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I’m glad it’s morning. It’s starting to get
cold once the sun goes down and I really wanted to crawl into the car last
night, even with the bad smell there. It doesn’t stink as much when it’s cold,
but Dad’s still there in the driver’s seat and I don’t like to look at him. It
scares me and gives me bad dreams—when I can fall asleep. The only time I can
make myself climb in is when it’s raining, or it’s time to take care of Jill. Otherwise,
I stay outside, here in the woods with Mom.
It’s not so bad when the sun comes up. It’s
early September, so most of the chill is at night, even though yesterday
morning I could see my breath in little puffs of steam.
They’ll come for us soon though, when
school starts and we’re not there, and I guess that’s what really matters. They
might not miss me right away, and Jill’s still too little for school, but
they’ll miss Mom and Dad. I stopped calling them Mommy and Daddy after my first
year in school. The other kids said only babies do that.
Anyway, they’ll be missed when they don’t
show up when school starts, because they are school teachers. That’s also why
they probably aren’t looking for us yet. People know we went away somewhere
else for the end of summer vacation. I don’t know if my mom and dad actually
told anybody that we would be back this soon. We were coming back with more
than a week to go before the first day of class. Mom wanted to be sure that we
had time to do things like go school shopping for clothes and supplies. I guess
that doesn’t matter much now, and I’ll have to pick out my own things when they
Today seems to be warming so that it’s more
summery than fall. It hasn’t rained in a couple of days, so the ground is dry. I
like those days best. I can avoid the car almost completely while I pick
berries and refill Jill’s cup from the river. When I’m done my chores for the
day, I usually hang out with Mom.
Maybe it’s because she’s in the open air
rather than stuck inside the car. Maybe it’s because she’s pretty cold from
being frosted over for a couple of mornings and doesn’t give off as much stink
like stuff in the fridge. Anyway, she doesn’t smell as bad as Dad, and I don’t
mind getting closer. I try not to look at her when I do. Going through the
windshield smashed up her face pretty good, and so her cheeks, mouth and
forehead are all bloody, and her eyes are open and staring. She had taken her
seatbelt off to reach for something that Jill had dropped when the accident
happened. I don’t blame Jill though. She’s mostly still just a baby and she
fusses without thinking. She didn’t mean for things to happen the way that they
did. Just like Dad didn’t mean to go off of the road and roll the car down the
When the sunshine has been really nice, I
lie down in the grass a few feet away from Mom, and I pretend we’re lying in
our backyard, watching the clouds like we’ve done a million times before. We’d
peek through the branches into the big blue sky and call out what we saw. It always
made me giggle.
“Bunny!” I call and point. Mom doesn’t
answer the way she would have, but I feel a little better just having her
around. That will change when they find us, but for now I’ll keep on pretending
and it won’t bother her.
I get up again after a few more clouds,
starting to get tired of this game. Some of the leaves have fallen to the
ground around her. Just a few, but I like the way they crunch under my feet, so
I dance around her. She would have laughed if she could have. She liked crunching
the leaves too. She would smile with all of her teeth too, a big grin, white
and shiny. I can see her teeth now if I look, but that’s because the skin is
ripped away in places, and some of her teeth are broken. It’s not the same.
I flop back down on the grass once I’m out
of breath from skipping and jumping, and I look at the berries that I picked
for me and Jill. I pop a few in my mouth and enjoy their juicy sweetness. My
tummy would have grumbled when I did this a couple of days ago. That was when
the snack bag had run out and now we just have the berries. They usually leave
my belly pretty empty. My stomach hurt and growled a lot at first, but then it
got used to having only the few berries and it got quiet again. It’s kind of
like my insides went to sleep. I’m sure that they’ll find us before we starve,
but we’ll be pretty hungry until then.
I figure out how many of the berries is
about half, because I need to share with Jill. Mom and Dad would have told me
to, if they still could, and I don’t want to be a bad girl. I have to take care
of my little sister, since they can’t.
