“The window was tinted, but I could see a few officers talking. One of them was the same officer that had come to my house. He was walking on a brace, and a bandage was on his nose. He shot me a look that could kill”
I dipped my feet in the water. It was cold and unrefreshing, like dipping my feet into a cold ice bucket. I was sitting on a dock jutting out of the shore and into the lake. Thick muck lined the dock, another way the lake was gross. The lake was almost entirely undeveloped, the only houses were my aunt’s, whose dock I was on, and another house on the other side of the lake, the good side, the side that didn’t have as much muck. That house belonged to the millionaire who resided on the lake, and had had all the other houses in various states of decomposition demolished to make a more “authentic” view. My aunt was the only neighbor to petition it, so her house stayed.
A bit further down the lake, a heron landed on a log. The first time I had seen one was only a few days ago, when I first came to this dump. There is almost no wildlife in the thick, polluted city I came from. The dock gave a creak when I moved to a different position. It, like all the other things my aunt owned, was in desperate need of repair.
I sighed, and heaved myself up. I walked down the dock, which protested as I did so, and stepped onto solid land. A little ways from the dock, and past a few scrawny trees (one of which supported a hammock that would surely break if I even tried to sit on it) was the house. The house was painted a pale shade of pink, the paint chipping away in places, revealing the dull layer beneath it. Beside the house was the ruins of an outhouse, that my aunt hadn’t even bothered to get rid of. Money was tight here, so she basically disregarded anything that might need money to fix. On the gravel driveway leading to the street (if it could even be called a street) there was an old stationwagon she only uses probably once or twice a year.
I walked up to the house, and opened the screen door inside. It screeched behind me. The inside looked like everything there could be sold at an auction. The old TV that didn’t play in color and had seven channels, the ancient kitchen equipment, and the photographs that you couldn’t really tell what they were. “Aunt Shelly! Where are you, you ancient hag!” She didn’t mind insults. I tried again, no response. “That old women probably died,” I muttered under my breath. I loudly walked to her bedroom, half expecting her to be dead in her bed. Then, at least I could go back home to where I belonged. Home, to the filthy streets and overcrowdedness and where you had to be tough to make it past day one.
I swung open the door to her bedroom, making an extra loud bang as it collided with the wall. I marched to her bed, and pulled back the covers. But she was not there. That was surprising. She almost never left her bed, and if she did then only to go to the bathroom. “Aunt Shelly! I was wondering if you would like to do something that is not sitting around and doing nothing, you weirdo!” No response. Oh well, I guess I could watch some TV. I marched over to the TV, with its long antenna. After a bit of looking, I found the remote. It was static for a while, then changed to something in black and white. The food channel. Of course, the only channel that worked today was the food channel. I shut it off in disgust. I liked cooking about as much as I liked being fed to cobras. That reminded me, it was about time for lunch. After a few seconds of intense debate, I decided to see what she had in the way of food. So far, Aunt Shelly had fed me only leftovers, none of which were anything I liked. I swung open the door, but the only things she had were two raw eggs. I slammed the door and yelled as hard as I could, “Aunt Shelly! Come here right now or else…or else…just come here, ok!? I’m really hungry!” That should get her to come. I groaned loudly and walked to the door, slamming it over and over, making enough noise for someone to hear on the other side of the lake. Of course, the only people there would be the millionaire and his two stuck-up kids.
I went back to the fridge, and saw something I hadn’t seen there before. It was a note. It was written in big unstable handwriting, like whoever wrote it’s hand was shaking. It read:
I’m not feeling so well, so I decided to go down the street to go to the doctor. The car has a flat tire so I’m going there on foot. If you want you can heat something up for lunch. Be back soon,
That was truly strange. She would never get there on foot. She could barely walk to the dock, much less go down the street. Even though I hated her, I decided to go after her. Just to make sure that weirdo was ok. Just this one time. I walked down the driveway, past the station wagon. Sure enough, several of the wheels were deflated. No wonder when she had picked me up a few days ago it had felt weird. The street was entirely wooded, the only house on the street was my aunt’s. There were more houses, before the stupid millionaire decided to kick everyone out. I looked both ways, and to the right I saw some commotion. I could see several police cars, an ambulance, and lots of people. I jogged over there, but a burly policeman stopped me. “Sorry, but you can’t come any further. We have been investigating a, well, death here.”
