by ~catherine e.
(Time period: early first season, 1987)
The sound of children laughing, running through the tunnel by the entrance to Rebecca’s room woke her from a very short night’s sleep. As Rebecca stretched her body, she immediately thought about the day’s work ahead of her, and she was filled with resolve.
No more sleep .. .it’s time to get up, she ordered herself as she yawned and lifted a little too quickly out of her bed. Rebecca let out a slight moan as she rubbed her aching neck and shoulders.
Helping William cut up vegetables for half the day yesterday really took its toll on her already sore body. She had been making candles morning, noon, and night for weeks trying to keep up with all of the candle needs of the Tunnel Community. It seemed like just as soon as the candles in each person’s chambers were replaced, the candles in the hospital chamber needed to be replaced as well, or on the tunnel walls leading to Father’s Study.
Rebecca loved her life, she loved her work, but it was hard to be a novelty. Brooke and Timothy were both learning the process of how to make candles but they weren’t as diligent in learning as of late. As she twisted her body at the waist left and then right, the familiar cracking sounds could be heard coming from her back. Rebecca took a deep breath and walked over to a small washing bowl with just a splash of water in it.
“Oh.” Rebecca said aloud as she looked to the floor for her large jug that had had her fresh water supply within. She tilted the jug into the light and saw that inside, there was no water left.
Okay, well, time to turn some lemons …
Rebecca’s thought trailed off as she found a small handkerchief on her bedside table and soaked up the little water that she had in her ceramic washing bowl. She patted her face so gently as she walked over to her forest green dress that she had laid out on her chair.
Rebecca gently unbuttoned her beige nightshirt and slid it down her body to the cold floor. In one swift move, she had her green dress over her head and was attempting to pull it down when …*pull pull* … there was a problem.
Oh no! Rebecca thought as she felt her blonde curls getting yanked with each slight pull.
“Ouch! Darn buttons!”
Rebecca started to lift the dress back off of herself. When she felt the tight tug again of a button gripping onto some of her blonde curls near the base of her neck. A little frustrated, Rebecca pulled the dress off as much as she could but it ended up being inside out and stuck to the top of her head. She let out a frustrated grunt. She looked about the room and found a small handheld mirror. It was old, it had a broken line through the center, but it was given to her when she was a child in the tunnels by Mary. Since then it has always held special value to her. And hopefully right now it will prove its use.
Rebecca hastily picked up the handheld mirror and held it up to her face in order to see the entanglement a little better perhaps. But as soon as Rebecca saw the reflection of herself looking so ridiculous with her dress stuck on top of her head, she laughed out loud uproariously.
Rebecca continued to laugh so hard that she actually had to sit down once again on the chair nearby. She had needed a good laugh and this was a great stress reliever for her. She had an idea as she sat laughing at herself, she leaned forward and flung the dress over her head so that it almost touched the floor. Now she was able to carefully and meticulously untangle her blonde curls from not only a button but also a rough spot in the sewing of the garment.
“There!” she said triumphantly.
Rebecca picked up the green dress off of her chamber floor and laid it back on the chair. She walked over to her bed and squatted beside it. She lifted up the quilt that engulfed her bed to reveal a large box with no lid. Rebecca pulled out a blue jumper that was within and a long sleeve gray turtleneck that was underneath it.
“Now, let’s try this again.”
Rebecca quickly put on her gray turtleneck and blue jumper. There was a small bowl on the table near her bed that had some bobby pins and elastic bands and a few beautiful combs that she wore for special occasions. Rebecca deftly pulled up her curls placing an elastic band around them, and, as always, quite a few curly strands fell loose.
Now, first thing’s first! Rebecca thought to herself as she slipped into her worn-out moccasins and headed out of her chamber.
Rebecca quickly made her way left and then right, going past friends and saying Good Morning as she made her way down to the candle-making room.
“Morning, Rebecca!” Michael called as he ran past her with a gaggle of laughing children on his heels.
“Oops! Sorry, Rebecca!”
Rebecca stood aside, trying to get out of their way, smiling as each of them passed by. She caught sight of Brooke at the end of the train.
“Brooke!” Rebecca said loudly and she reached out to touch her arm.
A little winded, Brooke replied, “Oh hi, Rebecca! I’m just heading to the education chamber! We were in a race!”
