The Covid Diaries 6.

THE PAUSE

Mother Earth has settled,

No longer rocked by our busyness

She embraces the new quiet,

Inhaling forgotten fume free air.

______

Her animals are curious now

Goats venture into a somnolent town,

Urban foxes relax

And explore our iconic buildings & bridges

_____

Ghost buses worm their way on deserted roads,

A lonely driver, sporadic passengers.

No chat, no muffled music,

Silent as a church.

_____

Cyclists claim the streets,

Walkers the paths.

Birds sing their joy,

In the new peace.

_____

Week after week of languid Sundays,

Tumbling slowly one after another.

Days without punctuation,

Devoid of deadlines.

_____

Life in suspended animation.

No planning, no looking forward,

Living in the moment,

In abundant time.

_____

We are all here

Calmly, waiting.

Not thinking yet of how this finally ends,

Or of how we rebuild our work.

_____

Because that’s too hard,

It will unsettle us deeply.

We need to stay still,

To stay compliant.

_____

So we focus instead on staying safe,

On staying sane.

On being quiet,

And sometimes it feels like we are healing.

_____

Covid Diaries 6 – THE ATTIC KEEPER

This is a story I used to tell my girls when they were small. I told a short version to my granddaughter via Whatsapp Video yesterday and she seemed to like it. So I am sharing it here for all of you who are doing trojan work keeping your children entertained during this lockdown.

It might make a good bedtime story or perhaps you could print it out and let the older ones read it themselves.

The illustration is by my youngest, Mia. And this story is dedicated to my granddaughter, Emie in Perth, Australia.

THE ATTIC KEEPER

It’s March.  Springtime is nearly here.  The first yellow daffodils have appeared in the garden but it is still cold and tonight it is very windy. 

Rosie is tucked up in bed but she is not asleep.  The wind is whipping around the old house and is blowing strange noises down the chimney that is opposite her bed. On stormy nights like this, Rosie often thinks of the people who lived in her house long ago when there was no central heating.  They had to light fires in every room to keep warm.  She imagines how cosy it would be to have a fire lighting in her bedroom.  Maybe one hundred years ago, there was another girl like her, who slept in this bedroom and who fell asleep in the orange glow of a dying fire.  She would love that.  But the fireplaces in the bedrooms are not used anymore.  Her dad had stuffed rolled up newspaper up the chimney to stop the cold breezes coming down.   In a corner of the room, near the door, Baby Lucy is fast asleep in her cot.  Rosie can hear her gentle snores as she dreams her baby dreams.  Unlike Lucy, Rosie’s eyes are wide open and she is staring at the ceiling as she listens to the noises in the room.  The whistling noise the wind makes as it comes down the chimney and every so often the old pipes moan and wheeze softly.  This house is like an old man with tired bones, groaning as he tries to settle for the night.  Outside the window, in the garden the branches of the big old tree are being blown about, casting moving shadows on the wall.  Rosie loves stormy nights when she is tucked up in her bed. 

She knows she should be asleep.  It’s much too late to be still awake.  She closes her eyes still listening to the wind and the house groaning.  Then she hears another noise.  A noise she hasn’t heard before.  She holds her breath and opens her eyes.  Yes, there it is again.  It’s not very loud.  It’s a kind of plod sound.  Yes, plod, plod, plod.  It seems to be coming from right above her head, in the roof.  Plod, plod, plod.  It’s not a frightening noise. It is a soft thud and it seems to be going around in slow circles, on the ceiling above her bed.  Plod, plod, plod.  Round and round and round.  What could be making that sound? 

Rosie knows that sometimes there are bats in the old attic, but they couldn’t make a plod kind of noise.  Bats fly. They don’t walk about in circles. Could it be a mouse?  No, she thinks.  Mice scurry about.  They don’t plod.  No, it’s not a mouse.

Then the noise seems to move away from above her head and plods its way out towards the landing.