“Why? Whose? It couldn’t be my… No, no, it can’t be.” I tried to push past him, but a large arm held me back.
“Go back home, kid. The victim was very elderly, anyway.” I slipped away from him, and with one look in that direction, ran back to the house.
I slammed the door on its rusty hinges, and rushed to the wall-mounted phone. I was about to reach for the numbers of someone — anyone when I realized that this was not a new phone. It was one of those old spinning phones. How do you work these things? After a few spins, I gave up trying. Maybe that person in the street was not her, as I had suspected. Maybe there is no need to call the cops. Since when did I care about her so much, anyway? She was just a weird, old lady who I never even heard of until only a few days ago. I could feel my self-consciousness at work. But still, she was my aunt.
I walked over to the shed to clear my mind. The shed was in the back, near the woods. She kept lots of junk in there, from pool toys to fishing rods. The one thing that didn’t stink here was fishing. The fish were abundant here, so it made for great fishing. I took one of the poles, and made my way over to the dock. Just as I was about to cast my string, I was interrupted by some commotion on the other side of the lake. It looked like the millionaire was water skiing. I saw his sleek silver speedboat rush along the other side, pulling someone on water skis. It must be his children. They were always about on the lake. For a moment, I felt a stream of anger. Why do they get to do that, and I have to be stuck on this *** dock?! It isn’t fair!
I sighed as the anger left my body. Fishing wasn’t working today. I had been waiting for a while, and didn’t feel even the slightest tug. I stood up, and the dock gave way. I was plunged into icy cold water. So cold, it felt like there were a thousand tiny knives piercing my body. I lost hold of the pole, and it sunk into the endless gunk on the bottom. No way was I going after that. I cursed under my breath, and swam to the rocks lining the shore. How do the kids stand this? I had left a gaping body-shaped hole in the dock. That would be hard to fix. I looked over, and the heron from before was still perched on the log, dripping into the water. It gave me a funny look. “What are you looking at?” I picked up a rock from the sediment and threw it at the bird. It flew off. I pulled myself up onto the rocks, and lay on my back, dripping cold water, staring at the white puffy clouds barely visible over the canopy of trees. In the distance, the clouds were turning grey. A storm was brewing.
The clouds were transforming fast to grey. I heard the motorboat go in, and the noise silenced. I should go in, but I felt compelled to stay here. I still lay down on my back. I stayed until it was obvious that I should go, when sheets of rain was pouring down, and threatening rumbles of thunder were heard. I stood up, and slowly made my way to the house. But before I went inside, I decided to see what had happened by the street. I made my way down the driveway, struggling to see in the heavy downpour. The dirt street was so muddy it wasn’t even really walkable. All the cars had left, and there was nobody there. I sighed and made my way back. I went inside, the rust-covered screen door protesting. I was even wetter, thanks to the rain. Aunt Shelly didn’t mind me trailing mud in the house, so I walked in. My T-shirt and jeans were all muddy, and my wild hair had incorporated brown mud into the usually dirty blonde.
I stomped over to a chair across from the tv and just sat there, bored. I went to my room, across from Shelly’s room. It was small, with a faded blue sheet over the springy bed. I lay down on it, gazing up at the cracked ceiling. My bags were strewn all over. When she picked me up, she had trouble fitting everything in the car. I remember that day clearly. I had come on a plane, all the way from my city. My parents had been thought unsuitable to raise me. It was kind of true. My dad has been in prison, ever since he committed a crime before I was even born. I didn’t even know where he was, or what he did; my Mom stayed away from that subject. And my Mom, left alone, had to juggle three jobs in order to keep a roof over our heads. And when work was slow, sometimes we didn’t have a roof over our heads. College was out of the question. So I was sent here, to my only relative, in hopes that she could clear me of my life in the city. They might of been right about my parents being unsuitable, but sending me here was not suitable.
I awoke to the sound of banging at the door. I gazed out of the window. The rain had stopped, and the ground had that quality of being moist after it had just rained. I must have dozed off. The banging stopped, then there was more knocking. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, then yelled “Coming!” as I stomped over to the door. Outside was the same burly policeman who had held me back before. He towered over me, a giant compared to me. He cleared his throat, and said, “We need to talk.”
