(This is the third and final installation of this short-short story.)
Jessie pushed on for a few more yards, then stopped. There it was, the gray board front of the formerly red car stripped of all paint by sun and weather. Virginia creeper and poison ivy vines crawled up and over the top. The wheels, rusty orange and crumbling, looked barely capable of holding the structure up.
“You ready for this?” Henry asked. Jessie nodded.
At the big, sliding door, she fingered the old lock with one hand while the other hand pulled the string looped around her neck. The key was still a shiny silver. It fit, and the lock sprang open when she turned the key.
Henry braced his feet and rolled the heavy door open.
The air circulated, and molecules from inside the car rolled out, carrying a smell that took her back almost fifty years, to the time she and her siblings had lived in the car, before Grandfather had found them and brought them home to live with him.
He had been kind to eventually move the boxcar here, behind his home. Each of them had used it as a playhouse until they’d outgrown such things. Then the car had set, locked, until this day.
Jessie grabbed the side handle and pulled herself up into the car. Her eyes adjusted to the dimness slowly, but as they did, she picked out various things still here, things that had made the car so special when they were young.
The mattress on the floor was still piled high with pillows and quilts. A short table, with thick cushions on all four sides, still had a partially finished jigsaw puzzle spread across the top of it. Two reading lamps stood at the far end, a deep sofa placed between them with a large ottoman in front. And finally, the miniature galley kitchen that grandfather had rigged up, complete with cabinets and a sink. Even the round dog bed used by Watch One was still in the corner close to the mattress.
Jessie crossed the boxcar to the sink and turned on the faucet. Surely, long ago, the water had been cut off? But it ran, a thin, clear stream, and then gurgled down the drain. She stared at the water. “Have you been paying a water bill?” she asked Henry.
He shook his head. “Remember how Grandfather hired that man to lay a water line from the spring-fed pond? I’m guessing that pond is still full and the pipe is still clear. I’ll have that checked out for you.”
She looked around the car. She’d been seeing a lot about ‘Tiny Houses’ on the Home and Garden Network. This wasn’t much different than what she’d been seeing on those programs. With a little bit of elbow grease, she’d have everything she needed right here.
“I think it will work, Henry,” Jessie said.
Henry nodded. His eyes glittered. “I think you will make it work.” He wrapped her in a hug. “Now, I’ll go talk to those homeowners about an access easement. You’re going to have to have a road to get in and out. And a mailing address.”
Harry stepped back and Jessie saw a tear traveling down his cheek. She touched it with her fingertip. “What’s wrong?”
He shrugged. “It’s odd. I almost wish it was me moving back here, returning to a simpler life.” Henry sighed. “And another part of me wishes I could offer to pay the amount you are in arrears so you could stay in your home. Sadly, we’re stretched to the limit as is.”
“I wouldn’t want that, Henry. Truthfully, this is all right with me. It really is.”
He nodded. “Okay. I’m off to talk to your neighbors. You want to come with me?”
“No. I’ll sit out here and think a bit. So many memories.”
“And new memories yet to come. Full circle.”
Henry grabbed the handle to jump down from the boxcar. “First off, we’ll be building you some steps. We’re not Billy goats any longer, are we?”
Jessie smiled. No. Not Billy goats. But they were still–and would always be–the Boxcar Children.