20 minutes – whatever comes up
The rope moved in the wind. The apple tree still naked, branches scratching the sky, held it. She watched empty and uninvited. Allie touched the bubbled window glass with the tips of her fingers. She could feel the cold through the window. She pulled her fingers through the dust on the window sill, ignoring how it collected in the grooves of her skin. Allie looked at the rope again and shivered. Penny called for her from the kitchen. Allie sighed. She made no move to go and see what her sister wanted. She sat on the old wooden chair and leaned against the wall. A few moments later, she heard her sister’s feet pound across the brittle linoleum and hardwood behind her.
“Allie quiet daydreaming. Come and help me take the food to her. I don’t want to go alone.” Penny pouted. Allie rolled her eyes and stared out the window. Penny stamped her foot.
“Allie” she shouted, “Help me” Penny took a menacing step forward. Allie braced herself. Her little sister was a couple of years younger than she was, but Penny was bigger. Penny towered over her older sister and was not afraid to hit her sister. Allie never fought back. If she did, Penny knew that she was stronger and could flatten her sister to the ground without a second thought. She’d done it many times before.
“She will come down for it.” Allie spoke quietly. “We don’t need to take it up to her” Penny snorted and stomped her foot again. Allie turned her head and watched her.
“She told me to bring it to her.” Penny challenged. Allie shook her head.
“Poppa said that she should eat in the kitchen like the rest of us. He said not to take her food. You were right there.” Allie said. She turned back to the window. Penny deflated. She climbed into the chair opposite Allie. Her chubby legs dangled over the edge of the seat and skimmed the floor.
“But the food will be cold by the time she comes down. Why does she want to eat cold food?” Penny asked. Allie looked at her. Tears swelled over her sister’s eye lids like the creek in early spring. Allie felt her heart pinch. Penny didn’t understand why their mother hid in the room on the second floor. Allie knew why. She didn’t know if Penny could understand. No one told her what happened. Penny was still young and was always busy with her dolls. Allie saw her mother leave with the man. She left in the car with him. Poppa was working and didn’t know. Allie had never seen the man before but Momma climbed into the dark blue shiny car and left. He drove away so fast that the gravel stones flew everywhere. One hit Allie in the leg. It stung. Auntie came and looked at the bruise the stone had left and then pulled Allie by the arm back into the farmhouse to have lunch.
They were gone for hours. To Allie, it felt like too long. Something was wrong. She got on to her bike when Auntie was dozing in the summer kitchen and rode down the laneway to the road. The road led to the highway. A couple pulled over in a white truck and asked Allie where she was going. Allie told them. She was honest. She always told the truth. She was going to find her mother. The man took her. The couple asked Allie a lot of questions that she had forgotten.
“Allie, why won’t she come out of the room? She won’t come out. She’s going to be hungry. We have to take her the food.” Penny pleaded. Allie sighed and pushed her hair out of her face. She didn’t want to be the one to tell Penny but she would be. The truth was bitter in the back of her throat. Burning.
“Penny, she has to come out when she is ready. Poppa said she is punishing him for finding her. I heard him talking to her through the keyhole. “ Allie couldn’t look at Penny. She kept talking as she watched out the window. The rope kept swinging in the wind.
“She was trying to runaway. Poppa has given her everything you know. Pretty things. Silver shoes. Jewellery. Dresses. Takes her places. But she ran away. Poppa never yells at her, gives her everything and still she wants to leave. She is hiding until she realizes she needs to be our momma again, Penny. That’s why we can’t bring her up the food. She will come down when she is ready.” Allie was panting, breathless after the words spilled out of her. Penny looked at her with shocked frozen eyes. Allie watched. The truth unfolded itself in Penny’s belly and sent itself through her like little knives. Penny screamed and suddenly struck Allie on the side of the head knocking her down to the floor. Allie did not move on the floor. She lay in a heap and started crying. Penny jumped around her screaming.
“It’s your fault. You had to follow her. You had to try to find her.” She screamed. Penny kicked Allie in the shins as hard as she could. Allie pulled herself into a tight ball to protect her soft belly.
“It’s your fault” Penny screamed over and over. Allie buried her head in her knees, her face mashed between the tear stained polyester and snot. Allie’s throat was on fire. She let out a strangled cry.
“I know.” Allie said. “I know”