Plump clouds let loose a drizzle of rain unto the red-brick roofs of the squat houses in the village. There were only a few hurried figures to be seen, darting across the cobblestone streets, trying not to get soaked. They hugged their coats to their bodies, and pressed forward against the wind.
A mother and her small son were out in this weather. She, with a low ponytail of red hair that whipped from cheek to cheek in the wind, clutched her son's arm tightly as they passed into the neighborhood with the larger houses than their own. They finally came to the big white colonial at the end of the street, the one with the freshly painted crimson door with a brass knocker. The mother privately likened the color of the door to blood, while the son marveled at how shiny it was, like a firetruck.
The door opened, and a maid let in the boy, and the mother made her weekly promise to be back in a few hours, and slipped off down the street.
The boy strolled into the tiny sitting room off the kitchen as the maid called, "Miss, Ernest is here!" and disappeared into a different room of the house, perhaps to clean.
Ernest settled into the glossy rocking chair he always went to. Miss A was in her favorite chair in the corner, an overstuffed armchair with bright blue silk busting at the seams, and as always, scrawling away in a small notebook. Her watery blue eyes were set far apart, and she had a cloud of white hair that surrounded her head. Wrinkles under her eyes and in the corners of her mouth made her face look strange, as if the skin was beginning to loosen. Ernest didn't really mind, though. She was nice and occasionally gave him cookies.
"Hello, Ernest," Miss A said slowly. She did everything slowly. Except for writing. When it came to writing, her hands were nimble and swift.
"Hi Miss A," Ernest greeted. "What are you writing today?"
"Oh, not much," the old woman chuckled.
"Can I read it at the end?" Ernest pleaded. Miss A peered at him.
"Ernest, do you have many books at home?"
Ernest shook his head and widened his eyes to the size of quarters and jutted his lower lip out. Miss A chuckled.
"Would you like a new book? Perhaps a small collection of books?"
Ernest clung tighter to the armrest of his seat and wiggled his head repeatedly, "Yes!" He rarely received gifts, and new books were so very beautiful, with lustrous, gleaming covers.
Miss A laughed again, and began scribbling furiously at her notepad. Ernest watched intently, calming his twitching body down so the noise in the room ebbed down to the solitary sound of a pencil scratching at paper. And there they sat for a minute, until the writing stopped abruptly and Miss A glanced up and pointed her pencil towards the door.
"If you will go right through there, Ernest, and into the piano room. There should be a cardboard box. Bring it in here."
Ernest jumped off of his chair, wondering what would be in the box. As he crossed into the piano room, he resisted the overwhelming urge to tear the top of the box open. Instead, he hauled it up into his tiny arms and struggled with it into the sitting room. Miss A looked absolutely delighted.
"I haven't lost my touch after all," she mumbled, as Ernest pretended not to listen to her and instead gazed at the box with laser eyes. If she notices I'm looking really hard, maybe she'll open it up, he thought.
"Ernest, I can hardly walk because of my back, would you be a dear and open the box for me? It's alright if the box tears."
Ernest's face burst into an excited smile and he dove into his task with vigor. The cardboard was in shreds in mere seconds, and a pile of glossy hardcover books lay unsheathed on the floor. Ernest couldn't help the squeal of laughter that erupted from his mouth, and he dove in and began poring over the covers.
The Velveteen Rabbit, Aesop's Fables, The Penderwicks. The glee was spreading throughout his entire body like warm soup.
"Are these for me?"
"Yes, Ernest, just a small gift from an old lady who enjoys the company of a kindred soul every week. Even if it is for such short periods of time."
"I hope my mom lets me keep them."
"Why shouldn't she? She would be an absolute monster not to!"
Ernest jumped up and gently hugged Miss A. He never had embraced her before, and the feeling of the tiny body pressing into her arms thrilled her. The books beckoned to him, however, and soon he was back in their midst.
The next week, Miss A asked the little boy what he wanted. Ernest glanced down at his shabby, faded shoes. Miss A didn't need him to say anything. She whipped out her little plain notebook and began scrawling away again. In a few moments, she told Ernest to go into the other room. Ernest went, and found a pair of new shoes, polished and just his size. Delight overcame him, and he donned the shoes, and began to dance about the room as Miss A sat in her armchair, a contented expression donning her face.
It became a tradition between them. Every week, Miss A would ask what gift he wanted, and Ernest would respond enthusiastically. The item would appear in the piano room, and Ernest would remain giddy and bubbly for the rest of the week.
Ernest's mother had originally appreciated the influx of gifts that seemed to stream in for Ernest, but eventually she grew weary of their origins. She wondered aloud to her young son her thoughts at the dinner table one evening. They were eating small sandwiches with pieces of broiled and unseasoned chicken inside them, and Ernest's mother pretended to be full, handing her son more of the bread.
"Well, she asks me what I want, and I just tell her, and she just writes it down, in a list or something I guess, then we stay quiet for a little bit, then she tells me to go into the piano room. And whatever I wanted, it's there! I love Miss A."
