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Excerpt: 'The Four-Story Mistake'

Chapter 1

The Last Time and the First

"Well, thank goodness there aren't going to be any more children here anyway!" said Randy crossly. She spoke crossly because she was sad and she preferred sounding cross to sounding sorrowful, even though there was no one in the room except herself. Nobody and nothing, for that matter: her words had the particular ringing echo that is heard only in entirely empty rooms.

Almost all her life Randy had shared this room with her older sister, Mona, and today they were going to go away and leave it. Forever. She looked carefully around because it is important to see clearly when one looks at something for the last time. How strange it seemed with all the furniture gone: smaller, somehow. In the long window the scarred shade hung crookedly as it always had; for hundreds and hundreds of nights its gentle flapping had been the last sound she heard before she slept. Good-bye shade, thought Randy sentimentally. Above the place where her bed had been some of her own drawings remained because she had impulsively stuck them to the wallpaper with glue when she couldn't find the thumbtacks. Cuffy had given her a good scolding for that, all right! Good-bye, pictures, thought Randy. She didn't mind leaving the pictures so much; she could make thousands of better ones any time she felt like it. She looked at the darker rectangles on the paper where other pictures had hung, and the stain on the baseboard where Mona had spilled the iodine that time.

Randy sighed a loud, echoing sigh. Downstairs in Rush's room she could hear the voices of Rush and Mona, and a lot of scraping and thumping and banging as they tried to get a suitcase closed. "Doggone thing acts like it hates me!" she heard Rush complain bitterly.

"Be reasonable," said Mona in her most maddening voice. "You can't expect anything to absorb seven times its own capacity. Why don't you take something out?"

"I suppose I could carry the Ninth Symphony, and the B Minor Concerto, and the roller skates myself. They don't seem to give much."

Randy sighed again and went out of the room for the last time. The last time: she'd been saying that to herself all day. She had paid a farewell visit to every single room in the house from the Office, which had been the Melendy children's playroom, to the furnace room in the basement. All of them looked bare and cold and friendless.

That morning the moving men had swarmed through the place, rolling up carpets, packing barrels, lumbering up and down the stairs with couches and chests of drawers on their backs like mammoth snails. Everything about the moving men was huge: their big striped aprons, their swelling necks and biceps, and their voices. Especially their voices; they had bawled at each other like giants shouting from mountaintops: "GIVE US A HAND WITH THE PIANNA, AL" or "CAREFUL OF THAT CORNER, JOE, DON'T KNOCK THEM CASTERS OFF."

Excerpt from The Four-Story Mistake: A Melendy Quartet Book by Elizabeth Enright. Courtesy of Square Fish/Henry Holt and Company.

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Elizabeth Enright