Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Park (10/25/12)
TITLE: Little Girl Lost
By Leola Ogle
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My nine-year-old son had hit a home run and I smiled as a couple other moms engaged me in conversation about the team’s winning streak. I turned away just as my ten-year-old and seven-year-old came walking up. In the split second it took to register that four-year-old Denise was not with them, my heart lurched in my chest. Disbelief, followed by choking fear, I sputtered, “Where’s Denise?” to the puzzled looks on Tammy’s and Stephanie’s face.
Every parent’s horror flashed through my mind as the girls mumbled, “We thought she came back here.” Grabbing Heather, heart pounding in my ears, I stood on shaking legs, my eyes straining for a glimpse of Denise on the playground. As I started across the park, my eyes continued to dart to and fro for any sign of my little girl.
I frantically searched the scantily populated playground, asking everyone if they had seen Denise. No one knew anything. I tried to think of what I should do, but panic and fear rendered me incapable of rational thinking. I turned and looked toward the ballpark, thinking I should ask the coach and everyone there to help me search, but then decided I should call the police.
It was 1975, an age before cell phones. I glanced at the nearby community pool building and saw a payphone, but I didn’t have any cash. I shifted Heather in my arms, and blurted to Tammy and Stephanie, “Why weren’t you watching her?” and felt ashamed at the stricken look on their faces. Stephanie was whimpering, and Heather clung to me, sensing my distress.
I’ll go across the street to someone’s house and ask to use a phone, I thought, trying to stop my mind from images of my daughter in the hands of a predator or pedophile. “Please God, please God, please God,” I mumbled through trembling lips, brushing tears from my cheeks.
It was then that I spotted a police car cruising slowly down the street. I started running towards it, planning to shout for it to stop so I could ask for help. My eyes widened as it stopped in front of a house where a woman stood in her front yard clutching Denise’s hand. A shot of adrenaline jolted me into action as I raced through the park, darted across the street and ran to the woman before the police officer had a chance to get out of his car.
“Oh, thank God,” I blubbered, reaching awkwardly for Denise’s hand as I adjusted Heather on my hip.
The woman ever so slightly pulled Denise away, glaring at me with an accusatory look. “I found her,” she said with a touch of sarcasm.
Momentarily bewildered, I mumbled, “Thank you so much. She’s my little girl. Please!” I implored, my hand still outstretched as Denise tugged at her hand clasped tightly in the woman’s hand.
The woman turned to the approaching policeman and repeated, “I found her in the park all alone,” as she cast another withering glance at me.
My hand dropped as I felt a sense of shame, cloaking myself in the woman’s disapproval of a mother who would lose her child at dusk in the park. I turned slowly as the officer asked if Denise was my little girl. Fearing his condemnation, I was relieved to see he had compassionate eyes and a pleasant smile. I nodded my head, afraid I would start crying if I spoke.
He dropped to eye level with Denise and pointed to me, asking, “Is that your mommy?”
With tear-stained face, Denise smiled shyly and said yes, trying to wiggle her little hand free. Frowning at me, the woman reluctantly released my daughter. I pulled Denise against my leg, gushing my thanks to the woman and the kind policeman.
The policeman patted my shoulder, sympathetically murmuring, “We don’t always have happy endings.”
I walked my four daughters back across the park to where my son’s team was still practicing. I glanced back once, fearful that I had gotten off too easily, expecting to see a rush of police to arrest me.
The policeman drove off, and although the woman continued to glare, my heart was bursting with gratitude and relief.
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