The house stands empty.

The two small rooms facing the street on the second floor have been meticulously cleaned. There are no novels or storybooks piled up on the desks, no dolls or toy soldiers scattered on the floor, no rumpled bedcovers, no wardrobe doors hanging open, no row of colorful dresses behind them. All is tidy, quiet, calm.

It is a subtly different calm in the other bedroom, all suppressed worry and accustomed loneliness, a soft, suffocating silence. It is the home of shades and ghosts - and of one shade in particular that sometimes recalls that it is alive. Sometimes, when she is slipping upstairs in the dead of the night, quiet as if she could yet awaken anyone in this house. Sometimes, when she lies wakeful in an empty bed. Sometimes, when she has a rare evening free from work, when she thinks she hears the house whisper to her, softly, subtly - Where are your children, daughter of Eve? Where is your husband? O daughter of Eve, where are your sons and your daughters?

She has nothing to answer. And she goes to bed, arises in the morning, goes to work after a hasty breakfast, returns late at night, goes to bed, arises... Her world shrinks, and she forgets again that she is alive.

She does not go into the empty bedrooms, nor, indeed into the dining room or the sitting room on the first floor. The house has dwindled into her room and the kitchen, and she forgets, most of the time, that there is any more. In the stiff, formal dining room, indeed, there is little change. It is vacant, yes, in that there is no one there, but this is all. But the sitting room -

If you look closely, and if you are a child or the very rare and special kind of adult that believes in fairy tales, you will think there is magic in the sitting room. For just a minute, a fire will blaze in the fireplace, and in front of it, you will see a pair of children, a very young girl and a far older boy. He will lounge in front of the fire, gently laughing at her as she dresses a doll or reads a storybook. Another girl, quite pretty, only slightly younger than the boy, will watch them both until she notices the small one s braid unraveling and slides down from her armchair to fix it. And a fourth child, older than one girl, younger than the other, will read his book, curled up in an armchair in the corner, completely oblivious and separate from the others, until the older girl despairs of her sister s hair and pulls him into the dance their brother and sister start. If you blink, then, it will seem, just for a little, that the dancing figures are not children but adults, two shining kings and two graceful queens, majestic beyond what we know in this world, stepping and twirling in time with the flickering fire.

But if you blink again - and sooner or later you will - all will disappear. No trace will remain in the cold, silent room of the merry flame and the joyful figures. The walls will fade into grey and the sound of laughter will vanish away.

And turning to go, you will know that this is the emptiest room in the house.