Good Intentions

Dead of Winter ~ Second Place
Theresa Hammond


I hate winter. Daddy drains the swimming pool and lets the air out of my floating turtle. At recess I have to zip up my coat, put on gloves that make my fingers sweat, and a hat that makes my hair stick up. And I hate the second grade. Today I asked my teacher if I could stay inside because my nose is leaking, but she said no. So I went outside and mommy was there, standing by the fence under a bright red umbrella. I didn’t know who she was, but she had a nice smile and black and white purse that looked like a zebra. She called me to the fence and took my favorite doll out of the purse.

“Hi Casey, Daddy asked me to come get you. You remember me, don’t you?” She said. “Why don’t we go for a walk?”

“My teacher won’t let me.”

“Mommies have more rights than teachers do.”

She lifted me over the fence and felt my hands. She said I was too cold and might catch a cold so we got into her little white car and we drove on the highway for a long time. I fell asleep and when I opened my eyes again I was lying in the little bed with Barbie sheets. I ran down the hallway looking for daddy but all I found was her, lying in the bed in a pretty pink nightgown with lace all over.

“You’re awake already?” She lit a cigarette. “That wasn’t a long nap.”

“I want to go home.”

“But we just got here.” She stared back at the television on top of the dresser. “I haven’t seen you in almost two years. Haven’t you missed me?”

“I don’t know you.”

“Of course you know me. I’m your mommy.”

“I don’t have a mommy.” I backed against the wall. “I only have a daddy and I want to go home.”

“See how he’s turned you against me?” She dropped her cigarette in an ashtray on the small round table and sat up on the edge of the bed. “I used to rock you to sleep every night. You were such a good baby. You never cried, never did anything but smile and sleep.”

“I don’t know you.”

“You will.” She slipped onto the floor and crawled to me. She wrapped her arms around my waist and pulled me into her lap. “I’ll tell you everything.”

I sat real still and held my breath, waiting for her to let me go. She didn’t feel warm like daddy. Eventually she sat me back against the wall, picked her cigarette from the tray, and left the room.

“Get on out here girl.” She said from down the hall somewhere. “Keep Mommy company.”

I squeezed my legs to my chest and shut my eyes. Then I opened them slowly and looked around, but I was still in her bedroom and daddy was still gone. I went back down the hallway and shut myself in the bedroom with the small bed. I pulled back the curtains but the window was too high to see out. I stood on my tiptoes and jumped up, but I was still too little. Cold air came down from the glass and I shivered.

“What are you doing?” The door opened suddenly and she stood there with her hands on her hips. “Get away from that window, right now.”

I dropped the curtains, pushed my hands behind my back and stared at her bare feet. Her toes were painted bright red and one ankle had a small gold chain hanging around it. They were pretty feet but I told myself they were ugly and her long blond hair was ugly and everything about her was ugly.

“You’re not to go near the windows, the doors, or the telephone. Got it kid?”

I nodded.

“Come eat and then it’s bath time.”

“I don’t want any.”

“This is all you get for a couple days. I have to wait on my paycheck and then we’re out of here. So come on, make the best of it.”

“I don’t want any.”

“Then you can watch me eat.”

“I don’t want to.”

“I don’t care what you want. I’m not your father. I don’t take crap from a child.” She stepped forward, grabbed my arm, and pulled me down the hallway. She pushed me into a chair then sat across from me. “Now you just be quiet and let me have a peaceful meal.”

“I want to call daddy.”

“You’re not talking to him ever again. That’s the best thing for you.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s spoiled you.” She pointed at me with her fork. “I’ve been watching and let me tell you little princess, you need some discipline.”

“Why?”

“Because he lets you run around the neighborhood with that little boy, and half the time he isn’t even watching.”

“Billy’s my friend.”

“Let me tell you something about boys.” She said. “They’ll get you nowhere but trouble. Look where your father got me. I had you at sixteen, then he left me at nineteen. Took my little girl away from me, had me thrown in jail. But now it’s his turn to live upside down.” She kept talking and pointing her fork and I was afraid to move. “That’s what it’s like, going to jail. I’m not a bat. I don’t like sleeping upside down.”

“Why?” I didn’t know what she was talking about but I felt it was bad. Very bad.

“Is that the only word you know?”

“Maybe.”

“He’s turned you into a pain. I thought you were going to be a smart one.”

“I am.”

“No. You’re quite dumb actually. And you’re not half as pretty as I thought you’d be.”

I squeezed my eyes shut but the tears slipped down my cheeks anyway. I told myself that she couldn’t be my mother. No mother could be so mean.

“I’ll teach you some respect. Give you some discipline.”

“I want to go home.” My chest tightened and my belly ached and I thought I might throw up.

“Bath time.” She dropped her fork. “Then you can go to bed and I can have my quiet time.”

She pulled me back down the hallway and into the bathroom, where the carpet was a pretty pink and the walls had small flowers all over.

“Take off your clothes.” She sat on the edge of the bathtub and turned on the water.

I undressed slowly, embarrassed that she was looking at me. I backed against the door and the carpet was warm between my toes. I refused to go to her. She kept snapping her fingers and demanding I hurry but I couldn’t make my legs move.

