By Andrea McDonald
This morning, just after Mom left with the man, it rained for a while, so I could make faces with my finger on the steam inside of the car window, and watch the drips race each other to the bottom. That was fun for a while. My baby sister Emma was still asleep on the back seat, so I didn’t have anyone to talk to.
We share a little sleeping bag. She gets one end and I get the other. I try not to kick her but I’m much bigger than her and my legs hit hers if I stretch out. They start to hurt after a while if you can’t stretch out. She gets the head end and I get the other end, so the zipper rubs my face, but Mom says I’m bigger and so I have to suck it up. It’s hard to keep covered when you can’t zip it up.
It’s getting cold at night now. For a while it wasn’t bad sleeping in Poppa’s car, but now it’s too cold to open the windows, and the inside gets all wet and drippy. I like that I can draw pictures, but my clothes get all kind of soggy and that makes me shiver.
Emma is awake now. She’s crying but I tell her it’s alright. It’s alright Emma. Mom’s coming back soon. She has a stinky diaper, so I look all over the car for another one. I can’t find one, so I just take off the dirty one, wipe her bottom with an old napkin that’s on the floor, and leave her bare. I roll all the yucky stuff into a ball. I wish I could put it outside so it wouldn’t smell so much, but Mom said no, you can NEVER open the doors. She said there are bad people out there. People that would take us away. I wonder where they’d take us, but Mom just yells shut up at me when I ask her.
I wonder if they’d take us to a house like Nana and Poppa’s. I liked it there. It had a wooden swing hanging from the big tree outside, and a creek where tadpoles swim by. Poppa gave me a net once, and showed me how to catch them. Just like he showed my Daddy when he was a boy. That’s what he said. He said my Daddy was a fine man before he got killed. I don’t know. I don’t remember much. Poppa said I had to put the tadpoles back though, because they’re baby frogs and babies need to be ‘tected.
I miss Poppa and Nana.
Nana made chocolate chip cookies for me. She said that my Daddy always liked them, even if my Mom didn’t. Mom got mad at her for letting me eat too many. She yelled at Nana. She said mind your own beeswax. Nana threw her tea towel on the table. I was only trying to show the girl some love. That’s what she said. My Mom got really mad then. Madder than all the other times. They’re my kids, she yelled. I don’t need you in my face. Then she said the bad words Nana said I should never say.
Mom said that Poppa wouldn’t mind us taking his car, but I don’t think he can drive the tractor all the way to town to get the groceries.
Emma’s really hollering now and the sun is making it hot in here. I wish I could open the door and get out, but Mom locked it. I think Emma’s hungry. There’s no milk in her bottle. I looked around but all there is to eat are the crusts in the pizza box. I hate crusts but I’ll eat them now ‘cause I’m hungry too. I held one up to Emma’s lips but she just shut them tight and cried harder.
Where’s Mom? I ask Emma. Why isn’t she back yet? Emma doesn’t know how to talk yet, so she just cries.
The man from the trailer park came by real early. We’re parked close by, behind a hedge so that we can go into the bathroom there and no one knows it. The man must live there, in that old, dirty trailer on the end, the one with the old boat and all the other junk around it. Mom says he has work for her. I don’t know what she does, but she always comes back with her hair all mussed and smelling like stinky cigarettes. And she always leans her head against the window of the driver’s seat and cries for a while. Then she sneaks into the shower and comes back with some food from the food machine.
Yesterday we got potato chips and Coke. She and me. Emma got some milk and animal cookies.
Mom’s taking a really long time, I say to Emma. I’m bored. I wish she’d come back.
There’s nothing to do but bounce on the back seat, but that makes Emma scream, so I climb into the front seat and push all the dials and buttons in Poppa’s car. Nothing happens, so I make pretend noises like someone singing on the radio and horns beeping and stuff. Emma stops crying. She likes my funny sounds, but as soon as I stop she bawls again. I try to jiggle her up and down but she’s awful heavy and I hit her head on the door handle. I didn’t mean to, honest.
I wonder when Mom’ll come back.
Then the lady that I saw yesterday came along with her little dog. He’s a cute little dog. He runs along beside her on his little leash and keeps looking up at her, just like Bones looked up at Poppa. I miss Bones. He licked my hand and my face all the time.
She’s stopping. She’s telling the little dog to shush, I think. I can just barely hear her ‘cause the windows are all closed. Now she’s coming over. Uh oh. Mom’s going to be mad.
“Hello little girl.” Her voice is all muffly. She looks kinda like Nana, with a big smiley face and big boobies and hair all curled up tight. “Are you alright in there?”
I shake my head. I’m not supposed to talk to anyone.
“Where’s your mother, dear?”
“She’s at work.” I know I shouldn’t have answered, but she looks nice and I haven’t talked to anyone but Mom for a long, long time.
“At work. I see. What does she do at work?”
“I dunno. She goes with a man. Sometimes it’s a different man. She’ll be back soon.”
The lady pulled the little dog in closer. It sat at her feet, just like Bones. She looked kind of worried.
“And where is your father?”
She motioned for the dog to follow her as she came closer and peeked in the car. Then she jumped back and put her hand on her boobies. “My goodness, there’s a baby in there.”
I nodded. “She’s my baby sister, Emma.”
She frowned. I guess I made her mad.
“And what’s your name, dear?”
“I’m Steph.” I shouldn’t have told her. Mom said not to.
“Have you had anything to eat today, Steph?” she asked.
I shook my head yes, then no, then yes. I had a pizza crust, but I was still hungry, so I didn’t know what to say.
“Why don’t you open this door, Steph, and we’ll just let some fresh air in. It must be very hot in there.”
I shook my head no. Mom said there are people who take children away. I was feeling a little scared, so I turned away from the lady and hid under the sleeping bag on the back seat. Where are you, Mom? Why don’t you come back? It’s hot under here.
When I thought I couldn’t breathe ‘cause of the sleeping bag and all the windows up, I had to sit up again. The lady and the dog were gone. There were some people walking far away, but no one came near the car, and Mom still hadn’t come back.
Emma wasn’t crying anymore. I guess she was asleep.
I looked under the seat and found a potato chip. I ate it, but it didn’t stop my stomach hurting. I’m too hot. I wish I could go to sleep too. Maybe I can go to sleep. Maybe when I wake up, Mom will be back with some. . .
The door opened and the rush of cool air made me jump awake. Mom threw a bag of potato chips at me and her hand grabbed around behind the seat for Emma’s bottle. She had a little carton of milk in her other hand.
“What took you so long Mom?!” I asked, wiping the wet from my mouth.
“Never you mind,” she said. Her hand shook as she poured the milk in. I saw her face in the little mirror. There was blood running down the side of it. She stared back at me. Shut up was what her eyes said.
I started to cry. I couldn’t help it. I thought that’d wake up Emma and she’d start hollering’ and that would make Mom madder but I couldn’t help it. I just couldn’t stop crying. I was so hot and my face felt like it was on fire and I didn’t want to eat potato chips.
“I don’t- want- po- tato- chips.”
“Well, it’s potato chips or nothing, Steph!” Mom said. “The bastard didn’t pay. I’ve got no money- “ Mom started to cry. We were both bawling but still Emma didn’t wake up.
And then the door opened. A policeman stood there. The lady with the dog was behind him.
“What the hell!” Mom said. She wiped her face with her sleeve and got it all bloody. She started to grab at me and Emma.
“Are you Sandra Louise Wellington?” the policeman asked Mom. The lady with the dog was holding her throat and the dog was barking at us.
Mom closed her mouth and shook her head no.
The policeman looked at me. “Are you Stephanie Taylor Wellington?”
I shook my head yes.
“The baby-“ the lady with the dog said. “There’s something wrong with the baby-“
Mom screamed at them then. “You keep your blasted hands off my baby!” She reached into the back seat and grabbed my shoulder hard. “What’d I tell you about speaking to strangers?! What’d I tell you?! Now look what you’ve done!”
I cried even harder. The policeman lifted me out of the car and handed me to the lady. She held me against her legs and her dog licked my knee. I watched as the policeman held Mom back with one arm and scooped Emma up with the other. Then he laid her on the ground and started breathing into her face. Mom got out and stood there frozen like, with her hand over her mouth. Her eyes were scary.
Another policeman ran up. He said something I couldn’t understand about other people coming. “The grandfather is also on his way.” I knew he meant Poppa.
Mom was kneeling beside Emma when Poppa got out of the taxi and ran down the hill. “Steph, oh thank God! How’s Emma-“He saw the men all around my baby sister, the big tank and the mask covering her little face. “Oh God, no-“ He turned on Mom. “How could you?! These are your children!”
Mom was crying. The policeman led her toward his car, but I heard him talking to her. “The baby should be alright. She’ll be taken to the hospital. Another hour. . .”
“Poppa?” I said. I was hanging on to his legs tight.
He stoked my hair. “It’s alright sweetheart. Nana and I will take care of you from now on. You and Emma.”
The lady with the dog smiled at me, and wiped her face.