“Lizzie. Lizzie, I think they’re here.”
At the trilling of her mother’s voice, the young girl in question looked up from her ladybugs. She had been watching them flutter with a vitality that decreased with the amount of oxygen in the sealed glass jar. Slowly, the spotted prisoners had drifted downward, coming to a defeated rest at the bottom.
The sounds of a cart wheeling up the path prodded at the windows frosted over with ice. Placing her hand on the glass, Lizzie watched as the white spider webs melted slowly, leaving a hole through which to see. However, before she could wipe her hand on her heavy winter skirts, a single, booming knock sounded at the door.
Her father’s footsteps, almost as booming as the knock itself, made their way from the study, through the hallway, down the stairs, and to the front door. She liked to listen to their almost military regularity.
As her father pulled the door open, she crept closer to the entry. A stranger’s voice echoed through the house, the biting cold from outside chasing its trajectory. The suffocating ladybugs were long forgotten.
“Yes,” her father’s voice replied, “and you must be Mr. Connolly, here to deliver the Rodgers boy.”
“Mh? Oh, yes, yes. May I come in?”
Lizzie inched closer to the stairs leading to the entrance. Two pairs of boots, one clattering loudly on the floorboards, presumably stomping off the snow that had gathered on the footwear, and one stepping lightly, perhaps shyly, in the first’s wake, crossed over the threshold into the hall.
“Would you like anything to drink? Something warm, coffee, hot cocoa?”
“Oh, no thank you, mh. I really must get back to Halifax. Just come to deliver the boy, you see.”
“Yes. And may I ask—I read about it in the papers, of course. But, the explosion—”
“Oh, it’s quite a tragedy. And this close to Christmas! So many deaths....”
“How many, exactly?” Although she couldn’t see her father’s face, she could hear the curious worry in his voice.
“Around two thousand, I heard. And many more who have lost their homes. Most of them are coming here.”
“Ah, yes. Well, I’m sure the people of Truro will be very happy to help.” A sound of rustling material was heard. “And what might your name be, young man?”
The answer was mumbled unintelligibly. Nearing the corner leading to the door, Lizzie strained to hear this new voice adding itself to the discussion.
“I’m sorry, son, but you must speak louder.” Her father’s speech was deafening compared to the last.
“Matthew Rodgers, sir.”
“How old are you, son?”
“Well, I’m sure you will get along with my daughter, just fine. She’s twelve.”
Intrigued, Lizzie, now at the very edge of the stairs, peered around the corner, and directly into the boy’s small, dark eyes.
He was of a peculiar build, a bit too large in the ears and a bit too small in the nose. Covered in red-hot burn marks, the hands shook slightly, almost as if they wanted to be clenched tightly, but couldn’t because of the burns. His attire was too heavy, if it is possible to be too heavily clad in the Canadian winter months; he seemed to be wearing more than one of each article of clothing. Finally, the face was almost completely obscured by a cap crouching uneasily on the forehead. Almost, that is, except for the eyes, haunted and distant, yet trained directly on Lizzie’s.
“Lizzie! Come meet your new roommate.” Upon noticing the newcomer’s firm gaze, the girl’s father had swiveled around and recognized her, one blue eye hidden by the corner, the other staring, surprised, into his own.
“Roommate, Papa?” Standing, she started down the stairs at a snail’s pace, one step at a time.
The boy remained as silent as the winter afternoon outside. Lizzie was increasingly perplexed.
“Why don’t you bring our friend to the parlour, and I’ll—.”
“Did you see the boat?” she asked Mr. Connolly abruptly. “Papa told me two big boats crashed, and there was an explosion, and people came running because they wanted to see the big boats on fire, and they were exploded, too! And the houses were on fire—”
“Darling, bring Matthew to the parlour. We’ll talk about this later.”
Lizzie’s eyebrows met in the middle of her forehead, and, tossing her curls over her shoulder, she marched up the steps, the boy following hesitantly behind her.
Suddenly, she heard a sharp thump, the sound of a battered leather suitcase hitting the ground. It was Matthew’s; he had dropped it on the rug covering the parlour floor. His mouth hung open.
“Oh,” he said, and rushed to the forgotten jar of ladybugs. A spark had lit up his eyes, a fury she didn’t understand.
“What? What is it?” Lizzie went after him uncertainly.
“They’ll die, we have to let them out!”
As he gently unscrewed the lid, the ladybugs gradually woke up. They crawled along the bottom and tested out their frozen wings.
“Oh,” Lizzie muttered. “I’m sorry.” Realizing how arrogant she sounded, she tried again, more measured, this time. “I’m... sorry.” She said it as if she were tasting the words, not sure if she appreciated their flavour.
Those haunted, distant eyes met hers again. All trace of that sudden spark had disappeared.
Tentatively, she collected the ladybugs one by one and placed them carefully on a stool next to the fireplace, where they would be warm and could rest in peace. She could feel the boy’s eyes burrowing into her back. Lizzie watched them settle down gratefully. Then, she glanced at Matthew, the boy who had freed them. The spark in his eyes was still absent, but a small glint had appeared, eclipsing some of the sadness in his expression. Turning to face him, she held out her hand.
“My name’s Elizabeth,” she said, “but you can just call me Lizzie.”