Rosie climbs quietly and carefully out of bed.  The floor is cold under her bare feet.  She tiptoes over to the door.  She is very careful not to wake little Lucy.  The bedroom door squeaks as she pushes it open and she steps out onto the landing.  It’s quiet on the landing.  She looks up at the ceiling and waits.  There it is again – plod, plod, plod – around in circles. 

The noise is definitely in the attic, a place that Rosie has never been to.  Her dad is the only one who goes up there.  Mum went up once but she met a bat.  Mum is not keen on bats so she doesn’t go into the attic anymore. 

But Rosie has watched her dad many times climb up the ladder, open the trapdoor in the ceiling and then disappear inside.  He goes up there to put stuff away or take stuff down.  Suitcases go up when they come back from holiday.  The Christmas and Halloween decorations live in big boxes up in the attic.  But Rosie has no idea what the attic looks like on the inside.  She knows however that it must be cold up there, because if she is on the landing when Dad opens the trapdoor, a rush of cold attic air falls out and makes her shiver. 

Rosie is 8 years old but when she was a little girl her Dad used to tell her that he was going up to the attic to check if the stars and the moon were all working OK.  But Rosie knows that the moon and stars don’t live in her attic.  If they did, she wouldn’t be able to see them when she looks out her bedroom window at night.

Plod, plod, plod.  The noise is slowing down now – long slow circles around the attic door.  Rosie sits down on the landing floor and listens and watches.  Then the noise stops.  It is very quiet.  She can just hear the faint sound of the TV from the living room downstairs. 

Rosie’s bare feet feel the swoosh of cold air.  She looks up to see that the trap door has opened just a tiny bit.  Inside the attic is pitch dark.  There is a light up there that Dad always puts on when he is fetching stuff but it’s off now.  Rosie squints her eyes to try to see who is there.  The trapdoor opens another little bit.  She holds her breath. Slowly two eyes appear in the blackness.  Two huge, shiny, twinkling green eyes and they are looking straight at her.    

“That’s not Dad,” thinks Rosie.  In fact, she doesn’t even think it’s a person.  But it doesn’t seem like an animal and is too big to be her cat. So, who is it?  Who is in her attic? 

The trap door opens a little bit more and the landing starts to get colder.  As well as the two green eyes, Rosie can now see a tiny nose and a pair of the biggest ears she has ever seen.  Rosie stands up and wonders if she should go back to bed and pull the covers over her head.  As she gets up, the eyes look scared and the door closes again. Whatever it is, thinks Rosie, its scared of me.  This makes her a bit sad.  So, she waits where she is, on the landing and very slowly the door begins to open again.  As the eyes come into view, Rosie thinks that she should say something.  “Hi” she whispers, “I’m Rosie”.  The eyes open wide and now Rosie can see that the funny face sits on top of a little body dressed in a huge long coat of every colour of the rainbow.  A little, high pitched voice says “Hello.” 

“Why are you in my attic” says Rosie. 

“I live here” said the little face with the big ears.

“My Dad never told me that there was a ……….,  a……….. someone in the attic.”

The big face looks a little sad and says nothing.

“So,” says Rosie, “who are you?”

“I’m the attic keeper”

Rosie thinks about that for a few minutes.  She is checking to see if she knows what an Attic Keeper is.  But she has never heard of such a thing.  Her dad, being the only person to go in the attic has never mentioned an Attic Keeper.  Maybe she is really asleep and this is a dream.

But she couldn’t be dreaming because by now she is very cold.

“Em, do you want to come down and have some milk or something in the kitchen.  It’s warmer there” Rosie asks the Attic Keeper.  She wants to know more but the landing is too cold a place to have a chat.  “Ok,” says the funny little person.

