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The Last 24 Hours
It wasn’t cold out, but it wasn’t hot either. It was jeans and sweater weather, the type of weather where the air has a touch of crispness to it that makes it fresh and easy to breathe. I’d been told to get out of the house for the rest of the day and although there wasn’t a terrible lot to do outside on my own it was better than being inside where it was stuffy and full of tension.
I was all too familiar with the feel of a storm building in the atmosphere, those unseen electric currents swirling in the air that was no less sharp or jolting because of their invisibility. I also knew that the black storm cloud would open over me with a torrential down pour of searing rain, booming thunder, and painful zaps of lightening. Armed with that knowledge I happily exited the house leaving the brewery and stale cigarette smell behind me.
A small white shed sat lakefront in the yard. I knew there was a small lip of shoreline behind it that was sheltered on both sides by Eastern White cedar trees and cedar bushes. Crouching low I duck-walked through the fan-like branches and scale-like leaves while I tried not to think about spiders and webs. Once in the little hideaway I perched on the low stack of cinderblocks and I leaned back against the shed. The smell of earth and cedar mixed with a mild fishy lake scent filled the space. I stretched my legs out accidentally dislodging a rock from the boulder shorefront, it bounced with a soft click clank sound followed by a tiny splash.
The lake in front of me had a calm muddy looking surface. The low steady rumble sound of motorboats was distant on both sides of me, but nothing moved on the surface of the lake within my line of sight. I sighed deeply and felt a slow drain of tension, tension I hadn’t been aware that I was holding until it began to trickle out of me. The sky was a pale blue with the occasional slow drifting white cloud. It was a serene scene much like a photograph or a post card. With a final thought of the beautiful scenery I ducked my head to the book in my lap. I loved the cover on the V.C. Andrews novel because it had a small peek hole that revealed the main character’s face, Dawn, but when the cover was lifted it revealed the full image of her sitting in a soft pink arm chair with six other characters. The rest of the image on the cover showed a large house on a rock cliff surrounded by angry looking water. I enjoyed reading large novels, the feel of the thick book in my hand was a comforting weight and it offered a place I could escape into for a little while. This book was just over 400 pages, and it was the third book in the series.
Time slipped by and the remaining pages got thinner. I had a chill in my bones from sitting still for so long and my bladder had reached the point of discomfort. I thought briefly about peeing in the shrub, but quickly dismissed it not willing to risk being seen baring my backside. Not for the first time I thought how easy it would have been if I had a penis and then the thought was dismissed and I scrambled out from my hiding space.
I slid the basement door open slowly straining to hear voices or noise inside so that I could gauge what might be going on. I heard their voices slightly raised going back and forth about money. I stole up the stairs and sneaked into the bathroom as quietly as possible, and then I beat a quick retreat out the front door and scrambled up the tree at the property line.
This tree was my other hiding spot best suited for watching the road, driveway, and front door. Halfway up there was a large branch that was perfect for perching on and reading, and on those days that my cousin was joining me in the tree there was a second branch that allowed for conversation between us. Today however, I was just going to stay long enough to read the last few pages of my book or until a gnawing hunger forced me to go back into the house. So, I was still perched in the tree when the front door slammed shut. I was perfectly placed to see him leaving the house red faced and stomping. He hopped into his old cream and blue ford truck and accelerated out of the driveway kicking up stones. I waited for a while before I climbed down and went in the house.
She was sitting on the sofa with her back to me crying softly. I didn’t want to disturb her because I knew only one of two things would happen. She would either dissolve into tears sobbing about her misfortunes or she would fly into a rage that had the possibility of being aimed at me. So, I snatched some food and disappeared to my room for the night.
The next day was a typical school day and I was eager to get home and just get my homework done so I could watch some television. Beverly Hills 90210 was going to be on tonight. My feet crunched down the slight incline of the sparsely graveled driveway. I glanced up at the house like I did every time I returned home as if something from the outside could tell me what was going on inside. However, the small front windows were empty and shadowed. I glanced around at the pewter coloured siding that covered the expanse of the house, it sat on top of a dirty cracked foundation. It really was an ugly house that lacked landscaping and attention. My feet landed on the one plain cement patio stone that marked the entrance to the house. The door was locked, I looked at the grubby flint colour wondering what was going on. As I searched in my school bag for my key the door opened slightly and her slim form filled the opening, but she didn’t move enough to allow me access. She had a strangled look on her face. I paused with my hand still in my bag and stared at her unsure what to expect.
Her voice came out piqued and loud. “I’ve called your Father, and he will be here any minute to get you. I can’t have you here anymore.”
The ground washed out from under my feet and I fought to keep my balance. The words hit me like a breaker beating against the shore. “What are you talking about?” I asked as I scanned my head around expecting dad’s red truck to barrel down the driveway. She simply repeated her sentence and made to close the door. I didn’t wait to see it close, instead I fled diagonal across our yard and up the neighbour’s driveway. I hit the road and looked backwards to reassure myself that I could get out of sight before his truck crested the uphill curve then I was running full out.
My feet thundered over the pavement, my school bag pounded against my back keeping rhythm with each footfall. My chest started to tighten as less and less air reached my lungs. Every time I heard a vehicle on the road I moved as close to the edge of the road as I could without tripping. I was prepared to veer off into the trees or the yard that I was passing. My pace was starting to slow. I’d never been a sprinter, but pure adrenaline had pushed me until I literally doubled over desperate for a full pull of oxygen.
I looked behind me, still no red truck. I straightened and started walking as fast as I could. I hadn’t been aware that tears were falling from my eyes until the salty taste of them seeped into the corners of my mouth. I swiped at my face hastily feeling the swell of anger. I had no idea why this was happening, we hadn’t even been fighting. I thought I was under both their radars. My best friend’s house loomed up in front of me and I renewed my speed to get to the door. I was so thankful that it was her that answered the door and not her sister or mother. She looked at me questioningly but she gathered me into the house and ushered me into the basement where my words rolled out in a surge.
The phone in my hand was like a weight pulling me down. I didn’t want to call dad, but I assumed my friend’s mom was right and that he would be worried about me. The ringing seemed deafening and the wait for him to pick up was like a punishment. He did answer though, which indicated that something wasn’t accurate in her hateful statement that she couldn’t have me there because he lived 45 minutes away and the time frame didn’t work. His voice came out in a tone I had never heard him use before, and his speech was clear and without a slur. The sound of his resignation and sympathy added to my lack of understanding. However, he was quick to explain that she had called him to come and get me, but he had chosen not to. “Good luck dear,” he said before the dial tone filled my ear.
Thirteen years old and nowhere to go. I had nothing with me, and no way to get any of my stuff. I didn’t know if my friend’s mom called her or not to tell her where I was. I also didn’t know that her opinion of them began to decline that day. I slept there that night and boarder the bus for school with my friend the next morning. The day was a blur, and the only plan I had was to try and go back home after school. When the bus stopped and opened the doors I was reluctant to get off, but I took a deep breath and tried not to acknowledge the feeling of falling that overwhelmed me as I took that large last step down onto the pavement. I approached the house just as I did on any other day but I was surprised to find the door unlocked. I slipped inside hoping to sneak to my basement bedroom unnoticed because maybe I could collect some of my things before they put me out again. However, as I closed the door her voice carried around the corner to me on the entry way. Her voice sounded pleased and content asking me how my day was. It was like nothing had happened, the last 24 hours in my world were apparently very different from the 24 hours she lived through.
By Shari Marshall – The above piece of non-fiction is a short excerpt from the memoirs I wrote a few years ago during NaNoWriMo; editied and posted in 2020.