This story is by Michael Hotchkiss and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mimi awoke from a mostly sleepless night. Reality slapped her amid the fog of a bad dream or a horrible memory? She wasn’t sure which. The night in an alley using a trash bag as a pillow and cardboard boxes as a mattress was fitful. The rising sun created eerie shadows on the walls of the brick alley, the most suitable place to rest after roaming the streets of New Haven for the last 24 hours. Her awareness lifted with the shadows.
Mimi had run away from home. She was determined to find somewhere without rules or reprimands for reasons she did not understand. She was confident she would find a better place today, so she gathered herself and set off.
Mimi was an orphan who lived at a facility called Hope House for orphans. She was no stranger to tough living. The mission of Hope House was to find residents a foster home or adoptive parents.
She was kept in a small square room with four occupants matching the four corners where each could find refuge. The conditions were cramped and turnover was high. Relationships were not part of the Hope House experience. She had food and water and the attendants tried to be as nice as a 20:1 orphan to caretaker ratio would allow. They were fed well and given play time outside. Fights would break out routinely, so Mimi kept her distance from the others. Trust would be a slow life skill to acquire.
Mimi only knew of a bleak environment, so it did not get the poor rating it deserved. She was unhappy and lonely, an unfortunate result of never having felt differently. The best Hope House experiences were visitors. Unbeknownst to Mimi, these were potential foster parents or adopters. Visits were made in an austere “meeting room” with a couch and table. There was a box of toys to play with while they were being observed (and judged).
Sherry was Mimi’s caregiver. Mimi liked her and wished she could have spent more time with her, but she had many others to look after. Sherry came and got Mimi one day and seemed very excited.
When they entered the meeting room, a young couple got up from the couch. Sherry beamed and approached the couple with her hand extended.
“Welcome to Hope House. I’m Sherry and you must be Phil and Ophelia Tharen , right?”
Mimi was shy by nature and stayed near the door unsure of how to react. Sherry provided her cue, “Come here, Mimi. Meet your new friends.”
Ophelia added, “Come here, dear. We are here to help.”
Mimi walked over and leaned against Sherry’s thigh. She looked up at Phil and O. It took less than a minute of smiles and praise for a match to be confirmed. Young orphaned Mimi was going to be a member of the Tharen family!
The Tharen’s lived in a rural section of New Haven. They both were professors at Yale University living in a comfortable Tudor style home. This gave them summers off – an ideal situation to acclimate their new family member.
Mimi was overwhelmed by her new arrangement. The house had numerous rooms and a spacious backyard to play in. O showed her around, talking the whole time. She gave Mimi reassuring touches saying, “You’re going to love it here little girl. We’re going to do everything we can to make you as comfortable as possible.”
After a few weeks, Mimi had mixed feelings. Her living conditions were far more comfortable and Phil and O had been very nice to her. However, she did not have anyone to play with. She even missed having roommates despite never paying much attention to them. She was under watchful eyes all the time. She had to remain upbeat even after being reprimanded for doing things that were never noticed at Hope House. She was so accustomed to being on her own, constant attention was becoming an unwanted adjustment.
Mimi was out in the yard playing. She hadn’t noticed O slipping into the house and returning with a woman. O called Mimi over and said, “Mimi, this is our neighbor Flo. She has a new girl too. Do you want to meet her?”
O took Mimi’s indifference as a yes. Flo the neighbor disappeared through the back door and came back with her new charge in tow. She looked at Mimi and said, “This is Lucy; she’s just about your age!”
Lucy gave Mimi a push prompting Mimi to scamper into the yard. Lucy continued shoving her until Mimi ran to the corner of the yard. Unfazed, she chased after Mimi and pounced on her. Mimi let out a shriek. Lucy had raked her across the face. O and Flo took notice and realized this play date was not going as hoped.
“Lucy!” Flo yelled. “That is inappropriate behavior. Come here please.”
Lucy trotted over with no sign of remorse. “Sorry O,” said Flo as she escorted Lucy through the door.
O replied “It’s ok. It’s a learning curve for all of us. We’ll need to be more careful next time.”
O stroked Mimi’s hair and apologized profusely. It was clear she felt bad. She realized she was new at this Mom stuff and had made a mistake. Mimi became more anxious. Something had to change.
The change came soon enough. Ophelia was watching Mimi play in the yard through the kitchen window, when Phil had called out, “Dear O, come see this. I’m reading an interesting article on dealing with aggressive behavior of orphans. It might help to get Mimi and Lucy to play nicely together.”
O glanced out the window and reassured herself that Mimi was content outside so went to see what Phil was reading.
Not knowing or even carrying if O was looking, Mimi found her way to the back fence. The latch was disengaged and the gate opened with a gentle push. Mimi felt a wave of excitement. With no hesitation, she was out the gate and running as fast as she could. She felt liberated.
Mimi roamed for a long time, dread overcoming enthusiasm with each step. Grass yards and open streets were replaced with sidewalks and lots of noise. It smelled different. It was almost like not being outside anymore. She started to run past people. Some, if not most, called to her asking what was wrong or if she needed help. She ignored all the noise and kept moving eventually collapsing in the alley.
Mimi arose and left the alley. She was on her quest to find a better place. Not as confident as yesterday, but still hopeful.
Out on the street, the sidewalk was packed with single-minded folks on their way to work. Surprised at her self-induced plight, she became frightened beyond any experience at Hope House or at the Tharen’s. Everyone started staring at her.
She darted away from prying eyes. She heard sounds of people yelling at her. Stop! Wait! She was in full panic mode and started running again. She wanted to go back to where it wasn’t scary. It was an instantaneous revelation. She wanted to get back to Phil and Ophelia.
The alley spilled into a large parking lot. With a glance behind her, Mimi saw she was being pursued by a handful of people all screaming at her. It was like a pack of Lucys. She looked to the left, then to the right. No! Run straight ahead…right into the arms of a man in uniform. She squealed and squirmed but could not escape the iron grasp of the Policeman. The other pursuers had all caught up. They looked at each other asking, “was she ok?”
The officer asked them to back away and give them space. Mimi continued to wiggle but not as forcefully. Her screams became sobs. A lady cop emerged and started stroking the hair on her sweaty head; reassuring her she was going to be fine. The woman’s touch worked as Mimi passed out, overwhelmed by fear and exhaustion.
Phil had just got out of the shower after a sleepless night when the doorbell rang. His hair still wet, Phil joined O at the door. He looked through the peephole and saw a smiling police officer standing outside the door.
They opened the door and saw a police car parked in front of the house. The officer asked, “Hello. Phil and Ophelia Tharen?”
O lurched in front of her husband and blurted, “Yes! Did you find our Mimi?”
“We sure did Ma’am!” he responded.
He looked over his shoulder at the cruiser and motioned to his female partner and said, “You were very smart to have put a tag on Mimi with your address. You would be surprised how many dogs get lost without any ID.”
Mimi jumped from the back of the police car and raced to the door with her tail wagging. She was home at last.