Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Key, Chapter 30

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 30

     Mom still had her arm around me as we walked into the kitchen,  when we were greeted by the rest of our family. 

     “ONION!  You’re back!” exclaimed Sam.  “Oh, you made my heart so happy!”  Sam bum rushed me and squeezed my legs tight.  “Ewwww, you’re all wet!”

     Dad and Hope had also walked over and put their arms around me as well.  We all hugged each other.  We were  one big wet, relieved heap of people.  

     The lights flickered again and this time, they went out.

     “Ohhh!  What’s happening?” Sam whined.

     “Looks like we lost power,” said Dad.  “Could be out for awhile with this storm.  There’s only a little daylight left.  We better gather up what we need.”

     “Scoot,” said Mother pointing in the direction of my bedroom.  “Go change now while you have light enough to see.  Bring any flashlights you can find when you come back down.”

     I obediently went to put on some warm, dry clothes.  On the way past the refrigerator I was reminded again of my excessive thirst.  I reached my arm out to grab the handle to open it up.

      Mom took notice and said, “No, Honey, don’t open the refrigerator.  We don’t know how long the power is going to be out, and we have to keep everything cold.  Opening the refrigerator door will only let the warm air in.  Leave it shut for now.  I’ll fix you something to eat in a little bit.”

     Ugh!  I would have cried, but I knew that by shedding tears, the last remaining bits of moisture in my body would be lost.  I felt as if I had to conserve every drop.  At the mere mention of the word eat, my stomach growled.  We were supposed to be eating dinner together right now and heading out to the football game.  My, how plans can change! 

     I climbed the fourteen steps to my bedroom and listened to the scrambling around below me, the clinking of candles, the opening and closing of drawers in search of batteries, hurried footsteps in collecting needed items for the night.  

    Most kids would be scared, but tonight I wasn’t.  I felt safe.  I’ve already weathered the worst of it, and outside all alone for that matter.  I could certainly ride out the storm inside a big warm, safe house with my family by my side.

     I gathered up an armload of dry clothes and took them into the bathroom to change.  I found two flashlights, both with dead batteries.  Sam is famous for playing with them and forgetting to turn them off. 

     I grabbed Sam’s favorite claw machine toy he sleeps with—a stuffed orange Chihuahua with sparkly green ears, as well as his blanket.  The end was still wet from where he must have sucked it during his nap today.  Yuck.

     In the diminishing light, my eyes focused on the bathroom water faucet, an oasis in the desert.  I didn’t even waste time grabbing a little paper cup we used for tooth brushing.  I bent right over the sink at my waist, leaned my body forward and put my mouth right around the faucet.  I lifted the spigot handle upwards to release the flow of cool water into my very dry mouth.  

     The faucet hissed and spit and I jumped at the noise.  Oh mercy, NO!  I had forgotten that when we lose electricity, the water pump to our well does not work.  

     Unlike the city folk who get their water from municipal water sources, we country folk get our water from wells deep in the earth near our houses.  Days of buckets and strings and fetching have given way to electrical pumps, giving kids a huge break from their toils.  Electric water pumps saved kids from many an aching back, but they aren’t too helpful when you lose power.

     Now that I was alone in a locked bathroom, I let it go.  The tears came.  There was more water in me than I had originally thought.  The tears flowed from the frustrations of the day, from the fear of the storm, and from plain old wanting something desperately that you can’t have, like a drink.  I silently sobbed into the mirror, looking at my own tired, miserable face.  I was so thirsty I even tried to lick up my tears just to add a bit of moisture to my dry, cracked mouth.

     Mom always said crying doesn’t solve anything.   She was right.  My moment of weakness was brief.  Standing here crying into the mirror wasn’t going to do a thing for my most immediate concerns—my thirst and the dissolving daylight.  I needed to move. 

     I got dressed as quickly as I could, stepping out of my wet shorts and leaving them right on the floor where I was standing.  As I bent over to put them into the wash basket, I felt something come over me.  A wave of warmth perhaps.  Something reminded me how lucky I was to be safe and sound, even if I was a bit parched.  I should pray, I thought.

     I was already in the down position from intending to pick up my shorts, so I just lowered myself onto my knees.  I folded my hands and rested them on the counter of the sink, and bowed my head to pray.
    God, it’s me Ellen. Ellen from Harborcreek.  God forgive me for being so stupid about the weather.  I couldn’t see in the woods that it was as bad as it was out.  I am sorry for not charging my cell phone when my mother told me to.  I am sorry that Fangs got hit and I am sorry for always wishing he would get hit someday so I could finally ride my bike past his house.  I am sorry if I scared Grandma.  Please don’t let Fangs die God.  He’s a nice dog.  Please let Skippy, I mean Mr. Nebauer’s leg grow back.  I am sure he doesn’t want to walk around on a metal leg for the rest of his life.  Please keep us safe from the storm God.  And God, if you have time and you aren’t too busy saving dogs’ lives and people from this storm, can you find some way to get me something to drink?

