Alan Lindsay & Dennis Anfuso
They built it for children. There were certainly going to be children. There was no doubt about that. They had always planned on children. Lots of children. They were artists and writers, and their favorite books were the classics: Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Oz books, Middle Earth, Hans Christian Anderson, The Arabian Nights, Beatrix Potter, and the brothers Grimm; and their favorite artists were the great illustrators: John R. Neil and Sir John Tenniel and N.C. Wyeth, and Maxfield Parrish, and Tashua Tudor, and Aubrey Beardsley and W. W. Denslow.
So many wonderful pictures; so many wonderful books.
What they created—their books and their art—had always been for children. And they’d had a good deal of success, too. Enough, with what they’d inherited, to build this house and to furnish it lavishly and whimsically—to import, for example, from an old English manor an antique wardrobe that looked as much as any real wardrobe could like the one Pauline Baynes had drawn for C. S. Lewis; enough for authentic antique Persian rugs that Gary called flying carpets and, because most of them liked grown-up things as well, for Persian swords, and English tea sets, and Medieval armor, and cloth and sculpture of India and China. Enough, too, to raise and maintain their unique house with its expansive grounds on fifty acres of woods in rural New Hampshire.
They called it the Oz house. It was emerald green, of course. It had turrets capped by giant Witches’ hats on the East and West corners. On the roof was a widow’s walk with table, chairs, and a porch swing big enough for the four of them at once. Yellow bricks led to the separate entrances and all around the yard. And all over the lawn were statues and topiary depictions of their favorite scenes and characters from their favorite books. Doug and Gwen loved to landscape and garden. There was a gigantic chess set fitted with life-sized, lightweight renditions of Wonderland characters, and there was a little blue train that carried them to the various parts of their estate. It had to puff hard on the hills when all four tried to ride it at once.
Inside the house, the East wing, Doug and Beth’s wing, was filled with books he’d collected and quilts she’d bought or made and a generous selection of gifts of art they’d received over the years from Gary and Gwen. The West wing, Gwen and Gary’s, was filled with art, collected and created—Gwen and Gary were both visual artists—but it had a generous supply of quilts Beth had designed and created. Doug was primarily a writer.
Every room in the house had a theme: there was a room devoted to the books and art of China and one devoted to India. There was a room devoted to old England, one devoted to the native art and stories of the Americas, and one devoted to Africa and one to Persia. The bedrooms where the children would live were devoted to stories. There were many rooms, all ornate and wonderful. And they were always changing.
It was a magical house. Everyone who saw it said so. Gary never described it any other way.
And of all the wonderful furnishings, the wardrobe from England—from the heart of the country, ten miles from the nearest railway station—although not the most expensive, was the most cherished. It had pride of place in the Oz house—which in this case, oddly, meant the middle of a rarely used hallway at the front of the house, a mere passage from one wing to the other, lined with books the four of them no longer read, maintaining access via the long hallway to the bedrooms in the tops of the turrets. But this was the best place for the wardrobe and for the room whose door the wardrobe was.
A mystifying house, lined with secrets: it stood as a monument to creativity, and to fantasy and imagination and friendship and family. Gary and Doug were brothers. And it was meant for children.
Yes, children. They had always planned on children. The kitchen and dining room were common. It seemed more efficient to have them so—for the cooking and feeding of all those people. The children’s rooms on each side had passageways between them. The swings and slides and rocking horses were in place—indoors and out—the sandboxes were built. The indoor-outdoor pool was finished. The cedar-hedge labyrinth had been planted. Ten thousand things, as Gwen called them, where in place or under way.
They planned on children.
But life had other plans.
Years passed, and no children ever lighted the halls. On any nights when the four of them ate together (which happened more rarely every year), the long table at which they sat seemed longer and longer, and the spacious living room, ever more cluttered with wonderful things, grew ever more spacious.
And in the room for which the wardrobe was the only door dust settled and cobwebs grew.
No one stepped through the wardrobe any more, into the Narnia room.
In the old days, it had been their favorite room. The four of them had designed it, and Gary and Gwen and Beth had filled it with art and sculpture, with quilts and magical things from every fantastic world they loved. A great stuffed lion was there, and a smaller one with a red ribbon, and a white rabbit with a pocket watch, and a man of tin and another of clockwork, and dwarfs and dragons and a unicorn queen and her son, and a patchwork girl and a leprechaun with an expression on his face half a frown and half a smirk, and faeries of all sizes. There was exactly one genie. A stuffed goose large enough to sit on wearing a tall hat and a friendly smile. And there was a caterpillar on a mushroom. There was a nightingale on the shoulder of Chinese emperor in splendid robes. The couches in the center of the room were tied together with rope, and on the wall was the head of a gump that would speak, if his batteries were charged, when you entered the room. Hanging from the ceiling over the couch was a pair of great big monkeys with wings. The walls where lined with books. A very small Humpty Dumpty sat on the shelf between Mother Goose and Lewis Carroll. And just in the center of the room was a huge guest book and a fountain pen. It was opened to the first page.
On that page, dusty and brown, there were no names. The children were supposed to write their names when they found the room. But there had been no children. On the page were only instructions and a date. And that date was nearly ten years ago.