I ushered him inside, and he sat down in the same chair I had sat on. It was all muddy, but hopefully he wouldn’t notice. I sat down on the ages-old sofa beside it. “So,” I ventured.
He raised one eyebrow, unimpressed by me and my mud-caked clothes. He cleared his throat again, and said, “Miss Figelhimer, I think we have some things to discuss.” I was too nervous to ask what those things were, so I just nodded.
“Earlier today, there was an unfortunate event regarding your aunt.” I knew what was coming. “She apparently was trying to reach a medical facility when she collapsed. She had apparently been suffering heart problems, and was very elderly. I’m very sorry.”
He didn’t look sorry. He looked smug and cold. All the rage I had felt seemed to erupt at that time. She was dead. And for some strange reason, I was sad. I was sad not just for her but that with no other relatives, I would have to face the army of social workers I had so narrowly avoided by coming here. I would never see my mom again and be condemned to foster homes.
The policeman went home that day with a broken nose and a sprained ankle. I guess all that anger just had to go someplace. I, on the other hand wasn’t doing so well either. Right after I had my encounter with the policeman, I had fled the house. There were not really any places for me to go, so I had just went along the side of the lake. I had found refuge in an overturned rowboat a ways down from the house. I was starving. Never before had I been so hungry. My clothes smelled of mud. I curled up in a ball under the boat. The sky was beginning to darken. Over on the other side, I saw bright lights shining like headlights, and loud music. The millionaire must be having a party. One that I was not invited to. Why would I be? I crawled out of the boat. Beside me, the same heron was staring at me from a log. “Get lost!” I yelled, but then realized I should not have. I didn’t really want to be caught. It didn’t budge. It stared at me with that same dumb stare. With any luck, I would be having heron for dinner tonight. I threw a rock at it. It flew away.
I stood up. The boat was near the edge of a clearing, one that might have contained a house at one point, the lake only a few yards away. The boat was blue with a black bottom, and two oars hanging limply from the pegs. I stood up, but then with a sharp pang of hunger, sat down. I had not eaten since last breakfast. I was kind of out of options. I felt tears coming, but quickly brushed them aside. I lay down in the boat, staring up at the purple-streaked sky above me through a hole in the boat. The clouds were highlighted with evening sunlight, but before I knew it, the gleam disappeared and the sun went down, disappearing over the rounded hills in the background. The night sounds were coming on, and somewhere in the trees behind me I heard the soft sounds of a owl. I tried to close my eyes, but the anxiety and hunger was keeping me awake. I think I did eventually fall asleep, but most of the night was just spent drawing patterns in the sand in the boat and reflecting on the troubles of my life.
I was lying in the sand face down when the first streams of sunlight filtered through the hole in the center of the boat. I let out a small whimper. I stood up, temporarily forgetting that there was a boat over my head and CRASH! The boat flipped over from the impact of my head, which throbbed painfully. I stumbled out of the boat. Then I saw something I didn’t see before. At the head of the boat, there was a small door. It was so dark last night that I hadn’t noticed it before. Yes! I went over to it. Being so excited, I somehow found the strength to stand up. I went over to the door, and stuck my hand in. But the only things in there were a few twigs. Nothing. There was nothing. I felt my face fall with disappointment. I sighed. It was time to move on. I took one last glance at the boat, and walked towards the woods, away from my now late aunt’s house.
Almost immediately the strength I had found when discovering the door left me. I fell down face first into a moss bed. I felt tears coming, and this time I didn’t try and stop them. I moaned loudly. I was closer now to the millionaire’s house now. The party he had last night was still going strong. I still heard loud music, and far-away laughter. I lifted my head up, and the bushes in front of me came into focus. Was that what I thought it was? It was! I gruelingly lifted myself to my feet. The bush was a raspberry bush, the raspberries red and plump and ripe. The thorns covered the branches like a red prickly blanket. I shoved my hand at it, getting it full of thorns in the process, but I was too elated to care. I shoved the berries one after another into my mouth, reviving my hunger to last me a bit longer. I also tried to carry some in my dirty shirt for later. My hands felt like they were full of nettles, and I was a bit unhappy that I hadn’t thought to be more careful.
