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Antique Imprisonment

[from The Christmas House: memoirs by Alexis Berry]

Her legs draped down the steps beneath her as she sat sideways in the steep stairwell. I stood at the bottom, watching her cry and mumble about the lesson I could learn from this paper.

What paper, mom?

“This is me, Alexis!”

She smoothed her hand over the ugly cream paper, the air pockets slid to the side of her palm as it swept across a gaudy floral design. Her hand stopped where a line of blue flower trails had abandoned the wall, revealing the wallpaper that it was meant to cover.

I still did not understand.

“Alexis, look at this—this original pattern. This beautiful farmhouse. Look at this paper!”
I reluctantly lifted my barefoot up to the blue carpet, which covered the hardwood staircase, and climbed the first two steps.

The Christmas House never ceased to astound me; even the eyes of her walls were enchanting. I pushed my mother’s scene away from the moment that the house and I wanted to share. The pattern was a rich, absorbent gold spaced evenly on an upright stage frosted in a more delicate gold. Oh, the stories this staircase must hold. The wallpaper carelessly strewn over it must shame those stories. Two fingers from my right hand touched the antique paper, wondering at the beauty. Why would anyone cover this wallpaper?

“Why would anyone cover this wallpaper?” she cried, pulling me back into her scene.
She sobbed as she wondered what flaw the paper was guilty of. Her cries grew louder as the wall’s flaw became hers. She wailed as the House’s flaws embodied all of her flaws (those flaws that were never her fault).

“What bastards would oppress such beauty?!”
Such reality, she wondered. But this wallpaper is exquisite and real—a part of the house.

The hideous blue floral lines spread across the cream nightmare was nearly murderous. And those lines were oppressing her.
The poor thing, my mother ruined in this stairwell, while the Christmas House silently watched. She was oppressed too.
The poor, wretched thing.

I watched, no more than ten years old, losing all of my wonder at the gold, now seeing her face in each pattern, completely oppressed. The familiar cry of her imprisoned self, every time I dared to look up at it.

Then. She had to free the House’s real beauty. It was up to her to redeem those walls. She wanted to free herself. No one else would do it for her she reasoned.

Her nails ripped desperately into the blue floral enemy lines and returned an unsatisfying patch that left adhesive residue on her gold frosted wall face.

“Help me tear this off!!!”

She frantically scratched for another strip of cream paper, trying to will me with her tears. But I stood frozen in the stairwell, watching her cry, hoping she would not drag me into this wallpaper liberation.

Whether I joined the rebellion or cowarded back down the stairs, I simply cannot remember. But I do remember wanting that pattern too. That pretty frosted antique character in the mysterious Christmas House. That House that blushed and curtsied in the spotlight that only a crazy woman and her confused daughter would shine upon her.

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