“I can see that! Brooke, you sought me out before because you had wanted to learn how the candles were made but in particular, the Winterfest candles. I can’t teach you if you’re not there.” Rebecca knew exactly how to address problems in kindness, every time.
“I know. I’m sorry. I’ve just gotten so busy! Nazarene has been showing me how to sew and I’ve been working so hard on a new dress and Michael needed help with getting supplies ready for the younger children’s lessons…Can I still come and help?…Please?”
Brooke was such a talented girl and Rebecca knew that she still needed all the help that she could get.
Rebecca smiled. Youth.
“Alright, Brooke. I can see that you are busy putting your talents to use. Which is quite exciting actually! I’ll tell you what, why don’t you drop by this evening right after supper and we will continue our lessons on learning the art of candle making.”
“Oh, thank you, Rebecca!” Brooke exclaimed, hugging her so tightly.
Rebecca smiled and replied, “You better catch up to the rest of the group! If you see Timothy tell him to come tonight too please.”
“All right.” Brooke smiled and ran quickly through the tunnels. As the sound of Brooke’s tapping footsteps grew quieter, Rebecca entered into the candle-making chamber.
“Well, of course” thought Rebecca as she looked around the dimly lit room where all of the candles from the night before were almost out. She walked over to the loom that was being used to hang candlesticks on and cut some freshly made candles down. As Rebecca replaced each and every candle along the walls and within the lanterns in the room, she couldn’t help but smile at the warmth that filled that happy, useful chamber. It was as if every time that the room got lit up anew, Rebecca was reminded of all of the years that she has been helping in that room and learning the craft and being a real help to her community. Her family.
She then set to work on starting the fires under the two boiling pots for today’s work. She reminisced on when she was a little girl and there were only these two or three pots to make do, but now, as the years had rolled on and more helpers have proved so generous, larger and even more useful pots had come into this chamber. Usually, at least once a year, she had all of the pots boiling at once. She hoped that that time would not come again soon! She’d hate to have to employ Vincent once again and have his golden locks catch on fire again too. Or Mouse! For he was the reason that Vincent caught fire that one time!
Rebecca had started only small fires to warm up the pots slowly, so now she had an opportunity to gather some fresh water for her chamber. Light-footedly, she started down the tunnels again back to her chamber where she found her large jug awaiting her. With a little grunt, she picked up the jug and heaved it down the tunnel ways toward the waterfalls. Truthfully, if her back hadn’t been so sore, the jug would not have proved such a problem. But her predicament was starting to show as she passed Winslow and Cullen discussing some changes in the plans for opening up a new chamber.
“Hey, Rebecca!” Cullen quickly shouted, even as he continued to argue with Winslow. “That’s completely wrong, Winslow! You’re thinking of going closer to a water source which actually is going to be a bad idea because the walls are not strong.”
“Cullen, please!” Winslow retorted. “I think I know my way around these tunnels even better than you! Believe me when I say that digging through this softer rock will allow us to have a wide open chamber, maybe even as big as the Great Hall! Who knows?! Now we continue to dig it all out and let’s see how big we can make this chamber!”
Rebecca smirked as she trudged along past them and continued on her way toward the waterfalls.
Rebecca heard Winslow calling to her so she stopped. As Winslow caught up to her he pulled the jug right out of her weary arms and said, “Young lady, how many times have I told you to let me carry this jug for you when you need help?! I know how hard you’ve been working! We all know how hard you’ve been working.”
As they continued walking together, Rebecca and Winslow spoke of the candle needs in different chambers and in different tunnels. These things needed to be known, but it did just add a little bit more stress on her mind to keep track of it all right now.
The two friends eventually reached the waterfalls and found quite a few other tunnelers there gathering water for their chambers as usual. Winslow sat down the giant jug and said that he would be back or send someone back in a few minutes to help her get that back to her chamber.
“Winslow?” Rebecca was thinking of denying that she needed help, but she looked at the jug again and realized how heavy it truly was going to be when her strength was already a little diminished.
Winslow had stopped in his tracks waiting for Rebecca to finish her thought.
Winslow put up a hand, waving away the thank you. He was never very good at taking compliments or accepting gratitude.
“Now I’m going to go and school Cullen on the ins and outs of continuing this tunnel system.”
And with that, Winslow disappeared back through the entrance to the waterfalls. Rebecca couldn’t help but laugh when she heard Cullen and Winslow arguing once again as they walked back to the new chamber area together.
