by Cathy Leach
I want to cry, as I pick up the wooden frame and gaze at the photo for at least the millionth time.
Happy faces look back at me. A smiling little girl with tousled blonde curls holds a small gray kitten out toward the camera. In back of the girl, a brown-haired boy laughs as he holds up two fingers behind her head.
It’s been eight years since I held my babies, heard their giggles, or looked at their sweet faces. Eight long, painful years.
Becca would be ten now, and Jonas would have just turned thirteen.
Would have, but didn’t.
With a pang, I gaze out the kitchen window at the house next door. Although the front of the house is neat and tidy, the back tells a different story. Overgrown grass spreads onto a cracked and broken sidewalk, leading to a back porch littered with trash.
Contents of black, plastic bags overflow onto abandoned car parts and rusty lawn tools. A 5-gallon gas can has fallen onto its side, spilling liquid over half the porch. Empty beer cans and liquor bottles dot the area, and right in the middle of the whole mess, sits an old lawn chair.
As I watch, the man next door staggers onto the back porch, ever-present bottle in hand, and flops onto the old chair. I know his habits. He’ll pass out within minutes.
A wave of disgust washes over me. I know I should forgive him, but I just can’t.
Summer weather had finally arrived, and the kids were anxious to play outside in the fenced-in yard.
Becca was thrilled that she didn’t need to wear a sweater. She headed straight for the sandbox, while Jonas hopped onto the nearest swing.
I stood in the doorway and watched them for a few minutes, smiling and thinking how lucky I was.
The phone rang.
Tired of the swing, Jonas joined his sister in the sandbox.
When the phone rang again, I turned with a sigh and went to answer it.
Moments later, I heard a scream, then a horrifying crash. I dropped the phone and ran outside.
I saw everything at once: the car against the tree, the smashed fence, the broken toys, the man from next door stumbling from the car with a bottle in his hand, and the children.
Oh, dear Lord, the children.
“Beth,” my husband calls from the living room. “Are you almost ready? The movers are finishing in here.”
“Just a few minutes, Jason,” I reply. “I want to take one more look through the house.”
We hate to leave this house, but we can’t stay here now. Not since he’s been released and is living next door again.
Forgive him. I know, but it’s hard. Especially after what he said.
We had attended his sentencing. As the man next door was led from the courtroom, he leaned toward me with a sneer, and mumbled, “You shoulda kept the little bastards in the house.”
I never told Jason about that.
Forgive him. Right.
Jason sticks his head in the door and holds up the car keys, letting me know he’s ready to go. I nod and tell him there’s just one more thing I need to do.
I put the photo into my purse, take a last look around, and go out the back door. I walk next door and onto the porch, being careful not to step on anything.
I stand and look down at the man who killed my children.
Even though I know he’s unconscious and can’t hear me, I say it out loud.
“I forgive you,” I say. And I mean it.
Then I strike the match, let it drop, and join my husband in the car.