When I am at home and the weather is pleasant, I have two special places to sit and read. Or to write or simply relax. One is the deck at the back of my home, where I feel I am in a garden, surrounded by tall evergreens. The other is the small pebble-strewn Japanese-style front yard, where I have a comfortable outdoor chair with a tiny side table. On a lazy Sunday afternoon, the table may hold a glass of rosé wine. At other times, it has a cup of French-roast black coffee. It may even have the adjunct of a large coffee-filled flask if I am enmeshed in an Ewan McKuen novel.
I sat in the front yard one summer evening, reading The Atlantic and sipping some lemonade, when a lively voice interrupted me.
“Is this your home?”
I looked up to see a six-year old in a maroon frock, a round face framed by two braids.
“Do you like it?”
“Indeed, I rather like it.”
“Why?” For a little girl, she seemed rather curious.
I had to think. I said, “Because it is large enough to be comfortable, and yet small enough to be cozy.”
I am not sure she understood, but she smiled.
I asked, “Now tell me where your home is.”
“It is far away,” she said, and then pointed to a house just two blocks away.
“I am glad you walked all this way to make my acquaintance. Won’t you sit down?”
She did not sit down but asked another question. She was full of questions.
“Where are your children?”
“Sadly, they have grown up. They have gone to homes of their own.”
That was only the first of our exchanges. The weather was nice, I had novels and newspapers to read, and I liked seeing my young visitor, Nina. Her mother, who occasionally accompanied her, thought she was intruding and tried to steer her away. She finally saw that the intrusion was welcome. Novels cannot compete with a pretty little interrogator in red and yellow frocks.
“What are you reading?”
“It is a story book.”
“I have story books. Mommy reads them to me.”
“Really? What kind of stories do you like?”
“Lions, birds, dolls,” she pondered as she recounted. Then, with great finality, “I like stories about princesses.”
“You look like a princess to me. Somebody should write a story about you.”
She seemed pleased.
She went on a different tack, “Can you write a story?”
“I try. I haven’t written one about a princess yet.”
“You write a story about a princess. And a prince, and a horse,” her voice trailed off, as she thought of more things to add.
We had a thunderstorm one night. Nina duly reported the next day about the two trees she had seen on the ground while on a walk with her mother. She had a special interest in the squirrels, especially the baby squirrels she saw scurrying around. Her biggest excitement was the deer she noticed one early morning. Her mother had complained the deer had eaten her flowers. But the daughter had a different view.
“I like the deer. I want them to come again.”
“I like them too. I am sure the deer will come again now that it knows it has admirers here.”
Last Friday I went out for a long walk during dusk. There was nobody on the trail when I walked back. Then I saw a deer peeking out of the woods.
I felt sad instead of being happy to see it, for I knew my little friend wouldn’t see it. Nina hadn’t visited me for several days and I asked her mother when I encountered her in the local market.
“She is not well,” she said. “My mother has an uncommon syndrome that blocks her heart periodically. I have a mild version of it and take medicine for it, but Nina has inherited an acute variant of the disease. She can’t even walk a short distance. We keep her home.”
I had naively assumed that a spry little girl will one day get over an unfortunate but temporary affliction. Then came the card inviting me to the memorial meeting.
I will never write the story she might have liked about the princess who waited for the prince on horseback. It has to be only a brief sketch of a little princess who left a smile and a question or two in the air.