The pungent stench of sweat and whiskey fills the air. The smells of Pa, of what might be coming. Pa and his anger. Pa and his fists. Pa and his dangerous grip.
He killed the rest of our chickens last night in a rage when Mamma wouldn’t stop her coughing. Tore them to pieces. All blood and floating feathers. I was glad it wasn’t me, but now we have nothing except grain to eat all winter. And what’s left of that fills the sack that’s thrown over Pa’s broad shoulders—the sack that says he won’t be back for several months. By then, Me and Becca and Mamma could be dead.
He walks past me, out the door, not even acknowledging my existence with a look or a goodbye. I might as well be a ghost or a puff of smoke in his way.
I follow him for a few steps, my feet silent in the newly fallen snow. His back disappears into a flurry of white as he heads down the hill. I should yell for him not to go, not to abandon us, but it sickens me that I need him for anything. I want him gone. I always have.
Still, it’ll hurt Mamma and Becca.
And what I want never matters much, anyhow. Not even when his knuckles left purple blossoms on my skin. Not even when he tore into my clothes and called me names I can’t bare to think of now. Not even when...
Mamma’s cries mingle with the wind, calling me back to the sorrow of today. She moans and weeps of her lost love, until the cries turn into a string of coughs, sharp and full of death’s keening. Before, when I was tiny, she would have burned lavender and called on God to give Pa true direction, she would have crushed rabbit bone and ash from his left-behind shirt and sprinkled it on the threshold to draw him back home.
Now, she can only curl on her pallet like a wounded bird and hope.
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