"I should have covered the roses, Anna!" Mary wiped the fog off the cold glass, surveying the damage. The shrub roses, lining the sidewalk along the front yard, glittered like a garnet-studded fence in the moonlight...beautiful, but dead. "Mother would be so disappointed. We used to sit in the swing for hours, drinking lemonade...admiring them, waiting for Daddy to come home." Mary gulped. "I should have protected them."
"Don't beat yourself up about it," Anna tossed off the heavy blanket and sat up, swinging her legs over the edge of their bed. "They're just flowers."
"They are more than that," Mary said, watching a deer timidly make its way through the Stevens' yard. Its hooves rapped on the road as it crossed to stand below...grazing on the icy roses. It lifted its head, ears twitching, seeming to feel her gaze. She pressed her hand against the glass, longing to touch it...to calm the frightened beat of its heart. "I won't hurt you," she whispered, frosting the glass with her breath. When she wiped it...the deer was gone. She frowned at her sister. "You just don't understand."
Anna shrugged. "No, I don't. So what if they die? We'll plant more next Spring, white ones!" She screwed up her face. "Red roses remind me of funerals."
"Mother wouldn't want that."
"You would know better than I." Anna plucked at the sheet. "I never knew her. She kicked the bucket when I was a baby, remember?"
Her flip attitude did not fool Mary. "Stop blaming yourself. You didn't kill her, you know?"
"Didn't I?" Ann looked away. "Having me certainly didn't help." She waved her hand. "It doesn't matter anyhow, she's gone."
"I don't want to think about that anymore." Mary leaned against the window gazing at the full moon- the smile on its silvery face stretched wide across the heavens. "The moon's huge tonight. Come, look at it."
"I've seen the moon before, Mary."
"Mother said full moons are magical." She smiled at Anna. "She made everything special. You would have loved her. She was funny, and beautiful."
"If you say so...she didn't even know I existed."
The hurt in her voice tugged at Mary's heart. "I wish you could forgive her, Anna. She couldn't see past the pain. Nothing else mattered."
Anna's lip curled up. "Quit excusing her! You know she didn't care about me at all."
"She did! She was a wonderful Mother!" Except near the end, of course, she was just a bag of bones then.
"To you, maybe." Anna crossed her arms. "At least I have Daddy," she smirked at Mary. "You know I'm his favorite."
"I hate it when you talk like this. It makes me feel helpless." Mary closed her eyes, took a deep breath, filling her lungs...pushing away at the memory of Mother's frail hand sticking out from the sheets, like a twig through a tent, poking at her...reminding her she'd promised to take care of them. She'd have said and done anything to calm those raggedy breaths, wracking a body so wasted and fragile it could never house the spirit of her mother. Eyes stinging, she glared at her sister. "I've done my best to take care of you. You aren't the only one who suffered. We all did!" She brushed at her eyes. "Daddy has never been the same!"
"I know. I'm sorry." She patted the quilt. "Come back to bed."
The room felt suddenly too closed in, like a tomb packed tight with dead things with bony arms that squeezed out the air. She sucked in the stagnant air - swallowed and swallowed...great gulps of it, waving her hand in agitation as her lungs pressed against her chest. "I can't breathe." She heard the rising note of hysteria in her voice.
"You are all right!" Anne pointed. "Open the window. You just need fresh air, that's all."
The window stuck in its usual spot. Mary rested her head against the glass letting the cool night air calm her. The downstairs clock chimed. Shivers took hold. She hugged herself tightly against the chill, studying the moon. Flaws she had not noticed earlier stood out in stark relief: the scarred face looked shocked...as if its poked-out eyes had seen too much. The words of Harry Chapin's song popped in her head. She crooned it softly to her sister. "The cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon...little boy blue and the man in the moon..."
"Stop it! I said I was sorry! You know I hate that song!"
Headlights switched on in O'Malley's lot. Her pulse raced as she watched Mr. Stevens' red Pontiac exit the lot and pass by on the quiet street below. "Mr. Stevens is heading home to his wife." Sounds of laughter floated down the street as the last of the stragglers stepped out the front door of the Pub. One of them walked toward their house, laughing when he tripped on the sidewalk. She could almost see his face in the moonlight. He stumbled against Mother's lovely gate, staggered, leaving a crooked path in her pansies as he fell...breaking off a section of the rose brush.
"Fuck!" He pulled himself up, panting. "Stupid fucking roses!" He kicked at them, slipped...fell again and lay there, wind-less, clasping his stomach. He rolled to his side and came quickly to his knees, body lurching back and forth as he puked.
Mary's skin crawled. "Disgusting pig!"
The drunk wiped his mouth on his arm, grabbed hold of the mailbox Mother had decorated with ivy, and pulled himself up.
She shrank back when he looked up at her window. "He saw me, Anna!" The girls stared at one another, whimpering in the dark, cringing when the front door squeaked on its hinges.
"He's coming!" Mary pressed her back in the corner, slid down to the floor. "If we're quiet he won't find us," Anna whispered, wrapping the blanket more tightly about her shoulders.
He banged against the furniture in the family room...his heavy step clumsy as he climbed the stairs...wheezing as he walked past their room...toward Mother's.
Mary started to cry.
The man turned - his footsteps louder and louder as he came to their door.
"Look what you've done!" Anna hissed.
"I'm sorry!" Mary reached for her sister. "Don't leave me!"
Anna hid beneath the covers seconds before the door swung open.
The rancid smell of vomit, alcohol and sweat filled the room when he stepped in. A beam of moonlight through the window touched softly on his face then fell on the form of her sister...huddled beneath the covers. She saw him smile. Nausea knifed Mary's stomach. He's seen her! Then, relief made her giddy. He's seen her...not me! She covered her face, trying to be invisible...but, the promise she'd made Mother weighed heavily upon her. She could not hide. There was no escaping. She had to warn Anna that sound...sight...smell...touch, all had to go away to the place of forgotten things. "Run, Anna!" she screamed.
He jumped! "You scared the shit out of me, Maryann! What are you doing over there?" He undid his belt. "Were you dreaming again?"
She covered her ears, blocking the sound of the zipper ripping against the track.
"Don't be mad. I'll fix the mailbox in the morning...promise. Come to bed."
Mary shivered. It was so cold outside. Mother was bundling her up, zipping her warm winter coat right up to her neck to keep out the chill. "Time for our walk, Maryann," Mother said, smiling her special smile. "We'll walk to the bakery and get some cocoa."
She pointed toward the upstairs room. "But, what about Anna?"
"She can't come with us." Mother grabbed her hand and pulled her out the door. "We must hurry! It is almost closing time."
© Scarlett Rains
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