Tonight I wasn’t able to write any nonfiction, so I’m posting the chapter I wrote. This is the first draft of chapter five from Saving Deborah. Enjoy.
Miriam twisted the lock with both hands. The metal hurt her fingers. It took all her strength to force the old deadbolt into position. Standing on her toes, she tugged at the chain until it slid into place. She then turned, pressed her back against the door. The wood was cold against her back. She could feel a chill against her bare feet coming from crack between the floor and the door. She closed her eyes and imagined she was a tree. She dreamed that her feet were roots, planting themselves into the floor, making her an unmovable oak.
“I think that’s everything,” she heard her mother say at the top of the stairs.
“What are bedtimes?” Mandy, the teenage babysitter asked as she walked down the stairs in front of Miriam’s mother.
Miriam’s mouth pulled back on the left side and she shook her head in contempt. This stupid sitter had asked for their bedtimes at least four times already.
“Miriam needs to go down at seven-thirty and Deborah at eight,” Miriam’s mother said, her heals clicking on the wooden steps as she descended the staircase. Miriam liked the sound. She imagined it was what a queen sounded like walking through a big empty palace.
“Eight-o’clock,” Deborah whined from the living room. “Mom! That’s so unfair.”
“I’m a terrible and cruel mother,” Miriam’s mom called. Then she whispered to the babysitter, “If she behaves, you can let her stay up until nine. Just don’t tell her I said that.”
Miriam smiled. She had such a wonderful mommy.
“Got it,” the babysitter said.
Miriam listened as the clicking of her mother’s heals came down the front hall. She focused all of her energy on imagining her feet were roots. She tried to feel them growing into the floor.
“Baby girl?” her mother said.
Miriam opened her eyes. Her mother was standing in front of her, kneeling down to Miriam’s level. She was dressed in a shimmering blue dress that revealed one of her shoulders, her curls hung around her face like beautiful black ribbons, and her eyes sparkled. She was the most beautiful thing Miriam had ever seen.
“What are you doing baby girl?” her mother said with a smile.
“I’m not the baby girl,” Miriam said. “I’m a tree.”
“Oh, well. I see,” he mother said.
Miriam’s father came down the stairs. He was in a shiny black suit and a purple tie hung loosely around his neck. “The car’s here,” he said as he looked at his watch. “Are you all set?”
Miriam mother stroked Miriam’s cheek. “We have a problem,” she said.
“What’s wrong?” her father said with genuine concern.
“A tree has taken root in the front hallway and I don’t think we can get out of the front door,” her mother said.
Miriam nodded with pride and renewed the pressure she was putting on the door with her back.
“Hmm,” he father said as he joined her mother and bent down to Miriam’s level. “Maybe the tree could take root in the living room in front of the TV?”
“Nope,” Miriam said, shaking her head. “Trees can’t move.”
Her mother laughed.
“Well, this tree is making your mommy and me very late for our dinner, and it’s a very important dinner because your father is getting and award, so maybe the tree could make an exception just this once,” her father said.
Miriam forgot about her game. “I don’t want you to go,” she said, stomping her foot.
“Baby girl,” her mother said in the tone that indicated that Miriam was getting close to crossing a line.
“I don’t want you to go,” Miriam said again, looking down at her feet.
She felt her father’s large hands under her armpits. Her feet left the floor. She flet like she was floating through the air. He pulled her close and kissed her forehead. She liked the sweet and tangy smell of his face. Wrapping her arms around his kneck, she pulled and pressed her cheek against his. The small hairs on his face were scratchy. “Don’t go,” she said.
“We’ll be back soon,” he said. “And, if you tell us goodbye like a big girl, I’ll bet Mandy could find some ice-cream in the freezer for you.”
Miriam tried to hide the excite that wanted to overtake her face at the words “ice-cream.”
Her father turned, placing her toward the living room, away from the door.
“She’s such a beautiful tree,” he said, kissing her on the forehead.
“Don’t give Mandy any trouble, please,” her mother said, stroking her cheek again.
As her father turned the door knob, he called back to the living room, “Good night, Deborah.”
As her mother stepped out into the chilly evening she called, “You girls behave. I’ll come check on you when we get back.”
Miriam didn’t know what time it was, but she could tell it wasn’t morning because it was still dark outside and the streetlights were on. Staying as still as possible, she listened to the voices downstairs. Someone was crying. Other people were talking. She didn’t understand what they were saying. There were lots of them. Maybe four adults. Watching the door to her bedroom, she pulled the covers up to her chin and dug her head into her pillow. Just like her mother had taught her to do whenever she was scared, she prayed quietly to herself over and over, “Dear Jesus, help me not be scared. Dear Jesus, help me not be scared.”
Her room looked different at night. She had to look at some things for a long time before she remembered what they were. The globe on her desk at first looked like a person’s head, and she thought her dolls in the corner moved. The crying was louder now. It sounded like her dad’s voice. She’d never seen her dad cry. Her heart began to beat faster. “Dear Jesus,” she whispered. “Help me not be scared.” She could feel that knot she got in her throat right before she was going to cry.
There was more talking downstairs. The crying got softer, and then there were footsteps on the stairs. She stared at her door and prayed, “Dear Jesus, help me not be scared, and lock my door. Dear Jesus, please lock my door.”
She knew the footsteps sounded like her dad’s footsteps. She didn’t know how she knew, but she knew. Except they were slow, and he was sniffling. “Dear Jesus, please help me not be scared,” she prayed.
Her father went down the hall to her sister’s room. Miriam squeezed the edge of her covers tight with both hands. They were talking. She listened, but she didn’t understand the words. Her heart went faster. “Dear Jesus, please help me not be scared.”
Her sister was crying. But it wasn’t a sad cry. It was a hurt cry. It sounded like the time Deborah had fallen out of the tree in the backyard and broken her ankle. Miriam closed her eyes tight and gripped the covers harder. “Dear Jesus, please lock my door. Please lock my door, Jesus,” she prayed.
Her dad’s footsteps were coming back now. Her sister was still crying in her room. She opened her eyes and stared at the door. “Dear Jesus, please lock my door,” she prayed.
The knob turned and light from the hallway spilled into the room. It hurt her eyes.
Her dad stood at the door. He still wore the shiny pants, but his coat was gone, and his tie was missing, and his white shirt wasn’t tucked in. Miriam thought about how her mommy wouldn’t like that. Mommy always told him to tuck in his shirt.
Her dad moved closer to the bed. “Baby girl,” he said. His voice was cracky. He was still crying.
“Daddy?” Miriam said. She didn’t know why, but her eyes filled with tears.
“Baby girl,” he said, kneeling next to her bed. He rubbed her shoulder. “Baby girl, there was an accident.” Tears dripped down his cheeks. “Mommy’s gone, baby girl. Your mommy’s gone.”