This story is by Paige Trammel and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Petra drilled her fingertips over the smooth wood of her front door. Frustrated, she searched, panel by panel, until finally, her hand curled around something cold and metal. The doorknob: her greatest enemy. Her heart pounded. She squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again. As usual, she couldn’t help hoping that opening her eyes would force her mind to see what she could not. A tiny cabin stumbled back into her memory like an old, familiar friend.
Earlier in her life, the cabin existed only to give her a safe place in her imagination, so that when the world around her was filled with confusing smells and sounds, she could temporarily retreat to a place where nothing confused her. However, as the world became more cruel, the cabin of her fantasies became more and more inviting, until it was hardly a fantasy at all.
When she was loneliest, she planted flowers there, shrouding the cabin in pink roses and Persian Ivy and Hollyhocks and Lavender.
When she missed her mother, she pinned up thick, white curtains in every window of the cottage until it was closed off and belonged to her alone.
When the children in the schoolyard sang of sunlight, she withdrew to the cottage and burst the curtains open. She unlatched every glass and threw every door open, begging to see the sunlight, just once, like they saw it. But even in her cottage, though she felt the sunlight warm on her cheeks and sizzling on the pavement and drenching her flowers, it refused to be seen.
One day, sitting alone, she began imagining the locks. The first lock was simple. Brass; and it did quite nicely, for a while. She was perfectly content in the schoolyard, knowing she had something better than any other child, tucked and locked far away.
But when the teasing started, she needed more locks. One lock on her imaginary door for every jabbing word. Silver ones and gold ones. When the mean boys at school pushed her down and stole her lunch, she built a deadbolt. And then, one day, the teacher couldn’t take it anymore. Frustrated by Petra’s consistent and stubborn desire to draw out her math equations on the chalkboard, she allowed the careless words to escape her mouth.
“How can you insist on teaching the other children about the angles of a triangle, when you have never so much as seen one for yourself?”
Petra staggered back to her desk and closed her eyes, a single tear squeezing from them. This time, she outlined a wooden bar to sit across the door. It promised to keep away every mean teacher for the rest of her life. When the teacher tried to apologize, Petra could not hear. She only saw her door barred and felt happy enough.
Today, many years later, she was grown, but unhappy. She stood, frozen, before her real life door in her real life house. The basket in her hands held packets of seeds, for pink roses, Hollyhocks, Persian Ivy, and Lavender, a book in braille about clay and bricks, and every ounce of strength she’d ever owned. Her grip tightened over the door handle, and she turned it.
She marched down the streets of her city, taking every turn and rounding every corner according to the path carved out by repetition. In her mind, however, she walked through the doorway of her cottage bedroom into her brightly lit kitchen. There, a kettle whistled, and sunlight was not such a sight as it was a feeling; of warmth and safety. Her footsteps bumped into something very solid and tangible.
She had arrived.
Her grandmother’s cottage; one leftover possession and Petra’s key to unlocking the isolated world inside her head. She sat upon the footstep of the door and poured over her library book once more, until she felt ready.
Then, every day, for the next two years, in the fields that once belonged to her grandmother, she scratched at dirt and added small materials she’d stolen long ago from her chemistry lab. Kaolin, shale, magnesium, and barium. Day by day, her collection of bricks grew. And finally, in the middle of an august afternoon, she finished.
She’d only just reached her pile of bricks when she heard a rustle in the wheatgrass and turned on her heels.
“A lonely soldier just come back from the war. I live across the field.”
“There is no house across this field,”
“I have no house.”
“Where do you live, then?”
“Under the stars.”
“What is your name?”
“I am Petra,”
“What are you doing with that large pile of bricks, Petra?”
“I made them. I am building a wall.”
“And who are you shutting out with your wall, Petra?”
“I am weary of people who can see,”
“Ah,” he said, “You are blind?”
“Then I will help you.”
And for weeks, Petra did not say a word. She only listened for the clicking of the bricks as he worked beside her, and the slapping of the clay to set them in, and for any sign of evil in him. She listened for his eyes to watch her in the wrong places. She listened for his thoughts to wander. She listened for misplaced intentions.
The day the foundation for her wall was finished, she decided to speak. Her voice escaped feebly at first, but when she gathered her bravery, it came out strong; strong like she’d always wanted to be.
“You were a soldier?”
“Tell me a story, then.”
“The horrors are too great for your ears.”
She thought of the mean boys in the schoolyard. She thought of teachers and triangles. She thought of locks and wooden bars.
“I know about horrors,”
And so, as they worked, he told her stories. Of death, and loyalty. Of bravery, and loss. She grew accustomed to the gentle hum of his voice and likened it to sitting beside a campfire. Sleeping at night, to Petra, was simply sleep. But listening to Edward’s stories… was rest. Listening to Edward’s laugh… the color orange. Edward saying her name, Petra, the color red. He told her about triangles and the stars. He told her everything she asked. And when he finally ran out of things to say, and there was still work to be done, Petra spoke of her cabin. Of the thick white curtains, the open doors, the tea kettle, and the locks. The brass ones, the gold ones, the silver ones. Edward listened patiently; his patience was the color yellow.
Yet still, she did not know sunlight.
Then, one day, the wall was finished. She returned to her pile only to find one block left. She lifted it, heaving, and placed it in the corner. Her breath quickened.
She began at the corner, with her fingertips, and traced them, along every clay path running between every brick. She searched for holes, cracks, and betrayals, finding none. The wall was finished. Her isolation was complete.
“You did it,” she heard the smile in his voice.
“We did it,”
“What now? Will the princess hide herself in her tower?”
For all her years, since the beginning of her life, Petra had hated her differences. Every night, she placed her hands on her eyes and rubbed them until they burned, hoping to erase them and get new ones in the morning. Every new person meant another brick in her mind. Every daydream spoke of a wall, to tuck her away, where loneliness meant comfort and solace from a cruel world. The realization washed over her like a wave.
Standing before her was proof that the world wasn’t all bad. She heard her grandmother’s voice, then, and smiled.
Shutting out the bad means shutting out the good too.
Her smile broke like a floodgate. The good stood before her.
“What now, indeed?”
“Shall the blind girl hideaway, never to be seen again?”
The blind girl closed her eyes. The cabin came before her.
Hello, old friend.
Only then she realized that she’d stopped imagining the cabin and all it’s locks a long time ago. Instead, she’d begun to imagine the worlds Edward spoke of. The dresses, the food, the wine. The eiffel tower, the waterfalls, the castles, the forests.
It began to crumble. Thick white curtains flew away in the breeze. Glass window panes banged open so forcefully they shattered. The tea kettle stopped whistling. Silence.
“Petra,” he said, as though her name was the only name in the world, “Even blind girls can be seen.”
The brass lock flew open.
“And I see you.”
The gold one, then the silver one.
“I will be your eyes,”
The copper one, the metal one.
“If you will let me.”
His hand now grasped hers like a lifeline.
“Leave this wall. Come with me. Say you will.”
“I will,” she said.
And Edward’s kiss was sunlight.
Susan Perkins says
I enjoyed this. My story was also about coping without one of the five senses, so maybe this is why yours resonated with me. I like the idea of the locks, and the way Petra lived a hidden life.
Susan J Liddle says
What a lovely story! Thanks for sharing it. I enjoyed the symbolism and especially when the imaginary cottage blew away.