Her Benevolent Concern

"A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love." (Stendhal)

My mom left in the middle of the night when I was six years old. I haven’t seen her since. Sometimes, she’s all I dream about. Fits and starts, like. It gets me to thinking, but I have to admit my memories get jumbled up with the dreams. Last night I woke up like you do after a particularly loud dream. That’s what I call them: loud. You know – a busy sort of dream; the kind where you are startled awake and then try to go back to sleep just to finish the dream to find out how it all ends. Last night my loud dream was about her dressing table again. She was walking out the door and I was sitting at her dressing table with my dictionary, looking up words as fast as I could trying to find the right word to make her stay. It’s because of my mom that I look words up in the dictionary; even the easy ones that everyone thinks they know. It’s the best way to find out the truest meanings. Webster’s says this about love, "maternal love for a child: unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another." I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I found that in the dictionary. That is what I remember about my mother, her benevolent concern. When the loud dreams happen to me I try to latch on to what Webster’s says about memory: "the power of recalling what has been learned and retained especially through associative mechanisms." There’s something soothing about looking up the meaning of words. I know more that way. It helps me understand. The memory of her dressing table is my truest, my best associative mechanism. It shines in my head like I figure angels must shine when they appear, so it’s easy to think about. I suppose that’s why I dream about it all the time.
That pretty little dressing table had been hers from the time she was a little girl. It was the best piece of furniture we had in the trailer. She always told me that someday the dressing table would be mine. It was glossy white with dainty little legs that turned up at the edges like elf feet. Three slim drawers across the top were lined with sweet smelly paper and it with opened with green crystal knobs. What I remember best is the time when I was three or four. She pulled me up to sit on her lap. She leaned in and sniffed my just washed hair and it made me shiver, it felt so good. She said "You pick out my lipstick, Reenie." So I pulled open the drawer full of pretty colored tubes and handed her one. I watched carefully as she put it on and then I said like a prayer, "you are so pretty, mama." In the dark it is easy to remember her. The dream helps me.
She was so pretty, with long blond hair, sleek like my cat Mary Rose’s fur and the sweetest face. I thought she looked even prettier than my one and only Barbie. I remember feeling shy and privileged to be on her lap. I wished we would sit there forever. I wished that in the morning I could sit in her lap all over again instead of me having to pour my own cereal into the bowl and eat it dry because the milk was too heavy for me to carry or because we just didn’t have any milk. I wished that she would be awake before I had to walk to the bus stop myself. Every morning when I woke up I ran to her room and waited until I saw her chest moving up and down. Or I would lean over, turn my head and put my ear on her chest to listen for her heart. I couldn’t pour the cereal until I knew she was just sleeping. I would pretend to myself that she couldn’t walk with me to the bus because she was really Sleeping Beauty and had another few hours to go before the hundred years was up. I imagined my dad kissing her, breaking the spell sometime while I was at school, only, I knew that was silly.
My dad was usually out in the building behind our trailer sleeping on the couch. He slept out there most of the time. He called it the office. It was nicer than the trailer because dad said his clients deserved only the best surroundings while they were playing cards or pool. The office was a real building, brick and everything with new carpet and a bar, a new refrigerator and sink that didn’t drip. It had a beautiful, big T.V. and there were 6 tables covered in green felt for poker and blackjack. There were three pool tables and framed pictures of my dad winning trophies in places like New Orleans and Atlanta. He was so young and handsome in the trophy winning pictures. One time I heard my mom say he had reminded her of Rhett Butler but then she would snort like it was the stupidest thing she’d ever been reminded of.
*****
I used to ask my Aunt Abby where she thought my mom could be. "I just don’t know, Reenie." She always answers the same way. Worn out sounding. Sometimes I think my mom might be dead. Other times I just think she wasn’t up to being a mom. I’m fourteen now so that was eight years ago, but when I was small, her leaving me was the thing I worried about the most. Probably because I wasn’t the first kid she had left behind. I have a half brother named Quint who is five years older than me. Quint lived with my mom and dad and me for about a year when I was in kindergarten. I haven’t seen him in a while. Sometimes I ask Aunt Abby about Quint.
