Charlie’s Place: A short story feature
Pablo Picasso once said, “The purpose of art is to wash the dust of daily life off our souls.” COVID-19 has flipped our worlds upside down — making daily life look more and more like the same day, every day. Picasso would agree that we need art and creativity to fuel our souls now more than ever. In response to this need, The Reflector is featuring the short story, Charlie’s Place. Charlie’s Place inspires readers to use their imaginations and delve into their creativity, at any and every age. If you’ve been in a COVID-19 slump, we invite you to unwind and immerse yourself in the thrilling adventures of Charline Pin.
By Emily Marsten, Contributor
The grandmother was worried about her little granddaughter. She loved watching her granddaughter learn and grow but noticed that she didn’t play or seem to use her imagination like other children. Her granddaughter didn’t play make-believe or dress up — in fact, she didn’t seem to do much playing at all. Instead, at a young age, she spent her time sitting quietly with adults and doing grown-up things like sipping tea and chatting.
“Come here and sit down on my lap, sweetheart,” the grandmother said, patting her knee softly.
The little girl smiled and quickly ran up to her grandmother, plopping softly down onto her lap.
The grandmother looked down at her little granddaughter and asked, “Would you like to hear a story?”
After an immediate nod from the little girl, the grandmother began in a soft voice, “Now listen closely as I tell you a story about a mother and daughter, and the power of imagination…”
Charline Pin was 10 years old, but with the defined features of a button nose, curly blonde hair and a sweetly rounded face, many thought she looked years younger. Although her looks made her appear immature, she had the vivid imagination that only a 10-year-old could really understand.
Charlie, as she called herself, took great pride in attending her fourth-grade class at Cal Gree Elementary School. However, she also proudly left this same class as fast as her little legs could carry her. After school, she would quickly walk all the way from Market Street, down Stampede Hill, hop across two ponds, and stroll past the Big Bow River Bridge in order to reach her home on Maple Square.
What Charlie called home was very different from what most average, urban 10-year-olds called home. Typically, most children had spacious houses inside narrow side streets or crammed downtown flats brimming with too many neighbours — Charlie lived in none of these. Instead, she lived with her mother in a small apartment above their art gallery.
The Meadow was a shop unique in its own way, housing art in the form of scenic paintings, custom furniture and household decorations. Charlie’s mother was a great artist and The Meadow was the result of pouring years of creativity into designing and painting her custom works.
It was just Charlie and her mom. Charlie didn’t know who her father was or where he lived, but she didn’t mind. After all, she had always imagined her father doing lots of extraordinary things. Her mind established that he had gone to the moon or invented cures for seemingly incurable diseases. Sometimes she pretended he was a famous race car driver or zoologist.
In reality, Charlie thought that any of these make-believe professions for her father were much more exciting than the jobs of plumbers and businessmen that other dads had. Instead, her father was whatever, and whoever, she wanted him to be.
Besides, Charlie adored her mother and they were content just being the two of them. Some who knew Elinor Pin as a child supposed that Charlie must have inherited her imagination from her unknown father, because growing up as an only child and surrounded by adults, Elinor was forced to act like an adult and behave very seriously. Little did they know, she was brimming with imagination.
As she grew older, Elinor decided to acknowledge the creativity and talent within her. She discovered her passion for art and began to delve into the world of furniture design and creative painting. Eventually, this led her to become the artist and gallery owner she was. With her own lonely, play-less childhood in mind, Elinor was determined to help Charlie develop her imagination and give her the play-full childhood she never had.
As a result, at the ripe age of 10 years old, Charlie had a thriving imagination and adventurous spirit. With her imagination in tow, she had travelled to a great many places — far more than any adult ever could, for she had trekked all over the world. Charlie had seen the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China. She had travelled on ships with pirates and fought monsters — all from the use of her imagination and the comfort of her mom’s upstairs workshop in The Meadow.