Rebecca sat on a rock and waited her turn at the nearest fall to fill her enormous jug. Thank goodness Mouse had made an apparatus that easily poured the water from the falls into basins or jugs! As she relaxed for a moment, she felt the cool mists from the falls brushing against her face and it took her back to a time when she used to visit the waterfalls with her mother when she was very, very young. How magical everything seemed in the tunnels! For a small child, the endless amount of adventures beyond their tunnel community were extraordinary to think of. And Vincent and Devin would always fill her young mind with incredible visions of places that they would sneak off to together with the older kids. Rebecca had always planned on going on so many more adventures, but the need for her and her talents was always strongly felt within the tunnel community, and she was happy and fulfilled with her place within that community. It was times like these that she missed her mother.
Suddenly pulled from her thoughts, Rebecca felt a tugging on her arm. She turned to see thirteen-year-old Timothy standing next to her.
“Timothy!” Rebecca smiled. “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in the candle-making chamber for days.”
The young man, who was still baby-faced and quite short for his age, cleared his throat and said, “The guys and I were doing some work for Dr. Wong up top so that we could make some money.”
Rebecca pursed her lips and looked down for a moment. “Don’t you think that you should have told me so that I would understand why you haven’t been showing up like you said you would?”
Timothy looked a little nervous and shifted from foot to foot. “Rebecca, I told them that I would get into trouble, but they said that it would be worth it and I could just apologize later …”
Suddenly ashamed of his reasoning, Timothy looked down at his shoes and got quiet. “I’m sorry …” he said so softly that Rebecca could hardly hear him.
Elizabeth had just finished filling a canteen with water and addressed Rebecca.
“It’s all yours, Rebecca … Hello, Timothy.” Elizabeth smiled as she carried some brushes and a bowl and went down another passage, which led to much deeper tunnels.
“Thank you, Timothy.” Rebecca said. “You know that I am teaching you a skill that is extremely resourceful and needed for our livelihood. Just like Eleanor taught my mother before she died, and my mother taught me.”
Timothy stepped in front of Rebecca and grabbed the heavy jug. “So, did you get to pick the Winterfest candle colors?”
Rebecca smiled and stood up. Both she and Timothy moved the jug together over towards the waterfall. “Oh no, Timothy. I was born here after many Winterfests had already been and when I was a very little girl and learning about candle-making, those Winterfest candles looked the same as the ones we make today. Eleanor was the creator of the Winterfest candles and she chose the colors.”
Timothy reached for Mouse’s apparatus and placed one end going into the jug and pushed the other end up into the falling water.
“Do you remember what the colors represent, Timothy?” quizzed Rebecca.
Timothy silently shook his head “no”.
“Because of the dark times that our community had survived, the three colors were chosen purposefully. Orange to remind us of the energy, the motivation that we needed to build this community and to continue to sustain it. It reminds our Helpers in the world above that they feed that energy. They help us sustain our world …”
The jug suddenly started to overflow due to Timothy being engrossed in Rebecca’s story and Rebecca happily telling him. Timothy removed the apparatus and placed it in its nearby basket. Rebecca and the boy scooted the jug over to the nearby rock where she had been sitting earlier.
“Goodness!” Rebecca huffed, as she let go of it and sat down, wringing out the sides of her drenched pant legs.
“And the yellow represents joy, right?” asked Timothy.
Rebecca smiled. “Yes Timothy, that’s right. The joy that our people felt when they first came together side-by-side to create our home. The joy that we feel living here, safe and sound, in peace …” Rebecca trailed off as she heard bickering voices echoing from the entryway to the falls.
Rebecca and Timothy looked to see Cullen and Winslow arguing still as they entered from the dark.
“Oh, come on! You need to get your eyes checked, Winslow! Look at the maps that we have and see and feel the moisture in those walls!” Cullen commanded.
“Cullen! You try my patience with your ignorance!” Winslow resounded.
“MY ignorance?! You’ve got some nerve …” Cullen retorted.
“Yeah!” shouted Winslow.
Rebecca waved at them and yelled as loud as she could, “Hey, guys!”
The men looked toward Rebecca, suddenly remembering why they were there in the first place, and walked over.
“Thank you both for coming back.” Rebecca smiled warmly. “Timothy and I are most appreciative.”
“Sure Rebecca,” Cullen said. “We needed a break anyway.”
