Amber’s Wings

Tom Dasko

Ordinary in charm, the cottage could become ours at below market value because of a family tragedy.

A sorry state to gain ownership, but at the time, the realtor’s words did not register with us in our panic to find a place to live. I was starting my new job on Monday. We had spent weeks searching. Somehow, this home seemed familiar, as if ours all along.

Sophia and I were new to the area, and each other — this was our honeymoon. We had forgone the glamour of a large wedding with a cruise ship destined for paradise. Our dream was to start our new life together. This cottage seemed as though it was ours all along, awaiting only our signatures.

While admiring the backyard, the next-door neighbors waved as if we had always lived here. Looking down to the back of the acreage, no other homes were visible through the thick foliage of the natural forest. To the east, a field of flowers bloomed — a warm and cozy gateway to our new home.

“Did you see it?” a voice called out.

Looking to the south, I see the neighbors smiling.

“Hello! I’m Jennifer, and this is my husband James.”

“H-e-l-l-o, I am Sophia, and this is,” Sophia flushes, “this is my new husband, Pierce.”

“Congratulations new neighbors and newlyweds,” James says.

“See what?” I enquire.

“That wispy bird-like thing on your rooftop,” Jennifer says.

James follows up with, “Probably some type of owl, as the barns and trees around here are riddled with them.”

Sophia shakes her head. I add, “I didn’t hear anything. Do you think it’s a screech owl, barn owl, harry potter owl?…”

Jennifer looks distant as she interrupts me, stating she is uncertain if it’s a bird of any kind.

Jennifer and James grow silent.

“We have chores to do.”

Sophia and I return indoors without further thought. We’re focused on all we need to accomplish before Monday. The house is well maintained, but we want new carpeting and fresh paint.

It’s late Thursday afternoon, we still must return to the real-estate office to sign the paperwork, and give them the check.

After the formalities at the real-estate office, we realized we were hungry and needed to eat. We order a bottle of Chardonnay to celebrate our new start.

Dinner was delicious, and the restaurant delightful, reminding me of a Monticello favorite of mine back home. Even the restaurant’s location reminded me of home. Oh, but that was home before Sophia, and now we have a new story to create. Sophia’s excitement was gathering a hold on me as she seated herself in the SUV, and I closed the door behind her.

We made reservations at a nearby hotel. After we checked in at the front desk, I was gone for a brief moment, grabbing our overnight luggage. Upon returning, I found Sophia and a group of hotel employees plotting out home center locations and writing down their favorites for her.

She had that about her — the flame all moths could not resist. I came to their rescue, suggesting we move to our room. Tipping the bellhop, I turn to find one exhausted angel strung across the bed in slumber. Thank God the suite’s chairs look comfy. I was relieved we’d found our home, but curious about our new neighbors’ behavior. I settled into the armchair.

After a quick coffee and toast, we headed out for supplies. Sophia had managed to gain the names and numbers of a few painters, electricians, and carpet layers during my luggage run the night before. Stellar. All we need to do is select paint and carpet colors. How tough could that be?

We took the entire morning choosing paint colors. My bride had distinct ideas not only about the color but also about the shade change each wall must cast throughout the day. I had not taken her job as an interior designer seriously — she tolerated my ignorance. We broke for lunch when she announced natural wood floors would save us a lot of money. I knew I was outgunned and gladly relinquished authority, thereby expediting the process and further cementing my respect for her and her abilities.

Arriving at the home manned with several shades of each paint color, we were met by the electrician, plumber, and painters. I didn’t know she had it all arranged. How could it be done so quickly without my noticing?

Yet here was a crew awaiting instruction. All but the carpet layer. Seems Sophia smelled victory even before our lunch discussion. She explained to the crew she wanted walls of lighter and darker shades to enhance the shadow play, stressing the importance of removing the plaster and paint imperfections. Sophia was a professional in motion — a sight to behold.

She forbade entry into one of the bedrooms, which she staked as her very own for rehabilitation. Sophia grabbed my hand and led me to the room marked for triage. “Will this be our room?” I asked.

“No, ours is just next door. The tradesmen will handle it,” she offers casually. “This is the room of Amber,” she adds, leaving the room.

I was lost but intrigued. Color? Person?

The work continued into the night and until early afternoon the following day, breaking only long enough for me to make food runs to keep the worker bees satisfied. The noonday’s sun played across the pristine walls, to Sophia’s delight. The workers left, promising to follow up about cost and billing. As I waved them goodbye, I realized I did not know the rates or overall cost.

Sophia retrieved our coffee maker from the vehicle while I took a walk to stretch my legs. My previous homes had a postage stamp patch for a yard, so this was heaven to me.

I felt a presence like a cool breeze and prying eyes.

I turned and saw Sophia through the kitchen window, watching me. Then I felt what seemed like a small hand within my hand.

Startled, I quickly turned to see if someone had approached me.

There was nothing there. Nothing to see, and both the breeze and feeling, had left me. I must be tired, very tired, I think to myself as I head back.

James was off to my side, waving excitingly. “Did you see it?” I began to question his sanity, or perhaps it was just his sense of humor. I waved to him while entering our home, too distracted to engage.

Walking into the kitchen, Sophia asked me if I’d noticed the bird making a fuss around me. I asked her what type and color, but she was silent. “I’m not sure,” she murmurs.

“Type or color?” I question for clarity. She simply responds “Yes” and returns to making coffee, then heads off to the SUV to grab some cups.

We were both obviously overtired, so I went out to help her and replied, “No, I didn’t see a thing,” with the memory of my experience fresh at hand.

“Pierce, you’ll think me crazy, but I don’t know how to describe the color I saw.”

I laugh. “Finally, the great designer has been foiled!” I snicker.

She continued, “You know how many shades of white there are and how each one reflects the surrounding colors?” she paused, “This one was transparent with shadow and depth…” she inhales. “Here but not…” and then she wipes a single tear from her cheek.

I hug her softly and asked if she was ok. “Yes, I’m fine, just tired and a tad sad.”

“Why sad?”

“I don’t have a clue,” she responded. “Let’s get some caffeine in us.”

We headed back inside for a coffee break and recovery.

Sitting with our backs against the kitchen cabinets, we imagined backyard furniture, pergola, fire pit, pizza oven, and our future until our brains were drained and could dream no more.

The doorbell rang, and we rose in anticipation of our first guest. I opened the front door. There stood three women dressed like painters, each having a mask hanging from one ear.

“May I help you?” I asked.

“Hello, I’m Cindy with Floors Flawless,” the nearest woman answered.

Sophia opened the storm door. “Everything’s ready, but the dust is still settling,” she states.

“No worries, we’ll be creating our own dust as we prepare the wood for sealing,” Cindy responds.

The woman immediately behind her added, “You understand it is best to leave the residence for the next few days.”

Sophia nodded and handed Cindy the house keys.

“Sophia, did you forget to tell me something?” I inquire.

“We’re all set. Grab your stuff, it’s back to the hotel!”.

“Fresh coffee in the kitchen.” I offered, but none of the ladies seemed interested.

I must admit, it felt good heading out for a shower, nourishment, and rest as we closed the door behind us.

Cindy’s team used the divide-and-conquer technique, each of the women claiming a room for their task at hand while Cindy remained in the living room to begin the sanding. She loves the long runs of plank, allowing her to autopilot while taking notice of her surroundings; she finds it therapeutic, allowing her mind to drift.

In no time, the air is heavy with dust from the floor sanders as the women each strive to make the wood clean and level. Their masks begin to cake as the first hour passes, so they pause to replace them with fresh ones.

Cindy turns to return to her sander as she seats the new mask on her face. There before her is a little girl in a pristine dress, patent leather shoes, and freshly curled hair looking like a magazine cover.

“Whatcha doin?” she asked.

Cindy notices how clean her shoes are. How did she manage to walk across the floor without leaving footprints?

“Hello Honey. What are you doing out so late? Do your parents know where you are?”

“Of course, silly, besides I am in, not out.” She smiles a confident smile.

Cindy notices the dust makes her appear transparent.

“This air is not healthy for you. You should wear a mask or return home, dear,” Cindy warns.

She turned to grab a mask for the little girl and heard her say, “I AM home!”

When Cindy turns back to hand the mask to her, she finds the girl has gone. All of her skin feels clammy cold, and she struggles to understand how the girl made her way out without any prints or noise from the door opening and closing.

Cindy suddenly feels unwelcome. She motivates her team with talk of a free meal as soon as the sanding is finished so they can leave sooner than later. She wants to leave the house without having to explain why, and soon!

The front desk attendant greeted us like family. After a few minutes, we were swarmed by staff asking where we went to make our purchase, what we bought, and how much had been finished. As I stood there listening to the commotion, I was amazed at how curious they were; and their hospitality. They seemed to have a genuine interest in us, something different from California, but I didn’t give it another thought.

I managed to pry Sophia away. We entered our room, which had been cleaned. Sophia left a trail of clothes as she made her way to the shower, and I checked out the minibar. Finding a few minis of Black Label, I poured us each a drink, neat, in our toothbrush glasses. I handed Sophia her drink behind the steamed shower glass and announced, “Bottoms up.”

As I turned to leave, I heard a laugh. “So you’re joining me?” An open invitation.