After a childhood of suppressing her own creativity, her mother had fully embraced her imagination as an adult — as much as any adult really could — and she loved helping Charlie get ready for whatever adventure she was embarking on. She would help Charlie make swords out of crunchy aluminum foil and crinkly hats made from newspaper. She would design stethoscopes and telescopes, star charts and treasure maps that would send Charlie on quests leading to a freshly baked cherry pie hiding in the fridge.
Sometimes, her mom would paint her special paintings depicting Charlie as the heroine. She would be portrayed wearing pastel pink gowns, trapped in a high tower, with a daring rescue planned by a valiant knight. She would be a fierce buccaneer on a pirate ship, holding a spyglass in one hand and the ship wheel in the other. Elinor would also sew costumes for Charlie to wear, like khaki-coloured jackets for safari exploration, flowing dresses for attending balls and dashing capes she would wear to swoop in and save the day.
Although Charlie’s mother couldn’t join her on all her adventures, Charlie was never alone in her explorations — Lancelot always accompanied her.
Lance was her kitten. He had a porcelain white coat and soft-as-a-feather fur, but more importantly, Lance was a knight in shining armour, an exotic explorer or the evil dragon who kept Charlie hostage. He acted as a great many things, but in reality, he was her faithful companion and best friend.
Charlie was able to see the world much differently than many of those around her because she saw it through the lens of her imagination. Charlie was inspired by the world. Sometimes she was inspired by small things like an especially blue sky and fluffy white clouds, sometimes she was inspired by what others were doing around her. She was often inspired by her mother, and after school on most days, she would trudge upstairs to watch her mother at work. She would watch as Elinor masterfully used paintbrushes to create breathtaking landscapes, or when she was working with a client to help them picture the perfect set of dining room chairs.
Charlie would watch her mother paint realistic landscapes of places that looked like pictures from an old storybook, and then she would envision herself inside the paintings. She would imagine that she lived on an old prairie homestead, or that she was hiking up the side of the steep Rocky Mountains just to see what was on the other side.
Sometimes seeking extra inspiration, Charlie and Lance would wander outside behind The Meadow to their small backyard garden. She loved seeing the little sprouts of green herbs popping up and would pretend that she was a great botanist in the Amazon Rainforest. She would lay in the sunshine and look up at the clouds, picturing herself as an ace pilot soaring through the sky.
Charlie was regularly portrayed as different from the other children around her. Sometimes she didn’t seem to fit in with other kids, and adults often didn’t know what to do with her — but they just misunderstood her.
Charlie saw the world uniquely. Where most people just saw a painting, a garden or a cat, Charlie saw adventure and possibility. Where people saw a piece of aluminum foil or newspaper, she saw a metal sword and velvety pirate hat. The problem wasn’t that Charlie didn’t know that her “metal sword” was tangibly a piece of aluminum foil — the difference was in her perspective.
When she used her imagination, she chose to see things differently. She chose to see things for what they could be, instead of what they physically were. Charlie chose adventure, fun and play — all the ingredients that she needed to travel the world and to conquer fierce dragons were simply held in the heart of her imagination.
“Is that the end of the story, Grandma?” the little girl asked softly.
“Yes, little one,” the grandmother replied.
“But what happened next? Did she grow out of her imagination?” the girl wondered.
“Let me ask you something,” the grandmother said, not answering her question.
“What would you like to do when you grow up?”
“I want to paint and design things like you do, Grandma!” the girl said excitedly.
“But what does that have to do with imagination?”
“Let me tell you a secret,” the Grandmother whispered in her ear. “I never grew out of my imagination, because imagination is something that isn’t taught or something that only a few people have. Imagination is something that you just need to decide to use, and then use it,” she said.
“I have tried many things in my life, from sailing the high seas on pirate ships, to going to fancy balls and fighting dragons. You can do anything you want with your life, little one. You can go anywhere you want, do anything you want to — you just need to use your imagination.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, pondering the story, until the little girl looked up into her grandmother’s eyes and tentatively asked, “Grandma Charline, would you like to play with me?”