“I could break your …” Winslow mumbled to himself.
Cullen grabbed the slippery, heavy jug and picked it up into his arms. “Wow, you really filled this!” Cullen said, leaning left and then right, due to the weight of the jug swaying him.
“Give me that, Cullen! Before you hurt yourself!” Winslow demanded, taking the jug out of his arms. Now Winslow could recognize the heaving weight upon him as he tried to walk “normally” back into the tunnel that led back to the main system.
“Winslow?” Rebecca asked.
“Yeah … what is it, Rebecca?!” Winslow breathlessly said.
“I think that it would be best if Cullen helped as well. That way it doesn’t get dropped on the way back, okay?” Rebecca kindly said.
Winslow nodded his head in agreement and Cullen grabbed the bottom of the jug on one side while letting Winslow keep half the weight on the other side.
Cullen asked, “Is this going to your room, Rebecca?”
“Yes, it is,” she replied.
“How about you and Timothy there go about your business, making candles or whatever, and Winslow and I will drop this off in a few. I’d like to show him a trouble spot that’s on our way back.” Cullen suggested.
“That’s great. Thank you both!” Rebecca said in appreciation as she and Timothy continued on to the candle-making chamber.
“So, what about the white on the Winterfest candle?” asked Timothy.
“Well,” Rebecca started. “The white represents the purity of our intentions for one another. The innocence that we started with must be the innocence that we maintain in order to keep peace in our world. It also tells our Helpers that we recognize their good intentions for us, whenever any of them offer us help in any way.”
Timothy spoke up, “Like when Dr. Wong lets us clean and work for him in order to make any money or in trade …”
“Yes! Exactly, Timothy! Now you see why the Winterfest candles are no ordinary candles and why it is so important that there are others who know how to make them. If anything happens to me, I will need someone else to carry on the work. None of us live forever.”
Rebecca and Timothy turned into the candle-making room which was already very warm from the lit fires. Immediately, Rebecca went into work-mode and slid on an apron, stained with numerous colored waxes.
“Timothy, could you grab those blocks of paraffin and place them in the boiling pots, please?”
Timothy did just as Rebecca had said. “Rebecca? What kind of candles are we making then, if they are not for Winterfest? He posed.
“These are going to be candles to refill the candle boxes in all of our chambers. And after that is done, we will make the candles for the lanterns and replacements for the tunnel walls.”
Timothy wiped the sweat from his brow. “This takes a lot of work.”
“Yes,” sighed Rebecca, now wiping her brow and grabbing a few more bottles and strings and things from the shelves behind her. “But … this type of skill, Timothy … this type of craft is something that is desperately needed in our community. By everyone, day in and day out,” Rebecca pointed out.
Timothy tried stirring one of the pots to move the melted paraffin around. “It must feel good to know that you are needed, huh?” he asked.
Rebecca thought for a moment. “Timothy, it does feel good to be needed, but my passion for the work, for the process, is what drives me. I am my Mother’s daughter.”
Rebecca spent the next 7 hours teaching young Timothy the art of making candles when a voice came yelling into the room.
“Rebecca?! Everything okay?”
Rebecca looked at Timothy and wondered what was going on. She went to the room entrance to see who it was. As she walked a few steps out into the tunnel, she saw Jamie.
“Jamie! What are you doing here and why are you yelling into the chamber instead of coming right in?” Rebecca asked, genuinely curious.
Jamie pointed at the extinguished candles at the entrance.
“Oh!” Rebecca said loudly. “I’ll light those up right now. I don’t want people to think that they can’t come in.”
Jamie walked past Rebecca and into the candle-making chamber. “Hi Timothy!” she said.
“I was coming to invite you both to dinner. You’ve been at it all day,” Jamie remarked.
Rebecca entered the room and extinguished the fires beneath the pots. “I think that that is a great idea, Jamie. Timothy, you’ve been an amazing help today, and you are quickly becoming an intermediate at making candles. Go and enjoy your night with friends.”
Timothy giddily removed the gloves he had on his hands and placed them carefully on the table next to him.
“Are you coming? Do you need help …” Jamie trailed off as she headed toward the tunnels.
“I’m fine!” Rebecca yelled after her. “I’ll be at dinner soon.”