     I lifted my head and opened my eyes to realize that it was now very dark in the bathroom with the door closed.  The wind was beating against the house and driving the clickety rain onto the panes of window glass.  I got the overwhelming urge to be with my family and couldn’t get there soon enough.  I grabbed the dead flashlights, Sam’s blanket, and claw machine Chihuahua and ran downstairs.

     They were all gathered in the living room.  Dad had a fire blazing in the fireplace.  Although it was damp and chilly, it was not quite cold enough for a fire ordinarily.  Tonight the fire would serve as a source of light for us.  There is something comforting about sitting next to the warm orange glow of a fire.  The warmth envelops you and soaks into your soul.  

     As I came down the stairs, I could see that Mom had everyone sitting in a circle cross legged just as Kindergartners do when they are called to the carpet for circle time. 

     “Sit by me, Onion!  Sit by me!,” Sam requested, patting the carpet next to him.  I made my way over to him and squished in between him and Hope. 

     In the center of the circle Mom had a TV tray with a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, and 5 tall Cokes in glass bottles.  They are the drinks that mom only brings out for special occasions.  We have them on our birthdays, on Christmas Day, and sometimes if my softball team has a big win.  I never see her buy them, and I have tried many times to find her hidden stash.  The bottles are never cold, so I am guessing she hides them in the basement somewhere.  When the Coke comes out of a tall glass bottle like that, it doesn’t matter if it’s cold or not.  It tastes really good any temperature.

     Oh, thank you God!  I said silently to the Heavens when I saw the Cokes.  You not only sent me a drink, but my favorite drink, too!

     “Are those pops for us?” asked Sam.

     “Yes, they are,” said Mom.  “It looks like it will be a long stormy night, so a little extra caffeine isn’t going to hurt anybody.  “We don’t have any power to cook anything else,” Mom went on, “but we can make do with this for the time being.”

     “Or we can go next door……” said my father with his voice trailing off.  He was looking out of the living room window in the direction of my grandparent’s house.  It was lit up like the New York City sky line at night.

     “They are running the generator?” mom said incredulously.
     My Grandpa had rigged up some kind of generator to use when the power went  out.  They usually only needed it in the winter, like if we had an ice storm or something. 

     “Good, God,” my mother said to no one in particular.

     As if on cue, the cell phone buzzed signaling a text message had been sent.  My mom left the living room to retrieve her purse.  After a moment of digging she found it and pushed a button.  She read the text from Grandma aloud:
Generator on here, come over, dump your milk it will be spoiled in morning

     My mom typed something back in and I assumed that it was we were staying put because she didn’t ask us to get up to leave. 

     That evening while the storm raged, I played the piano by candle light and my family sang.  I’m ten, and I don’t know that many songs, but I’m good at Amazing Grace and Happy Birthday, so we sang those quite a few times.  We also played a few hands of cards.  Mom read to us by the light of a flickering candle while we lay on the floor, sprawled out on pillows and throw blankets.  My eyelids were drooping as were those of my siblings.

     “Time to call it a night, kids,” said Mom.  “To bed with you three.  You can sleep the remainder of this storm away.”

     “I don’t wanna go to bed!” whined Sam.  “I’m scared!  I want to sleep down here!”

     “Oh, Sam.  You won’t sleep well on the floor and you are a tired boy from putting that fresh coat of paint on our house this afternoon.  You need to rest in a nice soft bed,” said Mom.

     “But I’m afraid!” said Sam in a rare moment of weakness.  He was rubbing his eyes with his fists as he stood there looking so young and helpless.

     “I bet Ellen would sleep with you if you asked her nicely,” said my mother.

     What? Sleep with Sam!   Didn’t I already have enough stress in one day. 

     “MOM!  He pees the bed!” I said exasperated.

     “I do not!  I do not pee the bed.  Pee just leaks out of my wiener at night when I don’t know it,” he screamed.

     Mom crouched down and hugged Sam to soothe him.  “It’s OK, buddy.  That sometimes happens to little guys.  You can put on a pull up just to be safe if you want,” said Mother.

     This was not in my plan.  I just wanted to fall into a deep, hard sleep and get the night and this storm over with.  I sensed things would be better in the morning and I wanted this day X’ed off my calendar forever. 

