Reb’s Secrets

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
March/April 2002

By Zoe Paschkis, Illustrated by the author

“Mother, don’t,” I shrieked.

Mother looked at me and opened her mouth threateningly. “Rebecca, you’ll wake everybody up!”

“I like this side,” I said quickly, stroking the dark yellow cotton.

“Yes, but you know that your grandmother made that quilt and when she arrives, she’ll want to see the patchwork side up. Say you had quilted a beautiful patchwork and then backed it with a solid color. Would you be more proud of the patchwork you had labored over or the backing? Common sense, Reb-el!”

I was comforted slightly that she hadn’t discarded her loving nickname for me in her scold.

“Mother,” I ventured.

“Yes, Rebecca.”

“I . . . uh . . . I was writing late last night and uh . . .” And then the whole story spilled out. “I’ve been trying to write something and the pen exploded . . . all over that side of the quilt . . . I’m so sorry . . . I tried to wash it . . . I did . . . I feel so bad . . . I knew I was using a leaky pen . . . I should have stopped using it before . . . I’m so sorry . . . I just . . .”

But mother was already searching the underside of Grandma’s quilt for the stain.

“It’s here.” I snatched the lower corner and flipped it up furiously, and covering several patches was a big black splotch. I burst into tears and flung myself onto the bed.

“Oh my Lord,” gasped Mother.

I writhed on the bed and kicked off my shoe and wrestled off my coat and buried my face inside of it. I dared remove it for a split second and saw my mother standing with her hand over her mouth, unsure of what to do. There was a long silence.

Reb's Secrets sleeping in bed

. . . and covering several patches was a big black splotch

“Honey . . . Reb . . . what have you written so far?”

I stared at her in astonishment, hesitated, and then I scrambled to my feet and hurried to the closet. I swept aside two pairs of shoes and a fallen blouse and pulled up the floorboard. Reaching inside, I pulled out a fabric-covered book. I heard the wooden floor creak and felt my mother standing behind me. Using my nightgown, which was hanging on a hook, I pulled myself to my feet, and without looking at my mother, I moved silently to my bed, sat down and began to read aloud.

“Ahead, a light illuminated a circle of moist and thick air. The green leaves glowed on one side, apple skins, and quivered in the cool and slow moving wind. I walked in the heavy darkness toward the light. The fog was noiseless, enchanting. With the beat of concentration: shck, shck, shck on the wet pavement. I am going to the halo of pale golden light, where I should enter the realm of enchantment, breathe the thick, magical air and hear the muted undertones of the night weightlessly resound in my head. Shck shck shck. I am closer, and in the shadow of a great tree, approaching the thick haze of enchantment and wonder. Shck. Sh. I no longer hear the sounds of my feet walking. I only hear the thundering silence echo in this vast supernatural world. I hold my breath, lest I blow it all away. It will soon die away as these morning hours creep closer so I must savor this moist air and this enchanted place, this feeling of walking into a cloud, unsure of where to go, but with no desire to go, a desire to sit and wait and not think about anything. This realm is an escape from life, a stopper, a place to think about nothing at all with everything to think about. The only emotion is contentment and the only thought is to stay forever. If only every night I could enter this world, if only every night were foggy and silent, blessed. If only I could lie down on the wet pavement and think about nothing forever.”

Mother sat down slowly. “Reb, that’s beautiful,” she breathed.

“That’s all I’ve got for now . . . it took me two weeks just to write this.”

“How long have you been working secretly on that, you little snipe?” she said, grinning.

I flushed deeply. “Several weeks now. I guess I won’t be needing that floorboard anymore, now that you know about it and all.”

I picked my coat up off the bed and hung it on a hook by the door. I retrieved the shoe that I had kicked off, pulled off my other one, and set them both in the closet.

“May I comb your hair?” asked Mother.

“Sure,” I obliged, as I unpinned it and let it fall down across my back. I love people playing with my hair. She patted a spot in front of her on the bed and I brought over my brush and sat down. I felt her tenderly lift a lock of hair and start to brush it, over and over, each time feeling a pleasant pull on my scalp.

“You see,” she began, “I didn’t know you were such a wonderful writer, Reb! Look at me!” I turned and she took my chin into her strong hand and looked into my eyes. “You can write. You can write!” Her eyes filled with tears. “Why did you hide it?”

I shrugged, embarrassed that I had hidden something from my mother for all this time. “Well, I guess I was just shy, you know.”

Mother nodded. “I was just like you at this age. I drew all the time in private. Unlike you, I never got found out. But still, to this day, I regret having kept it all a secret. I remember in seventh grade, we had an assignment where we were supposed to write and illustrate our own fables. I worked hours on my illustrations, making them detailed and beautiful. After class on the day we turned them in, Mr. Keegan pulled me aside and asked me if I would like to be the school’s “Artist of the Month.” It all sounded wonderful until he added that I would be in the paper. I turned him down immediately. And after that,” she sighed, “I stopped drawing.”

“But why, if you were so good at it?”

She shrugged and wiped her eyes. “I don’t know. Just don’t let that happen to you, OK, Reb? You get your stuff out into the world! Don’t be afraid!”

I nodded and mother stroked my cheek. She set down the brush and wrapped her arms around me. For several minutes, she hugged me and patted my head. When she let go, she looked at her watch.

“Speaking of shy, it’s just a few minutes shy of eleven!” she cried. “Come on, shoo, shoo! Get under the covers.”

She picked up my little book and set it gingerly on my bedside table as I climbed under the covers. She bent over me, kissed my forehead, and tucked the covers closer around my chin. Before she left the room, she turned down the corner of the quilt with the stain on it and smoothed it out.

“Good night, Reb.”

Reb's Secrets Zoe Paschkis

Zoe Paschkis, 14
Newton, Massachusetts
Zoe wrote her story when
she was 13 and illustrated it shortly after she turned 14

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