|May. 11th, 2006 01:46 pm short story|
The DreamLeave a comment
Haley couldn't stop thinking about her dream from the night before. She hadn't thought about Charles and Maria in a long time. In fact, until last night, she wasn't altogether sure that they had even ever existed. She had been so young when they died, and so much had happened since then.
But Haley guessed that it must be true that she had not always been an only child. In fact, she had once had an older brother and sister. She was only three when they died, so she barely remembered them. But she remembered that day so well. Better than she thought she should being how young she was. That's what made her wonder if she actually remembered, or if it had all been a dream or hallucination. But even as she wondered, she knew the answer. It had been real, it had happened, and just as sure as she was of that, she was sure that her mind remembered it accurately.
They were on their way to the store for bread and milk. Katherine was hurrying to get her errands done before noon; she was planning a special dinner for her twelfth wedding anniversary. Charles and Maria had been in the backseat fighting all morning. They were always arguing over something. They were ten and eleven years old, respectfully, and they competed with each other for everything. They fought over who got to sit behind our mother in the car, they fought over whose turn it was to do the dishes, they fought over who was the smartest, their arguing never ended.
Their mother had threatened to pull the car over numerous times, but had not followed through. Finally, as they were pulling into the market parking lot, she threw out the old "Just wait until your father gets home," and they settled down. As much as they knew their father loved his family, they also knew he had a stern hand when it came to discipline. Arthur Redding was a believer in the saying "Spare the rod, spoil the child," and he never spared the rod.
Katherine decided to leave the older kids in the car and just take little Haley in with her. It would be quicker and she could get a break from their tomfoolery. Haley was still a good girl, not like those rambunctious kids. She would behave in the store, Katherine was sure of it.
Katherine left the windows down in the car and carried her youngest daughter on her hip into the store. They were quick, only stopping to talk to Mr. Mills, the grocer, for a minute, and then they were on their way back out to the car. They had just walked though the open glass door, when Katherine saw the delivery truck barreling toward the white, wood paneled station wagon in which her children were bouncing around the backseat, oblivious to the tragedy that was about to befall them.
The world seemed to move in slow motion. She dropped her bag onto the pavement, smashing the bread and busting the milk bottle. Katherine cried out to them, to warn them, maybe they could get out in time. She wasn't loud enough; they didn't hear her over their own squealing voices. She called out their names again, louder this time, and they looked up, frightened looks on their faces, sure that they had been caught rough housing, just as the truck smashed into the driver's side of the car. They never even saw it coming. The car and truck immediately burst into flames. Katherine tried to run; Haley still perched on her hip, to the car, to save her children, but a man held her back. Katherine screamed, tears were pouring down her face, she tried to fight him off of her, she had to get to her babies, they were in that car she told him, she had to get them out, please, please, save her babies, she begged. He held her and told her that there was nothing she could do, nothing anyone could do until that fire was put out, that she would only kill herself if she ran into that mess. Katherine protested, convinced that she could save them, and if she couldn't she would die trying, she wouldn't live without her babies, couldn't live without her babies. The man stopped her, asked her who would take care of the baby in her arms if she ran into that fire, shook her back into reality and told her that they were gone, that the angels had already taken them home to God and that she should fulfill her duty here on earth, that's what God's plan was for her. Katherine knew that she could not fight God's will; that she would have to accept this punishment that He was inflicting upon her. So there she sat, Haley in her arms, on the sidewalk rocking back and forth until the last of the wreckage was cleaned up. The smashed bread and the puddle of milk still lie on the walkway in front of the store. With all of the commotion, no one had bothered to clean that up. Haley and Katherine sat, rocking, until Arthur came back into the office from his route and learned what had happened. Forever the strong husband and father, he solemnly drove his work truck to the store, put his arms around his wife and surviving child, walked them over to the truck and took them home.
The funeral was two days later. Two tiny caskets containing the charred bodies of Haley's older siblings were carried out of one hearse. Haley's mother never looked up from the ground where her children were to be buried. Throughout the service, her gaze never wavered from that spot. The priest recited Psalms 23, and then Charles and Maria were lowered into the ground. They were buried next to each other in the plots that Haley's parents had purchased for themselves soon after they were married. Not planning to need to bury any of their children, they had not set aside any burial fund and were only able to afford one small headstone. Both names were printed next to each other, with their birth and death dates printed below each name, on one small headstone. The inscription, chosen by their father, who had made all of the arrangements, read Our babies, hushed, waiting for us at home in Heaven.
Katherine stayed in bed for the next three months, only coming out in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. She took all of her meals in her bedroom, the little that she ate, that is. She didn't bathe; Arthur would give her sponge baths in bed when she'd allow it. He thought surely she'd die soon, that he would have to bury another family member. Mrs. Bedly, their neighbor, watched Haley while he worked. Katherine acted like she didn't even know that Haley or her husband existed. During that time, Haley became very close with her father, as they often played outside together or went to the drive in movies on the weekends, so that they wouldn't have to stay so quiet in the house to avoid bothering Katherine. Arthur tried to give Haley the love and affection that she was missing from her mother, but he was often tired from working and taking care of Katherine.
Then, in time Katherine came back around. When she finally came out of her room, and back to the land of the living, she acted as if nothing had ever happened. In fact, it was as if her other children had never existed at all. If she did remember them, she didn't share that memory with anyone else. Haley was not permitted to talk about her siblings, or the time that her mother spent in bed. Her father would always shush her if she tried to ask any questions or talk about anything that had happened, even when her mother was not around. She guessed that was because her father wanted to forget also.
It was about that time that Arthur began drinking heavily and became abusive to her mother. Looking back, she guessed it was because he blamed her mother for leaving them in the car. If only she had taken them in with her, they'd still be alive today. She guessed that the reason her parents hated her was because they too blamed her for living when her siblings were not. Haley often wished that she too had been left in the car that day, that she had died with her siblings, then she wouldn't have had to suffer so much in her life, she could have gone on to Heaven, to eternal bliss.