I remember the first time we played Periwinkle. I was ten and my sister Lou was eleven. We were just under a year apart, eleven months exactly. It was her birthday and her party had just ended, leaving just the two of us and a pile of presents. I picked one up, a funny little stuffed pig, and leaned it over by Lou. “It’s Pig’s birthday, too!” I giggled. Lou rolled her eyes in an attempt to look mature but ended up laughing with me. After living together for our entire lives, we were both pretty good at figuring out what the other one was thinking. I glanced at the table set up for the party then at the pig, then at Lou. “Sounds fun, right?” I asked her. She knew what I meant, and we raced through the house, picking up every stuffed animal we could carry and dumping them on the table. “Now the pig can have a party right Lou?” I said.
She surveyed the heap. “Sure,” she told me with all the authority of being one year older, “but not here. They need a house of their own. Like, oh, somewhere in the woods.”
So we picked up the animals once again, and started walking through the woods near our house in search of a suitable spot for a party. Finally, Lou paused under a big tree. “This looks like a good spot.” It didn’t seem any different from any of the other spots under any of the other trees that we had passed, but I didn’t want to argue with Lou on her birthday. We laughed as we arranged the animals around an imaginary table, moving their little arms to eat invisible cake. Suddenly, Lou looked up. “What time is it, Jen?” she asked me.
I looked at my watch. “Six-forty-five.”We both knew what that meant. We were forty-five minutes late for supper, and Mom was not going to be happy with us. Lou took off through the trees, and I followed.
* * *
A we were lying in our bunk beds that night, almost asleep, I thought of something. “Lou!”
“I’m tired, Jen. Go back to sleep.””No, listen! We left all the animals out there! I don’t want to leave them out all night; what if it rains?”
“Well, what do you want to do about it—go back and get them?” Lou said sarcastically.
“Now?” I asked incredulously “Lou, it’s the middle of the night.”
She swung her legs over the side of the top bunk and jumped off. “I was kidding, but I guess we could. It’s now or never, if it rains.”
That was true. “OK, wait for me.”
We tiptoed barefoot into the kitchen. Lou rummaged around in the drawers, looking for a strong flashlight, then we slid on our shoes and slipped out the door.
The forest path looked eerie in the dark. I had second thoughts about our plan, but once Lou made up her mind to do something, there was no stopping her, so we continued until we reached the tree. Looking at the animals reminded me of how much fun we were having. We had never really finished Pig’s party so I turned to Lou. “Do you think we could maybe play a little, while we’re out here?”
She stared at me like I was crazy. “What if Mom and Dad find out?”
“We’d be in enough trouble already” I pointed out.
She shrugged, always willing for an adventure. “Sounds fine to me!”
We sat down in the dark. It wasn’t really so scary after all, I noticed. Once we propped up the flashlight in between us, it lit up the surrounding woods well enough so we could be sure that nothing was hiding out there, and the house was pretty close by. We played for almost an hour when Lou decided that we had better start back, but both of us were sad to leave. That was probably what made Lou say, “Jen? Let’s try to come out here again tomorrow night.”
And it was what made me say, “Yes.”
“This is almost like a little world,” Lou said thoughtfully. “Maybe we’d better name it.”
I thought for a while. “I don’t know. Do you have any ideas?”
We eventually decided on Periwinkle, because as Lou said, “Periwinkle is such a pretty color, but I don’t see it very often. When I see it, I think of thousands of possibilities.”
* * *
Two years later, we were still playing Periwinkle. Sometimes during the day, I was embarrassed to think of what some of the kids at school would say about such a “baby” game. But the nighttime always made it seem special, even magical, and I couldn’t even think of ending the game. We never really talked about it, but I think Lou felt the same way.
We had improved the game since that first night on Lou’s birthday. Lou and I made popsicle-stick furniture for the stuffed animals, and walls to separate different rooms. Sometimes the Periwinkle characters would go to school, sometimes they would play, and sometimes they would even go on vacation and take a trip somewhere. We made different cardboard buildings for everywhere they went.
