MAISON MAGIQUE by Deborah M. Prum

Photo of shadow of hand on wall above small house made of paper
Photo by Chiara F on Unsplash.


I have a five-year-old grandchild who lives in Paris. Recently, she informed me that when she plays tag at her schoolyard, to avoid becoming “it,” all she must do is scurry to a yellow drum, touch it, and yell, “Maison Magique!” Those two words keep her safe.

“Nothing bad can happen to you in maison magique, Deb-deb.” She calls me “Deb-deb” to get around the parental edict, “You may not call an adult by her first name.”

My grandchild’s voice is reassuring because she believes what she asserts. Listening to her, I longed for both her confidence and the presence of maison magique in my life.

I grew up in a nine-apartment tenement in a factory town. I lived in a sea of concrete and asphalt, but even at a young age, yearned for lush forests and fields. Our building stood across from Smalley Elementary. On a hillside behind the school, a few trees and bushes struggled to thrive. The hilly patch divided school from Hartford Avenue below, a rough place where petty crime often occurred.

I took every opportunity to spend time in that slim swathe of green. A weeping willow tree grew mid-hill. If you parted the branches, you could slip under a shaded canopy. In that safe space, I’d lie back and dream big dreams.

One summer afternoon, when I was eight, just as I planned to sneak off to my retreat, an aunt shoved her two-year-old son in my direction. “Take him to the swings.”

Instead of going to the swings, I dragged the hefty cousin to my sanctuary. After we arrived, he fell asleep in the cool beneath the willow. I drifted off but awakened to sounds of someone crashing through bushes and shouting. The person’s garbled words made no sense. When I parted the supple willow branches, I saw an unshaven man stumbling up the hill, brown bottle in one hand and something metallic and shiny in the other.

He called out, “Hey girlie!” then lurched in my direction.

I begged my cousin to run but he wouldn’t budge. I lifted the child and staggered up the hill.  The man kept falling then righting himself, all the while working his way toward us. My cousin’s shoe snagged in a bush. When I tugged hard, his foot came loose, minus the shoe. I looked back to see the man standing only a few feet from us, so I took off, leaving the shoe behind.

The man tumbled again, which gave us time to get onto the playground. We ran back to my aunt. I told her about being chased. She insisted I return and find the shoe. I stood my ground and refused. Looking back, I don’t blame my aunt. She probably had no money to replace the shoes.


These days, I weep when I read about the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, about the endless mass shootings, and the predictions that our democracy is going to devolve into a dictatorship. When I feel overwhelmed by personal and global events, I wish I could find safety simply by touching a yellow drum and yelling, “Maison magique!” But I have no drum and even the embrace of my weeping willow did not keep me safe.

Our world is a dangerous place. When I consider current happenings and what might lie ahead, I often feel afraid, not just for myself but for future generations. However, living in a joyless state of fear is untenable. I agree with a line from a Wendell Berry poem that advises, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

My goal is to be alert to moments of joy and live at peace in the middle of chaos. Finding peace is not one and done. The pursuit of peace is an intentional leaning toward whatever light I can discover in each day.

When I take the time to shut out the noise, I find myself resonating with the optimism of my grandchild, the five-year-old who invites me to consider a different possibility, a place of safety, peace, and joy. Despite my fears, I do believe that somehow, some day, all will be well. The blessing of that slender hope lends a tremulous buoyancy to my brief stay in this broken world.

Deborah Prum
Deborah Prum’s non-fiction has appeared in The Washington Post, Southern Living, Ladies’ Home Journal, Streetlight, and Huffington Post. Her podcast, First Kiss and Other Cautionary Tales, is on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Her humorous radio essays have aired on NPR affiliates. Prum’s fiction has appeared The Virginia Quarterly Review, Across the Margin, The Virginia Writers Centennial Anthology, and McQueen’s Quinterly. Her articles on the craft of writing have been published in Brevity, The Writer, and The Writer’s Handbook. Find more info at

Follow us!
Share this post with your friends.

One thought on “MAISON MAGIQUE by Deborah M. Prum”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *