BY DENISE BOYD
Copyright is held by the author.
SHE STARES at the smeared mess spreading over the asphalt. Pink and blue rivers flow into its cracks slopping downward toward the grass where it collects in a pool of swirling cream and sugar. Her heart breaks at the senseless loss. The treat was the perfect finale on a summer day. An hour of running at the playground with children she had momentarily befriended, only to forget their names once she returned to the car with her parents.
They had declared the slide off limits. Deacon the chubby kid with freckles covering his nose told them. “Stay away from that.” Gesturing to the metal slide. “Or you’ll burn your ass.”
Mindy giggles nervously tugging at her pink shorts and glances over at her parents to make sure they didn’t hear she was hanging out with kids who were swearing. They weren’t looking at her. They were stuck in their own conversation. Her mother’s brow furrowed pushing her father’s hand off her shoulder.
“You’re it.” A dark haired girl in yellow sundress tags Mindy. Her parents forgotten as she bursts off trying to catch someone. Mindy with her long legs, scabbed knees and gangly arms is one of the fasted kids in her grade two class and can even beat most of the grade three girls and boys. She darts off maneuvering around the metal orange climber and swings giving off a rubber smell in the heat. She focuses on Deacon, his excess weight making him an easy target. He tries to outrun Mindy but in threes strides she catches him stone dust flying from the soles of her white canvas shoes.
“No tag backs.” She yells as she touches his arm.
The game ensues and Mindy searches for a place to hide from the children to watch her parents. It was supposed to have been a fun trip to the beach. A hot July day. But something in the car had sparked, no exploded in the front seat between her parents as if ignited by the heat outside the cool air conditioning. Mindy had stopped reading her mother’s childhood Nancy Drew book, sliding her headphones off trying to make sense of the sudden emotion in the vehicle.
They travelled Saturdays because Sunday was God’s day. Tomorrow she would spend most of the day sitting in the first pew next to her mother listening to her father preach. Projecting the Lord’s intentions through his words. Other kids treated her different because of what her father did. But for today, they could all pretend to be a normal family where her father was something every other father was. A mechanic or a welder.
She continues watching them. Her mother holding her head, shoulders shaking, finally submits to the gentle pats on her back and leans into her father’s chest. Her long blonde braid has become lose and tendrils fall across her face obscuring Mindy’s ability to read her mother’s emotion.
“You’re it.” A boy with curly brown hair tags Mindy. He had snuck up behind her. Mindy jumps in surprise, eyes still on her mother.
She is no longer interested in the game. Her mother stands from the bench, her father guiding her. She straightens her long flowered dress and kicks sand from her brown shoes.
“Sorry – gotta go.” Mindy rushes to join her parents.
Miraculously she has been allowed a treat. Having savoured the first few licks of the icy sweetness she closes her eyes and says a thank you to Jesus for making something so gratifying.
“Mindy,” her father says.
Mindy looks up, heat waves rise from the black parking lot.
He begins walking, her mother’s hand held firmly in his grip. “Tomorrow,” he begins again, “at service I am going to introduce my new wife, your second mother to the congregation.”
Mindy looks first to her father, then her mother. Her large brown eyes downcast. Two tears spill down her cheeks but her mother makes no attempt to wipe them. Mindy’s arm drops. She is left holding an empty cone, her momentary joy melting at her feet.
“Come now.” He places his hand between her shoulder blades directing her toward the car. Her mother firmly in his grip walks two steps behind them.
“Mindy,” a voice whispers.
She sits upright in bed. Looking to her left she sees her younger sisters sleeping next to her. Crowded among each other covered with worn sheets. Five sharing the double bed. She lays back down. Sue Ann, the youngest nestles into her for warmth.
Closing her eyes Mindy drifts back to sleep. She knows tomorrow will be busy. All days are busy. Her eyes fly open as a hand touches her shoulder. Straining her eyes through the darkness, Mindy sees her mother’s dark grey wool jacket and red knit toque.
Mindy rises, bare feet cross the cold plywood floor following her mother out of the room. The door squeaking slightly as she closes it behind her. Mindy slides her arms into the jacket her mother holds open for. The lining chilling her arms. She swings the bag her mother hands her over her shoulder and steps into her winter boots. The worn padding rubbing against her bare legs as she numbly follows her mothers lead.
Creeping through the back kitchen Mindy’s mother closes the door, slowly turning the handle to prevent the latch from clicking. Outside, they trek across the snow covered yard. Moonlight guiding them toward the road. The cold air rouses Mindy from her sound sleep. She tries to follow in her mother’s footprints. The wind swirls snow up Mindy’s nightgown around her exposed legs. Her teeth begin to chatter.
“Where are we going?”
