TWELVE

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Chapter 3

Jon didn’t come home that night.

Once the pills and booze wore off and Ma started coming to, the pain of the fight with Jon must’ve been too much, so she decided to drink herself back to sleep.

When Ma first started drinking years before, she kept it well hidden from us, only doing it at night when she thought we were all fast asleep. But those nights when my head was full from thinking, I’d wander around the house and often find her sitting at the kitchen table in her housecoat with a bottle by her side. She’d be pouring whisky gingerly into a glass, as if it were her closest, dearest, and possibly only friend.

At the time I shrugged it off, thinking the habit would stop after the anguish she was in over losing Dad subsided. But it never went away and the bottle stayed.

From then on, things steadily got worse. Ma was drinking around the clock, looking sicker by the day, which made Emma and I sick ourselves. It was clear to us that our mother was on a path of utter self destruction. Perhaps the only one who couldn’t see what a hopeless alcoholic she had become was Ma herself.

The next night after supper when there was still no sign of Jon, Ma sent me down to Tappy’s to have a look for him. Normally, Ma would’ve killed me if she caught me there, but this time she even gave me a couple quarters to play the video games.

Tappy’s wasn’t really a place for kids.

It was a recreation centre downtown, if you could call the 15 shops or so in Prairieville “downtown.” On the outside, there wasn’t much difference between the look of Tappy’s and the two abandoned buildings beside it. The paint along the store front had been slowly chipping off for decades and there were cracks all along its foundation. The whole place looked like it could crumble to the ground at any moment.

The only evidence that it was an open business was a scratched up sign above the door that read “Tappys” in small lettering with no apostrophe. The owner, Olav Taporowski, couldn’t spell English any better than he could speak it.

The man had immigrated to Prairieville from Poland or Russia or some place like that about 20 years before, and quickly made the recreation centre his mainstay. It amazed everyone in the town how he kept it going in spite of the fact that he only had about 10 customers a day.

Over a few years of trying, no one in town could come to pronounce his last name, so they started calling him Tappy. He decided that was good enough.

Tappy’s wound up becoming a hangout for men – guys in senior high, and all the bachelor types who had no one to go home to at night.

When I entered the room, no doubt looking very small standing in the door frame, every pair of eyes was on me.

There were maybe eight guys in there the day I went searching for Jon. About half of them were around my brother’s age, maybe a few years older. The rest were crazy-looking old men with bushy beards and big bellies and no hope of a life outside Prairieville.

Tappy stood behind the counter, wiping up around his ancient till, and tilted his index finger towards me slightly. It was a Prairieville way of acknowledging somebody’s presence.

There was no real age limit for the clientele that could hang out at Tappy’s, because it wasn’t a licensed establishment or anything, but it certainly would’ve been unusual to see a 15-year-old like me walking through the door.

One side of the centre was the arcade section with half a dozen or more games including my favourite, Pac Man. I saw no one was sitting at any of the machines as I gazed around the room.

On the opposite side were the pool tables, where the beer-bellied old men congregated, holding their cues and staring off into space while their partner poked at the white ball.

Most of them held a small paper cup in their hands or had one sitting on a railing along the wall beside them. But I doubt any passerby was fool enough to think they were all drinking water.

I didn’t see my brother in the crowd, but I knew he was bound to turn up eventually. I took the quarters Ma had given me and sat down at Pac Man, losing myself for a while in the little yellow pie head and the ghosts chasing me up and down the dotted maze.

But when I heard Jon’s voice, I immediately lost focus on the game. The blue ghost swallowed me up, and the sickening sound of a dead Pac Man echoed throughout the arcade.

“Dammit,” I said out loud, but quiet enough that I doubted anyone heard me.

I tried to wave at Jon, but he didn’t see me. I watched him waltz over to Tappy, chatting him up a little. Then he reached inside his coat, discretely pulling out a brown package which he handed to Tappy. Then after a few more minutes, Tappy handed Jon a white envelope, which my brother slipped inside his coat.

