The Empty Bed

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The Empty Bed by Daphne Raskin - Photo by Alexandra Alpert

“Well, I certainly am looking forward to this summer!” Cicada chimed as she scuffled up the three plank stairs that led to the rickety door of Cabin 3C. In one hand, she held an overflowing sunflower-yellow duffel bag, and in the other, she held a smaller bag filled to the brim with candy, games, and pictures of family members and friends from back home.

Quickly scurrying behind Cicada was Eleanor, a girl who, although four inches taller, somehow took up less space than Cicada. Emma, the third member of Cabin 3C and by far the most reserved one, trailed behind the first two.

It was the 30th day of June, and a soft, warm breeze washed over the campgrounds. Fireflies began to emerge from their hideouts in the shadowy pine forest behind the row of cabins. The smell of burning wood and freshly cut grass rode the waves of breeze. Past the pine forest, the row of cabins, the main lodge, and tennis courts, was a sandy beach speckled with fuchsia, yellow, and orange umbrellas. They were rolled up, waiting to be used for shade the following day. Tulip beds and butterflies outlined the border of the beach, dividing grass and sand.

Inside Cabin 3C, all three 11 year olds were unpacking and choosing their beds. A sense of uncertainty and excitement fluttered into each of the girls’ hearts as they nervously wondered if signing up for camp had been a good decision. Although they did not know it yet, they all shared a love for adventure and a great imagination, two traits most young children possess. Their cabin was small, with one bathroom stall in the center protruding from the back wall. There were two main sections on both sides of the cabin that housed the beds; there were four beds in total.

“I call this one!” Cicada declared as she pointed to a cot in the corner.

Eleanor settled on the bed next to Cicada, and Emma chose one of the other two beds on the other side of the cabin. After about 40 minutes of setting up their things, the three girls each lay down on their beds and began to talk.

“Hey! I wonder who the fourth girl in our cabin is gonna be,” Eleanor said.

“Why, do you think there is going to be another girl?” asked Emma, hopefully.

Emma dearly wished there would be another girl; she envisioned herself being left out of Eleanor and Cicada’s conversations, and she felt that they were already developing a friendship without her. In any case, Emma and the new girl would have much more time to get to know each other because their beds would be on the same side of the bunk.

Quiet, mature, and reasonable, Emma was modest and fair. At home, she had a couple of friends, but didn’t give in to the buzz and babble of her home life, in which she was one of five children. While her siblings fought and schemed to get their parents’ attention, Emma’s reasonableness made her a great mediator of family conflict. Typically, however, Emma kept to herself and stayed out of trouble, reading books about botany and keeping a little garden all for herself.

“Well, there’s a fourth bed in the corner, so there must be another girl coming!” Cicada added, “And I think that the fourth girl has famous parents!”

With this, Eleanor and Emma sat up in their cots and turned to face Cicada, as if asking Cicada to explain herself. Cicada was good at putting on a show and entertaining. She was a part of the drama club at her school and was the sort of person who always signed herself up for the talent show even if her talent was not worthy of display. She had two older brothers who no longer lived at home with her, which meant that Cicada played center stage in all family affairs: everything that could be done would be done if it meant spoiling Cicada more.

When Cicada was two, her first word was “dog.” Her parents took this to mean that she loved dogs and wanted one, so they adopted their first golden shepherd from the pound the following afternoon. It was on this efficient cycle of want-and-get that Cicada was raised, and though she had mellowed out in recent years, she was still accustomed to high standards of living.

“Go on!” Eleanor pried.

Cicada turned to Emma, whose eyes were glued to Cicada’s face, before she continued.

“I think,” replied Cicada, “that the new girl who is coming to live in this very cabin,” she paused for effect, “is very, very rich. I heard she was coming to camp in her own private plane!”

“Gee!” exclaimed Emma, who was now excited about meeting her prospective friend, but unsure of Cicada’s trustworthiness. “And why can you be so sure? How did you find out?”

“I have my ways,” Cicada said. Her eyes widened and her hands clasped together in an authoritative way. She gazed around the room as if she knew all. She continued, “And a little birdie told me that this new girl is from Valencia, Spain.”

Though dubious, Emma chose to trust the validity of Cicada’s information because what Cicada said excited her.

Wow! Emma thought, I’ve never met anyone from Spain before! When I befriend this foreigner, she will be so rich that she will take me to visit Spain and show me around. And when she comes to visit me, I’ll show her my house and my little garden. I hope she loves flowers. Maybe she’ll love flowers so much that she has her own little garden in Spain, too! When she comes to visit me, I’ll show her my small bushes of Valencia roses and pomegranate flowers. Everybody loves pomegranate flowers. Although they’re native to India and Iran, they are popular in Spain, and I’m sure she’ll love how they bloom in the springtime; their petals open up like golden Japanese oilpaper umbrellas!

“So, what do you think, Emma?” Eleanor asked.

At this point, Emma was so engrossed in thought about her pomegranate flowers, the mysterious fourth girl of Cabin 3C, and the bed that lay empty beside her own, that she was no longer paying attention to Cicada and Eleanor.

Cicada and Eleanor now watched Emma with concern.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?” Emma asked, cautiously.

