“It’s time, Julie; time for you to confront those demons of your past that are tormenting you.”
I realize that I can no longer move forward. Stan has been wonderfully patient with me, wrapping me in the cocoon of his unfailing love and devotion and protection, shielding our home from the noises that trigger my nightmares. If a shutter loosens, if a tree branch scrapes against a window or a squeaky door blows on its hinges, Stan fixes it. We both know that just puts a bandage over the festering wound; it is not solving the source of infection. But now it is affecting the children and I refuse to damage their psyches with my fears . . .
I leave by myself on the pilgrimage to my past, armed with my mother’s Bible and a dogged determination of a mama bear protecting her cubs. I go by coach, resting at scheduled stops along the way. I choose not to think of my destination, concentrating instead on the endless prairie scenery. The flight of a lone eagle in the cloudless blue sky, the fields of corn and wheat and oats, interspersed with long stretches of land--barren, except for patches of untrampled wildflowers.
“Are you sure it’s Pemberton ye’re wantin’, miss-us--hasn’t been on the route for years now. Most folks find it too far out of the way and there’s more interestin’ tourist towns closer.”
I do not answer, so he takes my silence in stride, urging the horses onward as we pass occasional road signs for tourist towns he was describing.
“PEMBERTON,” a crude post with drawn arrow pointing to our west, soon catches my full attention. It won’t be long now.
The wind picks up even as I alight from my dusty seat while a lone tumbleweed blows past us.
“Here you are, ma’am. I’ll be back before dusk,” doffing his hat in my direction and shaking his head at the “notions some folks take into their addled brains.”
I wave at the departing stage, my mother’s Bible clutched as tight as Auntie’s death-grip around a dying chicken’s neck. It truly has become a ghost town, days of yore whispers in the breezes blowing through the gutted buildings.
Suddenly, I hear it: the hauntingly familiar rattling of the still hanging mercantile sign next to Aunt Aretha’s boarding house. Time stands still and my mind spins back into yesteryear.
I am a little girl again, playing with my cloth doll, Molly, in the back of the storeroom while Ma and Pa are waiting on crotchety old Miz Baker at the produce counter.
“Storm’s a-brewin’, Kathrin,” as Pa escorts Miz Baker out, “best round up Julie and get her in the fruit cellar while I board things up.”
I don’t like it in the cellar, so it takes Ma extra long to persuade me down into its cavernous depths. I smell the earthen floor and hear the scurrying of muffled footsteps above as Ma joins Pa and I sit down on the splintery bench with Molly on my lap.
“Molly, what happened to your other shoe? You must have left it up in the stockroom, you naughty baby. Now, you stay here like a good girl while I go get it.”
My parents had just made it into the cellar before the tornado twisted its way into our town, only to find I was not there.
“You go out to the privy, Johnnie, and I’ll check under the fabric counter where she likes to play!”
While they had frantically searched for me, I had dutifully returned down into the cellar to sit beside Molly, her shoe now snugly in my apron pocket. I don’t remember the freight train-sounding roar. I only hear our store sign chains rattling like the dickens in the twisting winds above me.
“It was all my fault,” my despairing cry echoing and swirling through the desolate abandoned town.
My mother’s Bible pages rustle in the wind at my feet and I pick it up where it has opened to John 8:32, “The truth shall set you free.” As I read, an exquisite peace wraps around my heart. I close my eyes as the swinging store sign turns into church bells playing “Amazing Grace.” And I see my mother and father smiling down on me, and I see myself a little girl, innocent of their deaths.
My guilt washes away and I know I am on the road to recovery.
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