I might’ve been young and gullible, but I’d watched enough gangster movies to know what was going on, and I felt sick to my stomach to see what my brother was mixed up in. I wished with all my heart that I hadn’t seen it, because the perfect picture I’d had of my brother suddenly crumbled.

Jon walked over to some of the younger guys shooting pool and started yakking away.

“Hey, isn’t that your little brother?” one of them said suddenly, pointing right at me.

My heart skipped a beat. I was terrified of what Jon might say if he knew I’d seen him dealing drugs.

“Squirt?” he said, squinting to see me against the glare of the neon lights.

I stood there, half frozen.

“H-hey, Jon,” I said, and hoped he wouldn’t notice that my voice was shaking.

I tried to pretend I hadn’t seen a thing.

“Ma sent me down here to look for you. You okay?”

Jon looked embarrassed. The other older guys he was hanging out with chuckled a little, then went back to their pool game.

“Let’s go outside for a minute,” Jon said, guiding me out the door with one hand wrapped around my back.

“Squirt,” he said once we were outside under the darkening sky, “you don’t belong around here. Go back home.” It was an order, not a suggestion.

“Ma said I should come find you and tell you to come back home,” I said firmly.

“I ain’t going back,” Jon told me.

“You have to,” I said. “Emma and I need you around. And what about your car? Are you just going to leave it behind? Where are you going to stay? How will you get by?”

Jon let go a long, deep sigh.

“I’m sorry, Squirt. I just can’t do it anymore. I’m sorry.”

I felt tears gathering in my eyes.

“By the way,” Jon added, “what did you see in there?” He pointed to Tappy’s.

“I was waiting for you,” I said quickly. “I was playing the games, and then I saw you with your friends.” I was careful not to mention any details about the transaction I’d witnessed.

“You sure?” Jon asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“Never mind,” he said. “You run on home and tell Ma I’m not coming back any time soon.”

“But Jon-“

“Go!” he said.

I knew better than to try and get pushy with Jon. He was strong-willed, and there wasn’t much I could do to convince him he was wrong if he thought he was doing right. So I left him there and started back home, tears dropping off my cheeks as I walked away.

I didn’t want to go home without my brother. Having him around meant a sense of security for Emma and I. After Dad died, whether Jon wanted to admit it or not, he had become the glue that kept things together. Now with him gone, I feared things would start to unravel fast. Still, a piece of me thought Jon would have to return sooner or later. I didn’t see how he’d be able to stay away. He didn’t have a real job and he didn’t have any place to go. My brother was a tough guy, I knew that, but I couldn’t picture him on his own. Not yet. Not with Emma and I still stuck at home with Ma, and nowhere to go ourselves.

When I got back, I found Ma sitting on the couch watching an episode of The Cosby Show. Reluctantly, I told her Jon wasn’t coming back.

“Then he don’t deserve this family,” she said crossly.

Once in a while when she drank, Ma got mean, and said things we wouldn’t otherwise hear her say.

She sat there, thinking in silence for a while.

“That son of a bitch!” she said suddenly, and stood up on her feet. “That ungrateful son of a bitch!” Ma stomped over to the coffee table and kicked it with all her might, twice, then stood there trembling.

“Agh,” she said, after her temper relaxed and she felt the pain in her foot. She sat down again and started rubbing at her big toe.

“I think it’s broke,” she said, and looked at me with her piercing greyish-blue eyes, still inflamed with booze and anger.

“Georgie, get me my cigarettes,” she said.

I handed her the package and lighter which had been sitting on a lamp stand by the couch. She quickly lit one up, inhaling deeply and blowing smoke all over the living room. It didn’t seem to bother her that I was right there, breathing in the toxic second-hand smoke.

I was a little frightened by Ma’s display. She’d gotten mad before, but rarely violent. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think how funny it was that she’d call Jon a “son of a bitch.” What did that make her?

I wanted to point that out to her, but kept my mouth shut instead.

After her cigarette, Ma poured herself another whisky and sat sipping it and watching TV. The numbing effect of the booze probably helped her forget about her big toe, which had become rather purple and swollen by then.

I watched her for a while as she sat there, her mascara smudged under her eyes, her hair frizzy and unkempt. She was supposed to be taking care of Emma and I, but looking at her, I realized Ma couldn’t even take care of herself.

In that moment I felt for the first time that maybe I hated her too. She was hideous. It wasn’t really her looks that bothered me as much as what she’d become inside. The decay of her soul was what made her so ugly to me.

But no matter what she had become, she was still my mother. Despite a growing urge inside me, I decided I couldn’t abandon her the way Jon had.

Emma had been out that afternoon playing volleyball. She was actually quite good at it, unlike me. When she came home, her ponytail was matted down from sweat and her cheeks looked flushed and rosy. She seemed to be in a bouncy, good mood.

“Where’s Jon?” she asked me.

Ma was passed out again, the TV blaring, her cigarette butt still smouldering a little in the ashtray beside her.

“He’s not coming back,” I told Emma.

“Oh,” she said. I could plainly see the sadness in my little sister’s eyes.

She took a long swig from her water bottle.

“Where’s Ma?” she asked, poking her head around the corner from the kitchen where we stood. “Oh,” she said again, seeing Ma laying on the couch, slumped over the arm of the sofa.

“I’m going to shower,” she told me, and headed for the bathroom.

Emma probably didn’t think I could hear her sobs over the rush of the water as she stood under the showerhead for half an hour.

I was in my room looking at my new magazine again, skimming a few of the articles I hadn’t looked at yet.

Emma came in wearing her pyjamas and a bathrobe.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” she said, startling me from my introversion. “Georgie, I think I’m going to leave too.”

I sat up straight.

“What do you mean, Emma?”

“I think I might do like Jon and just leave this house,” she said.

“Well, where do you want to go?” I asked.

Emma was a brave, smart girl, but she couldn’t support herself in any way. I had trouble seeing how Jon would survive on his own but I couldn’t fathom that Emma would.

“I don’t care,” she said. “I don’t care. Maybe I’ll be like Willie and get some foster parents.”

“Emma,” I said. “Foster parents are for people who have no real parents.”

“Ma ain’t no parent!” she said, suddenly showing the anger that had been bottling up inside her, now bubbling forth like lava from a volcano.

“Emma!” I scolded. Ma was still asleep on the sofa, but she’d be about ready to come out of it. “She’ll hear you.”

“I don’t care,” Emma said, but she had at least lowered her voice some. “I don’t want to be here no more, Georgie. Ma doesn’t even love us.”

“That’s not true,” I said.

“I don’t care if you think it’s true or not, Georgie,” Emma said. “If I can’t go live with foster parents, then I’ll just move in with one of my friends.”

“Emma-,” I started.

“No, Georgie. I’ve made up my mind now, so don’t try and stop me. As soon as I can find a friend who will help me, I’m moving out too.”

“Ma won’t let you,” I said.

“She can’t stop me,” Emma said, her voice cold. “And she probably won’t notice if I’m gone, anyway.”

Emma left, heading to her room for the night. After a while, I could hear her snoring loudly from down the hall. But I was so sick with worry thinking my sister was going to run away in the middle of the night that I couldn’t sleep a wink.

I was groggy as hell when I finally stepped out of bed the next morning, much later than I normally did even for a Saturday.

As I collected consciousness, I realized with a start that Emma might already be gone. I quickly got dressed and darted around the house looking for her.

“Emma! Emma!” I called out.

No answer.

“Emma!” I said, louder this time.

“I’m right here, dummy,” she said from the kitchen table. She’d been sitting there right in front of my eyes all along, but I missed seeing her in my panic.

