A gush of cold air raced through the house as Diane’s teenage son, Jim, barged through the front door with a friend tagging along behind. She walked out of the kitchen wiping her soapy hands on a dishtowel. “Close the door, Jim. Brrr!”
“Sorry, Mom. This is my friend, Nate, from school. He has to do a class project for art, and I told him he could do it at our house. I told him you wouldn’t mind.”
After a split second pause, Diane turned to look up at Nate’s lanky form and smiled warmly. “Of course I don’t mind. I think. What is your project?”
“Hi, Mrs. H. Our art teacher says we can tell a lot about people by looking at the art that people have on their walls. We have to go to the house of someone we don’t know well, and see what we can tell about their lives just from looking around their homes. Would you mind if I walked through four of your rooms and try out my powers of observation?”
“Sounds interesting. Take Nate’s coat, Jim.” Nate placed his tank-like boots next to Jim’s and followed Diane into the house. “Where do you want to start?”
“Right here in the dining room would be perfect. These two prints are pretty cool. This one looks like it’s at an old ship dock somewhere. Hey! The house in this other one is floating on the water! Awesome. I would guess that someone in your house likes the water. How am I doing so far?”
“So far, so good.”
“These are unique though. Not your usual ‘sailboat in the water’ picture. Were these taken in the Maritimes?”
“Right on. Actually, these are prints of paintings by a distant relative of mine from Newfoundland. At one point, the government was encouraging families from isolated island communities to relocate to larger towns. Many people floated their houses across the bay to their new home.”
“Mrs. H., that is so cool. I’ve never heard of that. Ok, how about here in the hallway. Lots of pictures here.” Nate stopped to look at three different framed collogues of pictures hanging on the wall. Diane flipped on the hall light so he could see better. “You sure have a lot of family pictures here. They must be very important to you. And you seem to be pretty close. I can usually tell if someone is faking it. The eyes give it away.”
“You’re very observant, Nate. I bet you’ll like the living room.” Socked feet skated on the hardwood floor behind her as Diane led him into her favorite room of the house.
On one wall, wild African buffalo eyed him as they chewed the tall grass. The opposite wall featured a large wall-hanging with two leopards chasing an impala. Large framed pictures of lions, elephants, and giraffes filled the room. An old world map hung beside the fireplace.
“I feel like I’ve just stepped into another world! Some of these animal pictures are actual photos. Did you take them yourselves?”
Diane smiled. “Yes, my husband doesn’t go far without a camera around his neck.”
“These aren’t zoo pictures though. You must have been there yourself, and liked it judging by this room!”
“We have lived there many years.”
“No way! Jim, I didn’t know you lived in Africa. I’d love to go there someday to visit. One more room, Mrs. H. Would you mind showing me a bedroom?”
Diane led the way up the winding staircase to her bedroom. She stepped back knowingly and hid a grin. “There’s nothing on your walls up here. It looks like you’ve just moved in or are just planning to leave. Ok, hang on. You’re not staying here long, are you.”
“You’re right. We’re only home for a year. Soon we’ll be packing up to go back to Africa for another few years. It wasn’t worth it for us to spend money to decorate the upstairs rooms. We’re just passing through.”
As they walked down the stairs, Diane could almost smell the smoke from all the thinking going on behind her. “Mrs. H., going to Africa for a safari really sounds cool. But what would make you want to live for years in a place like that? I don’t get it.”
“Nate, why don’t you and Jim come into the kitchen. I’ll get you some hot chocolate, and we’ll tell you why Africa is in our hearts and not just our art.”
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