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 was taken aback to see how much the surrounding trees and shrubbery had grown in the interim, all but blocking her view of the shiny tin roof and stone chimney. After she attached Smidge’s leash and coaxed him from the stroller, the two ascended the short flight of steps leading from the lawn to the front porch, and Cricket wondered, for one tense moment, if this was all a dream-driven mirage that would vanish the moment she knocked on the door.
She knocked and waited. Nothing. She rapped more forcefully and detected a stirring on the other side. Seconds more elapsed, and the door opened.
“Why, hello, Cricket,” Aunt Vera said in a calm, unsurprised voice, as though it were the girl’s practice to drop by every afternoon around that hour. She swept her eyes over the two bedraggled, footsore travelers on her doorstep and added, “Come on in. You look like you could use a meal.”
“Hello, Aunt Vera,” Cricket responded, and tears she could no longer staunch glistened in her eyes. “I’m afraid it’s a lot worse than that. I need” — here she paused to glance at Smidge before continuing — “no, we need a home.”
* * *
“And it was something you did once that also kept me going,” Cricket said between bites. “Do you remember driving me to Montgomery? I couldn’t have been more than four or five.”
Vera raised her eyebrows. “I’m not likely to forget. You got carsick and upchucked out the window. And onto yourself.”
“I know, and afterwards you were looking for a way to wipe me off but didn’t want to stop at a gas station. You passed a church and pulled into the parking lot. You said, ‘During the day these usually keep a door unlocked’, and sure enough, we found it. You washed me off in the ladies’ room sink, and you were on target.
“Two nights ago I looked around for a church and, like you said, I found one with a door unlocked! We had to be careful, of course, but Smidge and I sneaked in and hid in a closet until everyone was gone, and we took food from the kitchen, washed off in the restroom, and slept on a sofa. Nights were easy compared to days, when we had to do all that walking! Daytime was the hard part.”
As Cricket finished the sliced ham, collard greens and mashed sweet potatoes set before her, Vera put more on her plate. On the floor at her feet, Smidge had obliterated the leftover chicken and rice heaped in a blue ceramic bowl and was contentedly chewing the nails on his front left paw.
“And there’s another thing you said once that helped me! You told me about one of your relatives, a cousin or an uncle, who tramped all the way across Germany.”
Vera shook her head. “That’s a remarkable memory you have there, Sunbeam. It was my grandfather. During World War I he was captured by the Germans after a mine explosion and sent to a prison camp. He escaped and walked all the way to the Netherlands, two hundred miles, because they were neutral in that war.”
Cricket’s face lit up. “That’s the one I mean!” she said. “I figured that if an injured soldier in enemy territory could do it, so could I. That’s what I kept telling myself whenever I was scared or discouraged.”
Vera appeared at once pleased and concerned. “Cricket, I’m very, very glad you made it here safely, not to mention surprised that you regarded me as some sort of inspiration to keep you going. You certainly may stay here a while to rest up, and I don’t want to upset you so soon after your, ah, ‘ordeal’, let’s say. But there’s a problem.”
Cricket jumped in. “Oh, I wouldn’t expect you to support me for nothing. I’ll do anything you want. Work in the field, clean house, whatever you say. And I could get a job in town at one of the fast-food places like a lot of teenagers do. I’d earn my keep, and Smidge’s too, I promise!”
“I’m sure you would, but that’s not what I meant.” Here, Vera stopped rocking and leaned forward in the chair. “You’re a minor who’s run away from home,” she said, “and you’ve run to me. That puts me in a bit of a bind.
“As you’ve reckoned by now, your folks never much cared for me, and so we aren’t what you’d call close.” She chuckled. “I’ll admit to being out of place in what passes for polite society, but I’m no lawbreaker.” She paused while keeping her eyes fixed on Cricket’s. “You may have to go back.”
Cricket wouldn’t know it for a while to come, but Vera’s opinion of her, already in the positive zone, rose another notch when the girl did not respond with tears and pleading but instead remained pensive for several moments.
After this show of restraint, Cricket asked quietly, “If I can’t stay, what about Smidge? Would you be willing to keep him so that he won’t get euthanized in the pound? We could say that he got loose during the trip — which really did happen at one point! — and that I couldn’t find him.” She paused again. “Couldn’t you sort of lie for a good cause this once?”
Neither smiling nor frowning, Vera said, “First things first, Sweet Pea. People like you are the reason God gave us lawyers. I happen to have one. And I’ll be paying him a visit as soon as I can get hold of him.”
* * *
When Cricket awoke the following morning, the kettle-cloth print curtains which had been open when Vera installed her in the spare bedroom the night before were drawn, and the room was dark. On the bedside table was a glass half-full of water and a jumbled assortment of over-the-counter antiseptic ointments, soothing salves, eye drops, bandages, and pain killers Vera had collected for Cricket’s sunburn, scratches, aches, stings, blisters, bruises, and abrasions.
Yawning and stretching, she assumed it was still early until a glance at the clock revealed that it was nearly ten. In light of the bounteous assurances made to Vera regarding her usefulness, sleeping to such an hour could appear less than favorable.
