Amy descends the bluestone stairway wrapping her coat around her, staring at the maze she approaches. It’s been years since last she came. In fact, Amy hadn’t come back to Stanhope since her father died. How could she ever walk the maze without him? Now she’s here, the maze is the place she wants to be. The dry leaves and morning frost crunches under her shoes as slowly Amy crosses the meadow leading to the entrance of the maze. The day is cold; no animal called or moved, and no sound came from the deserted mansion.
‘Will I still remember my way through the maze,’ Amy wonders?
As the woman approaches what used to be the arched entrance, she falters.
‘How odd,’ she thought.
Amy had walked the maze with her father in many seasons, but now the woman only remembers it in summer, green and bustling with life. Some of the bushes would bear flowers and the ground covered with soft grass. The smell of flowers, grass, and sun would be everywhere, and the light brushed everything gently. Although there’s the uncertainty of the way, the maze is a place of harmony and tidiness. The bushes would be clean-cut and would form a perfect design.
‘Dad made sure of that,’ she thought, reminiscing.
What Amy sees now is a messy gap in a wall of shrubs. The branches that gracefully arched over the entrance are now tangles of branches. Twigs had overgrown everywhere and nearly filled the gap.
Everything is gray and dry.
‘It’s dead,’ she thought. ‘Just like dad.’
Her mind considers giving up. Nevertheless, Amy’s heart wants to go. It wants to be there, whatever she may find. Amy’s feet move on that spur, and she finds herself inside the maze before she knows she’s questioning that decision. It’s dark inside. The branches have overgrown here too and formed a canopy over the unclear path. Twigs tear at her coat, her cloche, and her scarf. She has to move them apart with gloved hands.
Nothing is as she remembers. There must be grass on the ground, though now covered with frosted dew crackling under her feet; an ominous sound makes her uneasy. In places, the slender woman’s feet sink in the freezing mud under dead leaves. Even if she remembers the way clearly, it’ll be hard to see it in this mess. Amy stops at the first turn. She knows she has to turn right, yet she pauses.
‘This wasn’t a good idea,’ she thought. She’d known it. ‘I should just leave.’
Amy moves on along the next branch of the maze, pushing branches aside, squinting in the dusk. The slender woman turns left at the next split, then right again. She almost misses it.
Almost because Amy knows, it’s there.
“Professor?” she calls softly.
A small boulder sits on the side of the path, nearly engulfed by the shrubs. It’s round and smooth, and although it appears just like a boulder in the dusk of this maze, Amy knows it resembles a dwarf. One of the seven she knows guards the maze.
As she gets closer, she sees the shape of the dwarf. It seems ancient as if carved so long ago; time and weather have had their way with it. However, Amy can see the big round head and the heavy beard as well as a few details of the clothing. A hand resting on his stomach, maybe clutching a sword, as her father always said, though she always thought it was a cane. The same way she feels the round circles around the dwarf’s eyes are not the slits in his helmet, but the frame of spectacles. He definitely raises a hand, palm open, welcoming any newcomer.
Amy goes up to it, smiling, and touches the smooth stone of the helmet. A gesture she had done so many times since when she was as small as the dwarf, who now stands to her waist.
“I’m back,” Amy whispers.
Her hand isn’t cold anymore, as it brushes the surface of the stone, and she smells summer radiating from it. Then her eyes unexpectedly well with tears. Crouching, the girl puts her arms around the Professor and rests her cheek against his round head.
She closes her eyes.
“Amy?” a voice calls.
She stands and turns toward the voice, her hands still on the stone.
A smile creeps over her face. Aunty Mary. Amy runs back. Mary stands on the last step of the stairway. The big white mansion, with the black shutters and the red roof, looming behind her, and she appears like the mistress of the house and the cleaner as well. Tall, straight, her chin high, but her coat dull, almost ugly, her scarf and hat made of wool. Her face lights up when she sees Amy.
“Amy, child,” Mary shouts, opening her arms, and Amy runs into them.
Mary laughs, holding her tight. Amy’s eyes sting. The older woman gently pulls the girl away and her hands on Amy’s shoulders, staring into the elfin face.
“Ah, not a child anymore, I see,” she said, her smile somewhat sad, but bold.
Amy can’t say anything; the knot in her throat chokes her.
“I knew I’d find you in the maze,” Mary said.
Her face still bore her beauty, though lines have appeared at the corner of her eyes. However, the wool hat she wears gives her a hint of naughtiness in spite of the dull coat. Her earrings, they dangle from hooks of some typical, tarnished metal, two droplets that sparkled like precious gems, catching the light of the overcast sky and reflecting it with inner strength. However, they were not gems.
“You look like a posh university student come from the big city,” Mary said with a mock scold.
Amy laughs. “Maybe because that’s what I am.”
“Are you cold?” Mary asks with a frown. “You look pale.”
Amy smiles, sheepishly. “A bit, I forgot how cold it is out here this time of year.”
Mary took Amy’s hands in hers and squeezed tight. “So we should go inside and have a warm cup of tea. I got the kitchen fire going when I knew you were coming.” She starts up the stairs. “You’ll excuse if the mansion looks gloomy. I normally live in the town, and even when I’m here, I only use a few rooms. It’s a lonely old place these days.”
Amy gazes at her Auntie’s profile as they reach the terrace in front of the big glass door. Mary turns to her. Again, Amy sees the sadness in the lines of her smile.
“A house is supposed to be lived in, you know,” Mary said. “It’s supposed to be home.”
There’s no reproaching tone in Mary’s voice; still, Amy drops her gaze. A little pang tugs at her heart. She starts when a car horn shatters the silence. Mary doesn’t turn, but a mischievous expression appears on her face.
“Well,” she said, “Sounds like your sister Judy has arrived.”
Judy’s BMW parks in front of the house. Her heeled leather shoes click on the flagstones leading to the door. Her red lips curl charmingly as she approaches them.
“Girls, how splendid to see you,” Judy said with a flourish of her hand.
With her perfect, modern makeup, billowing blonde-hair, lovely designer clothes, and her fashionable faux-fur coat, Judy wouldn’t be out of place beside a celebrity. She reaches for Amy and affectionately squeezes her shoulders before sizing the girl up from head to toe.
“Your makeup is sloppy, my child,” Judy said, wriggling a black-gloved finger in front of her. “And what is this?” Judy grabs the lapels of Amy’s coat and turns them up. “Why didn’t you tell me you needed a new coat? We live in the same city. I could have given you one.”
Amy shakes her head. “This one is fine, Judy. It does the job.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Judy scolded slightly. “People will always judge you by your appearance, remember that.”
Mary clears her throat. “So, will you tell us what this is all about?”
Judy waves the matter away. Amy wonders whether she practices the move in front of the mirror so elegant it appears.
“I’ll tell you everything over dinner.”
“Why?” Mary didn’t quite sound surprised. “Are you getting remarried?”
The glare Judy shoots back didn’t lack amusement. “No.” Judy raises her chin. “Now, shouldn’t we go in? It’s quite cold out here, you know.”
“I was just telling Amy we should have a cup of tea,” Mary said, turning to the house.
“That’s an excellent idea,” Judy said. “I hope you’ve taken out the porcelain set.”
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