I kicked up a cloud of dust as I ran. The slap, slap, slapping rhythm of my feet echoed into the fields that lined each side of the country road.
Sweat trickled down my back unnoticed. My mind had been focused on getting home as quick as possible ever since I saw Gert at the corner store.
“Girl you better get on home. Ya momma’s been lookin’ for ya.”
I had snuck out the back door early that morning being careful of the squeaky step on the back porch stairs. That one always gave me away. The grass had still been damp with dew as I quietly slipped across the front yard in an effort to escape a day filled with whatever chores Momma had dreamed up the night before.
I don’t know how long she had been looking for me, but making Momma wait was never a good thing. I rounded the corner and jumped the ditch landing in the front yard all while saying a prayer that my first chore wouldn’t be getting Momma a switch from the peach tree out back.
I flew up the front steps letting the door slam behind me. I was making my way to the kitchen when I heard her call from upstairs.
Momma always called me by my full name. Never just “Em” like Daddy did or even just Emma like all my friends. I was convinced she did it because I hated it.
I turned around and slowly started up the stairs. Now that she knew where I was I decided to kill as much time as possible coming up with an excuse for whatever had got me in trouble this time. It sure would be a lot easier if I knew what I had done.
As I neared the top of the stairs, Momma stepped out of her room. She had her arms crossed in front of her chest holding on tight to herself in what looked like an effort to hold herself together. Her cheeks were red and if I didn’t know better I would say she had been crying. Momma never cried.
“Hey baby. Where were you?”
I paused in front of her. “Down at Sarah’s. We were all playin’ at her house. Her momma fixed us tuna sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies for lunch.”
I didn’t know why, but I felt like I needed to keep talking, like there was a big empty space that needed to be filled up with words, but I wasn’t sure why.
“Well that’s nice. I’m glad you had a good lunch.” She squeezed her arms harder and took a deep breath. “Why don’t you come in here and sit with me for a minute. I need to talk to you about something.”
“Momma… is something wrong?”
She was holding a wadded up tissue in her hand that I had not noticed until she pressed it to her mouth. Her voice broke around a sob as she gasped out, “There’s been an accident out at the back field.”
Before she could answer I was running into her arms. In the days to come the strength in those arms would be the only thing that held me together.