her favorite subject. Whatever subject she took, she wanted to write about it. She studies people, their reactions to events in their lives, how their joy expressed itself and how sadness was often overwhelming. She has taken psychology classes to understand human nature, and tries to recreate these emotions in the stories she writes.
Susan has three publications to her credit: (1) A story for the now discontinued magazine Dogwood Tales, called “”Gone Visiting.”” It was inspired by her father, who had been placed in a nursing home. The story is dedicated to him. (2) An Amazon’s Kindle ebook: “”Allegheny Shade.”” (2014) (3) An Amazon’s Kindle ebook: “”Surviving Nathan: A Murder Mystery set in the Dust Bowl.”” (2017) SueC is currently working on her third novel, and short stories.
Other publications by and about Susan Coleman on Flashes of Brilliance: