After breakfast they all put on coats and took a long walk around the neighborhood. There was a busy street two blocks to the north, an even busier street two blocks to the south, and a freeway two blocks to the east. Nestled among them was this quiet, clean, old neighborhood full of two-story houses and detached garages, mostly in contrasting shades of brick. Across the street to the south lay a large park with ball fields and a playground. A few blocks past that was a zoo, much smaller than the one where Eric had skinned his knee, and closed on Sunday, but Tim said it was loaded with great animals that you could almost touch.
They spent most of the morning looking at these things, and more. Tim and Mom seemed to be saving up thoughts for a long talk later. Eric held Mom’s hand and looked at everything with wide eyes. Tim held Mom’s other hand, and Julie held no one’s hand. She looked at everything with narrow eyes, and a thought kept trying and trying to cross her mind until it finally took shape and she said to herself: “Almost, but not quite, a dump. I believe the word Mom would use is charming.”
It was hard to tell what Mom was thinking. She looked a bit uneasy when she saw the traffic on the street with the park and zoo on it. She may have bitten her tongue when they walked by the two-story, brick school. But when they came around to the front of the house again, she let out a little sigh that may have meant, “It does look like a home, after all.”
That afternoon the temperature dropped, and the house began to make brittle creaking and popping sounds in the strengthening wind. Tim built a fire in the living room fireplace. He wedged a towel into the crack under the door that led out to the front porch. Then he went upstairs to Eric’s bedroom and dug a few extra quilts out of the closet there.
Julie and Eric followed him, meaning to be helpful. But Eric got that wide-eyed look again when he saw the closet door open, and strange things hanging and leaning and lying folded inside, and shadows flitting around as the bare light-bulb swayed to and fro. The closet became quite dark when Tim pulled the chain to turn off the light. Eric’s eyes grew wider still until, with some difficulty, Tim had pushed the closet door tight shut.
That, Julie thought later, was the turning point.