Photos in the Hayloft

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
March/April 2011

Erin Riesen
Photos in the Hayloft in a barn with cows

Retrieving her iPod, Jenny scowled and stared back at her grandpa

Jenny yawned, getting ready. She had only slept three hours because of all the gaming she had done. She popped her iPod on and headed down the stairs. She had promised to help, so that her grandpa would keep quiet about how good it was for young people to do chores. He was so old-fashioned. She never did chores at home, so why here? She pulled on her angora sweater, slipped on her suede boots and headed for the barn.

Inside the barn, Jenny saw cobwebs loosely hung around the whitewashed cement ceiling that now looked more brown than white. It was dirty and musty; the ground was full of hay that had been flattened by dirt and manure. Old milk pumps were mounted on every stall. Some of the black-and-white jersey cows were staring at Jenny with their deep, hazel eyes, while others munched on the hay in the troughs in front of them. She only came here because her parents were busy traveling all around the world with their jobs, and they had bribed her with the latest laptop in the stores if she spent the summer with her grandpa. Jenny already knew which laptop she wanted. It was hot pink and had all the latest features. She couldn’t wait to get it. Bessie stared at Jenny and made a loud and low moo. Taken aback, Jenny stepped backwards into manure, sending her iPod whirling through the air and landing on its face.

“Great to see you,” Grandpa smiled. “Come over here and help hold Bessie, while I work with getting this calf out. You hold her tail out and don’t let her swish it.”

Retrieving her iPod, Jenny scowled and stared back at her grandpa. The smell of the barn and now her new suede boots drifted up to her nose. She turned and raced out the door, scraped her boots off on the grass, and ran into an old barn.

She pushed open the red, wooden door, climbed up the rickety old knotted-wood ladder that led to a hayloft and stationed herself behind some fresh hay. Pitchforks leaned against the walls and clumps of hay were scattered all over the floor. She swept away the loose hay with her feet to make room to sit among the hay bales. The hay stung her back but she was so relieved to be away from her grandpa and that old cow. She had heard her grandpa holler for her, but whatever he had yelled, she was too far away to hear what he had said. Why did her grandpa always make her do things that she didn’t want to do? Making her get up early in the morning just to feed those cows, or making her listen to his growing-up stories. Didn’t he know that she didn’t care? So what if he grew up during the wartime? It didn’t have anything to do with her, so it was just a waste of her time. She never really listened anyway.

She tried to turn on her iPod, only to find that it needed to be charged. She looked around, searching for something to do, and spotted an old, leather walnut-brown suitcase tucked behind some rusty rakes, hoes and shovels. She pulled the dust-covered suitcase out of the heap, dusted it off and carelessly undid the buckles. She ripped open the lid, only to find piles of black-and-white pictures, about 300 in all. She flipped through them, scattering some on the floor. There were many pictures of people she didn’t know and landscapes she had never seen. There were a few pictures of her grandpa growing up. Some pictures had her grandpa, about ten, playing the mandolin.

That mandolin was now in her parents’ glass cabinet. Nobody played it anymore. She wondered why they even kept it.

One particular picture caught her eye; it was the figure of a tall young man. He had dark thin hair and his eyes gleamed with adventure, as if ready for anything that was yet to come. He was wearing an old brown shirt and had ripped and tattered brown pants held up by suspenders. It looked like he was standing on a cobbled street, lined with many buildings.

Jenny yawned. She made herself a pillow of golden-brown straw and fell asleep.

*          *          *

“Boom!” Jenny bolted up, suddenly wide awake as some concrete debris dropped inches away from her head. Scanning, she saw no windows but only a door slightly ajar. The air was getting thicker and she dropped to her knees and started to crawl towards the door. With all her might, she pried it open. A woman came rushing out, shouting, “Come, child, we must get to shelter!” She firmly grabbed Jenny’s arm and dragged her out of the building and onto a cobbled street below. Jenny knew the woman wasn’t speaking English, but somehow she could understand her. It was the language her grandpa sometimes spoke; it was German.