“Oh,” I said.

“Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when I’m going,” she said, sitting over a bowl of the same stale Cheerios I tried to eat before.

Suddenly, I heard an engine roaring outside, and immediately we both knew what it was.

“Jon!” Emma squealed, dropping her spoon on the floor as she ran from the kitchen table outside, still wearing her pyjamas. I followed her out into the morning light, the ground still covered in a thick blanket of frost.

The garage door was wide open, and there was a black Dodge Ram there, revving up and waiting. I could hear Jon giving one of his friends directions.

“Just pull it out nice and easy. She’s pretty fragile.”

My heart sank as I realized Jon wasn’t coming back home, but instead was getting the one thing from home he couldn’t live without – his car.

He must’ve seen us out of the corner of his eye. Jon put up his hand, signalling to his friends that he wanted them to wait for a minute.

He walked over to us.

“Hey Emma, hey Squirt,” he said.

I’m sure we both looked as sad as we felt.

“You guys doing okay?” he asked.

I just looked at him. I wanted to say ‘oh sure, Jon, everything’s fine,’ but instead I burst into tears. I thought for sure he was going to clock me over the head or something for embarrassing him in front of his buddies, but he didn’t. Instead, he bent forward and gave me a hug.

“You be strong, Squirt,” he told me. “You take care of Emma,” he said, his eyes meaningful. “Someday, when I have my own house, I’m going to come back and get you two,” he said. “I promise.”

He hugged us both once more and went back to the garage where he and his buddies worked quickly to extract the Corvette. Then they all piled in the Dodge again, and I watched as they slowly pulled away the car, and my brother with it.

I knew he’d never come for us. His promise was as about as empty as the backyard garage had become.

A few hours later, Emma was getting ready to go over to Jennifer’s house, and I was sitting on my bed, bouncing a ball against the wall and thinking.

Emma’s head popped into my room.

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’m not coming back tonight,” she said. “Jennifer said I could stay with her.”

I just kept bouncing my ball. What a bunch of cowards, I thought. All of them running away from their problems like that.

Emma stood there for quite a while, waiting for me to say something. She probably was hoping I’d try to stop her, but I didn’t.

“Okay, then, good-bye,” she said.

“Yeah, bye,” I said curtly.

A short while later, I heard the back door slam shut. My heart sank a bit lower. I was completely alone.

I started feeling depressed, crazy depressed. I had no one to talk to.

I threw the ball a little harder, slamming it at the wall and catching it, throwing it again and grabbing it, squeezing on it like it I was squeezing the life out of something. Each throw became a little more intense, and I hoped I’d be able to smash a hole through that damned wall if I threw it hard enough.

Ma was probably so out to lunch passed out slobbering somewhere that she hadn’t heard a thing, even though it was beginning to sound like someone was trying to kick my door down.

I hated feeling so small and invisible to the world, so alone and powerless.

I kept throwing the ball, letting it bounce off the wall, and squashing it.

Why did she have to be such a drunk? I asked myself. If she could just put that damned bottle down for one day, even one damned day to give us some hope that she wasn’t doomed to die with a glass clutched in her hand.

I wanted to stop her, but how could I?

If she would just quit drinking, I was sure Jon would come back, and Emma wouldn’t even think about leaving. Things could be normal again.

I kept throwing the ball. My mind had really started to wander, and images of the past few days flashed in my mind. The Piranhas, Jon, Ma throwing up, Emma crying, all pulsed in my head as the ball slammed against the wall. I stopped paying attention to what my arm and hand were doing, and became completely transfixed with my thoughts.

I wanted all of those things to get the hell out of my mind so I could have some peace instead of the insanity I felt.

But the more I tried to make the images disappear, the more they burned a hole into my mind. All I could do was keep up the rhythm of the ball.

If Ma could just put that damned bottle down.

But if she was going to quit, she’d have done it by now, I realized. It wasn’t in her to stop. At least not of her own will.

