I stopped my writing on it a while back when I lost the direction of the story. I just kind of fizzled out and wasn’t sure where I was headed, but recently have been thinking a lot about these characters and what they ought to be up to by now.
There had been times, over the years, that Lisa had asked her husband to do “something” about the old barn. This was usually accompanied by a vague wave of the hand or head gesture, something indicating the direction of the thing, which was just beyond the garage they currently used for their vehicles and the wide array of plastic toys too unwieldy to store in the house. For his part, her husband had usually nodded, turning back to his laptop or his magazine, thinking that one day he’d definitely do “something” about the old thing. Neither one knew what was inside; they’d bought the property because of the expansive old farm house and the new-ish three car garage. They’d looked at it years ago, when the sag in the roof had just started to dip and the rot in the walls was turning black. The realtor insisted. She’d seemed adamant that the cost of tearing it down should be a part of the offer they made on the house initially, and they had both agreed.
It had been hard moving in, though, with a baby and a toddler. And there had been preschool to register for, and redecorating to do. Then they decided to buy new appliances for the kitchen, and there was a vacation to plan, and then it was time to register for school again, and she volunteered now, with two of them in half day school. In other words, life and years got away from them, and that “something” never actually happened.
Bridget was going to start first grade in the fall, and her sister would still be in kindergarten, so she’d been teasing Allison about it all summer, about how she’d still be a baby, still having to go home early, still needing her mommy. Allison hated that. She hated being 14 months younger than her sister, and she hated that Bridget got to do everything first. She’d learned to read before Bridget, so why didn’t she get to go to all day school first? It wasn’t fair. It didn’t matter if her mom said she was special because she was smart, apparently it did nothing except make Bridget tease her more. She was miserable, and when her sister was teasing her about wanting to get out the “baby” pool that achingly hot August day, she’d stormed off into the trees that bordered their property. Sometimes she sat here all day, waiting for cars to go by.
Whenever she complained that she had no one to play with but her sister, that the land simply went on and on instead of having neighbours on the sides like the other kids at school had at home, her parents said it was good for her, that they’d bought this place so that the girls would be safe. Safe and bored, Allison thought. Her sister didn’t seem to mind, she had a flock of barbies that she carried around with her everywhere to kept her company. Bridget named all of them, and made up elaborate backstories of their lives. Allison snubbed them, mostly because Bridget loved them so.
It was Tuesday, and she had less than a week before school started. She had to do something about this whole “baby” thing before it was too late. What she really wanted was to get to go to all day school, to prove to everyone that she most certainly was not a baby, and did not need baby school any longer.
She turned around to head back to the house and eyed the old, greying barn. She knew it was off-limits, it always had been. It seemed to shrink a little every year, and sometimes Bridget told her it was haunted by old horses that lived here before her. Allison didn’t believe in ghosts though, and ghosts of horses, even if they did exist, didn’t sound very scary. More sad, because they couldn’t have apples any more. When grandpa’s horses didn’t get apples when he came to the barn they would stomp their feet and make weird noises. Still, the place was kind of… icky. It smelled funny, like old socks and winter time basement and under-the-wading-pool at the end of summer, and something else. Maybe litter box? It was something bad. And she knew that no matter what she said, Bridget was more scared of it than she was.
Occasionally, her sister had dared her to go inside, and she’d ignored her. Once, last year, when she pretty much was still a baby, she’d told Mom. That had been a mistake, both of them had gotten a long talk about leaving it alone. Boring. She hated long talks. She liked being sent to her room better. There was fun stuff in there to do.
This time, she was the one that sidled up to Bridget with her hands stuffed in her shorts pockets. “Bridget..” she intoned, drawing out the first syllable in the way her sister hated. “If you’re so big, why don’t you go in the barn? I bet there’s cool stuff in there. I’ll bet you could find something for your first week’s show and tell in there.” She offered.
Bridget looked up from the scene she’d laid out on the grass; Barbie couches held dolls in various conversational pairs. She narrowed her eyes at Allison. “You’re just jealous, you don’t get to have show and tell.”
This was true. When the list had come from the school for supplies, listing exotic things such as notebook paper and a binder and a show and tell object, Allison had nearly screamed with the envy that churned inside of her. She’d actually screamed later, when she saw that she still had thick crayons to take to school when her sister had the narrow, delicate, grown-up ones. She felt that same angry roiling in her stomach now. “You’re just scared,” she sneered. “Some big girl you are…” She turned her back on the barbies and her sister both. She forced a big sigh, the kind her mother made when her father did something she didn’t like. She was finding it hard not to grin. She knew that turning her back would do it. It always did.
She was right. She heard Bridget try to go back to her play, her voice sing-songy as she voiced the different dolls. There was a frustrated huff, then a clunk as one of the dolls hit the patio where Allison stood. She crouched and picked it up idly, stroking the long blonde hair back into place. “I’ll bet big girls don’t play with dolls either,” she said seriously to the plastic face that smiled serenely back to her. “I wonder what they’d say if they saw Bidgee now…”
For Bridget, that name hearkened back to the days when her little sister was still, well, little. Before Allison got so smart. When she was first starting to talk, she would pronounce Bridget’s name that way. She would also look at her like she knew everything there was to know about the world. Allison knew that instead of reminding Bridget how things used to be, it only reminded her how things had changed since then. Reminded her, and drove her batty, as her mom would say. That’s what she called Bridget’s fits, when Allison would understand something before she did, or caught the words on a highway billboard and announced them to the car, or read the headlines off Daddy’s newspaper. All those things made Bridget batty, and Allison precocious, according to her mother. She did think that Bridget’s squinty eyes and furious squealing when she got angry might be something batlike, but then she’d only read about bats in books so she didn’t know for sure.
Allison waited a moment longer, and sure enough, when she turned around, Bridget was on her feet and looking across the back yard toward the shambling, sooty face of The Barn. She didn’t know then that from that day on, they’d think of it that way, always with a capital T and capital B. Then, it was still just the hulking monstrosity of childhood stories and fantasies.