“Let go of me! I don’t even know you!” Jenny snapped. She coughed. She could barely catch her breath. Suddenly, the building she was just in collapsed into rubble and dust.

“We’ll find your family later, but now you and I must get out of here before another bomb hits,” the woman insisted.

Jenny looked around; she could see burning and leaning buildings, roofs caved in, and walls gone. It looked like a river of fire all around her. Some people were screaming and running, while others lay motionless on the streets. Jenny even saw a woman with her hair and clothes on fire! Where was she?

The woman dragged Jenny down the road. They finally stopped and went inside a concrete shelter. Inside, people were huddled together. Kids were crying and parents quietly wept. It seemed like everyone was in shock. The air-raid sirens pounded in her ears. Jenny wanted out of there. She couldn’t think. Tears trickled down her dust-crusted face, leaving stream-like lines down her cheek. Closing her eyes, she hoped it was all a dream, that when she’d open her eyes again, she would be back in the hayloft, safe and sound. But no, wherever she was, she couldn’t get out of it, she was stuck. Jenny mustered a whisper, “Where are we?”

The woman shook her head in amazement and disbelief. “The British have destroyed Dresden. It wasn’t supposed to happen. We were to be safe here. Now where do we go?”

*          *          *

Dresden! Hadn’t her grandpa just told her a story about Dresden yesterday at supper? He had said he was there in World War II during the British bombing of Dresden. What had he said? When he had told her the story, she was only half-listening.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a young man huddled up in a crocheted afghan. He was holding a leather walnut-brown suitcase stuffed with clothes and pictures. Beside him was a mandolin. It couldn’t be. Jenny squeezed her way in and out of kids, infants and adults, until she was stationed right beside him. Suddenly, the air-raid sirens ended. Everything was still and quiet; people stopped, and it was a moment of silence.

Breaking the silence, Jenny started to say something but then stopped. This was her grandpa. It was too weird. Overcoming her fear, she blurted out the first thing that popped into her head, “Where did you get the mandolin?”

Her grandpa replied, “It was my mother’s. She got it from her grandma. She always told me stories about how they played music growing up and how God provided for their poor family. When I had to flee my home to go to Dresden, I grabbed it. I know the mandolin is old and doesn’t have much value, but I wanted to take it, to remember how faithful God had been to my grandmother and mother and how faithful He will be to me.”

Photos in the Hayloft mandolin

“Where are you going now?” asked Jenny, shivering from the cold.

Noticing Jenny was cold, her grandpa wrapped the crocheted afghan around her and replied, “I feel that God wants me to go to Canada. I have relatives there who will sponsor me to come. I will find a way.”

*          *          *

“Jenny, Jenny, wake up,” her grandpa whispered, “you’ve been sleeping here all morning.” Jenny jumped up, relieved to be back in the hayloft. She was back! Everything was back to the way it was. The pictures were still in a mess around her, they shouldn’t be on the floor. She started to pick them up, when she looked down at her suede boots. They were still ruined with manure but she just smiled. It didn’t matter anymore. She couldn’t stop smiling. She was alive and safe. Jenny squeezed her grandpa tightly.

“Come on, it’s time for lunch,” replied Grandpa, hugging her back. He started to head down the ladder.

“Wait, Grandpa, what about this old photo of you playing the mandolin?”

“Bring it inside and I’ll tell you all about it.” Grandpa held out his hand as an invitation, which Jenny accepted with a great big smile.

Before Jenny climbed down the ladder, she asked, “Do you think we can call up Mom and Dad and ask them to send the mandolin here? I would love to learn how to play it.”

Photos in the Hayloft Erin Riesen

Erin Riesen, 12
Mission, British Columbia,
Canada

Photos in the Hayloft Zoe Yeoh

Zoe Yeoh, 13
Salem, Connecticut

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