Seasons by Aubrey Medina Gaines

      The seasons are changing again. Momma tells me it’s time to leave. We’re always leaving. That’s why I think of my life in seasons. Spring: new beginnings for me and momma. Summer: a time to make friends and play; I’m safe. Fall: time to move again, and very lonely. Winter: cold nights and struggles. Despite my lonesomeness in the fall, it’s my favorite season. The changing of the leaves, the spicy smell of the air, the bite of cold air in the mornings and evenings. It is the only time I truly feel safe.
     Why is our life like this? The way the police lady explained it was that my birth father was angry at my momma for taking me away from him. That’s really not what happened. Momma said that poppa couldn’t have children, so they adopted me. The man they adopted me from had lost his wife when she was giving birth to me. He was angry at me. He wanted to hurt me and momma. So we had to move. Constantly. Because last time he got to us, he killed poppa. Smashed his head in with an iron poker. The ones we used to use for the fire. I still have nightmares about it.
     I pack my big blue suitcase and zip it up. Momma comes in my room, bearing gifts. A cup of hot cider, my new black coat, and my favorite beanie. She sets the cup down and helps me put on my coat and adjusts the beanie accordingly. Kissing my head, she murmurs, “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
     I pat her cheek, “It’s okay, Momma. I understand.”
     She smiles sadly and hands me the cup, taking my suitcase in return. I follow her out the door and look behind me one last time. The room that had been mine for a year, it stands empty. Somehow, it looks bigger and sadder. Everything does. The kitchen is cold, when it’s usually warm. The front room is barren, when just last week it held all my favorite games and toys. Even momma’s room seems to sigh as we leave. The front door creaks its final goodbye.
     We walk out to the old red jeep. I watch as momma struggles to load the heavy suitcases. When she finishes, she loads me up in the backseat, double checking that the straps are tight on my car seat. I might be seven, but I am tiny for my age. Momma slides in the front and brushes her long, dark hair out of her face with her elegant, pale fingertips. I’ve always seen Momma as a goddess. The way her hair looks in a braid, her pale blue eyes, her flawless skin, even her bright smile. It all reminds me of the goddesses I saw in my picture books.
     Which reminds me, “Momma, where is my storybook?”
She sighs as we pull onto the freeway. “In the back. I’ll get it when we stop, okay? And maybe we can get a few snacks, too.”
     “Okay,” I say. She turns on the radio. Rock comes through the speakers. It sounds angry. Momma never use to listen to angry music. At least, not before poppa died. Back then, she listened to softer, happy music. I don’t mind. I can always close my eyes and make up stories—ones where we don’t have to move. Ones where poppa always comes home for supper and calls me ‘princess’ when he tucks me in at night with a soft kiss on my head.
     Sleep takes over. The dreams come one after another. In the first, I sit on a beach in a pink swimsuit. Momma sits next to me, in an orange one, with a book in her hand. The sky is grey above us, giving off an eerie feeling. I move, rather against my will, to the water. The sand squishes cold against my toes. I walk into the shallow part where the water goes up to my knees. I can feel the slimy creatures below the surface, brushing and pushing against my legs. Suddenly, something bites me.
     A dark shadow creeps over my vision. The second dream begins. I am back in the park where poppa used to take me. The leaves are yellowing, preparing to jump from the trees. The autumn crocuses are blooming by the pond, giving off sharp bursts of light purple and pink. I walk over, bend down, and inhale their light scent. I hear a familiar chuckle behind me, “Careful, now, princess. If you sniff too hard, they’ll go up your nose.”
     I whip my head around and find a tall man sitting cross-legged in the grass. He is wearing blue jeans and a blue button-up. His warm skin seems to be glowing in the sunlight and his playful brown eyes stare at me, a smile dancing across his lips. I launch myself at him. “Poppa!”
     He catches me in a hug and falls onto his back, “Oh! My little girl. How I missed you so!”
     I reach up and kiss his cheek, “Poppa! I missed you, too. What are you doing here?”
     “What? I can’t come and visit you?” he pouts, in his silly way. He sits up and holds me in his lap. There is a long stretch of silence before he speaks again, “Princess, I need you to take care of momma for me. Okay?”
     “I already do,” I say. I have to. I cook her breakfast, toast and cereal, and play games with her, and tell her I love her. What does he mean? Everything starts to get fuzzy. I clutch his shirt tight as he starts fading, “No, Poppa. Don’t go!”
     “I love you, Princess,” he whispers. He fades away. I am now sitting on the couch between Momma and Poppa, in our old house. The fire crackles, casting an orange glow over the wood floors. Somebody starts pounding on the door. Momma and Poppa look to the entry hall. I know this dream, I think. I try to warn them, but like the dumb baby I had been at the time, I clutch Momma’s hand tightly. She looks at Poppa. “Don’t.”
     “I’ll be fine. It could be the neighbors,” he says, soothingly. She nods and picks me up, carrying me to the base of the stairs. “I’m going to get Detective George on the phone, just in case.”
     He looks at me, “Princess, why don’t you go to your room? I’ll bring you some pie in a little. Maybe we can watch a movie, too.”
     “Okay, Poppa,” I mutter angrily, for my storytime has been interrupted. I march upstairs, listening to the conversation downstairs. I make it to my room and close the door. I sit on the blue bedspread and swing my legs. I hear the door open a crack. A rough and unfamiliar voice speaks, “Where is she?”
     “I’m sorry, where is who?” Poppa plays it off, smoothly. The rough voice got louder, “Don’t lie to me. I know who you are! Where is the little girl? Where is she?”
     It scares me so bad that I flinch. I get off the bed and crawl to the tiny cubby hole in my closet. It is hidden just so that I can see my whole room, but nobody can see me without digging. I hear Poppa calmly speak, “Look, I don’t know who you are, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave before I call the cops.”
     I hear footsteps come up the stairs and my door opens. Momma walks in and makes a beeline to my spot, “It’s time to go. Come on. And be quiet.”
     She lifts me off the ground and holds me against her side. I hear the rough voice, “Don’t threaten me.”
     Momma creeps along the wall to the stairs. We’ll be taking the downstairs back entrance, I guess. Suddenly, there is a loud commotion. The door slams open. I know it isn’t Poppa; he always scolds me when I let it slam against the wall. Poppa is now shouting, “Hey! Somebody, call the cops! You can’t be in here.”
     Momma peaks around the corner, all sneaky like. I see Poppa go flying into the living room. His body lands with a horrible thud against the couch. His nose is bleeding as he gets up. The intruder enters the room. He is tall, with dark skin, and a bald egg head. His eyes are full of fury and pain, and he gets in a fighting stance. This man, whoever he is, is dangerous. He stalks towards Poppa, “I’ll ask you one last time. Where is the girl?”
     “I’ll tell you one more time,” Poppa says bravely, “I. Will. Never. Tell.”
     The intruder loses it. He screams at Poppa and tackles him to the ground. Fists are flying. Blood splatters on the floor. I am going to be sick. Momma covers my mouth and tries to turn me away, but I can still see. Momma is visibly shaking as Poppa gets the man in a headlock. The bigger man is gasping for air, but Poppa won’t let him go. I see a shiny thing in the man’s hand. I wants so badly to cry out to Poppa, to warn him, but I can’t. The man shoves the knife into Poppa’s thigh. Poppa lets him go and screams.
     There are now puddles of blood on the floor. Poppa has a black eye, a busted lip, and bruises up and down his arms and torso. The other man has deep scratches on his face and a red mark on his neck, along with a few bruises on himself, too. I watch in horror as Poppa pulls the knife out of his thigh. Blood flows freely, now. He throws the knife with deadly accuracy. It catches the man’s shoulder, probably severing a few important blood vessels. I struggle against Momma. She pulls me back around the corner and whispers, “I need you to run and hide. No matter what, don’t come downstairs. Wait for me. I’ll find you.”
     With that, she sets me down and starts creeping to the back room, where Poppa’s safe is. I peek around the corner again and see that Poppa and the man are fighting again. It looks like Poppa is going to win. He is fighting with the ferocity of a thousand lions. But, the other man is cunning. He shoves his hand into Poppa’s knife wound. Poppa tries to pull away, tears pouring down his face, and falls to the ground. I can’t see the man anymore, but I see Poppa. And he sees me.
     Run, he mouths. That’s when the other man returns, raising the iron fire poker, and bringing it down on Poppa’s skull, again and again. I hear the horrible sound of metal on bone, and in that instant I know Poppa is dead. I hear a scream, and the sound of a gun firing. But all I see is Poppa, who now lies shattered on the ground. I feel a hand on my knee and wake up with a start. Momma is staring at me with worry in her eyes. I look around, my breathing heavy. I am sweating and my hair is matted to my forehead. I can feel the tears trickle down my face. I look back at Momma, “It happened again. I saw him. I saw it happen.”
     She frowns and unbuckles me, pulling me into her arms. She rocks me back and forth, letting me cry on her shoulder. When I finally stop crying, she whispers, “It’s all right. They found him. We left just in time.”
     “Where did they find him?” I ask. She frowns, “He was at the old house. But we’re safe now. We don’t have to hide anymore.”
     I smile, because for the first time in a long time, I feel safe. I know that I will be okay. Momma can finally stop worrying about leaving me alone. Not that she ever would, but I know that it has to count for something. Behind her, I see an oak tree, with its leaves already falling. One lands on the ground not far from where we are. I smile to myself, because the seasons are changing. And this time, maybe for the better.

Back to TOC