Ernest's mother had put a glass of water to her lips - she placed it back on the table without taking a sip. "She... Just writes it down, and it appears in the other room?"
"In the piano room, yeah." Ernest sighed. Having to explain every little thing that he had already said to his mother was exhausting.
Ernest's mother stiffened in her chair for a moment, although he didn't notice. He chowed down on the rest of his chicken as she quietly cleared away the rest of the table. As he finished his meal, she came back to sit down. She cleared her throat in a low, authoritative rumble, and Ernest snapped to attention, his wide eyes locking onto hers.
"Honey, I have something to tell you," she began soothingly. "I think you're now old enough to be able to stay home when I go to work on Saturdays."
"Which means you won't be seeing Miss A again."
Ernest inhaled sharply. "No! I love Miss A!"
His mother's nostrils flared and her eyebrows pushed outwards, and Ernest swallowed his following retorts.
"Ernest, you may see her one more time. I am granting you that much. At that time, you can tell her that you're a big boy now, and you can take care of yourself. Ernest, honey, look at me."
Tears were gushing into his vision, slowly filling it up from the bottom up. He refused to cry in front of his mother, though. She sighed and closed her eyes. Ernest looked away from the dark shadows underneath her eyelids, and her calloused fingers.
The next Saturday that he went to Miss A's, Miss A asked him what he wanted, as per usual. Ernest was quiet for a moment.
"I just want to keep coming here on Saturdays!" he exclaimed, and promptly began to cry.
"Oh, sweetheart, come here!" Miss A held out her arms clothed in her old lace white dress. "What do you mean?"
Salty tears and snot running into the corners of his mouth, Ernest stuttered, "Mom won't let me come here anymore. She wants me to stay home. I can't come to you anymore."
To Ernest's greatest shock, Miss A's bony hand, tremblingly stroking his shoulder suddenly stopped and he heard her laugh.
"Dear dear Ernest," Miss A clucked. "You don't really think a silly thing like your mother's propositions will stop us from having a good time together?"
Ernest sniffled and inhaled loudly and raspily through his nose. "This is my last time here though. She said. And you can't just change her mind."
Ernest sniffed and then crossed his arms. "I hate her," he stated resolutely.
Miss A didn't seem abashed in the slightest. In fact, a small smile seemed to flicker along the edges of her lips.
"If that's really how you feel, Ernest," Miss A said in her slow, slow tone. "Is that really how you feel?"
Ernest, in a moment of rebellion against his unknowing mother, nodded firmly. Miss A allowed the smile to creep onto her lips. Her lips stretched. How red they were. Like blood.
Mom said that's how my lips look when I'm in a fever, Ernest silently observed. She gives me soup though, and lemon juice with honey, and I always feel better afterwards.
The guilt began to weigh down in his chest immediately, and he squirmed in his chair. "Miss A, I really do have to go now."
"Only if you want to, Ernest," Miss A said. "I hope I see you next Saturday."
The guilt lifted for a split second, and Ernest felt glum about the prospects of that happening. "I hope so too."
As he left the room, he noticed Miss A pull out her trusty little notebook and begin to write enthusiastically.
"This will require a little something extra," Miss A muttered under her breath. Her hand’s pace quickened, if possible. She glanced up for a moment, with those watery, pale fish eyes, and smiled at Ernest. Her face sent a barrage of chills that seemed to latch along Ernest’s back, and he turned on his heel swiftly to leave the house.
It didn’t take very long for Miss A to accomplish the task at hand.
Ernest would be back to see Miss A again. Miss A, with one last flourish of her pencil, finished her sentence.
. . .
The first night, Miss A had had her maid light a nightlight in Ernest's new room. The light illuminated the new toys, the pristine white bookshelf filled with new books with covers that seemed to glow, and a smart little desk by the grand window. But nothing seemed to satisfy the little boy, as he continued to sob into the fluffy pillows. Miss A rubbed his little back, which throbbed with every jerking sob.
"I'm so sorry, Ernest," Miss A whispered.
"Where did she go? Why did she leave me?" Ernest cried inexhaustibly.
"She didn't love you, not like I do," Miss A whispered, her saggy, wrinkled skin against Ernest's flushed neck. The tears did not abate, and Miss A eventually straightened and walked downstairs.
The maid had left the newspaper out. The headlines read, "Local Woman Missing" with a photograph of a red haired woman holding a much younger Ernest. Ernest looked happy in her arms, but Miss A knew in her heart that Ernest was going to much rather living with her in her big house, with all her gifts. Not with that sadsack woman who couldn’t provide beautiful gifts for her own child. A child deserved many toys and nice things. An impoverished household for such a beautiful child such as Ernest; no, it wouldn’t do at all.
She sat at the kitchen table, drinking strong black tea. She attempted to blink the sleep away. It was exhausting, of course to bring objects and little trinkets into the world. Books and shoes and such. She let her eyes slowly drift closed.
But the most tiresome thing for an author, really, was to write something completely out of existence.
Miss A, the mastermind author of this little boy's story, put her head against the table and fell into a deep sleep, a trace of a smile lingering upon her lips.