"Do you think we should call Quint?" I say. Each time I ask, I know the answer.
"Oh, Reenie, I don’t know where Quint is." Aunt Abby will say, "He dropped out of school and his dad hasn’t seen him in over a year."
Secretly, I keep hoping Quint will call me but he never does. In the dark, when I am remembering, I think about how he taught me to get cereal for myself in the morning so my stomach wouldn’t growl until mom and dad woke up. We walked to the bus together and I was proud to have a big brother, even if he was only half related. His other grandma and grandpa had given him a Game Boy for his birthday and he shared it with me. God! Those Super Mario Brothers cracked me up!
Quint was the person who told me about all the other cousins I had. He told me stories when we walked to the school bus about when mom and his dad had been married and lived in Savannah, in a real house, not a trailer. "Mom had a job back then," he told me. "She worked doing secretary stuff at the college where her dad was a professor or something."
"What’s a professor?" I asked.
"It’s like a teacher, only in college." Quint answered
"So, my grandpa is a teacher? At a school?" That seemed funny to me; a teacher being a man. "What is my grandma like?"
"God Damn! Reenie," Quint used swear words when he was sore. "That’s all I know, ok? They are old people, nothing much to tell, okay?"
I knew when to shut up. I had learned that Quint couldn’t be forced to tell me things. Instead, it had to come out of him all of a sudden like a switch in the wind. As we walked along I could tell he was considering something and he finally started talking like he was remembering from a long time ago, "Mom has sisters too, Aunt Abby is my favorite. She is a lot older. I guess Mom was the baby or a mistake or something." He said. "Aunt Abby has some kids, two are older and the younger ones are close to my age; there’s even one your age. But they are just girls, like you."
As we were walking to the bus he was picking up rocks and throwing them across the road. One rock was shaped exactly like an egg. It made him stop and think. "You know," he confided "every year there is an Easter egg hunt in Aunt Abby’s garden. She lives in a big ol’ house on probably an acre or something. They always invite me even though they haven’t heard shit from mom in years."
I was hanging on his every word. This story was too good to miss simply because I couldn’t be patient enough for Quint to tell it in his own way. It was coming out in fits and starts so I stayed quiet hoping that he would say more about the Easter egg hunt. I started to hum Here comes Peter Cotton Tail to help him along. It worked.
"I usually find all the eggs, since I am the only boy" he boasted, "but Abby goes ahead and gives everyone a prize anyway." I could tell by the way he said her name, kind of soft and shy, that he had a soft spot for Aunt Abby and it made me like her too. I tried to imagine the big old house Quint told me about and my mom’s sister Abby. When I was supposed to be resting during kindergarten, I pretended I was at the Easter egg hunt, winning one of the prizes that Aunt Abby bought for all the kids. I loved having Quint live with us. He knew so much about my mom.
My dad didn’t want him around, though. He said Quint was a "wise cracker’ and didn’t show any respect for my mom. One time my mom told Quint that if he was late coming home from school again, she would have to punish him. Quint answered back, "Being late must run in our god damn family."
"I don’t like your tone, young man," Mom said, not sounding real sure of her self.
Quint would look over at me and roll his eyes and then say the same thing, only in a higher voice. I would always giggle. Quint did talk back a lot but I think he was just showing off for me.
"If you don’t stop your swearing and being such a smart aleck, I’m going to have to call your dad," mom warned him. Her voice sounded squeaky like. But Quint, he just couldn’t help himself. There was a mad spot balled up inside of him. When my mom finally did call Quint’s dad she screamed into the phone, "You come here and get this boy, he’s just too much for me to handle!" I begged her to hang up. I was crying and holding on to her leg and her cigarette ashes were floating down in my face. I told her that it was my fault he was smart-alecky. "PLEASE Mama," I cried. My mind was racing. So I latched on to the first thing I could think of, but I only made it worse, "I was SCARED like shit in the middle of the night," I told her, "you weren’t home, and he was just talking back to you ‘cuz he was mad at ME ‘cuz I got into bed with him. Please mama, please!!" I screamed. "Don’t make Quint go back to his dad!" I suppose swearing and reminding her that she’d been late again didn’t help.