Of course I’d tried to talk to her about it. I told her square to her face that she needed to quit.

“You’re 15,” Ma told me when I brought it up. “What do you know? You don’t know anything.”

She didn’t want to hear a damn word about it, ever. So eventually I quit talking about it.

The only other recourse I had left was to do something physical.

I would never hurt my mother. No matter how mad I was, I couldn’t do that.

But there’d been something on my mind for a while, and I thought maybe since things had gotten really desperate, I would try it.

I caught the ball for a last time and let it drop to the floor. Swinging my legs out of my bed, I tip-toed out into the hallway and had a listen to see what Ma was up to.

It didn’t take long for me to hear her snoring away on the couch in the living room, exactly like I’d predicted.

I kept tip-toeing through the hall to the kitchen, where I knew most of it was.

As silently as I could manage, I opened all the cupboard doors one at a time, sweeping my hands inside trying to carefully feel for glass without knocking anything over.

I looked in the linen closet in the hallway and in the drawer where she kept the cookbooks. I even looked behind the garbage can. It must’ve really only taken about five minutes for me to conduct my search, but it felt like a lot longer because I was terrified the entire time that Ma would wake up from her slumber and catch me. All told, there were seven whisky bottles. Most of them only had a few drops left - Ma must’ve been saving those for an emergency. One bottle was full, another half full.

I felt my armpits start to sweat as I looked at them all lined up on the cupboard. If Ma found out I’d taken them, she’d be furious. But I quickly decided I didn’t care anymore. Something had to be done to stop her crazy drinking or there would never be a Christmas family again.

With another wave of courage, I grabbed an empty cardboard box from the porch and started cautiously stuffing it full of the bottles. My heart jumped a little every time one of the bottles clinked against another. Just to be sure I didn’t wake Ma, I stopped moving, standing perfectly still for a minute.

I was relieved to hear her snoring still, completely unaware of any goings-on.

I couldn’t throw the box out with the trash. It would be the first place Ma would look. I had to hide it somewhere else, where she’d likely never think of searching.

I marched around the house aimlessly for a while looking for an ideal spot. It wouldn’t be safe in my room or Emma’s. Somehow, Ma would sniff it out, I knew.

I decided to try taking it downstairs.

There was the spare washroom, a recreation room and the laundry room down there; a fairly typical set up for a 1950s home.

Once in the basement I walked down the hall, turned to the left where the recreation room was and stopped, dead in my tracks. I hadn’t been in that room for years.

I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I stood there feeling paralyzed. It would be the best place to hide the bottles because Ma avoided it too. Though I tried to push myself to do it, I couldn’t manage. I turned back, and headed for the laundry room instead.

Instead of hiding the whole box, I stashed the individual bottles one by one behind the washer and dryer. I knew Ma might find it one day, but hoped it would be a long time away. In the meanwhile, I thought I would be able to convince her not to buy it anymore. I knew she was flat broke at the moment, and would have to wait at least another week before the assistance cheque came, so it would be at least that long before she’d make it to the liquor store.

“Georgie?” I heard from upstairs.

She was awake.

I darted upstairs with a lump in my throat knowing there would be hell to pay if she caught me.

“Georgie, where’s Emma?” Ma asked when I hit the main floor.

“Uh, I don’t know,” I said. “I think she had volleyball practice or something.”

Ma looked up at the kitchen clock – an old wooden one with a rooster painted on the front. Whenever the clock struck on the hour, a little rooster would slide out of a small door on the front and crow. My first memory of it was around age three, when I’d delightfully watch it in action. Thinking about it made me sad because I recalled how much greater those days of innocence were, when Dad was still alive and Ma wasn’t drinking, and if she was, I was too young to know anything about it.

Now, only 12 years later, everything was upside down, and I was responsible for too much. I had a sudden regret for hiding the bottles. Maybe I should’ve just left them there and instead encouraged her to drink it. That way, she’d go to her grave faster and put us all out of her misery.