Rebecca finished cleaning up the chamber and got things ready for the next day’s assignments. She wandered slowly to the Dining Hall and was greeted with many happy faces, all asking her to sit with them. After a delicious vegetable casserole and bread and spending some down time with friends, talking, Rebecca was feeling refreshed.
As many groups of tunnel-dwellers were cleaning off their spots and washing their own dishes in the wash tubs, Father made an announcement.
“Friends! Friends! First off, thank you, William, for such a delicious feast!” Father said.
“Secondly, it has been far too long since we held a poetry reading in my study. All are welcome, feel free to bring your favorite pieces with you. I will see you all, hopefully, in a little bit.” Father finished his announcement and started to walk his dirty dishes to the wash tubs when Mary grabbed the dishes from him.
“Father, this is no job for you. Get going to your study and I’ll take care of all of this.” Mary offered.
“Well … Mary, if you are sure?”
“Go on!” Mary said, pushing Father gently toward the entrance back into the tunnels.
At that moment, William came up to her. “Rebecca, you were so wonderful yesterday. Could you help me with making more butter tonight?”
Rebecca thought about saying “no” for a moment, but then said “yes” anyway, and slipped out of her chair to wash her dishes. She then went back to the cooling area where the food was kept, and heard William walk into the room behind her along with Geoffrey.
William quickly gave out the orders and the group was fast at work, making butter for the next day’s meals.
They worked very hard and as fast as they could together. William told them interesting stories that he heard from Helpers up top, and Geoffrey talked about the new tricks that he could do on a skateboard that a Topsider showed him.
“I have another one finished, WIlliam.” Rebecca said quietly, as she walked it over to the cooling area and then returned to her chair. Rebecca, exhaustedly, leaned against her fist and thought about the next day’s work.
“You know, Geoffrey, I used to own my own mini-kitchen so-to-speak up top. Yes, before coming Below to live, I was a cook.” WIlliam said, remembering the past. He and Geoffrey continued to forcefully stir the cream into submission.
“I don’t know if I could ever be considered a “great cook” but … I sure can make a mean spicy chili.” William laughed a little to himself. “There was this one time that Mouse just couldn’t wait to taste it, but I told him it wasn’t ready. Chili needs time to breathe. But Mouse’s stomach and curiosity got the better of him and he snuck down here and poured himself a big bowl full! Ha ha haaaa!” William slapped his knee. “I think Topsiders could hear his screaming as he ran through the tunnels with a mouth ablaze!”
William and Geoffrey had a good laugh when William asked Rebecca, “You remember that, Rebecca?”
As William and Geoffrey’s laughter calmed, William looked over at Rebecca, wondering why she hadn’t responded. It only took a quick glance for William to see that Rebecca had fallen asleep where she sat.
“Well …” William said. “Let’s finish up here Geoffrey, and we’ll let Rebecca sleep some more. I’ll send Mary or Brooke to wake her up in a bit and escort her to her chamber.”
“Okay,” replied Geoffrey.
“I mean … my stories aren’t that boring … right?” teased William.
Geoffrey shrugged and stared at William for a moment quite seriously before they both busted out laughing.
“Thanks Geoffrey! Last time I grab you to help out in the kitchen!” William joked.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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I so enjoy stories about day to day life in the tunnel community. A warm and inviting story like this should have been part of an episode, enlarging and enhancing our appreciation for these beloved characters. Thanks so much, Catherine e, for giving us a better understanding of Rebecca’s life, and for being part of this story project!
Linda SB, how greatly you honor me! I would have loved for there to have been episodes that dove deeper into the other Tunnelers lives. I pictured this being an introduction to Rebecca’s life.
I’ve always thought Rebecca had one of the most difficult jobs below. The need is unending, and it has to be hot in her chandlery compared to everywhere else. I could really feel the business of the tunnel world in your story, the comings and goings, the pitch of interaction, each character with the others. A good story!
Thank you, Carole! I am most appreciative. As the writing unraveled before me, I could see all of these things happening before me, like watching an episode of BATB. And being a curly haired woman myself, who has lived and worked in humid and hot climates, I could feel this. 😉
I’m so pleased you chose Rebecca. I love her quiet artistry, her exquisite handicraft. Making candles, literally, making light, teaching others, so the darkness is kept at bay is truly a beautiful thing. Thank you for bringing her everyday caring to the project. Thank you for sharing some of her story.
Karen, you bless me, thank you. I was happy in choosing Rebecca.