She got up, grabbed my arm, and pushed me in front of the tub. There was steam rising off the water. I made my legs real stiff and tried to stand still but I started shaking all over. She pushed me from behind and I fell forward, catching myself on the hard tub. Then I sat down and pulled my knees to my chest, tucking my head down like a turtle in her shell.

“It’s too hot.”

“I don’t care, just get in.” She jerked my arm up but I wouldn’t stand. “You’re going to get it worse if you don’t get in right now.”

“It’ll burn.”

“Fine. I’ll bathe you right where you are.” She turned and left the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. There was nowhere to hide except under the sink. I pulled out all her towels and pretty smelling soaps and crawled under. I pulled the small door shut right as she opened the bathroom door.

I held my breath and squeezed my eyes shut. I heard a thump on the floor and then I heard her calling my name in another room. I opened the door a crack and saw a large pot sitting next to the tub. I hurried out, picked it up, and walked into the hallway. Her voice came from her bedroom. I opened the door closest to me and it was a closet with lots of coats and a pile of shoes. I stood on top of the shoes and shut the door, but it made a loud click and she hurried into the hallway

“I heard that. Where are you?”

I knew she was going to get me and I wasn’t going to see daddy ever again. I squatted down and held the pot over my head with both arms stretched up high. It was heavy and my arms shook. When she opened the closet door I jumped as high as I could and swung the pot. It hit her on the chest and she stumbled backward just a little. Then she bent to grab me again. I stepped out of the closet and swung the pan and that time it hit her on the top of the head. Then she just fell down.

I waited for her to move but she didn’t. Then I kicked her hard in the head to see if she would move but she didn’t. So I kicked her another time just because I wanted to and then I went to the bathroom and put on my clothes. I stopped and looked down at her but she still wasn’t moving so I stepped over her body and hurried out the front door. I ran across the street to a small white house with green shutters. My toes were so cold I thought they would stick to the ground as I rang the bell.

A woman with pink glasses and long red fingernails opened the door.

“She took me from my daddy and now she’s dead.” I could see my breath as I spoke.

“Come on in, sweetie.” She held the screen door open but I backed away.

“Please call my daddy.”

“Do you know your phone number?”

I said the number and turned to look at the house. The woman hadn’t come after me but I was sure she would. I told myself it was all right. She’d wake up after daddy came to get me and it would all be over.

“Honey, come outside and sit with this little girl.” She turned and talked to someone inside the house then a girl my age came out. She had long brown hair and blue eyes just like mine. She held my hand and we sat on the front step together. I looked over at the house and my body began to shake again. I told myself she wasn’t dead. The girl squeezed my hand tighter.

The girl’s mother came back and we sat there on the porch for a long time, each of them holding my hand. My belly hurt just from looking at the house so I put my head in the woman’s lap and she rubbed my neck. I wanted to go to sleep, to close my eyes and not open them until daddy was there. But instead of daddy a policeman came and sat on the step in front of me. He put his hand on my leg and I squirmed away, pushing my head deeper into the woman’s lap.

“Your father’s on his way.” He said. “Would you like to wait in my car?”

“She came to get me.”

“Who?”

“She said she was my mommy but I know she’s not.”

“Oh, my god.” The woman pointed across the street. “Did you come from that house?”

“Yes.”

The woman wrapped an arm over my ears but I still heard.

“She’s been talking for months about her daughter coming back. She said she’s been in foster care and she was getting her back. Seemed like such a nice lady. I was glad for her.”

The policeman nodded and walked back to his car. He talked on the radio and soon there were four more police cars. Then an ambulance came and right behind that was daddy’s purple van. I ran across the yard and met him on the sidewalk. He dropped to his knees and hugged me. The air didn’t feel so cold anymore.

“Daddy, don’t be mad.”

“Mad?” He hugged me even tighter. “Oh, heavens honey. I could never be mad at you.”

“She had my doll.”

“I know honey. I know.” He sat on the sidewalk and pulled me onto his lap. The sun had gone down without my noticing and the red and blue lights blinked in his glasses. “Just relax. It’s okay now.”

“Is she really my mommy?”

“Yes, sweetie. At one time she was your mommy.”

“I killed my mommy?”

He put my head to his chest and began rocking, back and forth there on the cold sidewalk. I felt warm and safe until I lifted my head and saw the house. My body began to shake again. Daddy carried me to the van but the policeman stopped us on our way down the street. He shined his light into the car and looked at me.

“She’s not dead sweetie.” Then he turned the light off and spoke to daddy. “She passed out more because of drugs. I don’t see how the lady was functioning, she was so high.”

Daddy drove home slowly, with his hand on my leg. He’s going to let me sleep with him. He gave me hot tea but my body still hasn’t stopped shaking.

“Daddy, check the doors again.”

“They’re locked honey.” He cuddles me under his arm and kisses the top of my head. “I checked three times already. That’s enough.”

“The windows?”

“All locked.”

It’s good she’s not dead, but bad she can still come get me. I fall asleep remembering mommy lying there in the hallway, her hair fanned around her like a crown.
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Theresa (highwayoffice[at]aol.com) lives & writes in North Carolina.

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