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The Staircase

Who knew what mysteries lay beyond the dingy staircase? It had haunted her dreams for years.  Now she was standing right in front of it, with a sense of dread.

"Come on Lisa," said Frank.  "Let's get this over with."  Lisa knew he was terrified although he'd never admit it. Two other tenants, with grim expressions, were waiting  in the hallway.   Lena Carlson had last been seen four days ago.  She had presumeably been locked into her room since then.  The truth had to be discovered.  First they would try to unlock her door with the master key.  Then they would probably have to inform the police.

The door opened easily.  All was neat and orderly inside.  The small two-room flat was empty.  There were sighs of relief all round.

"So where is Lena?" cried Ann Forrest, one of the tenants.

"I'm right here!  What's going on?"  Lena was back!  Just a  misunderstanding owing to her failure to inform her landlord and fellow tenants that she had been called out of town when her  mother had suddenly taken ill.

A discussion followed.  It was decided that all tenants would inform the landlord in future of sudden trips out of town to safeguard against such incidences happening again.  Frank was mortified at having opened up a tenant's room, but explained that everyone had been worried.  All was settled within minutes.

Back in the car, Lisa was still very down, despite the relief in the air.

"Lisa," said Frank.  "What's going on?  You've been very quiet.   I notice you never want to visit this house with me.  Would you like to share what's on your mind?"

"Frank!  You know I used to live in a house on this road when I was a little girl.  The houses are all built the same.  It was my grandmother's house.  We moved here when I was five years old."  Lisa breathed deeply and went on.

"My grandmother was really old and very sick.  I could never bring myself to come near her.  She lived upstairs.  There was an awful smell of medicines and an atmosphere of sickness.   One day, when I was six, my mother called me and asked me to go to grandma because she had a gift for me.  I went upstairs, dreading it.  Grandma was  so happy.  She had some candy for me and I was so thrilled I hugged and kissed her, took the candy and ran away.  She died that night."  Lisa dissolved in tears.

"Mom told me that grandma died happy because I was affectionate to her.    But you know what?  I was only affectionate  because of the candy.  I feel so guilty....."

"Lisa," said Frank.  "You were a child.  Children are innocent.  It's only as adults that we understand the reality of sickness and death.  What's important is that your grandma got some happiness in her last moments, because of you.  You should be happy, not sad."  Lisa smiled through her tears.

"Do you really think so?" she said.  She looked lighter now.  Happy and free.

"I know so," he said.  "Now let's go home...."

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