Chapter One: At Home
Est. Reading Time: 9 minutes
“No, No! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful long time.”
Behind a row of pine trees, after a wide field of wildflowers swaying in tall grasses, there was an angular little house. It sat alone, with nothing but more field to the east, and trees that provided lovely shade in the afternoons to the west. The two story house was peppered with little windows hardly big enough to reveal the curiosities inside. Though, with visitors being rare, and squirrels having little in the way of opinions on home decor, it was a moot point.
Here lived Almondine.
On one particular morning in the late spring Almondine stood outside, bare toes in the dewy grass, encouraging her friend Ernestine to fulfill her destiny. Ernestine was nervous and wary of leaving the home she had come to love so much.
"You are a queen with an important job to do," Almondine said to the sunshine yellow bee sitting in the palm of her hand. "I'd happily enjoy your company forever, but you're meant for more, my friend."
The previous fall, when the temperatures had begun to sink, Almondine found the bee sitting alone, drowsy from the cold, on one of the asters just outside the back door. Almondine brought the sleepy bee inside and placed her on the kitchen counter. She knew that somewhere in one of the hidden corners within her home there was a small dollhouse with matchbox-sized beds and cotton ball pillows that would provide the bee a nice winter home. Almondine offered it as a retreat for her new friend, whom she called Ernestine. Ernestine accepted and settled into a bed on the top floor of the miniature building. There she hummed, a little confused, but appreciative of the warmth as she sank into a nap.
On the morning of her spring departure, as she flew off into the early morning light, Ernestine soon forgot the winter spent buzzing through the odd little house. Her thoughts were occupied with finding a new home out amongst the trees and flowers where she belonged. Almondine waved as Ernestine flew out of sight, not minding that she could so soon be forgotten, and smiling, stepped back inside her house.
- - -
Almondine lived amongst books. There were bookshelves full of books and in between the bookcases, towers of books leaned against the walls in uneven stacks. Piles of books served as end tables, books sat up amongst the rafters, and small piles of books ran along the step of each stair. Where there might have been fine china on display in a dining room hutch there was instead yet more books. If one were to open a closet, a suitcase, or a dresser drawer you might find brooms, shoes, and winter sweaters, but it was also likely a book or two would be keeping them company. She did not know where the books came from. In her most honest moments Almondine also admitted that she did not know where she came from. She and the books and the cups and the rooms had all been together in the house for as long as she could remember.
There was a great variety to the books and Almondine enjoyed stories about ladies in long gowns lamenting their fates financial and romantic. She encountered tall cities, and squat towns. She learned of wizards and lawyers alike. She was introduced to forests and lakes and all that dwelled within them. All things were at once equally possible and entirely unreal. She had no more been to Baltimore than she had to Middle Earth. She had never met a doctor or a king. She had touched neither a poodle nor a Cerberus. This was Almondine's way of experiencing the world.
Once, while Almondine was reading a book, her feet tucked beneath her on the old tufted pink couch, she came upon a description of a young girl's complicated feelings about dealing with her parents. Almondine had sat up straight and clutched the book to her chest. Then carefully marked her place in the book with a stray sock and set the book down on the couch. She stood, wide-eyed and began to creep through the house. She slowly peeked her face around corners, and through doorways, one eye at a time visible around the frame. She checked every room. There were no parents apparent in her home. If Almondine had a mother or father they were not in residence. It would seem, in fact, she was not the type of person who had them. Almondine could have found it curious that a young woman such as herself should be without parents, but as she had been quite content before even the idea of them, she did not now feel she was lacking. Some of her book characters might have parents, some of them might have parrots- Almondine had neither. Though it might be nice to have a parrot, especially one of the talking variety.
There was really only one person with whom Almondine enjoyed semi-regular conversations. At some point an arrangement had been made with a store some miles away to have groceries and sundries delivered to her home every other Monday. Almondine grew beautiful crops year round thanks to her rows of raised garden beds and her little green house, but how much finer they tasted when paired with the olive oil and mozzarella delivered to her house.