     We all walked up the stairs in single file led by the beam of a flashlight.  Mom and Sam went into the bathroom for a moment and Sam emerged wearing a Twinkle Princess pink pull up with hearts and flowers.  He looked miserable.  Mom was holding the wash basket full of my wet clothes.  I could see my stolen apple sitting on the top.  She must have taken it out of my pocket.  I held my breath for a minute wondering if she would mention it, but she didn’t.

     “I’m sorry, Sam,” apologized Mother, “but that is how it has to be.  If you sleep in the bed with Ellen, you must wear a pull up.”  

     In an effort to rid Sam of his need for nighttime training pants, my mother told him that they no longer made the Cowboy pull ups for boys in his size.  If he still needed to wear them at night, then he had to wear the girls style---the pink ones with hearts and flowers.  As you can imagine, Sam was not a fan.

     “I love you, Onion,” Sam said as he quickly pulled his pajama bottoms over top of his Nighty Nights.  The need to sleep safely beside me obviously outweighed the humiliation of wearing a little girl’s pull up.

     I pretended like I didn’t see because I remembered what it was like to be scared of storms.  For me, that was like, yesterday.  I weathered this one and I emerged from it stronger than I was before.  My pink pull up wearing little brother could sleep with me tonight.  No problem.

     Sam was already all snuggled into my bed with my best pillow under his head.  He was making swirls on the wall with the beam of his flashlight.  I crawled in bed next to him.  His little body hogged lots of space and it left me clinging to the edge.  

     While mom tucked Hope safely into her bed, I showed Sam how to make shadow animals on the wall.  He just mastered the bunny when mom reentered my bedroom.

     “You’ve had quite a day, Magellan.  I’d say you should be very tired.  I think you should be able to sleep through this little intrusion,” said Mom gently.  Sam was cackling to himself trying to make a wolf with his hand.
     “Did you hear anything about Fangs?” I asked.  I had been wondering on and off about him the rest of the evening.

     “I checked my phone and there was no text message or a missed call,” Mom replied.  “You know what they say, “no news is good news.  We’ll check on him in the morning.”

     Mom picked up the wash basket of dirty clothes and balanced it on her hip.  She shined the beam around the room once and reminded me that my alarm wouldn’t work if we still had no power in the morning.  She promised to wake me up in time for me to get ready for church.  I hated to be hurried in the morning.  I knew she would because my mother never overslept.

     “Oh, Mom, I forgot.  I’m supposed to have a Bible story read and ready for Sunday school tomorrow.  I better read it over.  Can you hand me my Bible?” I asked.

     “You know, honey, it’s very late and you had a huge day.  Let’s say our prayers and call it a night. I’ll review it with you in the morning,” said Mom. 

     We said our prayers and voiced an extra special one for Fangs’ healing.  I couldn’t believe I was praying for the very dog I feared my entire life.

      “Mom!” I exclaimed suddenly, “ I almost forgot about The Quest!  I guess we never found that little red house.  I’m sorry.  Another fruitless search.”

     Mom stopped in the doorway and shined the flashlight onto my face.  She held the beam there for quite a long time without saying anything, and I had to squint and shield my eyes.  

     “Really?”  said Mother pausing for a moment.  “I think you did find it.  Your search was fruitful, you just haven’t realized it yet.”  

     Even though her face was in the shadow, I could almost see the sideways smile.  I heard it in her voice.
     Mom gently closed the door and padded down the steps.  The rain still pounded against my window pane and the wind howled.  I wondered how much longer this storm would last.  Hopefully it would be finished in the morning and the power would be out just long enough to cancel Sunday School.  Now how lucky could one girl get?

     “Are we safe, Onion?”   Sam interrupted my thoughts in a soft, sleepy voice.

     “Yes, Sam.  We’re together in a nice warm bed.  You’re safe with me, Buddy,” I threw my arm around my little brother and squeezed him tight, kissing his forehead.  

     Mom was right, there was safety in numbers, even if the number was only two, and the other person in my pair was a three year old.  Maybe companionship was the key to all things.  It certainly felt like it right at this moment. 

     “Were you worried about us, Sam?” I asked.

     “Yes,” he said.  “I was scared.  I even used my spy glasses to watch for you.”

     “That was nice of you, Sam,” I said.  “That is what families do—they watch out for each other.”

     Then a thought occurred to me that I had not thought of before.  “Hey, Sam.  Why didn’t Mom come out and look for me in her car?” not really expecting an answer back.

     “Cuz she lost her keys,” he replied.

      Suddenly fatigue overcame me and I snuggled down into the warm covers, closed my eyes and inhaled a nice long breath, and then held very still…..what in the world was that? 

     Sam was shaking from a giggle he was holding back.  “Sam….what…….is……that  smell?” I stammered.

     “I blew a boofer, Onion, and it stinks!”

     Lord help me.

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