December 27, 1999
How are you? It’s really cold in Brooklyn, but I’ve been going sledding a lot. My parents booked my flight to visit you in England this summer as my Christmas present. I’m super excited to see you, don’t get me wrong, but I’m also kind of mad. Every year I get the same thing for Christmas, and it’s like nobody ever asks what I want to do. Would it kill them to get me a real present for once? I overheard my mom talking to Aunt Marie, and she said that flights for the summer are cheapest in December, so they always buy them now to get a good deal. I asked for a bedazzler and a Gameboy but of course I didn’t get either. I just don’t know why they can’t buy me the flight AND a Christmas present, I mean it’s not like the flight is really for me. I know they send me to Grandma’s so that they don’t have to watch me or pay for summer camp. I’m old enough to not need anyone to watch me anymore, and one of these summers, just one, I want to stay home so I can be with my friends. Again -- don’t get me wrong, we’ll have tons of fun, but I don’t ever have a say here. Not like you - your parents give you whatever you want. I mean, all those pets! The other day a stray cat came to our stoop, no collar, no tags, nothing, and my dad wouldn’t let me keep him. I threw a fit in the middle of the street and still nothing. It’s like I can’t get through to him. I guess it’s because of what happened - I have to fill you in on everything when I’m there. I feel really bad still, but nobody wants to talk to me about it. They just tell me to be quiet in case anyone else is listening. I’m gonna try to get my hair done like yours before I come - I’m tired of your parents looking at me like I’m some kind of dirty New York girl. It’s just how kids wear their hair here, in braids or cut short. And we don’t have a nice salon or something like where your mom takes you. You’re always nice to me, but I want to fit in with them and for them to like me more. Do you think I can stay at your house for longer this time? I don’t know if I can handle Grandma’s for the whole three weeks. I might go crazy. And having a room all to ourselves is luxury! Sarah and I are getting way too big to be sharing a room, and she’s starting to get really mean. I don’t even bother her when her friends come over, but she still kicks me out. It’s not my fault that I’m three years younger. And if I had my way, we’d live in separate cities. My parents said we can’t move until mom gets a better job though. Whatever. Maybe someday I’ll have a whole wing of the house like you, and a garden like yours where I can escape from them. Speaking of which, do you think we can take the dogs for walks when I’m there? There are no big dogs for MILES here. I’ll try to work on my accent so your servants can understand me better this time.
Anyway, I’m excited to see you, I just wish my parents didn’t suck. I hope you write back soon!
Love your favorite cousin,
Ada folds the letter carefully and slides it back into the glitter-coated envelope, meticulously pressing the flap back into place along the sticky seal. She brushes the glitter off of her thumb and index finger against her silk handkerchief, wondering why American kids are so obsessed with the stuff. She’s perched on the bench of the bay window in her sitting room, a snoring Saint Bernard under her feet, the window panes shut up tight against the cold, as the sunlight streams in through the snow that falls silently just beyond the glass. The bunches of fragrant holly and eucalyptus branches still hang from a brass hook in the top of the great window, quiet reminders of a holiday just passed. “I wonder when they’ll come and take all this stuff down,” she ponders, “hopefully before the dust starts to settle on it.” She’d do it herself, but the housekeepers don’t like when she interferes.
She starts for the stables, which are just outside of her bedroom - a cobblestone path that leads to a renovated greenhouse where all of her pets and plants are kept. An odd menagerie of sorts, like something out of a Babylonian myth with great glass panels that stretch overhead to meet at several points like a transparent cathedral. Sliding ladders reach from the floor to the ceiling, the sole purpose of them being for the gardener to clamber up the rungs and water the rose vines that tumble down from the top in a variety of colors and styles. English roses, tea roses, roses of Sharon, dozens of breeds all of which she committed to memory and sketches by heart in her field notes once a week. She makes her way to the rabbit cages, sticking her fingers between the slats to rub a wet nose or stroke an ear. Only white rabbits were selected, with the silkiest fur, appearing in sharp contrast against the dark skin of her hands. She talks in a low calming voice as they coo and come to press their noses against the cage to nibble at her fingers. “You have such a way with animals, they just love you,” her father had said when he installed the cages. “Now you don’t have to be so lonely anymore, because you can talk to them whenever you want.” His voice echoed in her mind as she moved on to the bird cages dangling from wrought iron hooks, containing an exotic parrot for every color on the rainbow spectrum. They’d already been fed and cleaned, nothing for her to do except gaze longingly at their pristine feathers. We’re not so different, you know, she says as she rubs the chartreuse wing of her alexandrine parakeet - my cage is just a bit bigger than yours.
As she continues through the brilliant coop, a wave of nervousness overcomes her as she notices something unsettling. The wire frame that once housed her favorite creature, the red macaw, is empty - swinging from the ceiling with the little barred door creaking ajar, a single scarlet crest feather suspended from the hinge. She touches the latch in disbelief, and the weight of her hand is enough to shake the feather from its binding, sending it afloat as it sails to her feet.
She closes the glass door tight behind her as she exits the greenhouse, making sure it is sealed against the wind. She crosses the snow-covered courtyard to the main house for her midday piano lesson, a knot of concern in her throat, glimpsing something moving across the lawn out of the corner of her eye. She squints into the field of wet snowflakes and follows the red dots with her gaze as they bob up and down in the distance. As her vision focuses, she starts to make out the stable boys as they pummel each other with tightly packed snowballs. Advancing across a battlefield of powdered white, they leap back and forth as she finally makes out the red drops amidst the expanse of white - macaw feathers sticking out of their cheap woollen hats. As she turns to start in their direction, their screams of laughter pierce her ears but are slowly drowned out by the ringing of the noonday bell, calling her inside for her lesson.