On those dark winter nights, long after the final wisps of smoke from our candle stub had drifted out of the room, the serpentine trails of the stories my sister told would weave themselves together like tapestries in the air above our heads. The imaginings of dragons and queens and enchanted gardens threaded through the dark attic, and our chilled and childlike bodies forgot the scratchiness of our blanket and transported themselves to glittering islands in the East, to a tree house in the depths of the Black Forest. A faint sliver of moon would shine in through the porthole window above our heads and make us believe that we were Peter Pan and Wendy, flying away from our house and into a starlit night.
If my tired eyes had not fluttered closed before the end of the story, I would beg my sister to tell just one more story. Her voice would come firm and fearful in the dark :”Quiet, Madeline, they’ll hear us!” But I would plead on in my songbird voice, and my sister would relent, and we would feel weightless as our feet again wandered miles away from Hamilton, free at last. And as our braided heads jostled for space on the single lumpy pillow at the head of our bed, she’d board us again onto a tall ship bound for the ends of the universe.
Most nights, the rustling of our feet beneath stiff bed sheets was enough to draw our mother’s attention up to our room, and when she came up we would squeeze our eyes shut and pretend to be asleep. There were nights, though, we were so enveloped by the stories that we didn’t notice her footsteps on the stair, or her hand at the door turning her handle. We were only aware of her presence when her voice came, cold and strict from within the murky fog of the hallway. On those nights, Frieda tried to suck the sound of her voice out of the air above us and back into her lungs. I willed the creatures under our bed to come out from underneath and scare her. I willed the fairies living in our ceiling to come and carry us away.