tilly with the others: part 16

The elevator took forever to arrive at her floor, and when it did the polite young man with the tattoos was in it. Tilly had met him the day she moved in; he had watched some of her furniture for her when the movers accidentally trapped her in the elevator with the couch. Now he nodded hello to her and Tilly smiled back, desperately wanting to tell him that her eldest grand-daughter had e-mailed to say there were doors floating in the sky above her old house in the suburbs.

The young man was busy thumbing something into his phone. The elevator churned its way to the lobby and the man gestured for her to leave the elevator first. Tilly smiled and thanked him, then pretended to check for something in her purse as he went through the back doors.

She decided to go to Kensington Market and sit in the park if she needed thinking time. By the time she reached Harbord Street the noise and busyness on Spadina Avenue was getting on her nerves, so she cut across to Robert Street and walked along the quiet houses instead. Emily saw a door in the sky, and two men who were really looking for her, not Emily, had been there and pointed it out to her... Tilly stepped around a little boy on a tricycle. It felt like a thought was waiting to burst just behind her eyes.

She made it all the way to the market without the thought showing any more than its existence. For once the Moonbean Café had empty tables, so she treated herself to a chai and grabbed some serviettes to write on, just because it felt like she was going to want to write something down.

There was a little girl in a yellow sundress at the counter, holding onto her father's hand as he ordered them both drinks. Tilly watched him lean down and point to the bakery case. The little girl pointed at the oatmeal cookies, and the father straightened up and ordered a cookie. Tilly looked away. She knew it was irrational, but girls in yellow dresses always irritated her.

Her first new dress had been yellow. That had been... 1950? It sounded right. Before that every stitch she owned had been hand-me-downs from her older cousins. Her mother had knitted her the dress, and had embroidered purple pansies across the bodice. Tilly had liked the pansies, which made up for the yellow a little bit.

The second or third time she wore the dress, it was a Saturday, and her father had gone out with some friends. Her mother was happy to stay at home and read, but the teenage daughter of the lady next door rang the bell and said her grandmother was ill, no-one else was home and she didn't know what to do. The old woman was already partly paralysed from a stroke. Tilly's mother feared the worst, so she told Tilly to be good, play with her toys or read a book, and not answer the door until she got back from helping the neighbours.

As it turned out, the grandmother had had another stroke, and Tilly's mother was away for some time calling an ambulance and generally trying to help the neighbours. Tilly finished the book she was reading, built some pyramids with her blocks, and changed the clothes on her dolls a few times. She wished she was better at telling the time, so she could figure out how long her mother had been away. She thought about going to the neighbours to see what was going on.

Then she heard a knock on the door, and heard a man's voice calling her name. She knew her mother had told her to not answer the door to strangers, but surely if they knew her name this must be her father? The voice had been muffled, so she wasn't sure. Maybe he had forgotten his keys.

She gave a little screech when she opened the door. There were two men standing there, and neither of them were her father. They were dressed in identical grey boiler suits, and wore grey flat caps on their heads and black bow ties at their throats.

The man on the left raised his eyebrows. "You sure about this?" he said. "She's awfully small."

"You have to take the total lifespan into account," the man on the right said. He smiled. "It's all right, Tilly. We just wanted to make sure we knew where you lived. For when you're all grown up."

"Is she afraid?" the man on the left said. "You're afraid, aren't you?"

"We're outside the extended family unit," the man on the right said. "She's been trained not to move beyond the circle of trust. It's all right," he said, smiling again, "we won't come in. It was nice to meet you, Tilly."

The man on the left frowned, then shrugged his shoulders. "Er, certainly," he said. "Nice. Good-bye."

"Good-bye!" the man on the right said, tipping his hat and smiling one last time. Then they turned around simultaneously and left.

Tilly waited until she couldn't see them or hear them anymore. Then she ran to the door, bolted and locked it, and went up to her room.

Her mother found her asleep on her bed, with all the stuffed animals handed down from her cousins gathered around her.

In the Moonbean Café, the sixty-seven year old Tilly shook her head and sipped at her chai. "Lifespan." "Extended family unit." She had had no idea what those words were when she had heard them at age six, and she'd completely blocked the incident from her mind until now. Although, she reflected, taking another sip, now that she knew the words and had managed to remember them, she still had no idea who the men were or what they were gabbling about.

She'd better find out fast, though, because she had to figure out whether or not they were dangerous to Emily.