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“BE THERE IN 5 MINUTES”...Tammy hit the SEND button and tossed the cell phone.  It made a thud as it bounced off of the passenger seat.  She hated the feeling of things in her pockets and never used a purse.

Cruising the highway during a mild September afternoon, she felt reborn.  She turned the volume knob and let her spirit be absorbed by the increase of decibels.

The air was fresh.  There would be no more reliving that nightmare.

#

Age 9

Tammy always was a light sleeper.  Many nights her mother felt her climbing into bed to remain until morning.

A light draft grazed over her creamy-skinned face that only the youth possess.  She sat up and rubbed her eyes into a blurred focus.  She looked over at her younger sister, Sarah; the child that could sleep through an earthquake.

Like an automaton, she swung her legs to the floor to start the groggy hallway march from the girls’ back bedroom to their mother’s.

She felt the unfamiliar draft again and decided it must be coming from the kitchen, just beyond Mama’s bedroom. 

Approaching the room, her senses heightened.  As she called out, “Mama,” she was yanked through the entrance, immediately losing any remnants of slumber.

A masked man, dressed in black, held her around the waist with his left arm.  The other held a hunting knife to her throat.

A streak of light clawed its way into the room through a crack in the blinds.  It illuminated a tattoo marked on the intruder where the back of the hand meets the wrist.

Amidst the chaos, the observant child was able to focus on the beam of light.  Thanks to a gap in the cuff of his leather glove, she made a visual of the tattoo—a dagger using the blade as a banner for the name, “BROOKS”.

Tammy’s wide eyes transferred to her mother, who was pleading a bargain on behalf of her daughters. 

A swift shove to the child’s back gave as assent.

Upon receiving desperate instructions, she ran to take guard of her sister.

Standing in the darkness, Tammy was filled with hatred, not terror...a hatred that would never go away.   

Sarah slept soundly through the whole ordeal.   

#

The beat-up sedan rattled into the first rest-stop seen in ages.  Tammy parked in front of some vending machines outside the restrooms.  The deceptive fuel inside them enticed her, but she passed.

She checked her phone; there was no return text.  Then, about ten yards away, a motorcycle halted.  Its booming muffler announced a tall, natural blonde beauty as she awkwardly hopped off of the back.  With an unceremonious goodbye, the bike accelerated and was gone.

Tammy couldn’t help but smile as her long-legged sister walked over like an uncoordinated fawn.

“You still have this pile of junk?”  Sarah’s long, slender limbs made their way fully into the vehicle.  Her voice still held onto its teenage angst.

“Buy me a new one.  Who was that guy?” Tammy asked.

“Just someone,” Sarah replied in a guarded manner.

“All right,” Tammy said, plainly.  There was no judgement.  The Druery woman never made good choices when it came to romance.  The two different featured, young ladies were actually half-sisters, neither knowing their father. 

Tammy’s car submerged back onto the highway like a boat going into water from dry land.  This would be the final hour stretch until she finally fulfilled a promise.

About a mile in, Sarah spoke, “I don’t see why you made me come with you.”  Her voice took on a bratty tone.

“Nobody made you do anything,” Tammy fell back into the comfortable role of the level-headed, older sister, “I just thought it would be nice if we could visit Mama’s grave together.”  

Sarah lit a cigarette.  “It’s in the middle of nowhere.”  With the cigarette dangling out of her mouth, she wrestled off her leather jacket.  She absentmindedly tossed it into the back seat.  The clang from one of the buttons caused her to turn around.  “What’s that?” She asked, pointing to a small, rectangular box seated behind the driver’s side. 

“A present that I didn’t get to give to Mama while she was still alive.”  Tammy’s statement was matter-of-fact.

Sarah didn’t press.  From experience, she knew Tammy couldn’t be coerced into anything. Instead, she flicked ash out of the window and left it alone.

Despite being together, each rode in solitude for the next several miles. 

Tammy was first to break the barrier; she usually was.  “Where have you been?” she asked without accusation.

“I don’t know...around,” Sarah replied.

“You could return my calls every once in a while.  It would be nice to know where you are...or at least know you’re alive,” Tammy said.

To Sarah, she sounded like the tiresome mother that she’d always wished for, but never experienced.  She fired back, “You don’t have to worry about me.  I’m twenty years old; I can take care of myself.  We aren’t kids anymore.”  Her head jutted forward with raised eyebrows.

Tammy simply adjusted the rearview mirror and stared out to the open road. 

#

Age 12

“Sarah, please don’t cry,” Tammy said with a soothing voice, trying to avoid an outburst.

“It hurts!” Sarah cried, doing her best to appease her sister, fighting back the well of tears. 

“I’ll fix you up.”  Tammy tenderly removed Sarah’s pink roller skates and helped her to her feet.

In the living room of the deteriorating apartment, their mother was passed out on the couch. 

Tammy led her limping sister past a glass coffee table, littered with beer cans and an overflowing ashtray, and a small, flickering television.

Once in the bathroom, Tammy cleaned Sarah’s scraped knee and covered it with a bandage. 

“There...all better,” Tammy said. 

Sarah responded with a hug.

“Now let’s go fix you some lunch,” Tammy added.

“Peanut butter sandwich?”  Sarah quickly forgot about the boo-boo.

“Sure!” Tammy said reassuringly.

#

Madonna’s Vogue snapped both girls out of the subdued trance offered by the hum of a vehicle consistently going seventy miles per hour.

