Trailing a finger along walls and windows, Emma traced a beginning. Getting here was like running a marathon in bare feet over hot coals. Her life leading up to this was littered with land mines and hidden traps, and getting out was clandestine and secret like a James Bond movie.
~ ~ ~
Winter was uncertain and unpredictable. Dad worked for Mardi Gras Games and Amusements. From April to September he was gone running carny games. When the season finished, he spent time unemployed and continued his quest to become the baddest, meanest drunk. Like a feather drifting on a breeze, Emma made herself silent so she wouldn’t be seen. If she failed to avoid detection, his drunken grasps and flailing blows were usually harmless, and sent her floating farther out of reach as she silently slipped away.
The winter before Emma’s 17th birthday was the worst. He caught her a twice. The second time she spent three days in the hospital when the beating left her unconscious. She looked like a pansy patch of purple, green and yellow bruises. She knew DCF would never intervene so she went home.
A week later when she made her monthly visit to Aunt Polly’s, she still bore the shadows and smudges that hinted at the violence she survived. Polly, a happy and content soul, snapped and her outrage thundered. Time was both for and against Emma. In exactly 49 days the new Midwestern carnival circuit started. After Polly quenched the wildfire of anger, she came up with a plan. They carefully devised every moment of those 49 days to keep Emma safe until she could move into the gardeners cottage on the grounds of Polly’s estate.
Emma woke up on a sunny Spring morning to an empty apartment. Her dad left, as expected, without a good-bye, a note or any indication when he would be back. Dressing quickly she retrieved the boxes she had hidden under the porch where he wouldn’t find them, and began to pack the shelves of books, nick nacks and bits and pieces that constituted her life. Clothes were packed into five reusable McIntosh Grocery bags. Each green bag with the toothy red apple, had a purpose. One each for shirts, pants, socks and delicates, pajamas and bathroom stuff.
She felt an odd fluttering sensation in her middle. It was intoxicating and the high was the smile she wore. It was foreign, unexpected, out of place for her. The lightness was the knowledge she was moving step by step toward liberation from the bonds of living with addicted parents. Aunt Polly’s offer to live in the gardeners cottage was a gift. Emma could move forward, assemble a calm life free of reckless emotions. It would be built on a reliable foundation with the bricks and planks she chose.
Parked on the street in front of the derelict row house her father rented was Polly’s 1978 Cadillac with the cavernous trunk waited for Emma’s treasures. Polly and Cora flitted up to the front door and chattered with excitement. Green paint peeled and flaked as the battered screen door opened. The torn screen fluttered as it swung away from the frame and the ladies trooped inside.
“Yoo hoo! Emma? We’re here!” Polly called out.
Cora watched, astonished as Emma bounced out of her room and looked the part of a normal 17 year old girl. A different person emerged as she swept them in an big embrace while she tittered out of breath.
“It’s done. It’s all done!”
Aunt Polly and Cora were grabbed by the wrist and she skipped back to the room and dragging the awestruck women along. These emotions worn on Emma were alien. The stoic, suspicious girl had been unexpectedly but pleasantly transformed.
A small assortment of boxes and shopping bags layed on the floor and bed. Polly shifted her weight and cocked her elbow as she put a hand on her hip and pondered six boxes and five bags. How does seventeen years of a girls life amount to so little? A deep breath cleared the cobwebs in her throat she said,
“Well! I think we can get it in a couple of trips. Is this really all there is Emma?”
With a wide grin stuck to her face she, her shoulders squeezed to her ears, as she nodded her head.
One by one boxes and bags were gathered, and one by one carefully placed into the abundant space of the Caddy’s trunk. After all of the boxes and bags had been stowed, they stood back and cackled at the leftover space after Emma’s life had been loaded up. Polly and Cora packed themselves into the front seat while Emma finished.
She swung the battered screen door open for the last time. With new found assurance and confidence in her future, she fearlessly walked to the room that had sheltered her for 17 years. Dust floated in motes and shone in gray and white rays across the floor. A wry smile turn up her mouth as she contemplated the empty shelves between the windows, and the rumpled bed in the corner. The ease at which it emptied illustrated how little she was worth in this place. She locked the front door, secured the hook on the screen door, turned and walked away.
With hands tucked in her back pockets she skip stepped her way down the walk. She reached the car, opened the door and slid into the back seat. Emma sank into the soft deep leather and cool air inside the car whisked goosebumps over her bare arms. She closed her eyes and let out a deep breath as some of the tension of her precarious life was allowed to slacken.
Aunt Polly carefully eased into the street and Emma was carried slowly forward. The fog was lifting and clarity peeked over the dash and illuminated the promise of tomorrow.
Linking up with Studio Thirty Plus for their Writing Prompt #43 “Changes”