The unbearable excitement of curtains

A story.

We lived in an apartment complex when I was a kid, one surrounded by woods on three sides. I had a secret hiding place along the wooded border one year–a fallen down tree whose roots made a tiny little cave. In my cave I stored a marvelous treasure: a old, waterlogged JC Penny Christmas catalog. Several hundred pages of delicious decadence, or so it seemed then.

There were toys, yes, but that wasn’t the best part. No, the best was the entire section devoted to curtains.

Yes, curtains.

If I say Sound of Music, I suspect a fair number of you will make the connection. It was more than Sound of Music though. It was The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Joan Aiken). If you haven’t read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, well, it’s about cousins Bonnie and Sylvia, and scheming people, and missing parents, and wolves, and orphanages, and adventure.

In it, Sylvia, an orphan, must leave her loving Aunt Jane because Jane is too poor to feed the two of them anymore (in fact she can no longer even feed herself). To prepare Sylvia to go to live with her rich cousin, Jane makes her a new dress out of her curtains. The dress is discarded immediately once Sylvia arrives at her cousin’s, but to me, that dress was the height of romance. Not romance as in kisses on the veranda, but romance in the sense of that big feeling about the world that filled me up with stories of my own.

So I loved looking through the curtains, and imagining what could be made from them. It would have been far simpler to look at the clothes. There was no romance in them though, and never would be for me. I wanted more, I wanted those inert curtains to become something because of what I dreamed into them, not because of what they were on their own.

Children’s imaginations are rarely as simple as adults imagine them to be.


  1. This is so very true.

    On an unrelated note I wanted to tell you how much I’m enjoying that Daily Science Fiction newsletter you recommended a few posts ago.It features such great stories. Thanks again for mentioning it to us!

  2. Joan Aiken’s books were among my favourites when I was a child, and I still reread them occasionally and think they’re brilliant. 🙂

    Children’s imaginations are a wonderful thing. I sometimes look at the stories I wrote as a child and am amazed by the surreal imaginings!

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