Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Childhood( 09/03/09)
Three Inches Closer
By Chely Roach
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She found herself standing in front of the serving buffet—where she had been in the moments before she didn’t know—staring at the deep pink freckles on a Stargazer lily. The obnoxious, cloying fragrance exploded in Micah’s face, clinging to her like a plastic bag held over her head. Her heart quickened, and she became fearful of the blooms; their orange pistils seemed to reach out to strike her. They wanted to steal her breath; punish her for something. She imagined smashing the vase to the floor, and crushing the lilies under her feet.
Instead, Micah opened the top drawer that held Mama’s antique silver set. Her knuckles brushed against the velvet, burgundy lining as she removed the largest serving spoon. She stood captivated by her inverted reflection in its shiny bowl…stretching her face like a melting monster. Finally, she slid the spoon into her pocket and disappeared out the back door.
The steady rain pelted her back as she pried up the corner of lattice board on the wraparound porch; her secret entrance to her private fortress. As Micah squeezed through the opening, the black tulle that lined her dress tore; its scrappy ribbon dragging behind her in the dirt. She didn’t notice.
Ironically, in the dim and dusty crawlspace, Micah was finally able to breathe. On sunny days, the light would cast dozens of diamond shaped motes into her oasis. She loved that. She sat cross-legged next to her box of prized possessions; a parrot feather, a robin’s vacated egg shell, a fossil she found in the creek bed with her older brother, Gabe. Inconsequential things to anyone else, but the familiarity of them in her hands calmed her…she felt safe.
She flinched as the screen door above her screeched open, and its weathered spring drew it back into its frame violently. And then again. The creaking footfalls above her caused small puffs of dust to rain down on Micah. She heard them settle into the porch swing where Mama always sat, followed by the sound of a match being struck.
“Thanks for the light,” a woman said.
“No problem,” an equally unfamiliar man replied.
Disappointed, Micah returned to inventorying her memory box.
“Did you know her well?” he asked.
“Vaguely. I’ve worked with her husband, Jack, for a few years now. She tried this last fall, too.”
Absently, Micah crushed the delicate, speckled shell in her hand…
“Mmm,” she blew out her smoke, “and a couple years before that. It was really just a matter of time.”
Micah drew the spoon from her pocket and began to scoop the dirt floor…
“Jeez, poor guy.”
“Yeah, but I think my heart breaks most for their kids,” drawing from her cigarette, “especially the girl. Ya know…she found her.” Exhale.
The spoon started to tremble, but Micah dug more furiously…
“For the love of…”
“Oh, yeah. Came home from school, and found her in bed. Poor kid lost her mind and climbed under the covers next to her mom…Jack came home and found em’ both covered in blood.”
Micah thought she could smell the lilies again, suffocating her…
“I heard the blood soaked all the way through the mattress. At first he thought they were both dead, but the little girl was just catatonic from the shock.”
She began to rock and hum on her knees; Micah stabbed the spoon as deep as she could with her left hand, and paddled the dirt away with her right…
“Well, that’s why they’re just now having the funeral ten days later—Jack had to have her hospitalized and medicated. She’s still not really talkin’.”
A sheen of sweat covered Micah’s face; her heart pounding in her eardrums…
“Gosh, I can’t even imagine the shrink bills for this family.”
“Amen to that.” The woman flicked her cigarette butt over the rail, and it smoldered in the wet mulch next to the hydrangeas. The swing groaned in relief as they stood, “Worse yet, someday that kid's gonna realize that her Mama’s burning in hell for killin’ herself…”
Micah fell to her side, squirming to fit in the excavated hole that was not much bigger than her memory box. It was too shallow to swallow her up, but she was three inches closer to Mama.
Which is where she desperately needed to be…
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