The crumbling walls
Fall all around
While men draw
Palaces in the dust
It’s been raining all morning. Tried opening White Fang but my eyes kept blurring on the page. Guess I’ve read it too many times. Started looking through some of Mom’s books. She’s got some spooky ones like The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.
In it there’s a girl around my age who lives all alone. She’s mega-smart, brave as shit, and independent. When her dad was dying he said he never wanted her to lose her spirit so figured out a way for her to have money and a house until she grew up.
That would be so amazing. To live by yourself. No school. No one telling you what to do. No mean kids on the bus.
So, this Saturday I curled up in one corner of my room with my giant panda and read how this girl survived. When the lady with the long cruel fingernails came to take her away the Little Girl made her a special tea. The kind that tasted of almonds. The kind she had to serve with almond cookies to hide the flavor.
I was just getting to the part when a creepy guy asks her if she has a boyfriend when I heard a soft knock on my door.
“What is it, brat?” I asked when I saw Kyle standing there, hair combed all perfect even though it was Saturday.
He put a finger to his lips. “Can I come in?”
I eyed him for a sec to see if he was messing with me before opening the door all the way. Once inside, he beckoned me to the other side of the room. I closed it quietly and approached. Then he just stood there searching my face, his long-lashed blue eyes everyone compliments him on blinking.
I raised my arms, exasperated. “What? Just tell me!”
He cocked an ear and let the silence fill the room before whispering, “It’s Mom.”
“Huh? Did Ronny–?”
“No, no not this time. He’s off at the Club. Golf buddies.”
I looked out the window at the steady rain. Ronny would not play in that. I gave Kyle a bewildered shrug.
“She is in the living room, just staring at some picture.”
“Not what, who.”
“A lady. With lots of make-up.”
“Another magazine? So.” Mom often got lost in her glamor mags. She’d thumb through them for hours until the astray was overflowing with cigarettes.
“It’s a polaroid. Has an X O written at the bottom.”
Then I knew. It was Ronny. Even when he wasn’t there, he still left marks.
I’d seen the way he was at their parties. Telling stories to ladies about the movie stars he met on the golf course. I thought that was pretty cool until he’d lean in close and whisper something in their ears that either made them blush or their faces go white.
And Mom would glance over and then pretend to check a button her blouse or if her necklace was straight before going to our glass and chrome bar for another Seven and Seven.
“Is she crying?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Just staring.”
Part of me wanted to check on her. Make sure it wasn’t too bad. Be the comforting daughter. But another part, the kid one, told me to stay in my room with my book and big panda.
I am only thirteen! I thought staring at the teddy bear Dad had given me three years before. Then I glanced at my baby brother’s face. And Kyle’s only ten so come on. Be brave. Like the Little Girl.
“You stay here. I’ll check.”
Kyle nodded, his face suddenly looking exactly like it had when he was three and off to preschool for the first time.
In the living room Mom was so deep in the suede club chair she’d become a part of it. I mean if a stranger had walked in at that moment, they might not even have seen her and sat right on her lap. Slumped over, both hands clutching a photo I could tell she’d been holding a long time because the edges were crumpled and her hands white. She didn’t seem to hear me when I approached.
For a moment, I wondered if it was real. “Mom?”
Not even a blink.
Without removing her gaze, she said. “She’s not very pretty, is she?”
I glanced at the polaroid. “No.”
“Kind of cheap. Like K-Mart.”
I didn’t know exactly what that meant but agreed anyhow. “Not like you. All my friends say so.”
Now she slowly looked up. “They do?”
“Yeah, they say you’re one of the pretty Moms. You know, the kind all the dads smile at.”
“You okay, Mom? You been sitting here a long time.”
“Oh.” She returned to the photo.
I didn’t ask where it had come from. Or who it was. I knew. Didn’t want her to have to say the words. Thought about giving her a hug. But we weren’t real big huggers in this family. Searched my brain for something to say.
No words came.
Finally, I just went back to my room where Kyle was waiting with a did-you-find-a-magical-brew-to-fix-it look.
But all my potions were in my mind, so I did what I always do, I lied.
“It was nothing. She’s fine.”
The above excerpt comes from my soon-to-be-released novel, FINDING JOY.
About Laurie: The author of Forest Secrets and the soon to be released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry, Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, Laurie Woodward co-wrote Dean and JoJo: The Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet, and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net