Making our way down the stairs, we waved to the front desk, thinking we might exit unnoticed.

“We thought you’d called it a night.” The girl who had checked us in the night before called out.

I raised my arms, then added, “Back soon.”

“Fast or savory?” I questioned Sophia, as I headed towards our vehicle.

“Excuse me?” She raised her eyebrows in answer.

“Would you prefer fast food or a sit-down meal?”

“Right,” she laughs. “Nice save.”

We agree to return to the same restaurant as the night prior.

Pulling into the lot, Sophia's phone lit up with a text from Cindy.

-We’re calling it a night. See you in the morning, your neighbor's little girl is a kick.-

Sophia holds up her phone so I can get my eyes on it.

“Great, there’s three of them,” I mocked.

“You’re despicable,” she teases.

We made our way to the main room and waited to be seated.

“Looks to be pretty busy,” I mentioned.

“Really?” Sophia sniped. “No more captain obvious talk.”

When I asked her if there was a problem, she mentioned Cindy’s text, then asked why the neighbor's child would be in our house, how late it was for a little girl to be out on her own unattended.

“Let’s find out more before making any judgments,” I suggested.

“Probably best. I’m starving. What are you going to order, Pierce?”

I took advantage of the segue to open up the menu.

We managed to order drinks and appetizers before the subject made its way back to me. “Pierce, if that were our daughter, you wouldn’t let her wander, would you?”

“You have nothing to worry about, Sophia,” I said, gently holding her hand.

With a scrumptious meal and outstanding service behind us, we stepped outside to head to our room. The moonlight demanded I kiss Sophia, so I drew her in tight for a sample.

We drove to the new house to catch a glimpse of it in the night air. The surroundings were quiet and the air still. The moon encouraged us to walk around the yard. We made our way to the farthest point of the backyard. The mature trees' shadows played against the grass as we strolled back towards the house — our home.

I saw something, but I didn’t know what it was. I tapped Sophia’s shoulder and held my finger to my mouth so she’d remain quiet. I looked towards the rooftop slowly. She gasped and then softly asked what we were looking at. The distance makes it impossible to identify, but we both noticed the luminosity and sheerness of it. We took a slow step. Then another. No reaction. It continued to hang suspended just above the roofline.

We began walking quickly towards the house, but it looked as though the object had melted into the roof.

We meandered back to the hotel in silence. We both knew what we witnessed was not wildlife.

Sophia asked if I’d like a nightcap, stating she wasn’t ready to turn in. We found a place near the distant end of the bar and settled in.

“What can I get you?” the barkeep asks, clearing his throat, “Is everything ok?”

“Excuse me, lost in thought, two brandies, please.” The snifters arrive, and we make short order of them. “Again, please,” I ask. The bartender refills the glassware, trying to read us, and then heads back to the other end of the bar.

I lift my glass to make a toast with my bride. “We should find out more about our house's history.” We intertwine our arms to sip our brandy, and Sophia whispers, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” She knows from the tilt of my head I’m clueless and adds, “Yes, we’ll get to the bottom of things,” as we head back to our room.

Neither of us stirs a muscle or wakes to the sound of the alarm, wake-up call, or continued knocking on the door by housecleaning. Not until 10 am do we begin to join the living and discover several text messages and missed calls from Cindy with Floors Flawless. Sophia makes it to an armchair to phone her while I attempt to reach room service, but neither of us are successful, so we both shower and dress to head out.

Pulling into our driveway, we found the Floors Flawless ladies on break outside the house happy to give catcall and tease us for being tardy. Once they have finished filleting us, they hand us covers for our shoes so we may enter and look over the floor work. The old wood, even unfinished, is beautiful, to Sophia’s and my delight. We give the thumbs up to stain before asking Cindy about the visit of the child.

She tells of looking up to see a little girl standing before her, but no footprints in the sawdust or dust on her patent leather shoes. She is effervescent and stubborn, insisting she lives in the house. The women assume she is the neighbor's child. They are all charmed at her wit and playfulness before she disappears as quickly as she appears. To Cindy’s surprise, she discovers the little girl had visited each of them that night.

I feel Sophia lean against me hard, thank Cindy, and inform her we’re leaving. I know it is my cue to head for the SUV, so we say our goodbyes. Cindy reminds us we can’t return for two days before walking on the floors.

Once the engine was started, I realized what Cindy said and turned to Sophia. “So we’ll be living out of the hotel my first week of work?” She comforts me and tells me I have much bigger things to worry about since we will be heading to the furniture store after the library.

“Quit cheering me up,” I kid. We turn onto the street while Sophia gets directions from her cell.

