God Has One, Too
by Edna C. Horning
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3,
4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Cricket, age 17, lives with her Aunt Lucy and Uncle Sulo to finish high school while her parents are on an extended trip abroad. Cricket is devastated when she learns that her aunt and uncle intend to do away with her beloved dog, Smidge. She and Smidge set out on foot to seek refuge with her Aunt Vera, who lives a hundred miles away. Smidge will have an influence and effect that no one could have expected.
Cricket and Smidge
“This doesn’t happen in real life, Smidge, just fiction,” Cricket told the dog. She kissed the top of his head and stroked his luxurious brown and white coat while mining her brain for examples. David Copperfield running off to Great-Aunt Betsey. Huck and Jim escaping St. Petersburg. Scarlett trudging through the muck of war back to Tara. Jane Eyre fleeing Thornfield.
And, of course, Dorothy and Toto.
The situation had a measure of believability in books set in the past or in fantasy but not early twenty-first century existence. Yet here the two of them were, huddled under an outside stairway and praying for the rain to stop.
If she’d had more than a few hours’ warning, she could have prepped more thoroughly and rationally. But she could have had no warning at all and learned too late for little more than tears and hatred. Better not to dwell on disadvantages. It was a waste of energy, and she had none to spare.
* * *
The whole fractious business had begun with that Sunday evening walk when, after an early supper, Cricket had hitched Smidge to his leash and set out on their usual course. Daylight Saving was under way as evidenced by the increase in people outdoors at that hour and, on the return leg, they passed a neighbor working at the edge of his yard. Facing opposite as they approached, he was on his knees digging with a trowel amongst varicolored flowers at the base of the mailbox post. A number of small, empty plastic containers were stacked nearby.
“Hello, Mr. Powers,” she said to his back.
He twisted around and looked. “Why, hello, Cricket. I didn’t hear you. Getting your exercise?”
“I suppose, but not as much as you are. Smidge and I love to roam. Don’t we, Baby,” she said, briefly flicking her gaze and reference to the dog.
Mr. Powers gave the fragrant, newly turned soil one last pat before rising. He removed his sunglasses and squinted at her through watery eyes.
“So,” he said, gesturing vaguely at the dog, “I see he’s still around.”
Cricket blinked. “You mean Smidge?
She blinked again, and precisely at that moment the waning afternoon sun, unseasonably warm for early April, was dimmed by a cloud. Smiling and frowning side by side, she asked, in a voice respectful but puzzled, “Why, yes, he’s still around. Did you, ah, think he wouldn’t be?”
Mr. Powers shrugged. “Sulo said he was sending him to the pound. Or he could have said the shelter, I forget which. At any rate, that’s what he told me this past Friday. My car was in the shop, and he gave me a ride to work. Sounded quite determined and said he was going to do it before too much longer.” Mr. Powers sniffed and scratched his nose a second. “Did he change his mind?”
For a blank moment, Cricket said nothing. Then, in a voice barely audible, she replied, “Oh, yeah. He’s definitely changing his mind.”
* * *
Upon hearing “pound,” Cricket had almost fainted and, had she done so, would have had nothing to grab hold of on the way down save for the mailbox and, failing that, Mr. Powers. Harebrained women who swooned from shock she previously regarded as Victorian hogwash bearing small relevance to real life. No more. For several sickening moments, she acquired firsthand experience as her eyes went blind and her ears deaf. She was grateful to have recovered enough to make a barely sensible reply and a quick getaway.
But as she and Smidge rounded the corner and her aunt and uncle’s two-story, turn-of-the century house came into view, panic threatened to return. Grasping for anything that could simultaneously calm her nerves and advance her purpose, she forced her racing thoughts to begin a list and had the essentials in place before reaching the back door.
“Food, lots of socks, extra shoes, T-shirts, jeans, underwear, my navy jacket, both leashes, the plastic poncho, dark glasses, sun screen, band aids, antiseptic ointment, toothbrush, toothpaste, towels, more food, a water bottle, knives — knives? — toilet paper minus the tubes, the contents of my purse, my babysitting money and as much extra cash as I can lay my hands on...”
* * *
An event of the previous day had struck Cricket as a trifle odd at the moment but had now been de-mystified. Ordinarily, she did not tag along for Saturday morning grocery shopping because Aunt Lucy preferred to go early and miss the crowds, too early for Cricket. But, for some reason, Cricket had risen and gone with her on this occasion.
When they came to the pet food aisle, Cricket had volunteered, not giving it much thought, “I’ll get dog biscuits” and was about to turn in that direction when Aunt Lucy had said,“No” and kept pushing the cart, accelerating the speed a fraction.
“But we’re running low,” Cricket reminded, mild protest in her voice.
“I said ‘no’. There’s enough for the rest of this week.” And she had turned that stern gaze on her niece that meant “Keep it to yourself.”
Whether moved by a spirit of defiance or the same prescience steering her up and out in the first place, Cricket had engineered a deception on the spot. When her aunt went to another aisle after instructing her niece to remain with the cart, Cricket waited till she was no longer in view and dashed to pet foods where she snatched a bag of dog biscuits and stuffed it inside two opaque, white plastic produce bags. Back at the cart, she buried it beneath the numerous filled bags piled there.
So far, so good; her aunt had not noticed, but when they came to the checkout line, Cricket tensed. Surely her aunt would now perceive something amiss, and attempting to forestall such a discovery, Cricket began setting their purchases on the conveyor belt until only the crucial item remained.
