A Ragged Bunch and A Motley Crew, Chapter Nine
by Echo Lewis, illustrated by Elaine Blier
A serialized story for the summer of 2003
Uncle Don ran out onto the dock after Laura but stopped about ten yards behind her. Seeing the tension in her stiff, straight back he didn't come closer, but stood still, catching his breath and waiting.
Finally, Laura forced herself to turn and face him. She stared silently, as she had often stared at her father, waiting for his explosion of anger to engulf her, to surround and destroy her. The silence remained.
Laura's breathing, first sharp, painful gasps, slowly returned to normal, but she only noticed the deep silence as she waited for Uncle Don's explosion.
"It was an accident."
Not a muscle in Laura's tense body moved, but she blinked in surprise. The words that pounded through her heart over and over as she ran were in Uncle Don's voice, not hers.
Why did he say it? Why was he still standing there on the dock, unmoving? Why didn't he start yelling at her? Or why didn't he turn and walk away, leave her behind?
Time passed and neither of them moved. Laura's anguish and fear increased. But at the same time, something deep with her cried, 'Don't go away! Please, don't go away!'
Uncle Don spoke again, softly and steadily, looking directly at her. "You're not to blame. It was an accident. "
Then Uncle Don said, just as clearly and softly as before, "Let's go back now for lunch." He reached out his hand to her, hoping that she would take it and come back with him.
Laura continued to stand still tense and rigid. She looked at Uncle Don and at his outstretched hand. Longing and hope, pain and despair fought within her.
The pressure of the struggle rose and suddenly broke.
"No!" she cried out. "No! No! No!"
She began to run again - not to Uncle Don, but past him, away from him, running for her life.
As she flew past him, Uncle Don grabbed one arm and held her tight. He didn't let go, even when her other flailing hand punched him over and over. She kicked against his shins until he felt sure he wouldn't be able to walk for a week.
"It's my fault!" The words shouted themselves out of Laura. Stunned by them, but sure of their truth, she shouted again.
"It's all my fault!"
She stopped kicking and punching Uncle Don and stared at him defiantly, daring him to let her go now that the truth had forced itself from her own lips.
Uncle Don tried to understand. He knew she wasn't talking about the spilled hamburgers, but about something much bigger than a single, simple accident.
"What is it that's your fault, Laura?"
Laura, now that she had let out her secret, now that she had said it both to herself and to Uncle Don, grew limp and lifeless.
They're dead," she said in a toneless voice. "They're dead and it's my fault."
She went on in the same monotone, not able to stop talking now that she had begun.
"He went away. He always went away and left me. I was scared. He got mad at me and then he left. I tried to be good. I tried very hard. Now you'll go away too. And everybody will be mad. Tony and Andy will never speak to me again. It's my fault. I tried to be good, but it's no use."
Laura started to walk slowly back down the dock to the beach. Her energy was spent, her mind in a daze, her heart dead.
Uncle Don walked behind her until they reached the end of the dock and stepped down onto the ground. Then he took Laura's hand and led her over to a picnic table.
She went, unresisting, with him, not caring any more what happened next.
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