Tammy looked over at her sister.  She loved Sarah’s freckles; they were the kind in which someone really needed to be up-close to see.

Sarah purposely stared straight ahead.

Tammy playfully punched Sarah’s thigh.  “Do it!”

Sarah, pretending to be annoyed, slapped her hand away.  “Get out of here.”

“I’ve seen you do the routine a million times.”  Tammy mocked her sister’s former movements and started to sing.

Sarah reluctantly gave in.  The girls laughed as she finished the iconic poses.

Realizing her exposed vulnerability, Sarah quickly summoned anger, “You left me!”

The sudden, drastic change of emotion startled Tammy.  She gathered herself to address the recurring topic, “I didn’t leave you.”

“Yes you did,” Sarah exploded.

Tammy responded with exasperation, “I was nineteen and pregnant.  I thought Tom was a good guy.  I was trying to make a decent life for myself.  When was it alright to try to take care of me?”  She put her right hand on Sarah’s knee.  “I’m sorry, she continued softly, “I came and checked on you as much as possible.”

Sarah yanked her leg away.  “It was terrible with just Mama.  She was never there for me.  I was so lonely.”

A lump formed in Tammy’s throat, “I wish you could remember what she was like when you were really little.”

#

Age 7

Tammy was overjoyed with the miraculous spread. 

“Come on, Sarah,” their glowing mother beckoned.

Tammy was already at her mother’s side, having helped with the set-up.

Sarah dropped her blocks and toddled over to the tea party laid out on the usual blanket.

The two tea drinkers took their assigned places—Tammy, of course, was the host.

“Tea please,” Sarah excitedly shook her tea cup.

“Before we begin, I have a surprise for you girls.”  From behind her back, their mother pulled out two sets of beautifully laced, white tea gloves.  “Now it’s official,” she added, with true happiness.

“Thanks, Mama,” Tammy beamed.  Her mother had somehow made her favorite activity even better.

Their mother put her arms around her two precious daughters.  She gave Tammy’s curly, auburn hair a tousle.

#

Loss in clarity of the radio station alerted the sisters that they were getting close to their destination.

More prominent rolling hills and deep valleys appeared as vast oceans.

Sarah was absorbed in the filing of her fingernails, treating each finger as its own separate entity. 

Tammy’s voice interrupted Sarah’s concentration, “I want you to come and stay with us.”

Sarah let the nail file dangle between her index finger and thumb.  “What?” she said, mixed with shock and dismissiveness. 

“I’m serious.  Alex would love it; as would I.  She needs her Auntie.  You’re the only family that we have.  We love and miss you.”  Tammy always had the rare ability to express her feelings in simplistic sincerity. 

Sarah played with the strap of her purse as if it would reveal the correct thing to say.  “Fine,” she almost whispered.

“Good,” Tammy replied.  The simple word acted contractually.

The turn signal blinked to announce their arrival.

#

Age 24 (2 years ago)

“I’m sorry Ms. Druery; there isn’t much we can do.  She has reached the End Stage of Liver Disease.  It needed to be caught right away; she will never get a transplant in time.”  The doctor briskly walked away.

Tammy crept into the hospital room in the typical fashion, similar to the way people walk into a sleeping baby’s bedroom.

She sat down next to her sleeping, soon to be dead, mother.  She briefly looked at the medical machines, considered deciphering their functions, but quickly abandoned the task.  Her mind drifted back to the woman she once knew as a young child.  She blinked tears out of her eyes.

Grabbing her mother’s hand, she leaned in and whispered into her ear, “I found him Mama.”

#

After winding through similar, endless back roads, Tammy parked the car at the base of a gently sloping hill that led to the small patch of rural cemetery next to a steeple.

Along with Kaitlyn Druery, the quaint cemetery contained some ancestors and a handful of other country-folk from the once prosperous farming town. 

Tammy carried her gift up the path while Sarah lagged slightly behind. 

Kaitlyn’s flat gravestone was engraved with a pattern of roses, her favorite flower.  Tammy had worked constant double shifts at the restaurant to afford the extra adornment. 

The two sisters looked down at the representation of their mother, slowly reading the name they share.

Tammy gently set down her offering on top of the gravestone. 

The reunited sisters held each other, and, for the moment, the three Druery women were a family again. 

Sarah requested a few minutes of privacy.

Tammy descended the scenic pathway to her contradictory automobile.  She had resisted a cigarette since Sarah got into the car; it was time to indulge.

Reaching into Sarah’s purse, she had to move something blocking entry to the pack.  She pulled out the obstacle.  Contrasting her rich olive skin was a set of tiny, white tea gloves.

#

One Week Later

The two adolescents frequently snuck away to the graveyard to drink beer and romp around.

“Come on man, leave it alone,” a tall boy entreated.

“Quit being a sissy.”  The other boy picked up a jagged rock and proceeded to smash open the lock.

It came unhinged, and he slowly opened it.  Its contents made him jump back.  As he did, the lid closed on itself.

“What’s going on?” the tall boy asked anxiously.

“You have to see this.”  He used a stick to flip open the lid.

The boys peered in as if they were standing at the edge of a canyon, afraid to fall in. 

Inside the box rested two severed hands pressed together as if they were praying.  The hand on top displayed a tattoo of a dagger, not so proudly displaying the name, “BROOKS” across the blade.

 

END

 

Nicholas is an avid reader and writer of short mystery/crime stories.  He teaches elementary school in Pennsylvania. 

 

 

                 

 

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