Hell And Back(8)

By: Natasha Madison

I don’t say anything, afraid of what will come out of my mouth. I nod, turning to walk out the door, closing it quietly so as not to wake Lilah.

I close my eyes, exhaling the breath I didn’t even realize I was holding.

I don’t even have my thoughts all in order when I hear another voice beside me, “She’s barely holding on while fighting for her life. She has demons. They both do. Whatever happened to them, it’s in there deep. Both of them are so scared, you can practically feel the fear coming off of them.”

I look over at Brenda, who is on her porch watering her plants.

“Tread lightly, Jackson, or better yet walk away if you aren’t going to do anything about it.”

I don’t have a chance to respond as Brenda walks into her house, closing her front door softly, leaving me fighting my own demons.

Chapter Five

I sit in that spot Jackson left us in long after I hear the lawnmower stop.

My thoughts drift over the great day this started out to be.

Brenda brought us to a big Wal-Mart Super Store. It was a ‘one shop stop.’

Lilah’s eyes grew so big once we got to the toy aisle. I couldn’t say no when I saw something I knew she loved. Case in point the plastic table and chairs that are now on the porch. Along with five coloring books, crayons, colored pencils, markers, Play-Doh, and one beautiful cabbage patch doll. Yup, to say I went overboard is the understatement of the year, but fuck did it feel good to be able to give her that.

Next was the food. We filled two carts. It almost looked like we were getting ready for the apocalypse, and maybe we were, but for the first time in a long time, I had a kitchen, I had money for food, and I actually had food to cook in it. I was going to be cooking every day from now on.

Brenda was the one who did all the talking. She kept telling me stories about her and Nan. I felt somewhat closer to Nan listening to those stories.

McDonald’s was its own adventure. Lilah couldn’t believe they actually gave you a toy with the food. She was so afraid to love it for fear of it being taken away. So when Brenda gave it to her with a loving smile, she took it and hid it beside her.

She’s learned never to get attached to things because they were always taken away from her at one point or another. One year, I saved to get her one of those dolls with the stroller. She had it for a week before one of Adam’s friends fell on it while he was high and then they set the doll on fire.

When we made it home, I quickly put away all the food. We had abundance, and it felt so good. I also found Nan’s recipe box with all her recipes from when I grew up. Chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, sugar cookies, banana bread, lemon loaf, all the recipes that she made during my childhood. It was something that I would now give to Lilah.

“Look at this, baby girl, Nan’s recipes for cookies. How about we go outside, you can color, and Mommy can mow the lawn? Then maybe we could make us some of those cookies?”

She smiled up at me, giving me her answer without saying anything.

Making our way outside, I knew it would be hard since I still had bruises on me so going out in shorts was not even an option. So I put on my long pants with a long-sleeved shirt. I grabbed a hat to help cover me from the sun.

It took me nearly forty-five minutes to figure out how the fuck this lawnmower machine worked. I read and reread the directions.

I mean, how hard could it possibly be to pull the string to get it started? When it finally did start, I let out a squeal of joy at the same time that Lilah clapped for me and said, “Good job, Momma, you did it!”

“I so did it, baby girl. Why don’t you color me a picture we can put on the fridge inside and also one for Ms. Brenda that we can bring over to her later?”

She nodded, her pigtails bouncing with the movement.

I was mowing the lawn for maybe ten minutes before a shadow came over me. I turned to look up—way up—into furious, blue eyes. We maybe exchanged a couple of words till the great day ended.

I’m not even sure what happened when I heard the screeching sounds from Lilah next to me. Her hands on her ears, I did the only thing I know to do. I grabbed her and searched for a hiding place.

I know I can’t outrun anyone, but I’m still going to try my hardest to do it.

I made it to the corner right behind the couch and huddled myself over her until I felt heat by my legs. I knew Jackson had followed me in.

I’ve known him for a day, but just having him here brings me a disconcerting bit of peace, which is stupid since I know better.

Which brings me to now, two hours later, and I’m pulling myself up to put Lilah in her bed. I don’t think she’ll wake up for pizza. I tuck her in and go downstairs to wash up. I still smell like grass and gasoline.

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