This story is by Opal Wilcher-Lamkins and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Oldest Child
In the darkness, the thunder seemed louder and more ferocious. Lightning flashed across the sky and the wind blew hard making the bushes and the branches of the trees sway back and forth as though they were dancing, casting shadows across the yard and porch that appeared large and ominous. The children sat on the front porch of an aging two story home. The oldest was six years old and she sat on a single wooden rocker with her arms around her four -year old brother and two- year old sister. The house was empty. The children were frightened but they didn’t cry. The oldest girl said “don’t worry, they will come for us”. The children only wore cotton underpants and the rain had chilled the air making them shiver and cling to each other.
Earlier in the evening Mother had put them to bed. It was hot and humid then but the clouds began to form and a bit cooler breeze was welcomed before the thunderstorm struck. Father was not home from work which was worrisome because he was usually home before dark. The baby was a bit fussy and Mom said he was teething as though that explained it. Finally, everyone was settled in bed and sleeping fitfully as the storm struck sometime around midnight.
The children were awakened by loud noises and they first thought it was the storm but then they recognized their mother’s angry accusing voice and their father’s drunken responses were difficult to make out. Then they heard the sounds of a struggle and Mother’s screams and things being broken. The older child knew that Father could be hurting her. She slipped out of bed and looked down the hallway and saw him yank the telephone away from Mother and throw it across the room and then he lunged toward her. Mother dodged him even though she had the baby in her arms and ran out of the front door into the night just as the thunder clapped. Seconds later lightning struck and the power was gone. Father swore loudly and began throwing chairs around, knocking them over. Father then stumbled out of the house and drove away, leaving the three children alone in the dark. The oldest took the hands of her brother and sister and they carefully made their way to the front porch, too frightened to stay in the dark house all alone.
It seemed like forever before the children saw the vehicle with flashing red lights pull into the driveway. With surprise and relief, they saw their grandmother step out of the vehicle, with the police officer following closely behind. Grandmother said she would come back later for clothes as she wrapped a large sweater around the children and herded them into the police car.
Over the next few hours, the oldest was able to piece together what had happened after their Mother had run out in the night with the baby. She had run until she was sure Father was not following her and then tried to get help from neighbors. She could not get the gate unlocked so she climbed it somehow while also carrying the baby. Mother had fallen and sustained a significant laceration to her knee, but the baby was uninjured. The neighbor called the police and they took Mother to the emergency room where she had the laceration repaired. A few hours later Mother returned with a large bandage on her knee and crutches. The baby was with her. Mother did not press charges against Father. Life returned to what the children knew as “normal.”
3 Months Later
Mother sent the six-year-old girl to the store to get bread for dinner. Father always wanted bread for dinner. It began to rain heavily while she was in the store. The clerk suggested she stay and wait the rain out. The girl worried that her Mother would be angry but the clerk let her use the phone to call her Mother and tell her that she would be home when the rain stopped. Mother said “ok,” but insisted she “get home as soon as she could because the bread was needed for dinner.” The little girl waited for what seemed like a (really) long time, but it was still raining so she decided to go home. She didn’t want to make Mother or Father angry.
The girl heard a noise and looked behind her to see the rushing swell of dirty water coming from a field up the road a way. It ran fast down the road, on the opposite side of her down the street and then around the corner. The girl proceeded in the same direction and as she rounded the corner she saw the water flowing across the road in front of her and run into an open drainage gutter. She watched it for a minute but decided it was not too deep to walk through, little did she know about the force of a flashflood. She held the bread up high with one hand and the left- over change in her other hand as she moved forward and stepped into the water. She heard the man yelling just as the water swept her off her feet. The underground drainage tunnel had an uncovered opening that was large enough for a small child to pass through. The girl felt herself being grabbed and snatched out of the water. She was soaking wet, the money was gone and the bread was soggy. The child started to cry and continued to walk toward home. Mother was not happy when she appeared at the door in such a state. She was told to get cleaned up for dinner and that she was going straight to bed after she ate, as her punishment. The girl cried softly and complained of a tummy ache. Mother thought she just wanted sympathy.
The child picked at her dinner and had only managed a few bites when the front doorbell rang and Mother went to answer it. There was a policeman and a reporter standing at the door and a whole lot of people standing behind him on the porch and in the lawn. The girl recognized some of them as neighbors that were standing in their yards down the road watching the water. The reporter asked Mother if she was the parent of the little girl that almost drowned. Mother looked confused and said “no, you must have the wrong address”, but people began to call out and point as they saw the little girl standing behind her Mother. It seemed that the child had been washed off her feet and the man standing in a yard close by took a couple of giant leaps and pulled her out by the one hand that was reaching above the water just seconds before she would have been washed down into the city’s drainage system. Mother thanked the man.
The child continued to complain of a tummy ache and Mother later took her to the emergency room where they pumped her stomach to get the dirty water out of her system. The story was in the local newspaper the next day and the man received a commendation for saving the child.
Father had not come home for dinner. It was very late and the oldest child