Nanette made the deliveries and after handing off the goods she would happily sit down to the cup of tea Almondine always offered. The two would sit at the kitchen table and chat, though it was Nanette who did most of the talking. She spoke of her mother's penchant for knitting and making jam, and her father's worries about squirrels that might occupy the attic at any given moment. She talked about her seven siblings and how growing up it had felt like a zoo.
Almondine often pondered the idea of siblings. What would it be like to look at another person's face and see my own hazel eyes? Siblings seemed to be something one could not acquire independently the way one could acquire a friend or a husband. Siblings either came as a part of the package as soon as you were born, or they were tacked on to your life in a factual, inescapable way.
Almondine sometimes contemplated these hypothetical relationships in the world as she drifted off to sleep, watching fireflies dance in the shadows of her room. So many things seemed to belong only to other people. At least until the letter arrived.
A postman arrived at her front yard looking a little confused. He pushed his blue hat back from his forehead and scratched at the hair beneath. He looked down at the young woman with long wavy brown hair standing in a patch of wildflowers and asked, "Are you Almondine?"
Almondine paused in her conversation with a ladybug, and turned to smile at the man.
"Yes, I'm Almondine. It’s very nice to meet you."
She stuck out her hand and the postman's mouth began to turn up at the corners as he reached out his own hand to shake hers.
"Yeah, nice to meet you too."
He held out a cream envelope to her.
"I didn't know anybody lived out here. And I'm not sure how this letter made its way to our office. It's an unusual formatting."
Almondine took the letter. The front read, "Almondine, The White House in the Flower Field, Butterton(ish), New York." She supposed this was an accurate description of where she lived, as close as anything, really.
"I guess if I get anymore mail for you I know where to bring it," the postman said and began walking back down the long dirt path toward the world past the pine trees, and his little white truck.
"Thank you!" Almondine called after him, carrying her first letter inside.
The envelope was thick but smooth under her fingertips. Almondine brought it to her nose and smelled a hint of oranges and saw in her mind an electric pink sunset over rippling blue waters. She sat down at the kitchen table and opened her letter.
I hope this letter finds you well, and finds you in general.
I know this will come as a great surprise, but I am contacting you because I have discovered you are my sister. You could be a person who never wanted a sister. Or you could be glad, but surprised and in need of time to get used to the idea. Either way, I hope at some point in the future you will make your way to see me.
The letter ended with a large swooping signature that read “Clementine.” Below the signature there was an address for city called San Francisco in the state of California. Her sister was on the opposite coast.
Almondine marveled at how simply her brain said, "her sister." It was a seemingly accurate phrase, but beyond the words, the concept was surprising.
She had a sister named Clementine.
Her mind whirled and began to try to imagine what it would be like to meet a sister, what they would talk about, what Clementine would see when she looked at Almondine. Having a sister suddenly felt like a kind of mirror in which Almondine would see a new reflection.
And what would it mean to leave her house, her books, her gardens behind and to go....elsewhere?
Almondine's head spun with thoughts, so she walked out into the backyard and as the last of twilight turned into true night, and lay flat on her back in a trampled spot of sweet grass to look up at the stars. Soon fireflies congregated around her and she waved a hand to encourage them into lines that connected the stars, making connect-the-dot beasts and cakes in the sky while she thought about going to find her sister. As the grasses swayed and her hands fluttered at the fireflies above her, she decided she would go to her sister on the opposite coast. She would ask Nanette to stop coming for a time. She would ask her gardens to sleep for a while. She would tell her books she would miss them and ask them to behave, save for the two or three favorites she would bring with her, as traveling without a book seemed like a very bad idea. Almondine knew in theory that modes of transportation existed that would bring her to her sister within day or even a few hours, and she suspected that if she wished it she could even make herself appear at her sister's doorstep, but who would that person be who knocked on the door?
"I could go to my sister immediately, but imagine all the adventures I'd miss in between," Almondine said to the air.
She would pack a small bag and after noon when the sun began to cast shadows pointing to the east, she would walk towards the sun and her sister in the west.