Close on the heels of this thought was the realization that Smidge was no longer on the floor beside her. Wearing nothing but underpants and the knee-length robe Vera had given her to sleep in, she padded barefoot into the kitchen in search of her hostess. On the table was a note written in a bold backhand:
I’m about my business. There’s milk and OJ in the fridge and cereal in the cabinet beside the stove. Your dog’s in the yard.
Cricket hurried to the back and let Smidge in. His upturned look inquired, “Are we staying or leaving?” In response, Cricket sat beside him on the floor and for a full ten minutes massaged his paws while talking in a reassuring voice.
Eager to appear admirably occupied when Vera returned, she bathed and dressed quickly, made her bed, gave the bathroom a quick scrub, washed and dried the breakfast dishes, wiped the table, counters, stove top and refrigerator shelves, bagged the garbage, and, after locating the broom closet, swept the kitchen floor although it appeared already spotless.
In the midst of this last exertion, Vera appeared. If she took any notice, approving or otherwise, of Cricket’s recent industry, she did not reveal as much. She hung her straw hat on the oak hall tree and, pointing with a finger, directed Cricket to sit.
“Thanks to you, young lady, I’ve had a legal earful this morning, and my head’s still spinning. My attorney, a busy man who can be very hard to catch, especially when I want him most, happened by great good fortune to be on hand, and I let him know I needed him now. After I laid out such details as I’m familiar with, he laid out certain circumstances that could complicate matters.
“You may be a runaway, but according to him that’s more or less street parlance. Technically, you’re also a ‘homeless person’, and an underage homeless person at that. Different states have different laws on the books concerning homeless persons. You were living with your aunt and uncle in one state, and now you’ve run away to me in another.
“But your parents, according to what you told me, have kept their legal residence in yet another, lo these passing years, because they decided not to change it while the Air Force was moving them around and, on top of that, they’re overseas for the present.
“Furthermore, your mother and father never actually transferred any sort of documented in loco parentis authority — I love lawyer talk — to your aunt and uncle except for the whatchacallit, the health-care power of attorney. The rest was basically informal, word-of-mouth agreements by which they said you could live with them until your folks returned.”
“So who wants to go to Saudi Arabia?” Cricket answered. “Nothing but sand and mean people. And besides, when they left, I was so close to graduating that...” Cricket stopped midsentence. “Wait a minute. How did you know about the health care thing? I never mentioned that.”
“Because, Apple Blossom, my attorney wasn’t the only person I spoke with this fine mornin’. Did you really think I wouldn’t call your aunt and uncle as well? Harry advised it in the strongest terms, and I did so right there in his office. And on his dime,” she chuckled, greatly pleased at this last.
Cricket’s face fell, and she asked, “And what did they say?”
“First of all, just your aunt was there. Your uncle was not. She asked if you were okay, and I told her yes, you were absolutely fine as wine, nothing to be concerned about on that score, and she sounded relieved. But when I mentioned that I was on a speaker phone in the presence of an attorney, more or less for my own protection, it seemed to rattle her, and she wanted to know if I’d gotten in touch with either the police or your parents.
“When I said ‘So far, no,’ she blurted out with sizeable alarm, ‘Please don’t!’ which, I must say, took me by surprise. Ever since you flew the coop, they’ve been hoping you and the dog were hiding out and would come back before anybody else was the wiser. Didn’t you tell me that all last week, the days you and Smidge were trudging over hill and dale, was the same week of your spring vacation?”
“So you won’t be missed at school before today, will you?”
“Tomorrow,” Cricket corrected. “School resumes tomorrow.”
“Fine, tomorrow. Another day of wiggle room. So there you have it. People speak of reading between the lines. There’s also listening between the lines, and I’d say that while your aunt and uncle are indeed rather angry at you for your little disappearin’ act. They’re a sight more worried about how all this could make them look to your parents and others once the news gets around and tongues start to wagging. I think they’re afraid you might claim you hightailed it because they were beating you and the dog every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and alternate weekends, and that you might be believed. It has been known to happen.”
“I’d never do that. I would never say they abused me. I’d tell the truth.”
Vera stood to pour herself a mug of coffee from the pot made earlier. Instead of returning to her chair at the table, she remained standing, leaning against the counter.
“I must say, Daisy Mae, that luck and superb timing have been your faithful companions every step of the way. And now that the question of your current whereabouts has been cleared up with your aunt and uncle, I imagine they’re capable of concocting a believable explanation for anyone local who inquires.”
In a change of mood, Cricket asked excitedly, “Did I mention that I have enough credits to graduate? I had enough by the end of the winter session. Lots of us kids in the advanced program do. We’re basically marking time until the school year ends. It’s a joke!”
“That’s good,” Vera acknowledged, nodding as she did so, “that’s all very good, and I’m truly glad to hear it, but let’s get back to your aunt and uncle for the moment. I’m pretty sure they want you, and you alone, to be the one who reveals all this drama to your parents. They’re concerned that if someone else gets there ahead of them, it will make them look worse, and they’ll be in the soup. You are hereby ordered to get in touch with your parents soonest.” She paused to take a sip. “And if you don’t, I have to.”
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Edna C. Horning