Suddenly and without making any sound the Attic Keeper with the big coat and ears is standing beside Rosie on the landing.  She is about the same size as Rosie.  Her coat is red and blue and green and yellow and lots of other colours.  It reaches down to the floor but does not cover her big feet which are wearing a pair of soft and cosy giant yellow slippers.  She gives Rosie a huge smile and together and very quietly they set off down the stairs to the kitchen.  Rosie does not want to disturb her mother, who is in the lounge, chatting on the phone and watching the TV.  Her dad is out.

Into the kitchen they go, making no noise at all.  The only sound is the faint hum of the fridge, well until Tabs, their fat tabby cat who was asleep on the old armchair opens an eye to see who has come into the kitchen.  He takes one look at the funny woman with big ears and an enormous coat, makes a hissing noise and takes off like a rocket out the cat flap in the back door.

“Cats don’t like me,” says the funny little woman sadly, “and I like them.”

She looks very sad. Again.

“Never mind” says Rosie kindly, “have some milk and a biscuit”.  She hands the Attic Keeper a glass of milk and one of her favourite chocolate cookies.

As they sit down at the table, Rosie asked her new friend when she had arrived in her attic.

“I have always lived there.”

“Always” says Rosie, who knows that her house is over 100 years old. 

“Yes always.  Even before your family came to this house, I was in the attic.” 

Rosie knew that that meant that the funny little woman was over 100 years old.  She doesn’t look that old. 

“So, what is an Attic Keeper?”

The little woman whose big feet don’t reach the floor sits back in her chair and tells her story.  This is what she says.

“Every house has an Attic Keeper.  We are special beings.  We do not all look the same.  But we are all small which is good as attics can be small too.  And most of us wear big colourful coats.  We need them to keep us warm up there in the attic where it is very cold in winter. 

We do very important work.  We are the keepers of the space between the top of your house and the roof.  This is special place because it is where most families keep lots of precious things – like Christmas decoration, old baby clothes, boxes of old photographs and suitcases for going on holidays.  If I were not keeping my eyes on these things – well anything could happen to them.  I keep safe all the baubles and angels you hang on your Christmas tree every year.  I mind the tinsel.  I make sure that your suitcases are all safe and ready for when you need them for going on holidays. 

I also mind a lot of your family’s memories.  Because, Rosie, in your attic, like most attics there are memories.  Your attic has lots of albums of old photographs and boxes of baby clothes from when you were little.  I mind all these memories.  I mind them well, because just like the Christmas decorations, I know that some day someone will come into the attic to take these memories down and have a look at them.  They are precious.  So, I keep them safe.  That’s my job. 

But the most important job I do is to make sure that there is enough space left in the attic for your dreams to get through.  Because Rosie, when you dream, your dreams float up from your head when you are asleep and they land up in the attic.  Lots of dreams.  Rosie, did you know that you dream every single night?  You can’t see your dreams and often you can’t even remember them.  But I do.  I hold all your dreams in the attic.  And your sisters and your mom and dads’ dreams’ – they all float around in the attic. 

The attic is dark and often very cold but it is the dreams that keep me warm.  At night when everyone is safely asleep, I go into my special corner of the attic and I gather lots of the dreams and I place them inside my coat like a cosy lining.  And then I go to sleep.  Because, you see, Rosie, Attic Keepers do not dream.”

She stops talking and looks at Rosie.  She has finished her milk and her eyes are beginning to close.  “Come on Rosie” she says, “I think it is time for bed”.

Holding her by the hand, very quietly the Attic Keeper and Rosie climb back up the stairs.  As Rosie snuggles down in her warm bed she whispers goodnight to the Attic Keeper.  Plodding softly out of the bedroom, the funny little woman with the big feet and ears, gently closes the bedroom door.  Then she slips back up to the attic to mind all that is precious there.

Downstairs in the kitchen, Tabs pokes his head through the cat flap to check that the coast is clear.  Then he makes his way, very slowly, back into the kitchen and onto his favourite chair where he curls up and goes back to sleep.  And dreams of a funny woman with big ears, a very busy coat and huge feet.

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