One hot August night, Lou and I appeared at our tree to find nothing. Everything was gone. We couldn’t think of anything to do but stare in shock. Who or what could have done this? Dog tracks covered the muddy ground. I turned to show Lou and see what she was thinking, but she was not there. She was already running back toward the house, fists clenched. I sighed, blinking away a tear as I looked at the mess, then I followed her.
Back in our bedroom, Lou was still angry. I was upset too, but I wanted to try to calm her down. “Listen. It’s not the end of the world,” I told her. “What did we have when we started playing Periwinkle on your birthday? Nothing, remember? We added all the stuff later. We can rebuild it. Don’t let some stray dog or whatever it was that ran through our game wreck Periwinkle for you.”
Lou shook her head fiercely. “It won’t be the same.” I saw there was nothing I could do to change Lou’s opinion, so I got back in my bed and tried to fall asleep.
* * *
The next day, I tried to talk to Lou about Periwinkle again. She either turned away or changed the subject whenever I mentioned it. Frustrated, I grabbed a bag of popsicle sticks and glue and stashed it under my bed. Lou saw but didn’t say a word.
That night, I made the trek to our tree alone. As I sat, patiently working on a new chair, I was sure that I felt someone watching me. I turned around and found myself face to face with Lou. “I kind of missed Periwinkle,” she told me. “Can I help?”
I shoved the bag of sticks her way. “Take what you need.”
In three weeks, we rebuilt the entire world of Periwinkle. It was a lot faster than the original furniture, but we knew exactly what we were doing this time, so the job went faster. We stood and surveyed our finished work. I knew Lou would have high standards, so I braced myself for criticism and insults. Instead, I was surprised to find Lou flinging her arms around me. “It’s perfect! I’m so glad you didn’t let me quit.”
I felt the same way.
* * *
TWENTY YEARS LATER
I looked at Lou and laughed nervously. “This is the place, right?”
She nodded. “Of course!”
Lou and I were staying with our daughters at our old house for the last week of the summer, to visit our parents. We thought that because our girls were the same ages we had been the first time we played, it would be fun to introduce them to Periwinkle. They loved it. My parents had kept all our old stuffed animals, so we brought out the original characters for our girls to use. Lindsey, my daughter, laughed excitedly. “Look!” she said to Jessica, Lou’s daughter. “There’s little furniture and everything!” They sat down, instantly absorbed in the game.
While Lou and I watched the girls play, I felt strangely envious. They were having so much fun. I missed our midnight games of Periwinkle. When I looked over at Lou, she had a strange look on her face. I instantly guessed what she was thinking. “Should we?” I asked her.
All the rest of that day, we kept our secret hidden. But that night, at midnight, Lou and I tiptoed out the old door, carrying a flashlight and a pile of animals. It was hard not to giggle. Imagine two grown women, sneaking around with stuffed animals like little children! We hadn’t been on the old path for a long time, but neither of us had forgotten the way.
When we got to the old tree, we spread out the furniture and animals, just like we used to do. We hadn’t told our daughters the time of night when we used to have our adventures. We didn’t want to inspire them to try to sneak out, and end up lost. It’s funny how being a parent can make you more careful about those types of things.
We felt a bit self-conscious at first, but the feeling quickly wore off. Lou and I sat there for hours, laughing and remembering funny times from when we were younger. When the sun started to spread light in the forest, we knew that we should head back to the house before someone noticed that we were gone.
* * *
At the end of the week, we had to go back home. Lou and I returned to work, and the kids had to go back to school. A strict schedule was almost a shock after our week of leisure, but I got used to it quickly. I had a lot of work to do, and it took up most of my time. But even after months of being back at my job, I knew that the memory of our final game of Periwinkle would stay with me for a long, long time.