I knew the Game Boy and all the cousin stories would go with him, but really, it was more than that. Quint was a super good reader. He never minded reading me Hop on Pop a million times. We would laugh and laugh at Mr. Brown and Mrs. Brown, they were such doofuses! Plus, I liked having someone to watch T.V. with. He would steal the keys to the office from Dad’s pants and we would grab our pillows and sneak out to lay on one of the pool tables and watch the Power Rangers on the T.V. out there. It had cable and worked better than the one in the trailer. One time, I spilled my Lucky Charms all over the green felt of the pool table. When my dad found out, Quint told him that he had done it. My dad whooped Quint with his belt and made me watch, but right then and there I knew he was like a whole brother to me.
*****
Sometimes when I try to figure out why my mom left, I just tell myself she was kidnapped. I have a kind of cloudy memory of Griffin, the creepy guy who was staying at our trailer the night she left me. He had become one of my dad’s clients right after Quint was sent away. I started having nightmares about being left alone in the trailer so my mom took Quint’s cot and made a bed for me in the storage closet of the office. I would crack the door and watch my mom deal black jack, sitting on a stool with her legs crossed. She looked beautiful. Her hair was so blonde and shiny and she had the tiniest feet. I imagined they were just as small as Cinderella’s. When Griffin started coming, he always sat next to my mom and sometimes I would see him cover her hand when she laid the cards down in front of him. It seemed to me like he was trying to hold her hand and I didn’t like it. He was handsome in a wicked way and kind of looked like my dad used to look in the trophy winning pictures.
Not long after Griffin started coming to the office, my dad had to leave for a pool tournament in New Orleans. That same night my mom told me that Griffin would be spending the night at our trailer. I pinched myself all night to stay awake and peek out my door down the hall to the sofa where I could watch Griffin and my mom. When I saw Griffin giving my mom a shot with a big, ol’ doctor needle, I screamed. I hated shots and knew they hurt. Mom came into my room to hush me up.
"Why was Griffin giving you a shot, Mama?" I asked her, afraid somewhere in my stomach that she was sick and had to have one or she would die.
"Oh, sweetie," Mom said to me "we’re just playing hospital, like you do with your little doctor kit." And she giggled in a silly way that embarrassed me and her eyes were sleepy looking and barely open. I hated Griffin and wished my dad would come home from the tournament and make him leave.
"Mom," I asked, "don’t you miss dad? When’s he coming home?" Her sleepy eyes became narrow like slits and I thought she was going to say something. But then she thought better of it and said instead, "Go to sleep now Reenie, it’s late and I am tired." Then she got up off my bed and stumbled out of the room.
When I woke up the next morning, I got up to check to see if mom was sleeping in her bed like I usually did. She wasn’t. There was no sign of Griffin either. I went out to the office to see if she was out there and the door was swinging open. It looked like raccoons had gotten in behind the bar. My feet were damp from running across the dewy ground since it was early spring. I started to shiver in my thin Little Mermaid nightgown but the shivering felt worse than just cold. It took hold of me and I felt like a giant was shaking me around. I knew my dad would be angry about the raccoon mess when he got home, so I tried my best to pick it up but the shivering was so bad I cut my thumb on some broken glass that was scattered all around and it started to bleed. It wasn’t too deep but seeing my own blood made me shiver even harder. While I was sucking on it almost gagging on the taste, I remembered that Santa had put some Hello Kitty band aids in my stocking at Christmas, so I ran back to the trailer to look under my bed where my stocking had been shoved since Christmas day. Sure enough, I found them, but not before I had made a pretty big mess of my favorite nightgown and all. I put about five Hello Kitty band aids around my thumb and just started to cry.
Its funny, I wasn’t mad at my mom. I wasn’t even crying because I was surprised that she was gone. I was crying because it had finally happened. I always knew somewhere deep down in the pit of my stomach that she was going to go. When Quint had lived with us I remembered him telling me about the night she had gone away when he was five.
"She left in the middle of the night," Quint told me. "When I woke up my Dad told me I wouldn’t be seeing her much anymore and that he was taking me to my Grandma’s house to live."
"Do you know where she went, Quint?" I had asked him. "Did she tell you she was going away? Did she dress up or put on lipstick?" I was trying to find out what the signs were, to be on the lookout for them.
"Nope." Quint answered. "She just put me to bed like regular and then after that, I didn’t see her much, only sometimes on Saturdays. She would come get me with your Dad when you were a baby and we would go get some ice cream or something. And then one day, they came and told me to pack some stuff. My Dad was dating someone new and my grandma was having an operation and couldn’t take as good care of me. So, Mom showed up and said I was going to live with them and that’s why I am here now." Quint seemed to be thinking hard about the possible signs before he finally said, "No, when she goes away, she just leaves without any fricking warning."
I had always known this day was coming. I wished that Quint was there with me right then. I felt for sure he would know what to do. I was still shaking so I got myself dressed in my pink Sleeping Beauty sweatshirt and purple pants. I looked down at Sleeping Beauty’s picture on my shirt. She was lying on her pillow with her long blond hair spread out and her arm up over her head, waiting to be kissed and I felt a little better. I started to pretend that mom had finally been kissed by the prince and was just off on like a honeymoon or something. When my thumb began to throb a little I started to pretend that I was the next Sleeping Beauty and I had just pricked my finger on the spindle.
My stomach was in a nervous state that whole damn day. I sat on the couch feeling that gross, I’m going to throw up feeling, waiting for something to happen. I couldn’t pour my cereal. I couldn’t move. Mary Rose, my cat, stayed close by curled up like she understood why she didn’t get her cereal either that day. Finally, I heard the gravel on the driveway crunch and my dad drove up and got out of his car and went out back to the office. I heard him cussing and kicking the door and then he came in and found me sitting in the dark on the couch.
I must have looked pitiful or something sitting there with my hair all messed up and puffy faced from crying so long. It must have made him forget all about the raccoon mess because he looked at me so tender with a look like I had never seen before and said "She’s gone away, ain’t she Reenie, honey?"
I was so glad I wasn’t alone anymore. I knew my dad didn’t know much about taking care of little girls. But something inside of me told me I just needed to take care of myself and so I said to him, "Hi Daddy. Do you want me to pour you some cereal for dinner? I bet you are hungry after your trip."
******
It’s funny, but in the dark you can remember things that aren’t so clear in the daytime. You can see the colors and smell the smells. I do my best thinking in pitch black. The nights when there is no moon work best. I start thinking about the trailer my dad still lives in even though I don’t live anymore. I see him sometimes, even though I can tell he never knows what to do with me. But that old trailer; it’s always a mess. We lived in a little run down town about 20 miles from Savannah called Beulah. The highway that led to Beulah wasn’t traveled much so along the sides of the road all you saw were lots of old, gray, tired sharecroppers’ houses or beat up trailers next to tiny little cotton fields. The town was mostly just a street with a Twistee Treat and Oinkie’s Barbeque. The businesses had been closed up for a long time ever since Wal-Mart came and parked itself between Beulah and the town next door, Wendell. Our trailer sat off the highway way down a dirt path marked by car treads. My dad liked to brag about how he had won the land in a poker game and he told the story about coming to claim his winnings with the trailer right behind him, brought by a trucker fella who owed him money. It was second hand, probably another payment for a lost bet. My mom told me we moved here when I was about three. Before that, she said we had lived on the road. Dad was a top pool champion, traveling the south winning tournaments and eating fancy meals and staying in hotels like Holiday Inn and Marriott. He met my mom at one of these tournaments in Savannah. She had been sitting at the bar and he asked her to chalk his pool cue for good luck. He won about a $1000.00 and invited my mom to help him spend it. That was back when he looked like Rhett Butler and she said he made her feel like a lady. She didn’t think much of the trailer, she used to say to my dad "when are you going to haul this hovel away and build me a house like you promised?"
"I like this hovel." He would answer her smiling. He just loved it when she said words that he had never heard before. But the smile would disappear, and he would sneer, "when are you going to remember how to act like a wife, darlin’? Remember who feeds you. When you do that, I’ll consider building you a house."

After my mom left, the trailer seemed to sag even more. The screen door broke off in the wind and my dad just threw it out behind the office on a garbage heap. The office wasn’t the same after that night either. The raccoon had messed up some of the felt card tables and without my mom to clean, it just got dirtier and dirtier. Because my mom used to deal blackjack, my dad had to do it himself. The customers weren’t coming as often. Business was bad. To make matters worse, dad never bought milk and I had to eat my cereal dry all the time.
Every morning it got harder and harder to get out of bed. I gave myself baths when I could remember to do it but about a week after mom left, I ran out of shampoo. My hair had knots in it, so when Crystal Lumpkin offered to comb it out during recess one day, I let her. Even though it hurt a lot at first, eventually she got most of the knots out and she even told me my hair reminded her of a princess. I thought about how my mom had looked like a princess. I appreciated Crystal for saying that, but my dad said the Lumpkin’s were a bad bunch. "You stay away from that family" he admonished me when I told him about Crystal helping with my hair knots. "They got way too many kids down there. I hear they support themselves with foster kid money and I don’t want them thinking just because your mom is gone that you are some sort of orphan. Plus, they talk like rednecks and I don’t want you to lose talkin’ like your mama did, you hear what I am saying? It will give you an edge someday."
Mom was what my dad called educated. She had been as far as college once and he told me that was what had made him notice her at first. "I had never met a woman like that," he said, like he was talking about a long ago memory: "someone who looked so good and didn’t say ain’t ever. She talked like she had been born into money, or education or somethin’. Yes sir, she was pretty darn polished, that’s for sure. Clients loved her. She attracted the very best." Dad really missed mom.

I am not sure when I noticed that my head was itching real bad. I was playing with Crystal Lumpkin at recess every day. Crystal told me to bring all of my Barbie’s so we could pretend that they were two different families. "I only have one Barbie," I told Crystal. "You got more than one?"
Crystal looked at me wide-eyed. "Everyone has more than one Barbie," she told me.
"Well, I only got one, but she looks exactly like Sleeping Beauty," I added hopefully.
"Bring her anyway," Crystal sighed. "I will try to think up a story. She could maybe be like an orphan or somethin’." Crystal glanced up at me to see if I had heard her say orphan, but I still had a dad so I just pretended I didn’t notice.
It was while we were at recess scratching our heads and playing Barbie the next day that the teacher, Ms. Conway, and the school nurse, Ms. Rench, came over and asked us if we could come with them to the office. At first I thought I was in trouble but when we got there the nurse put me up on a stool and took out a comb and gently parted my hair in the back. I was embarrassed up to my eyeballs because I hadn’t brushed my hair real good in a couple of days. "I’m sorry Ms. Rench. My mom broke her hairbrush and we don’t got a new one yet, but thanks so much for brushing my hair…"
Crystal was sitting on another stool opposite of me while our teacher Mrs. Conway was parting the back of her hair. Suddenly she blurted out "Uh,uh!! Reenie’s mom took off with some man that hangs out down at her dad’s place. It’s not legal, you know, his place, that’s what my mom says. Gamblin’s a sin. But her mom, she’s been gone a LONG time. That’s what my mom says."
I felt the butterflies start up in my stomach. It was that gross feeling that tastes like sour milk and I was afraid that I would throw up all over Ms. Rench’s white nurse shoes. My eyes boiled with fat, hot, tears and my throat felt croaky. Mrs. Conway and Ms. Rench looked at each other and didn’t blink. The tears bubbled over and dropped down my cheeks. I tried to wipe them away but my head was itching so bad I just had to scratch instead and I knocked the comb out of Ms. Rench’s hand. "Damn! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to…" I scrambled off the stool and crouched on the floor alternately scratching my head and wiping my eyes.
Mrs. Conway finally spoke "Crystal, you can go back to recess now. Reenie will be out in a minute."
I could tell that Crystal didn’t want to leave. "I’ll wait for Reenie outside the door. Ok Reenie?" She was bending over, trying to see my face. I knew what she wanted. She wanted me to give her a look that said I wasn’t mad at her. But I was.
"NO. Crystal, please go back to the playground." Mrs. Conway was firm.
When Crystal had gone Mrs. Conway asked me to sit down next to her on Ms. Rench’s little couch. Ms. Rench left the room and I turned to Mrs. Conway and said "I know my hair is messed up. My mom is coming home real soon and my Dad isn’t a good hair brusher."
"Reenie, I don’t want you to think that you have done anything wrong. Please don’t worry about brushing your hair. But you do have a little problem with your hair. You have head lice and we will need to let your dad know so that he can treat it and get rid of them."
I remembered that one time in kindergarten the teacher had talked about lice. She had put a letter in our backpacks and told us to show it to our parents. They told us it wasn’t anyone’s fault and you could get it real easy. Mrs. Conway went on, "Crystal has them too. I remember seeing Crystal sharing her comb with you at recess. That’s probably where you got them. But your dad can get rid of them in a jiffy."
"Are you going to send my dad a letter?" I asked her. I was feeling gross again because my dad never looked in my backpack to read all the fliers and things. When there was a field trip notice the week before I had tried to get him to sign it but he told me he had bigger stuff to worry about than an old field trip. So far, I hadn’t brought back the permission slip and I was worried that I would have to stay behind like Austin Beamer had to do every time there was a field trip because his foster dad never filled out his slips on time.
"Yes, we are going to send everyone’s parents a notice about the lice today. You be sure to tell him, okay?" Mrs. Conway had her arm around me and I could tell she wanted to help me out. She was a pretty lady with a powdery smell and I wished that I could hug her and tell her about my mom but something just made me stop. I was sure that if I did something like hug her, my mom would find out about it wherever she was and never come back. So I just sat there stiff as a bunny rabbit who thinks you won’t see him if he holds still enough. Finally, Mrs. Conway let out a big sigh and said I should go back to recess.

My dad told me that night that he was a busy man and that having lice wouldn’t hurt me none. "Reenie, I got problems with the office and with your mom gone off, I got to make some fast money. So we are going to go off to a pool tournament. You are going to have to be a real good girl because we are going to have to sleep in the car until I win some money – you understand Reenie?"
"But Daddy, what about Mary Rose, who will feed her?" I was frantic. "And what about my field trip, I just got to go on my field trip, we’re going to a petting zoo!!"
My dad looked old. I could tell his heart just was not in dragging a little girl around to pool tournaments. The wheels were turning in his head, just like I had seen them turn in the head of some silly cat in an old cartoon once. Finally, he started to think out loud, "Reenie honey, do you think you can manage on your own here for a few days? I will put some macaroni in the freezer and you can use the microwave in the office. Are you ready to look out for yourself a bit?"
"Oh sure daddy," I screamed in relief. I saw my opportunity and ran to my book bag and pulled out the dog eared permission slip for the field trip. "If you could only sign this, everything will be fine. I can take care of myself. I already feed Mary Rose and all. And get my own cereal every morning." As he signed my permission slip I hugged him around the neck, I was so glad I wouldn’t have to be left behind like Austin Beamer.
