This story is by Michael Hotchkiss and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Mimi was abandoned at birth. She had spent the bulk of her young life at a facility called Hope House for orphans so was no stranger to tough living. The mission of Hope House was to find residents a foster home or adoptive parents.
Mimi was small for her age. They were fed decently and given play time outside. She was kept in a square space with four occupants matching the four corners where each would find refuge; their safe place.
The conditions were cramped and turnover was high, so relationships were not part of the growing process. Neglect spawned cruel behavior as demonstrated by her fellow orphans. Fights would break out routinely, so Mimi kept her distance from the others. Trust would be a slow life skill to acquire.
Mimi had no recollection of any other living condition, so what was a bleak environment did not get the poor rating it deserved. She wasn’t happy but didn’t know it – having never felt differently. The best Hope House experience were visitors who were potential foster parents or even adopters. Introductions were made in a furnished “meeting room” with couches and tables.
Mimi’s personal attendant was named Sherry. 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 about something. They were heading to the meeting room.
When they entered, a young couple got up from the couch. Sherry beamed and approached the couple with her hand extended.
“Hello, I’m Sherry and you must be the Tharens – Phillip and Ophelia, right?”
“Why yes, we are. Please call us Phil and O.”
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.”
Sensing Sherry’s calm, Mimi walked over and leaned against her thigh for comfort. She looked up at Phil and O. It only took minutes of smiles and praise for a match to be confirmed. Mimi was going to be a member of the Tharen family!
Phil and O 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 instantly overwhelmed. The Tharen house was enormous. There was a large backyard to run and play. Ophelia showed her the house. 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 exceedingly nice to her. However, she did not have anyone to play with. She even missed having roommates despite not paying attention to those she had lived with at Hope House. She had constant adult supervision and was being taught so many rules. The easy life was a struggle. It seemed as if she had to always be upbeat even after she was reprimanded for doing things that weren’t even noticed at Hope House.
Time went by and Mimi couldn’t shake the strange feeling of being overly doted upon. She was supervised when she went out to play. She hadn’t seen anyone her own age since she left Hope House. She was accustomed to being on her own; this was becoming an adjustment she wasn’t sure she wanted. She was suffocating.
Mimi was out in the yard playing. She hadn’t noticed O slipping into the house returning with another lady. O called Mimi over and said, “Mimi, this is our neighbor Sue. She has a new adoptee too! Do you want to meet her?”
O took Mimi’s indifference as a yes. Sue 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 light push prompting Mimi to scamper into the yard. Lucy continued shoving her until she ran to the corner of the yard. Corners were safe, right? Unfazed, she chased after Mimi and pounced on her. Mimi let out a shriek. Lucy had raked her across the face. O and Sue took notice and realized this play date was not going as hoped.
“Lucy!” Sue yelled. “That is inappropriate behavior. Come here please.”
Lucy trotted over to Sue with no sign of remorse.
“Sorry O,” said Sue 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 head and apologized profusely. She realized she was new at this Mom stuff and had made a mistake. Mimi became more anxious. Did she really prefer Hope House? No, but something had to change.
The opportunity came the next day. 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 the aggressive behavior of orphans. It might help getting Mimi and Lucy to play nice 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 awoke from an exhaustion induced slumber. Reality was creeping in amid the fog of a bad dream or a horrible memory; she wasn’t sure which. She had spent the night in an alley using a partially full trash bag as a pillow and cardboard boxes as a mattress and blanket. Her consciousness rose with the lifting fog. She was determined to find somewhere to go without rules or reprimands for reasons she did not understand. She gathered herself and set off.
Out on the New Haven streets, it was the start of a work day and the sidewalk was packed with single-minded folks on their way to work. Surprised to go unnoticed, she was nonetheless frightened beyond any experience at Hope House or at the Tharens’.
Mimi needed to find space. She darted down another alley to get away from the throng. She heard sounds of people yelling, Stop! Wait! She was in full panic mode and started running again. She had to get away. 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 for her to stop. It was like a bunch of Lucies coming to jump on her. Look to the left, look to the right. 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, “Is she ok? What is she doing out roaming the streets?”
The officer asked them all to back away and give them space. Mimi continued to wiggle but not as forcefully. Her screams became sobs. A female cop showed up and started stroking the hair on her sweaty head and reassuring her she was going to be fine. The woman’s touch worked as Mimi passed out from the emotion of fear and the physical exhaustion of running away.
It was the morning after. Phil had returned from an all-night futile search. He had just gotten out of the shower when the doorbell rang. His hair still wet, Phil joined his sobbing wife in answering the door. Phil looked through the peephole and saw a police officer standing outside the door. Oddly, he was smiling.
They opened the door. Over the shoulder of the Policeman, they saw a police car parked in front of the house.
O lurched in front of her husband and blurted, “Officer! Did you find our Mimi?”
“We sure did Ma’am!” he responded.
He looked over his shoulder at the cruiser and motioned to his partner that they were in the right place. The female officer opened the door for Mimi. The cop before them 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.