A Ragged Bunch and A Motley Crew, Chapter Four
by Echo Lewis, illustrated by Elaine Blier
A serialized story for the summer of 2003
The move happened a long time ago. Now Laura was ten years old and had moved once more - this time far to the north.
In the years between both moves the fighting and yelling filled the house again. Her father spent most evenings with his friends. He still went away for long unexplained periods of time, even though Laura always tried hard to be very good so he would stay.
One fall night, the night that caused Laura to move north, she and her parents had a special supper together at home to celebrate her mother's birthday.
While they were eating, her parents argued about whether or not to have a drink before driving over to their friends' house for a grown-up celebration.
"C'mon, let's have one before we go," her father cheerfully urged her mother. "It'll get us into the swing of things."
Laura's mother shook her head.
"Don't be such a spoil sport," he said, starting to get angry. "It's supposed to be a celebration, remember?"
Laura, hearing the harsh sound of his voice, shrank into her own chair, trying to make herself invisible.
"And what are you getting so squeamish about?" her father growled, turning on her.
Sitting dry-eyed and very still, Laura looked up at him. She had learned not to cry, no matter how scared.
What had she done this time to cause his anger?
He roughly shoved her glass of juice close to her, splashing some on the tablecloth.
"At least you can drink up and celebrate for us," he said sarcastically, talking more to his wife than his daughter.
Neither Laura nor her mother spoke.
Her father, fed up with both of them, turned on Laura again.
"Well, drink up, for Pete's sake."
She lifted a shaking hand to her glass, clutched it tightly and took a small sip.
Seeing how scared Laura really was her father felt guilty as well as angry. Rising abruptly, he pushed his chair back so hard that it nearly fell over.
"Let's get out of here," he growled at his wife and stormed out of the kitchen to start the car.
Her mother, getting uncertainly to her feet, looked pityingly but helplessly, at Laura.
"You know he doesn't mean those things," she said, trying both to explain her husband and comfort her daughter.
Laura continued to sit in silence.
Her mother gave up. What more could she do? What could she say that would help?
"We won't be late, honey," she told Laura. "I hear Mrs. Peters in the driveway now, so you'll be okay. You'll be good for her, won't you?"
"Okay," Laura whispered. "Have a nice time."
Laura's mother started to open the screen door. With her hand on the latch, she turned back in one last effort to cheer up her daughter.
"Make some popcorn, if you want," she suggested brightly. "Mrs. Peters will enjoy it too."
Then she slipped away, running out to the car to join her husband.
Mrs. Peters, Laura's regular baby sitter, was a plump, friendly, easy-to-be-with lady. Laura liked her.
Tonight, though, she didn't want to visit. After saying hello, she told Mrs. Peters, "I don't feel so good. I think I'll go to bed early."
"No popcorn?" Mrs. Peters asked in astonishment. "I can't remember a time you and I haven't made popcorn. Are you worried I'll beat you at 'Fish'?"
Laura smiled at that. She always beat Mrs. Peters when they played cards. There wasn't a whole lot to worry about there.
"Maybe next time," she said. "Tonight I think I'll just go to bed. Will you be okay?"
Mrs. Peters dramatically pulled a thick book out of her handbag to show Laura that she would be fine on her own.
Laura still felt a little bad about leaving Mrs. Peters to her own devices, but she needed desperately to be alone.
"Goodnight," she said. "I hope you have a nice evening."
"Thank you," Mrs. Peters smiled. "You be sure to call me, if you need anything, you hear?"
Laura nodded and left Mrs. Peters comfortably seated in an easy chair in the living room.
Climbing the stairs to the second floor, she turned into her room and closed the door. Safe inside, she walked over to her bed, picked up Eric, her big stuffed bear she'd had since she was three. She sat cross-legged on the floor, hugging Eric close up against her.
For a long time, Laura sat there in a sea of numbness, not feeling, not thinking, not even aware of the tears streaming down her face.
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