Erin Crocker – Things We Left

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Things We Left

By Erin Crocker

The toe boxes of Ellony Pickett’s scuffed Mary Janes kicked against one of the table’s wooden legs.

“Stop it!” Doris turned from the pile of dishes in the kitchen sink.

A reporter on TV shouted over the hurricane. “…evacuate last week. Residents of Eastern Florida—” A sudden whoosh of static drowned out the station.

When the channel cleared, Ellony kicked her feet harder to keep up with the bouts of wind. Her eyes widened when she noticed the trunk of a palm bending. Another whoosh interrupted the report.

Tap. Tap.

“Child, I said to stop.”

For the first time in hours, Ellony’s green eyes diverted to the woman with an unlit cigarette hanging between her thin lips, struggling to talk. “Stop what?” the little girl asked.

Doris flicked the spark wheel on her cheap BIC. “You know,” she mumbled.

“I don’t,” Ellony whined.

Swish. “…And reports are just in that the wind…” Swish. Swish. “…The count is down—” Swish. “And we’re expecting that…” Swish.

“Dammit, Charlie!” Doris called down the empty hallway. “Charlie!”

Ellony turned back to the TV and rested her chin on her knuckles before batting her eyes and holding them for a few seconds. She swung her legs, and her toes resumed the tap, tap, tap of kicking into the table’s leg.

“I asked you to stop!” Doris turned and creased her forehead.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Charlie, if you don’t get your ass in here—”

Tap.

“I’m comin’, woman.” The overweight man shuffled down the hall and pulled his jeans over the roll on his stomach. “What the hell you want?”

Ellony grimaced at the curly chest hair that lay in thick patches over his a-line undershirt.

“Get outside and fix the antenna.” Doris nodded to Ellony. “Little shit’s driving me crazy enough kicking those shoes into the cabinet. Now I gotta deal with static. Program’s about to come on and I ain’t going to miss it today. Get out there and fix the thing.”

Charlie turned the corner of his mouth up and shook his head as he shifted his tone to mimic Doris’. “Get out there and fix the thing.” He threw his shoulders back. “Woman, all I do ’round here is fix shit. Day’s Saturday. I ain’t doin’ shit.”

Doris threw her hands on her hips. “To hell you ain’t! Get out there and fix the damn antenna.”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“And, woah. Did you get that?” The reporter motioned to a stuffed animal that whizzed by his head and disappeared among the rain and debris. “Did you see that?”

Whoosh.

“I said fix the damn thing!” Doris took another drag and sat the remainder of the cigarette in a saucer.

The sound of her mom slamming the cabinet door shut was little Ellony’s cue to exit. After the last confrontation, when the girl had stepped in front of Charlie who was stumbling toward her mother, hand balled into a fist, vying to strike Doris a third time and inflicting the punch on Ellony instead, she’d learned to stay away.

In the safety of her bedroom, she wrapped her seven-year-old arms around Isha and hugged the stuffed rabbit as though the ratty toy possessed the ability to protect her. Her thoughts turned back to the storm on the television; the beach looked nothing like all the beaches she’d seen in the adverts. To her little eyes, it looked like the reporter was standing in the middle of a nightmare. She hugged Isha tighter. It’s a shame some kid lost their stuffy.

Swish, Swish, Ellony used the remainder of baby fat that hadn’t yet left her cheeks to expand the air in her mouth into a sound she thought resembled the angry wind. Swish, Swish, Swish.

The storm became louder. Dishes whirled and flung against walls. Louder, a scream sounded from somewhere in the house. Darkness tiptoed into her room that, seconds ago, the sun had lit. Loose twigs tapped like bony fingers against her window.

Here’s my chance, the girl told herself before grabbing Isha and sneaking out the screen door. Once outside in the wind, she placed her fist in front of her mouth. “This is Ellony Pickett with channel nine weather. And this,” she nodded to Isha, “is my assistant. The winds are going really fast. Can you all hear that?” She turned her fist to the trees and looked to the hazy, green Midwestern sky.

***

“…Reports say it was an F-5 that tore through the Midwest yesterday evening—” Nevaeh turned in time to see the picture at the side of the screen showing the arm of a small child reaching for the floppy ear of a stuffed rabbit; debris and what Nevaeh thought to be wooden planks covered the rest of the child’s body.

The woman made a quick job of turning the television off. “What on earth do they show on TV anymore. I—”

“Mommy!” Terrell turned his focus from the TV to his mom’s worried expression.

“Finish your milk, baby. We gotta get going.” She rushed around, throwing a few more items into a duffel bag while she spoke. “…Pick up Daddy, and then we gotta beat the traffic.” Nevaeh paused and tossed her Havana twists behind her back. “Finished, little man?”

“Yeah.” Terrell held his empty glass up and his smile grew when he did. “Mommy, what’s an eff eye?”

“An ‘eff eye’?” Nevaeh turned and the TV caught her attention. She remembered the photos of the ravaged town … and the small child. “Okay, an F-5. It’s a tornado, a very bad storm.” She knew she didn’t have time to explain more. A horn from outside honked and a few shouts caught her attention. “Come on, baby. We have to leave … now.”

Terrell jumped from his seat and ran to Nevaeh who put a hand around his shoulder and tried to comfort her boy with a reassuring look and a quick hug. He pulled back. “Jo-Jo…”

Nevaeh’s heart fell through her stomach at the realization she’d forgotten the stuffed lamb. She knew they didn’t have time. The firefighters weren’t going to magically stop the wildfires, and traffic was getting worse. “Sweetie, we just can’t—”

“Jo-Jo smells like Pops.” He blinked those sweet brown eyes Nevaeh couldn’t tell him no.

“Stay right here.” She hurried to the stairs. “Don’t move. Mommy is going to find him, I promise.”

Her feet thudded up the staircase and she rushed to Terrell’s room. Nevaeh opened the door and her eyes scanned the boxes of toys that remained in bins in his closet. She bent and surveyed under his bed. Terrell was right; Pops, Nevaeh’s dad, had given Jo-Jo to Terrell days before the older man passed away. She had to find him. That’s right, she thought, Terrell crawled in bed with us … early this morning. She flew to her room and tossed the blankets around.

From outside, desperate honks sounded. She peeked out her bedroom window to see cars lined up at the four-way stop that served as the exit to her family’s subdivision. How much time did they have? Days? Hours? Minutes?

“Shit, Jo-Jo,” she whispered.

***

Terrell’s eyes gleamed when he saw his mommy run back downstairs carrying a tote.

“Okay, baby. I found him,” she said. “Now, we have to go. It’s going to be okay.”

Terrell wasn’t sure exactly what was happening, why they had to leave everything behind, but he was certain of three things; he had his mommy, his daddy, and somewhere in Mommy’s bag, was Jo-Jo, and Jo-Jo smelled like Pops.

The little boy smiled.

Terrell sat in silence and allowed Nevaeh to buckle him in his car seat.

***

A snapshot of Terrell and Pops fell from a burned box in the attic as hungry flames licked the siding of 105 Oceanview Drive. The photo landed next to Jo-Jo whose palm extended outward as though he lay, faithfully waiting for Terrell’s tiny hands to pull him to safety.

The lamb, who Terrell had left under the guestroom bed during a game of hide-and-seek stared at the bottom of the mattress with unknowing glass eyes as the frame of the house collapsed and the fire consumed his tiny plush body.

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Please visit Erin’s blog! http://bit.ly/2IM9SfM

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