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A House That No One Lived In

By Ludmila Zolotareva

Once upon time, in a little village far away, there was an enormous old house with high stone walls and a magnificent doorway. But unlike all the other houses in the village, this house was cold and unwelcoming. Its windows were sealed tight, the doors were locked, and it had been a very long time since anyone had set foot inside. All the other houses in the village were filled with happy families, but no one lived in this house. The house was completely deserted.

Every day as people of the village walked by, they would stop to stare and whisper, “What a strange old house standing there all alone, so big and empty!”

The house was puzzled. “What do they want from me?” it wondered. “I just stand here, not bothering anyone. Why do they stare? Is the paint on my window sills peeling? Are my hinges getting rusty?”

The house had once been beautifully furnished, and now everything remained neatly arranged; there were plenty of dishes in the kitchen, crystal glasses and antique silverware in the dining room, neatly made beds in the guest rooms, and a tablecloth on every table. But the house was very quiet—too quiet! The heavy curtains that covered the windows blocked out most of the sun, making the house dark and dreary inside.

Occasionally, the dinner table tried to cheer up the dishes. “Go on, plates, line up in a row,” it said.

“Why?” they would ask. “Who is going to fill us with food?”

“Candles, come down from the shelves!” the table ordered.

“Why? Who will light us?” the candles responded.

Finally, the table turned to the beautiful chandelier in the dining room. “Chandelier, light up the house!” it said. “You have more light bulbs than anyone can count.”

“But there is no one to turn me on,” the chandelier replied. “And even if I could turn myself on, who would see?”

At last, it was so dull and dreary in that house that there was nothing left to do but quarrel. The spoons argued with the forks about which were more important. The staircase creaked grumpily at the carpet for being too dusty. The sink was mad at the faucet for not pouring water. Even the little desk lamp quarreled with the chandelier.

The house looked around sadly and realized that something must be done. But what? What was it to do? Suddenly, the house had an idea.

“I will ask the fireplace,” it decided. “The fireplace is very wise because it was built before everything else.”

But the fireplace was sound asleep, so the house tried to shout through the chimney to wake it up. Alas, it only succeeded in spilling soot all over the place. The fireplace remained asleep, but the stubborn house didn’t give up.

“Dishes!” the house exclaimed, “Let’s try to wake up the fireplace! I’m sure it will know what to do. Make as much noise as you can!”

Immediately, the dishes began to rattle. Soon the others joined in: the candlesticks clinked, the forks and spoons clanked, the chandelier chimed, and even the beds jumped up and down on their legs. Together, they made such a banging, rattling, clanging noise that the birds nesting on the rooftop flew away.

Finally, the fireplace woke up. “You must be in pretty bad shape,” it said to the house, yawning. “Why else would you go to such trouble to wake me up?”

“We need your advice,” the house said. “Something is terribly wrong, but we don’t know what.”

“It is quite simple,” the fireplace replied. “I’m surprised you don’t know.”

“What is it? Tell us!” the house demanded.

“There is a golden rule: you must share your warmth with others. Look at me. When my fire is burning, I don’t hold on to the warmth. I share it with others. Every other house in the village gives warmth and comfort to its family, but you’re standing there all alone refusing to share with anyone. This is why you’re sad, and this is why you quarrel amongst yourselves.”

The house was shocked, but it had to agree that the fireplace was right. It decided that this golden rule had to be adopted by everyone. The very next morning it threw back the curtains and opened all of its windows to air out the rooms. The mirrors were so happy—for the first time in years, they were reflecting the sunlight! And miraculously, all the quarreling stopped.

“Mops, rags, and dusters! Wash the floors and clear the cobwebs! Faucet, give them water!” the house sang out.

Soon the house was clean and sparkling.

“Dinner table! Get ready to welcome our guests!” announced the house.

Immediately, the plates lined up on a snow-white tablecloth, and next to them the forks, knives, and spoons neatly took their places. The dinner table wanted to dance for joy, but it stood very still so that it would not drop anything.

When dinner time came, the house opened its doors wide for guests. Never before had people seen such a beautiful and welcoming home. As they peered inside, the people of the village realized that they were actually expected to come inside.

“Look!” they exclaimed, “dinner is served!”

So it was that all of the villagers spent a wonderful evening together in the enormous old house, sharing stories and singing songs.

From then on, the house was always welcoming, sharing its warmth and comfort with others. And it wasn’t long before a happy family moved in.

The house never forgot who had given it such a wonderful gift, and late at night when the family is asleep the house whispers, “Thank you, wise old fireplace. I will never forget your advice. How great it is to give warmth to others!”

Illustrations: Alexandr Zolotarev, Irina Bondarenko

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