But it was too late to change it now.

“It’s 11 a.m. Emma usually doesn’t have practice until the afternoons,” Ma said with scepticism.

I just shrugged my shoulders. I wasn’t going to tell her anything. I’d let her find out on her own that Emma had ditched out for good too.

“I thought I heard something going on earlier this morning,” Ma said. “Was Jonny here?”

I felt another lump in my throat.

“Uh, yeah, he was.”

“And he didn’t come in to see me?” she asked. I could almost see what was left of her heart fall down and crash against the floor. Heavy bags hung under her eyes from hit-and-miss sleep and she was wearing the same sweater and slacks from two days prior.

Ma disappeared into the kitchen and I could hear the “flick, flick” of her lighter as she sparked a cigarette. It wouldn’t be long before she started looking for her booze. I had to leave before she discovered it was all gone.

“I’m going over to Willie’s,” I told her quickly.

She started mumbling, but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. She probably didn’t really know what she was saying herself, seeing as how she was drunk or coming off a drunk almost all of the time.

I got dressed quickly, putting a ball cap on my head so I didn’t have to comb my hair.

I ran across the back alley to Willie’s back step the way I’d done a thousand times before. A few seconds after I’d knocked on the door, Willie’s foster mom appeared. Mrs. Meiers was wearing a pink blouse and perfectly pressed pants, her hair neatly pinned up with bright blush on her high cheek bones. She was beautiful. It pained me to compare her to my own mother, who right at the moment would likely be frantically looking for her beloved Jack Daniel’s, probably the only thing she truly cared about.

Willie’s house always smelled good, like fresh baking and lilacs and potpourri. His foster parents didn’t smoke or drink, and didn’t even leave the house most nights after eight o’clock. Their yard was always trim and neat, their trees properly pruned with flowers blooming in the summer time and a neatly shovelled walk all winter.

I envied Willie. Even though he’d suffered the loss of his real parents, the Meierses were good people who loved him and took great care of him.

There was no one left to take care of me.

“Hello, Georgie,” Mrs. Meiers said.

“Hi,” I said in a small, shy voice, like I usually did. “Is Willie home?”

Mrs. Meiers let me inside. “Yes, he is Georgie. Let me go get him for you.”

Leaving me standing in the hall with my cap in my hand, she ran up the polished oak stairwell to Willie’s room. Moments later, my friend came bounding down the stairs.

“Hey, Georgie,” he said. “What’s up?”

“I was hoping we could hang out,” I said.

“Oh, I don’t know. I was just cleaning up my room.” He looked at Mrs. Meiers for her approval. She nodded her head, smiling.

“I think you can take a break for a while, Willie,” she said. “Why don’t I fix you boys a snack?”

It seemed Mrs. Meiers was always fixing snacks and doing nice things for everyone.

“Let’s go downstairs,” Willie said. “I got a new game.” Willie was a big Game Boy nut. He played that thing for hours and hours all the time. It was a special treat for me to get to play with him. We never had things like that at home. In fact, sometimes I would come over and play it even when Willie was in his room doing homework. Mrs. Meiers didn’t seem to mind.

Willie started up the game and almost instantly Mrs. Meiers appeared with cookies and crackers with cheese on a plate. My stomach growled at the sight of it. I tried to be polite, only taking a small piece of cheese while Mrs. Meiers stood there smiling with her gleaming white teeth.

But as soon as she left the room, I gobbled up half the plate, stuffing crackers followed by cookies and then cheese down my throat until I was completely stuffed. The food felt warm in my stomach and I was grateful.

We sat and played and ate for a while, not even really talking. That’s the kind of friendship we had, Willie and I. We could sit in each other’s company not saying a single word, without feeling weird about it.

But if I did have something to say, I knew I could trust Willie with it. I think he felt the same way about me.

