ELLIE CLOSES THE BOOK
"Why that page, always that page?" Old Ellie echoed
her words around the walls of the empty basement.
Walls that had no ears to hear. No eyes to see what
had happened behind closed doors so long ago in the
days of the Great Depression. No need to think about
why the old book always fell open at the same page.
"Why that page?" Ellie said it aloud again, but she
knew why. She had always known why.
Perhaps it was the cold and the damp of this
underground place or that musty smell that comes
with neglect. But mostly it was memories of long ago
that made her hurry to be out of there. Hurry to be
back among ordinary people going about their lives
in the autumn sun on the street above.
Once she was back in the light of day, Ellie soon felt
her old shoulders straighten out. All around she could
see leaves dressed in the last of the year's red and
gold; some were falling. She ran thin fingers through
silver-grey hair until all the dust of the basement was
The book was now safely zipped into the black
plastic document case she had bought specially.
Clutching it tightly on the bus home, Ellie tried not to
think how much it looked like a body bag, a small sad
little body bag. She glanced around at the other
passengers. How young they looked and how well
insulated. For some a global economic crisis might
mean no holiday in the sun this year or no new car.
Ellie could see her house from from the bus and there
were two cars in the driveway. Both her
grandchildren were already there. All grown-up now,
they still came round to visit on the first Sunday of
"Did you get the book Gran-Ellie?" said Alice.
"Never mind what my cynical old brother says. I
think it's really sweet."
Ellie held up the book like it was some sort of trophy.
"Of course it was still there. Quarter inch steel plate
is just fine for securing doors and windows. No one
gets into the old house unless I say so."
"And nothing much gets out, even your memories
Gran-Ellie," said Bob "and I'm not cynical, just
practical. Anyway, I got a small casket just like you
Ellie had the three of them sit around the table in the
kitchen. A table with a little white casket placed
carefully at its center. Alice said, "Tell us the story
again Gran-Ellie. One last time, please."
Ellie let the book fall open. Alice and Bob checked
the page. Ellie didn't need to look. She knew.
A faraway look took old Ellie in its grasp as she
started her story. "It was not long after my sixth
birthday. These were the worst days of the Great
Depression. I knew something bad was happening in
the world, even at that age. Father had been away for
weeks looking for work. He didn't find any, of course.
There wasn't any. He looked sick and he had a
terrible cough when he came back. He told me he'd
been staying at the Bush Hotel and it wasn't very
nice. It wasn't 'til years later that I understood he'd
been sleeping rough, under a bush as it were. And it
wasn't until later that I understood the other things as
Alice wiped something warm and wet from her own
face. She reached across and took her Gran's hand,
and then her brother's. When Ellie closed the circle
by also taking Bob's hand he struggled to keep a
straight face. Oh God, he thought, here we are
holding a seance with an old children's book and an
empty casket. But there was a hint of something in
his eyes too.
Ellie looked back at the book, quickly, not wanting to
be interrupted. She continued her story.
"I'll always remember that day when father came
back. It was the same day that little Flo disappeared.
She was my special friend."
"And that's why our Mom is called Flo," said Alice.
Bob let out a muffled snort of a laugh.
Alice tried to squeeze her brother's hand hard enough
to hurt and told him to shut up.
Old Ellie just ignored them both and carried on like it
was important she should bear witness.
"I looked everywhere for Flo. Then next day father
sat me down. He had a strange look about him. He
said Flo would never be coming back. But he
wouldn't tell me why. For days afterwards I spent as
much time as I could in my room in the basement. I
didn't want to see anyone else, only Flo and she had
gone. I had my book, with the picture. OK I knew it
wasn't really a picture of Flo, but I was six years old
and to me it looked like Flo. After a while, I found if
I dropped the book it would always open at that same
Alice and Bob looked at the book. They had seen it
for themselves. They both leant forward a little in
their seats, determined to catch every part of the story
as their Gran continued.
"I told my mom and dad about the book opening at
Flo's picture. Dad said he was busy and went away to
do something. Mom was nice, she was always nice.
She said if you open a book often enough at the same
page it'll do something to the binding so that it will
always open there. But I never told them about the
other thing. That was just between me and Flo."
Ellie paused here and looked at the book. Alice and
Bob knew what the other thing was for their Gran.
She had told them the story often enough. They
"You won't be able to hear, Flo only speaks to me,"
The old lady's fingers were trembling as she took up
the book in both hands. From time to time she
nodded as if deep in conversation with an unseen
presence. Alice and Bob barely noticed that their own
hands, still linked on the tabletop, were locked
together so much tighter than before.
Finally, Ellie said it was all done. She closed the book
and very gently laid it in the casket.
"Can we leave the casket open until we put Flo to rest
tomorrow?" said Alice.
The next morning, Ellie was glad to have Alice and
Bob at her side for the simple service. It was in a
quiet corner set aside from the main body of the
cemetery. They held hands, shuffling their feet
through a fresh carpet of fallen leaves. They cried
together as the little casket was covered up and then
they knew that Flo was finally at rest and it was all
"Alice, Bob, thank you so much for being with me in
this. You two go on home now. I want to stay here for
a while," said Ellie.
The air seemed clearer as old Ellie made her way
alone into the cemetery proper. She tidied the leaves
where her parents lay together. Now she could tell
them she had forgiven them for that day so long ago.
The day that Flo disappeared. The day they had meat
on the table during the dark days of the Great
Depression. The day they wouldn't tell little Ellie
what she was eating. For to Ellie it had always been
more than a picture of a bunny rabbit in a children's
story book and now she had closure.
Ellie Closes the Book was published in
The Straitjackets Magazine, 2011.