Her mother trudges forward reaching for Mindy’s hand. Gripping tightly, she pulls Mindy through the snow. Frigid air sweeps around them and Mindy tucks in behind her mother stumbling to keep up along the gravel shoulder. She wants her bed and her sisters. Tears freeze on her cheeks, yet her mother continues to pull her onward through the night.
A thin line of blue cracks across the horizon. Mindy sees the rise and fall of buildings in the distance. Her eyes feel heavy and her body numb. Hunger fills her as she thinks of the warm bowls of porridge Mother Allison would be preparing for the family while Mother Rose made Papa’s coffee.
“Come quickly, Child.” Her mother finally breaks the silence. “We are so close.”
The buildings grow taller as they continue forward. Mindy’s legs, still long and gangly, are fast. She knows she could outrun the boys at school if she wanted. But girls aren’t supposed to run. In the silence of the early dawn, a vehicle sounds behind them. Her mother pulls her arm and begins to run. Mindy runs too. Her legs are lead in the deep snow. The bag she carries bumps against her. Mindy’s breath forms in small clouds before fading. She can see the houses and recognizes the library as they enter town. The sky lights to a soft pink as the sun breaks through.
“Remember 46 Samuel Street. The brick house beside the library with the brown door. If anything happens.”
Turning to look over her shoulder Mindy sees her father and Mother Rose approaching in the car. Mindy trips, her bare knees sliding on the icy ground. Her mother kneels next to her, her hair loose and wild from the wind. Car tires squeak through the snow as it slows to a stop. Her father’s tall frame rises up from the parked car blocking their path.
“Come now, woman. You can’t take what is mine.”
He places a firm grip on Mindy’s arm pulling her to her feet. Mindy feels each of his fingers dig into her flesh. She will carry these bruises for a week. She looks up at her father, soft sunlight glints through his stubble.
“This is no way to treat a girl on her birthday.” He wraps his arm securely around Mindy’s shoulders.
Still on her knees, her mother’s head drops in submission. “You are no longer a part of this family,” he tells her.
Her mother’s back rounds shaking in silent sobs, tears landing in the snow. “Come now, girl.” Her father turns Mindy toward the car. “Its not everyday a girl turns 12.”
Mindy adjusts the plain white dress as she stands before the tarnished mirror in the living room. Mother Rose stands behind her, a dirty faced toddler perched on her hip.
“Enough preening. That’s the dress I wore when I married your father and it served me well.”
Mindy takes one final glance. The high collar tight around her throat. She tugs at the sleeves too short for her with bitten down fingernails.
A horn honks, Papa is waiting. Mindy steps outside onto the wooden porch. A cold March breeze whips her long blonde hair across her face.
“Move on, girl.” Mother Rose prods her.
Mindy sinks into the back seat. Worn springs poke her legs. She stares out the window at the grey sky through the barren branches as they drive toward town.
“Brother Malcolm will be a good husband.” Mother Rose continues from the front seat. Her father stares ahead, silent as he drives. Mindy watches the muscles in his jaw tighten and release.
Rose turns in her seat toward Mindy. The toddler still in her arms rubs a dirty nose into Rose’s jacket. “Look at me, girl.”
Mindy snaps to attention. She knows not to question her tone. “This is who we are. You need to remember that. We are called to this life.”
Eyes downcast, Mindy answers, “Yes ma’am.”
“Good. Your mother didn’t.”
Mindy raises her head. Fire surges in her chest. She looks directly into the sharp brown eyes holding her gaze until Rose turns. The car bumps along gravel roads, eventually moving to smoother pavement as they enter into town. They stop in front of the church, a sparse white clapboard building. The congregation waits outside lining the path to the entrance.
Mindy’s father holds the car door open, his hand extended. She takes it, her hand small in his. Rising out of the car Mindy looks along the line of parishioners at the end waits Brother Malcolm and his wives. Mindy watches him, his grey hair slicked back.
As she stands, Mindy releases her father’s hand to adjust her dress. She thinks of Mother Rose’s words about her own mother and the life that lay ahead. She remembers the ice cream and her bare knees on the snow.
“No.” She says.
A recognition of her defiance registers in her father’s dark eyes. Before he can speak, Mindy gathers the dress freeing her long legs. She feels her rubber soles of her shoes dig into the sidewalk as she propels herself toward to the town.
Cars slow, drivers watching the young woman with her dress hiked running. Mindy sees the library as she makes her way through the streets. Behind her, her father yells “Get back in this car.”
She sees the little brick house with the brown door. Faster and faster those long legs carry her. Down the walkway and up the front steps. Women with strollers have stopped and are staring. Her father behind is bellowing.
Mindy reaches the front door banging with both fists. She hears her father’s heavy footsteps. She bangs harder, her breath in short gasps.
“Please,” she pleads.
The door opens. Two familiar hands pull her inside and into a tight embrace. Mindy hears her father’s heavy boots on the steps behind her as the door slams shut.