the way in


The key was to a huge house in the city. The kind of house somebody like The Great Gatsby would live in. It was in a very classy neighborhood filled with mansions and all looking out over the bay. “Is this a friend of yours’ house?” Sam asked as we walked up the street in awe and disbelief at one mansion after. I kept looking at the key in Judy’s hand and wondering which door it fit.

“You could say that.” Judy was being mysterious, but I liked it.

“Is that it?” I said, pointing out a yellow house on the left with big bay windows and ornate reliefs above the windows.

“No, that’s the house of J. Paul Getty, the gazillionaire. This is it.”

“Oh,” I think I uttered as I looked up at big shiny black double doors at the top of a flight of stairs.

She bounced up the stairs and turned to look at us. We were all three standing on the sidewalk paralyzed. “Well, come on!” She said, and turned and put the key in the lock. I swear I heard the barrels tumble and fall inside the lock as she turned it. She pushed open the heavy door and inside was a huge foyer with a big winding staircase leading upwards. That’s all we could see from the street, so we bolted up the stairs and only hesitated for a moment at the threshold before entering.

There we stood in the center of this huge foyer, with the big staircase turning toward forever. In the center of the foyer, beneath the massive staircase was a fireplace. Not just any old run of the mill fireplace, but one that was taller than all of us. My dad could have stood up inside of it. In front of the fireplace was a huge spinning wheel with a little bench to sit on. To the right was a telephone booth made of wood, like in hotels in old movies and on the left, a velvet curtained parlor.

“Sheesh,” said Sam.

“No kidding,” I agreed.

Sharon just had a happy look on her face as she looked around at everything, as if this was the way it was always meant to be.

I could go on describing the house forever, but that might get boring, so let me just say that the living room had three grand pianos! Three! And there was a butler’s pantry, that was a whole kitchen, next to the dining room and above the regular kitchen, so that the guests don’t smell the food while it’s cooking, only just before they bring it to you. So, you get the picture, this wasn’t your average house. This was a house out of an old movie. I wanted to explore every room, but I stuck close to Judy as she led us upstairs. We were all holding hands in fact and sort of sneaking up the stairs, except for Judy who walked right up.

“Are you sure it’s okay to be here?” asked Sam. Judy didn’t answer. She just kept climbing the stairs.

“What’s on those floors?” I asked as we passed the second and third floors.

“Bedrooms and bathrooms.” Judy answered and kept climbing.

Finally we were on the top floor, the fifth. The entire floor was one large room. It was kind of stuck out from the roof and had windows all the way around it. It was long and narrow with a high single bed at one end and different kinds of chairs, some comfortable looking, some not, stuck around facing so they looked out different angles of the windows, but all toward the water. The center of the room was left bare and had one long runner carpet from end to end that was really worn in the center as if someone had been walking and walking and walking for like a hundred years. All the books in the room were of maps and there was a huge globe in a heavy wooden stand and on a small table at the end of the room, a telescope, pointed out to sea.

“What kind of place is this?” Sam asked.

“It’s a widows’ walk.” Judy told us. “When the sailors would go out to sea and the women would stay behind, back in the old days, the women would come up here to pace and watch for the ships that would bring their men back home.”


looking out to sea


“Wow, a whole room dedicated to worrying,” Sam said.

“Dedicated to anticipation,” Sharon corrected.

“Whatever.” Sam said.

I was too busy looking out the telescope to argue. You could see the color of the cars on the Golden Gate Bridge and the houses on the hills in Tiburon and Sausolito. You could even see inside the sea caves in the headlands just a little bit. And of course you could see Alcatraz, the old prison that was now a museum. I could see tourists getting off a tour boat and going onto the island.

Sharon was twirling the globe, closing her eyes, probably making some kind of wish, and stopping it with her finger, then opening her eyes to see where she had landed.

“The woman who lives here doesn’t come up to this room anymore,” Judy said, bending down to peer through the telescope, taking it gently from me. “She knows her man isn’t coming back again, but I come here a lot just to think and decide where to go next! Where do you guys want to go? She said, jumping up and giving the globe a really good spin.

“Egypt!” yelled Sharon.

“Been there,” Judy said, bored.

“Timbuktu!” I piped up, giving the globe another spin.

“Who does live here?!” screamed Sam. “Where are they? How do you know them? And don’t they mind us being in their house?!”

“Lighten up Sam,” I said, “Judy has a key. Obviously it’s okay.”

“Is it?” demanded Sam, looking Judy straight in the eye.


Timbuktu or bust


“It is so,” said Judy, “and if you must know some details to calm your mind, then I will tell you that I am allowed to come here as I please, but for now, the owner of the house is away at a garden party in Switzerland and I am feeding the cat.”

“There’s a cat?!” I sad, leaping to my feet. “Where?” I really like cats and wanted to play with her. We have dogs at home.

Judy opened the door and called downstairs for the cat. “Madame Defarge, you have guests!”

“Madame Defarge, is that the owner of the house? Is she here?” asked Sharon.

“Madame Defarge is a character from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, I said.

“Madame Defarge is the cat.” Said Judy. “As I told you, the owner of the house is abroad, attending a garden party.”

Sam turned to me accusatory, “A Tale of Two Cities? When did we have to read that?”

“We didn’t have to,” I said, “I just wanted to.”

“Whatever,” said Sam. Like I said before, he hates it when he doesn’t know stuff. Being smart is kind of his identity and he somehow seems to think that means no one else can ever be smart too. I decided not to back down like I usually do when he gets mad that I know something he doesn’t and decided instead to rub it in a little. I mean, I’m not perfect after all.

“Madame Defarge is the woman who knits the names of all the enemies of the French Revolution into her knitting, so that they can keep track of who they want to kill, but so that no one will find out.

“Couldn’t they just read the names on her scarf or whatever?” Sam said, still perturbed at me.

“No, she knits them in code, so that only she and her husband and their collaborators can read them.”

“Maybe we should have a revolution,” Sam said, “we could keep track of all the bullies at Patrick Henry and get them back.” Sam said, almost to himself. I’m not sure he really meant it at the time.

“That’s an amazing idea!” Sharon practically screamed.

Just then, almost on cue, Madame Defarge appeared at my feet rubbing herself against my legs. None of us had seen her come in. I picked her up and she started nuzzling my face. She was a really neat looking cat, a long hair, with smoky grey fur and green eyes.

“Hello kitty.” I said, kissing her head.

“We could be revolutionaries!” Sharon kept on.

“I’ve got to take Madame Defarge for her meal in the pantry,” Judy said, taking the cat from me, “you guys stay here and hang out.” She left the room and shut the door.

“Let’s start taking down names,” said Sam.


Madame Defarge