*****
Some of my dreams are nightmares. The dreams slide in suddenly like a violent summer storm, dark clouds over my sleep, gray and rumbling. In those nightmares I am alone, and I never get to go on the field trip, which is exactly what happened. My dad left for his trip two days later without waking me up. I decided that I better stay home that day. I was afraid Ms. Conway would worry me again about the lice and ask if my dad had bought the special shampoo. I told her he was getting it but knew that I couldn’t keep lying about it. I figured if I could just stay home for the three days that were left until the field trip, everything would eventually work out. It was scary being alone. I stayed in my room with the door shut until Mary Rose scratched at the door begging to get out. I put my macaroni out and let it thaw, but I ate it cold because I was just too scared to go out to the office by myself in the dark. I colored some and played with my Barbie but mostly I stayed in bed, waiting for two nights to go by. It is hard to be alone when you are six. It’s just hard.
After the second night passed, I heard tires rolling over the gravel on our road. The feeling I got hearing those tires was my purest moment of joy. I ran out of my room and threw open the door to greet my dad. Instead, I found Ms. Conway and two strangers.
"Ms. Conway, my dad is still trying to find the special shampoo…" But I could tell by the looks on their faces that things were about to change for good. Ms. Conway came in. When she saw the inside of the trailer she made a small noise like a mouse in a trap makes when it dies. Embarrassment made my knees wobbly. She took my hand and sat down with me on the couch. "Reenie," she began, "these two ladies are going to take you with them tonight. They are from Social Services. The two ladies that had come with Ms. Conway looked exactly like Mr. Brown and Mrs. Brown from Hop on Pop. I started to think about Quint and thinking about him made me get a lump in my throat. The lady that looked like Mr. Brown squatted down and said, "We know you have been here by yourself and as grownups… well, we can’t allow that to happen anymore. Do you understand?" I nodded my head yes.
The other lady stayed standing but she patted my shoulder and said, "Don’t you worry, honey. It will only be for a night or two because Ms. Conway has something to tell you."
Ms. Conway handed me a little piece of paper. "Reenie, before your mama went away she sent me a note." Ms. Conway looked at me with the most hopeful face I have ever seen. I remembered how she had tried to hug me in the nurse’s office and how I had pretended like I didn’t want any hugs. I couldn’t read the note because it was written in cursive and I hadn’t learned that yet, but I ran my fingers over mom’s writing hoping to feel something. The hot tears started to boil in my eyes again.
"At first I was confused when I received this, but then, well," Ms. Conway said, "Let me read it to you,

Dear Ms. Conway,
In case of an emergency, please call my sister, Abby Linger.
She is in the phone book, under Harold Linger, 23 Kings Way Road.
She will take care of Reenie. She will know what to do.
Sincerely,
Ellie Banisher, Reenie’s mom

"Would you like to go and stay with your Aunt?" Ms. Conway asked after she finished reading my mother’s note.
I needed to be sure of something before I decided: "Ms. Conway, is this an emergency?"
Yes, Reenie, I think it is," Ms. Conway answered. The two social worker ladies who looked like Mr. Brown and Mrs. Brown nodded their heads in agreement.
I thought for a minute. I thought about how old my Dad was looking and then I thought about the note for a minute. I remembered what Quint had told me about Mom’s sister Abby and I almost heard his voice telling me, "Abby goes ahead and gives everyone a prize…" and then I asked, "Is it almost Easter?"
Ms. Conway looked at me kind of puzzled. "Well, yes, Reenie, it is almost Easter, it’s next week, why do you ask?"
"Just wondering…" I had made up my mind, but in my heart, somehow I knew my mom had remembered Aunt Abby’s Easter egg hunt.
I looked up at Ms. Conway and said, "I think I would like to stay with Aunt Abby." I offered Ms. Conway my hand to leave. She squeezed it and I squeezed back and we went outside to her car. Before I got in I yelled out to the hole in the underpinning, "Mary Rose, I’m going to Aunt Abby’s now, I will ask her if you can live there too." And I left feeling pretty certain the answer would be yes.

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