“Jon left,” I said, cutting the silence.

I hadn’t planned on telling Willie, but it had been on my mind constantly. I thought he might have been able to guess it anyway, the way I wore it on my sleeve.

“Where did he go?” Willie asked.

“He left home a few days back. I don’t know where he went, but I don’t think he’s coming back.”

“Emma left too,” I said.

“What?” Willie said. He probably wasn’t all that shocked about Jon, but Emma was a different story. Sweet Emma had never done a thing to upset anyone her whole life. “Where is she?”

“She high tailed it to a friend’s place,” I said. “She said she ain’t coming back either.”

“Oh,” Willie said, and we sat in silence for a while again. He was probably trying to think of something else to say, but was lost for the right words.

We played Game Boy for about an hour and I was able to relax and find a bit of peace and distraction with Willie. I was sorry when it was time for me to go, but he had to finish cleaning up his room.

“I’ll pick you up from school tomorrow?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, and crossed the back alley again, heading home.

I dreaded going back, expecting that when I got there Ma would be waiting for me, ready to tear a strip off me about the missing booze. Since no one else was around, I was the obvious target.

But after I’d taken off my boots and coat and sat down to watch some TV, I found everything to be quiet and still.

“Ma?” I called.

But there was no one.

I sat and watched TV for a while and waited.

I woke up a little while later, having fallen asleep.

It was strange for Ma to be gone so long. She didn’t like being out around people, and rarely left home for more than an hour or so.

A sudden fear shadowed me, and I felt an overwhelming sadness as I realized how alone I was. Jon was gone, Emma was gone, and now Ma had disappeared. But even when Ma was around, she wasn’t really there.

Just then the back door opened.

I fully expected Ma would be there, but it was Emma’s little blond head that appeared.

“I thought you were gone,” I said.

“Yeah, well, I forgot some things, so I had to come back,” Emma told me. “But I’m not staying for long. As soon as I have everything, I’m gone.”

I didn’t ask her any other questions.

“I don’t know where Ma went,” I said.

“She’s not here?” Emma asked.

I shook my head no.

“Maybe she went to the store,” Emma said.

Or maybe she’s out knocking door-to-door, begging people for booze, I thought. The idea of it made me feel sick with shame.

“I don’t know,” I said.

I sat back down on the couch, feeling helpless.

“I’m going to grab some shampoo from downstairs to take with me,” Emma announced, disappearing from the room.

I sat back wondering where Ma could be, growing ever more nervous about it. What had I done? I thought.

And then I heard a horrible scream.

Emma.

I ran down the stairs to the bathroom and saw Emma standing there by the bathroom door, staring down at the floor, her face colourless.

“Emma?” I said, approaching her carefully. And then I knew what was wrong.

There was Ma, laying flat on the floor, her nose to the ground, her limbs sprawled out in all directions. Emma and I both stood in fear, sure she was dead.

It seemed like an hour had passed before I was able to move, finally kneeling down beside Ma.

I nudged her, but only slightly, fearing what it would be like to touch a dead person.

“Ma?” I said, but she didn’t move.

I grabbed her shoulder and shoved on it forcefully. “Ma?” I said, louder this time, but she still didn’t budge.

My heart was racing, and I felt like I was going to throw up.

Strangely enough, my most overwhelming emotion was anger towards Jon, because he should’ve been there at that moment. He should’ve been there to take care of us with Ma laying there, unconscious and barely clothed on the bathroom floor.

“Emma, call 911,” I managed to say finally.

I looked up at my sister, and saw now that the last of her innocence had fallen away. She was staring wide-eyed at Ma, tears streaming down her cheeks. I couldn’t shield my sister from it. There was nobody to protect her or me.

Emma snapped out of her daze enough to nod her head, and then she ran up the stairs to the phone. I didn’t know whether she’d know what to say or what to do, but I didn’t think it really mattered, because I was sure it was too late to help our mother.

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