Pushing the berries to one side, I get
Jill’s cup. I know the water from the river isn’t tap water, but it is running
water and there’s a better chance that it’s good because of that. I wish I
could boil it, but I’m not allowed to play with fire, and I don’t have any
matches. Dad taught me a lot about surviving in the woods, when he used to take
me camping. I loved camping, and this is a little bit like camping, but without
the tent. He knew a lot about nature because he was a science teacher. Sometimes
he would tease Mom that she wasn’t a real teacher because she taught art
instead. She would get mad at him and smack him in the arm, but she wasn’t that
mad because they usually ended up laughing.
I like science, and I liked it when Dad
talked about science stuff—especially the animals. I love animals. He told me
all about Pavlov’s dogs and Schrodinger’s cat and Ham the chimp astronaut. Mom
didn’t like it when he talked about those things and said that he better stop
before he got to rats and rabbits. She said science could be cruel to animals. Dad
would point out that Schrodinger’s cat was only a theory, that they didn’t do
anything to a real cat, and then he would ask Mom if he needed to remind her of
some of the things that had been done to animals in the name of art. Mom’s face
turned bright red and she stomped off. I hated it when they argued, but I guess
they won’t be arguing anymore.
Once the cup is full, I have to do my other
chore and take care of Jill, my little sister. I put the berries in the bowl
that she used to keep her dry cereal in, the one with handles, and climb into
the car next to Dad. I almost forget to take a deep breath first. I made that
mistake yesterday, and it was really yucky, especially with all the flies in
there. It’s not Dad’s fault. Everything stinks when it’s dead.
The car is really dark, and I can’t see
into the back, where Jill is strapped into her car seat. I can still see Dad in
the front though. He didn’t go flying through the windshield like Mom did. He
still has his seat belt on and there’s a big puffy airbag there too. That was
supposed to help in an accident, but it didn’t work. It stopped him from smashing
his head and face, but it didn’t stop the tree branch from coming through the
window—the one sticking through the place where his eye used to be.
“I’m doing more science stuff, Dad,” I tell
him as I tie the handles of the sippy cup and the bowl to the shoelace. The
shoelace is tied to a stick I found. I’ve been able to tie my own shoes since I
was four. Mom said I made her proud.
The stink makes me want to throw up, but I
have to finish what I’m doing. It’s important. I lower the cup and bowl into
the dark of the back seat, like a fishing hook. Then I rest the stick against
the front seat so that it stands up, and I climb out again. That’s when I
finally get to take another deep breath.
I have to do this every day. I have to give
Jill her share of the berries that I pick, whenever I can find them. The cup
leaks a little too, so it would be empty each time I pull it back, if she drank
any or not.
I sit on the grass again, and the urge is
there to open the back door and peek in, since I don’t know what I’ll find, but
I won’t let myself. When the accident happened, when Dad swerved to miss a
moose, my booster seat didn’t work properly. It was too loose I think, and I
woke up outside of the car after the accident, just like Mom. But I wasn’t dead—not
like Mom and Dad. I could see them, and knew that for a fact. I couldn’t say
they might be alive because I was sure that they weren’t. But I couldn’t see
Jill. There was still a chance with her.
I suppose in some ways it might be easier
if I tried climbing up the steep hill to the road and go looking for help, or
if I just opened that back door, instead of waiting for them to find us, and
see for myself. If she’s dead and I find that out for sure, I could keep all
the berries instead of sharing, or I could make that climb and find someone
who’ll take care of me. But I have a problem with that.
You see, as long as I wait, as long as I
make this last, I can keep lying in the grass and staring at the clouds with
Mom, and I can keep talking about science stuff with Dad and no one can take
those things away from me. And as long as I wait, and I don’t look in that back
seat, there is just as much of a chance that my little sister, Jill, is alive
back there in the dark where I can’t see her. Mom and Dad are gone for sure,
and she’s all that I have left.
As long as I don’t look, she’s still my
little sister. As long as I don’t look, she’s both dead and alive, just like
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