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If Lanie stalled any longer, she knew she would miss her flight, but now that she was finally done, she couldn’t stop admiring her work. Humming, she stared out one of the attic windows. The only things she hadn’t been able to get rid of were the swing strung from the crab apple tree tree, the disabled ride-on mower resting in the shade. Even after more than two decades, she couldn’t go near that corner of the yard.
Even now, she could see the ghosts of the past. Only one little girl knelt behind it, trying to make herself as small as possible and silence her crying. She tried so hard to keep the puppy quiet, but the tighter she held it, the more it yapped and tried to get away.
“Please, you have to be quiet,” she hissed to it, then turned her eyes to the sky. “Please save us. Snowy didn’t mean to chew the shoes. He didn’t mean it.”
She thought she felt warm arms around her. I’m here. I’m with you.
“Where are you, Lanie?” came a slurred, angry yell. “Come here right now!”
Nearly breathless with the trembling, she crouched as far down as she could, and pinched the little Dalmatian’s snout shut. Trying to block out the tune of the shrill whistling. It was a bad day when he sang that song.
Her feet padded silently on the new hickory floors, and for a moment, her hand lingered on the newly painted attic door. Now that the filth was gone from this house, she was actually starting to enjoy it. A little too much – she never left for mission this late in the year. She liked to hit the ground running in January to take full advantage of the post-holiday flight deals. This was too close to Valentine’s day, and she was acutely aware of every extra penny. But she had to admit she was excited to have finally finished painting and furnishing her master bedroom..
Lanie realized that her humming had bloomed into singing. She had never been able to get that song out of her head. “Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the town. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care if I ever come back.”
Sometimes, when she thought about things that could go wrong, like a plane crash, or imprisonment, or a disease, she took a pause. Just for a moment. But then she remembered why she was doing this.
She turned into the living room, and stared at her new couch. Even though she tried to focus on the new couch, old memories still superimposed themselves against her will. On the days when she was able to get out of bed, her mother didn’t leave the living room. She had barely even moved from the couch when Lanie ran in, screaming and crying. “What now? I have a headache, Lanie.”
“Dad hurt Snowy,” Lanie wailed, hugging her mother’s legs. Her mother gazed down with a sad smile.
“Lanie. I told you that if we got him, he’d have to be a secret. Remember when I said that?”
“But…we…tried!” Lanie sobbed. “I kept him in the attic and only let him play at nighttime. I don’t know how he escaped!”
Her mother patted her hair. “I know honey. But he really loved those shoes.”
“He loves those shoes more than he loves me!”
A sharp thump hit her ears. “Don’t you ever say that! Your father loves you. He loves all of us. He just wants you to listen. God says that children should obey their parents. You don’t want to disappoint Him, do you?”
Lanie kept her mouth shut. But when her father was done practicing his pitches in the yard, and had come back in, and passed out in the kitchen for the night, she crept back outside with a plastic teapot of water, and gathered up her puppy. As carefully as she could, she took three tulips out of the flowerbed in the backyard, and covered the battered pieces of Snowy’s body with soil, trying to make the flowers as nice as possible over top of him so that no one would know what she’d done. She’d watered it, then prayed as hard as she could.
Snowy never did grow back, and they did discover what she’d done to the flowers.
Sitting down for a moment before calling her cab, she looked at the bushes in her shady front yard that always strengthened her resolve. They were thriving, and had become a nearly solid wall along the edge of her property.
She remembered when there had been a fence. Growing up, they ran races from the backyard to the front yard, and whoever touched the fence would win. Extra points for how quiet they could be. Even more points if they didn’t cry during the punishments for being too loud.
She stared at the shadows of the kids streaking back and forth, dodging what had then been newly planted trees. Those ones hadn’t made it. Not enough fertilizer, Lanie figured.
The children waited, until dark, then they sneak, sneak, sneaked back into the house. One to keep watch, one to steal snacks, and one to take the fall if it all went wrong. No one could tell them apart, anyway.
In the kitchen, she rubbed her scarred forearm absently and gazed out at the driveway. It was a habit now.
“Lanie, where are you going?” Her head jerked up. With a beer in one hand, he checked stocks in the paper.
“We’re going to miss the bus, Dad. I don’t want to be late for my first day of high school.” Adjusting her bag, she tried to inch away.
“You’re forgetting something.” He still hadn’t looked up.
Heart pounding, she clenched her jaw, then quickly walked over, pecked his cheek, and stepped back. But he had already grabbed her wrist. At last, he looked at her. He seemed to blink in surprise as he took in her read sweater and light blue jeans. “Your mother and I met in ninth grade. Freshman year is such a magical time.” He smiled at her, and she was surprised by the warmth in it. Uncertainly, she smiled back. “I hope you have a good first day, Lanie. I love you.”
She swallowed, and kept smiling. “Love you too, Dad.”
Finally, he let her go, and watched her as she escaped out the door.
She tried to be strong here, but the only time she truly felt any semblance of calm was when she was on mission. Ploughing a field with a hand-held hoe. Hefting bags of building materials and endlessly hammering, sawing, and measuring. Racing to put out a fire or save a baby’s life. Knocking someone out cold before they could hurt the babies, and wondering every day if this would be the bullet that killed her, or the man that would overpower her.
Sure, she saved a lot of them. And the wells, schools, and hospitals continued to thrive, thanks to the inheritance and insurance funds from the “accident.”.
“We’ll root, root, root for the home team. If we don’t win it’s a shame.” They never had quite figured out how to win that game. But they all still played.
Even after all these years, the song still made her shiver.
Finally, she locked the door behind her, and looked at the house one more time. Off she went to try and protect the kids. Sometimes that familiar old feeling was so strong. Like she was running on a treadmill and giving it everything she had, and still going nowhere. Sometimes it didn’t seem to matter how many hospitals she built, how many decent orphanages, how many schools. It felt like a drop in the bucket. Still, all over the world, there were babies who were left out in the streets to die covered in flies and maggots, preschoolers forced to work in dangerous factories and gradually chopped to pieces in one accident after another, and families who had to travel hundreds of miles if they had a prayer of getting any sort of life-saving help for their dying children.
Her mood darkened momentarily, and she glared up at the sky. “If only I was an all-powerful, supposedly loving magic genie who could wave a wand and save them all in one shot. Or keep them from suffering in the first place.” Usually she tried not to provoke the Voice, but sometimes she just got so angry she couldn’t help it.
The only way to rescue them is to give people a good enough reason to turn from doing things their own way..
She clenched her jaw and rolled her eyes. “Right. Well, that doesn’t seem to be working out very well, now, does it?”
I’m not finished yet.
What was taking that cab so long? She didn’t want to be late for her flight.
“Yeah, well, neither am I. At least I’m actually doing something.”
No answer. Just an imperious, smug silence. She flopped onto the porch and started up her song again. “And it’s one, two three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.”
Each of those drops were so precious, and she loved the times when she could be there to see them saved. It almost made up for the ones that died. And if she didn’t do it, who would?
At last, her cab arrived.
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