At that moment, Cricket saw the minister’s wife pass by a short distance off and called out, louder than required, “Why, hello, Mrs. Jamison. How are you today?” And her aunt, who smilingly switched her focus from the matter at hand to lively conversation with the newcomer, handed her credit card to Cricket with instructions to finish the transaction.
Cricket now concluded that all this wasn’t merely Uncle Sulo’s doing. Her aunt had been in on it, to boot.
* * *
As Sunday evening progressed, Cricket grabbed at any straw of hope. Supper was done, and that was good. Had it been served after the fateful stroll when Mr. Powers spilled the beans, she was not sure, with her newly acquired knowledge, that she could have sat there eating and contributing to idle table talk as usual. A slip-up — in her words, her mannerisms, her expression — might have betrayed the anxiety pulsing through her and aroused a degree of suspicion.
The best course of action, she decided, was to absent herself from her aunt and uncle’s presence as much as possible but to be smart about it.
“I have laundry to do,” she commented in a bored voice.
“I thought I saw you doing your laundry yesterday,” commented Uncle Sulo.
“I forgot a few things. My gym clothes. And my bed sheets ought to be changed.”
“It wastes electricity to do a lot of small loads,” her aunt added. “Wait a few days so there’ll be more. You know, or should by now, that your uncle likes to take his showers at night, and there won’t be enough hot water left.”
“I know. I know, and I’m sorry for forgetting, but if my gym clothes aren’t washed by tomorrow, I’ll lose points in Phys Ed class. I promise to use cold water. Cold water and the shortest cycle. Please?” she pleaded, making her voice as humble as possible.
Her aunt sighed and said, “Oh, all right, go ahead. But just cold.”
Aunt Lucy had obviously forgotten that due to spring holidays there was no school in the upcoming week and hence no pressing duty for the gym clothes to be washed. Cricket had been counting on this and launched thanks heavenward for her aunt’s absentmindedness.
From the large porch off the kitchen that served as both laundry room and pantry, Cricket retrieved the biggest plastic basket and then started up the stairs. In her room, she upended her school book bag and dumped the contents of all compartments onto the closet floor, pens and pencils notwithstanding. She crammed the bag as full as she could, and what did not fit was put into a second, a canvas carry-all emblazoned on both sides with “Crimson Tide” in maroon letters.
That done, she threw back the spread and yanked off the bedding, pulling at it so violently she ripped one of the contoured corners and, after placing the packed bags in the basket, she arranged the sheets to conceal them.
Bracing the heavy load against her hip to disguise its weight, she returned to the first floor. Her aunt and uncle were settled in the front parlor. Her aunt was watching television while her uncle was scanning the Sunday paper. At that angle, they could not see into the laundry area, but Cricket took no senseless chances.
She started the cycle for the noise it generated and quickly stowed the bags behind a small hutch at the other end of the porch. It was obligingly situated a foot or so away from the wall and allowed enough room for her purpose.
At nine o’clock, Cricket staged a yawn, declared herself tired and bid her aunt and uncle good night. Making no attempt to sleep, she remained semi-sitting in bed, fully clothed under the spread and resting with head back and eyes closed. Nonetheless, it occurred to her that she might involuntarily drop off and, to prevent such, she set the alarm on her small, battery-powered clock for 4:00 a.m.
Encased in black plastic with a white face, the clock delivered her wake-up call every school morning via a series of low, soft tones emitted in groups of three with emphasis on the last — bee-bee-beep — bee-bee-beep. Fortified by this dollop of security, she allowed herself to slide further into bed but kept her head propped on pillows and the clock in her hand.
She had selected 4:00 a.m. for two reasons. Not infrequently, a full bladder roused her around that hour and, when it did, she never hesitated to make the trip to the home’s sole bathroom on the ground floor even though it required navigation in the dark of nineteen perilously narrow stairs having five-inch risers and stringers set at a fifty-five degree angle.
And while she always made an honest effort to be as quiet as possible, no doubt her aunt and uncle had occasionally heard the shuffle of bare feet, the creak of floor boards, the flushing of the toilet, and the return trip. So should they hear what would subsequently be revealed as her last descent ever, they might attach no importance on this particular night.
The second concerned daybreak. During the week, the household rose around 6:00 and, now that the clocks been moved forward, there was no significant light before 5:30. It wasn’t sensible to start a one-hundred mile journey on foot in the dark. To head for the highway in inky blackness was out of the question; unlike her companion, she did not possess night vision. But, if she waited for full daylight, some early bird might see and possibly recognize her, stop to ask questions or, worse, phone her aunt and uncle.
Cricket’s luck to this point had been holding, or so she kept reminding herself to steel her nerve. For the larger picture, there was her youth and her superior health. Unlike her friend Martha, she wasn’t diabetic and did not have to worry about needles and insulin and test strips. And, unlike her friend Court, she wasn’t an asthmatic who had to keep an inhaler and other meds handy without fail.
For the smaller picture, she had learned of the scheme beforehand, her aunt hadn’t noticed the dog biscuits, and neither relative seemed to sense anything unusual about her multiple trips to the laundry or early retiring.
And now she was grateful that they required Smidge to sleep outside. If he slept in her bedroom as she had always desired and had initially requested, getting him to the first floor undetected would be difficult if not impossible. Possibly she, by exerting extreme care, could successfully descend stairs designed by someone with a thorough and abiding hatred of the elderly and the handicapped, but when a forty-pound dog clicks its toenails against hardwood, a sound akin to hickory nuts rolling off a tin roof is the upshot. Outside was exactly where she would have put him herself. Tonight, that is.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Edna C. Horning