The library is stately and pronounced, with the feel of a mansion, not a public building. We spend a few hours looking through microfiche and talking to a town historian, but find nothing unusual about our home's past. “Well, you know what that means?” Sophia teases. I slowly nod, knowing she is indicating it’s time for a furniture hunt.

We’re starting from scratch. We both donated our previous residence’s furniture to those in need. Sophia makes short work of it, dragging me from couch to couch, chair, table, then paroled me to sit and relax. Twenty minutes later, she walked me through all of her selections before we decided to purchase.

In under an hour, she managed to purchase everything needed and make arrangements for delivery. We headed back to the hotel bar for a drink and snack. It was a beautiful day, so we asked about getting a table on the veranda. We enjoy the time talking about the last twenty-four hours while taking in the view.

Our waitress hardly seemed old enough to serve us alcohol. We teased each other about how old we’d become after only two days in town. “No wonder,” our server says. “I don’t understand?” I reply.

“First of all, I look like I’m twelve years old,” she begins. “Dating is a nightmare,” she laughs. “Then there’s the tragedy at your home.” We talked about her dating adventures for a short time before Sophia asked about our house.

The server explains how the father, the previous owner, had his daughter help him with everything; she loved carpentry, so they both single-handedly restored the house. The incident was a freak accident, the daughter's safety rope coming undone as they roofed the home — her death instant, as she struck the ground.

We were stunned and unable to reply. The waitress asked if we were ready for a refill. We nod very slowly. Upon returning, the server apologizes, “I’m sorry, I thought you knew.” We tried to convince her we are ok but in truth, neither of us knew what to do with the information. We finished our drinks and went for a walk through town.

The open air helped, but we began talking about what we witnessed while in the backyard, our neighbor's behavior, how everyone seemed to know about us. All of it together seems surreal when coupled with the new information.

Weeks pass as we adapt to our new home, furniture, and neighbors. Our dining room table has been on back-order since purchase, so dinner-time, while not ideal, is still enjoyable as we often sit out back on old crates while eating using an antique red flyer wagon for a makeshift table. Life is good.

Sophia finished the amber room, a pale rose with ivory trim. When I questioned her about how she decided on color and furniture, she stated a feeling we’ll have a little girl. Strange, since we haven’t even discussed starting a family. When I press her on it, she grows irritated, then breaks down. “She’s here,” she claims, then refuses to discuss it further.

We have had a busy few weeks. Sophia has had to move to strange surroundings, leaving her family behind. I can’t help feeling it’s a factor in her mood and decision, so I let it go. I like the room; the look is not an issue. I just want Sophia to be happy.

Three months have passed, and the delivery of our dining room table is finally here. I can't even remember what we purchased. We’ve managed well visiting local restaurants while getting to know our town and its people. We have grown to love living here, even with the occasional unexplained sighting and events.

The delivery truck is in the driveway. The men are removing the protective materials as they bring in the chairs. They have placed all the chairs along the south wall of the dining room to make room for the table. First, the base of the table is brought in and placed by the two largest men while the others prep the tabletop.

Meanwhile, a FedEx driver has me sign for a small package no bigger than a picture frame. The furniture men as a group make their way in with the tabletop, stopping just inside the dining room. I open the box, which has a note, and stuffed animal inside before I notice they are just standing there looking towards the base.

I looked past them into the room and saw the chairs arranged around the base as if a family diner was in process. Setting down the tabletop, the lead person explained why they had set the chairs aside. I can see he is aggravated as I try to clarify I haven’t moved them. They rest the tabletop against the north wall and move the chairs out of the way.

We all hear what we believe is a child's laugh as we continue in our progress. The chairs have been moved as I read the note that was in the box from the previous owners. They state that while the housewarming gift may seem odd, it reminds them of their daughter and believe it fitting for our new home. I signal Sophia’s over as the men place the tabletop and secure it to the base.

I hand the note to Sophia to finish reading as I pull the stuffed animal from its box. The men have finished and begin to exit. The toy is a plush white owl nearly ten inches tall, very realistic looking like something from Audubon.

Looking over at Sophia, I see the glisten of tears streaming from her cheekbone as she reads. She pulls a chair from against the wall to sit on and hands me the paper. The last of the men have left, so I pull up a chair next to her to finish reading while I set the toy between us on the tabletop.

The parents go on to explain they felt their daughter never understood what happened to her. The note details that owls were their daughter Amber's favorite after watching Harry Potter. They wished us all the best and hoped we would be kind enough to keep it nearby.

Sophia stared at me as I looked up. She leaned her head towards the table. I could see a slight movement of the toy before it raised up as if being carried by a little one.

We sat in awe as one of the chairs moved alongside me, and once more, I felt the little hand within mine.



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