“Well,” Cicada replied, in a detached tone that made her seem a little upset that Emma had not been focusing all of her attention on her, “Do you think that the girl who’s coming to take the empty bed might be from a royal family? Eleanor believes that only kings and queens could afford to send their daughter to summer camp on a different continent. In a private plane, no less!”

“I don’t know,” Emma replied shyly. “Princesses vacation in the south of France or the Pacific Islands. They ski in the Alps! Why, of all the places that a princess could spend her summer,” Emma continued, “would she choose to spend the summer with us? And why would she want to spend the summer sleeping on a small and thin bed like that one in the corner? It feels like lying on a mattress filled with leaves and sticks!” With this, Emma nodded in the direction of the empty bed. “That doesn’t seem likely.”

“It makes a lot of sense if you think about it!” replied Cicada. “If you were royalty, don’t you think you would get bored of spending so much time in your royal gardens or on fancy, private beaches? Of course, I would love to have my own butler, and I can only dream of being pampered like a princess. But after a while, everyone needs an escape from their individual realities.

Cicada continued, “Princesses must get lonely, too! Princesses live isolated lives, so they don’t have many friends. That’s why they all marry their relatives!” She spoke matter-of-factly. “I would bet my candy that the fourth girl of Cabin 3C is a Spanish princess coming to camp to make some genuine friends.”

Emma loved the prospect of befriending the Spanish princess. What was more, she loved the prospect of visiting the Valencian royal gardens. She didn’t think she could ever become bored if she had a garden that grand. In Emma’s fantasies, she lived in an ornate palace. Her room would have a stained glass window with long, flowing ivory drapes. Each morning, she would wake up from her canopy bed and open her beautiful, kaleidoscopic window, which would look out onto her royal gardens. She would live her days skipping through the winding paths of the garden, tending to its plants and reading in the shade of ancient oaks.

“You’re right!” Emma replied, “I wouldn’t be surprised if she did have some royal blood! Just imagine, a real-life princess in Cabin 3C!”

“A once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Eleanor agreed.

“I have to say,” Cicada paused, “though even I wasn’t quite sure at first, I think it would make a lot of sense if she was Spanish royalty.”

A member of the Spanish royalty! Emma thought. When I become friends with the princess and she comes to visit my home, I’m going to have to decorate my house with the finest flowers I can grow to impress her! Pomegranate flowers would be nice—but if I really want to impress her, I am going to have to plant bushes and bushes of all the most beautiful flowers—flowers fit for a queen! I’ll grow everything—dahlias and daffodils, bouquets of lilies and lantana flowers. Irises! Orchids! I can hardly wait to watch all of those beautiful flowers bloom.

Emma’s face was frozen in an unmoving, dreamy smile.

In just a few hours, they would befriend a real-life, horseback-riding, private-plane flying, Valencian princess! Isn’t it every child’s dream to grow up to become a prince or princess?

Cicada was ecstatic. Her drama club would be so impressed with her if she brought home a real-life princess. And maybe, just maybe, the princess was an aspiring actress and wanted to be cast in a leading role with Cicada in a play! And what fun would that be, Cicada suddenly thought, if she and the already-famous, princess-turned-bunkmate became famous actress friends. They could dine together like Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews! Imagine the expressions on her friends’ and family’s faces when she brought home the princess, after the summer was through.

“Girls, I have an idea!” Cicada said. She marched over to the empty bed. “When the new girl comes, I’m sure she’ll be exhausted. We should decorate her bed to make it look extra welcoming. This might be the first time in the princess’s entire life that she has been away from her royal palace. We should go and gather some wild flowers and wrap them in ribbons as a welcome-to-Cabin-3C gift.”

The two other girls jumped around the bunk excitedly. Hurriedly, they strapped on their boots, rolled up their sleeves, and bounded down the cabin steps.

Overhead, the sun dimmed as strawberry-colored streaks painted the bubblegum sky. The girls worked with a silent fervor. Behind them, a bubbling stream flowed rapidly, in waves of white mist; the water swirled into larger and larger pools until it cascaded down a hill and trickled out of sight. In just a few minutes, the girls were back in the bunk, tying the bouquet together with a piece of string.

Suddenly, the girls heard a whir of an engine, and then there was a knock on the door. All three girls stared at the empty bed and then at the bouquet of flowers. Each girl could practically see the long, golden dress, the bodyguards, and the elegant girl on the other side of the oak wall. In one swift motion, Cicada dashed to the bouquet, picked it up, and leapt to the front of the cabin. She reached for the handle with one hand and turned it, while extending the bouquet of flowers with the other hand.

A man of about 60 years of age, wearing a janitorial uniform, appeared at the door beside his pickup truck. He didn’t turn off the engine. His back was hunched, and when he smiled, his eyes creased into small, jovial slits. The girls stared at him in amazement, and then in disbelief, as he walked inside the cabin, picked up the fourth bed, and put it into his truck.

“Hey!” yelled Emma, “What about the fourth girl in Cabin 3C? Where will she sleep?”

The janitor replied, “There are only three girls in this bunk. You wouldn’t want an empty bed in here all summer, now would you?” With that, he drove away.

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