Being alone like this reminded me of my life in the city. Being a single mother, my mom oftentimes didn’t have very much time for me, so I was left to myself. It was worst when we were in the shelter. We didn’t go there very often, and when we did only for a few weeks at a time. When we were not there, we were in various apartments, each cheaper than the last. The shelter was terrible. It was very loud, so when I was there I often fell behind on my schoolwork. It was one of those times when we were in the shelter when the social services took me away, as they did my brother. He was much younger than me, and they put him in foster homes when he was just a baby. I was six. They were going to take me away too, but I proved too difficult to separate.
With my newfound nourishment, I was able to go on. I passed more clearings where I could only assume houses had been. By this time I was able to see my aunt’s house around the bend of the lake. I was also getting closer to the millionaire’s house. His house had three stories, and was built of logs, creating a rustic look. Despite the lake, he had a swimming pool, too. I guess it was for when the lake was too cold to swim in. He had a marina with his speedboat and some kayaks. I had just thought as him “the millionaire” but his actual name was Carlos something, I couldn’t remember his last name. He was retired, but he was a movie actor. I had never seen any of his movies, but he was always winning more awards. He was the kind of person who liked comparing himself to other people just to see how much better he was. There was no way I was asking him for help.
Along the way, I had eaten all the berries I had saved in my shirt. I was back to being hungry. I had drank from the lake, even though it wasn’t very clean. But at least it was something. It was about midday, the hot sun scorching me from above as I hobbled along the shore. Too hot…too hungry. I could only seem to think about the bad things right now. I was hobbling along a narrow stretch of sand bordered by dense forests. I hardly noticed the fact that I was walking in plain view.
Anybody could see me now. Before I had been mostly walking in the woods, so that it would be harder to spot me, but I guess I forgot about that rule. Suddenly, I heard a voice cut through the dense silence like a dagger. “Stop!” it said. It must be the police. They must have caught up with me. I dashed into the woods, but then I felt a hunger so strong that I doubled over, and fell to the ground. I heard footsteps, getting closer. Closer. More yelling. The world was spinning into darkness as I slipped into unconsciousness.
I woke up in the backseat of a police car. The separator was in, so all I could see was the blurry outline of a officer. The window was tinted, but I could see a few officers talking. One of them was the same officer that had come to my house. He was walking on a brace, and a bandage was on his nose. He shot me a look that could kill. However, I didn’t feel even the slightest bit of remorse. The car was parked. The officer suddenly noticed I was up, and quickly got out. I tugged on the door, and to my surprise, it opened. I got out. All heads turned in my direction. I hated every last one of them. Apparently, they were not too fond of me either. The broken nosed officer cleared his throat, and said, “I think you can go home now.”
“Wh – what do you mean?” I stammered. No place was home.
“You can go back to your mother.”
The next two hours were a blur. I remembered going back to the house, and hastily packing up my bags. I took one last look around. Only yesterday, I had hated this place. Now, for some strange reason, I took a liking to it. I still didn’t know why I had to leave it. The policeman hadn’t really given very many details. Why could I go back now? I went outside, bags in the driveway, and sat on the dock, right behind the hole where I had fallen in. I dipped my feet in the water. Strangely, I liked it. I took one last look around, the woods, the millionaire’s house, even my aunt’s own old house. I would miss this place.
The heron was still on the log, still watching me. I smiled at it, and it flew away. I went back to the driveway, where my bags were. Past the car, with it’s sagging tires. The nice social worker (one of the few that I had liked) with brown hair tied up in a bun was waiting for me. To drive me to the airport, to fly to the city. I got in the car. It was a shiny black Volvo. I got into the shotgun seat, and we drove off. As we drove she asked in her nice voice, “Do you know why you are going back?”
“No, not really,” I said.
“Well, this might come as a shock to you, but your Mom can support you now.”
“What- what do you mean?” I said, cautiously.
“She won the lottery.” I froze. “We think it is safe for you to go home now,” she said.
“How much did she win?” I said, barely holding in my excitement.
“Seven million dollars,” she simply said.
The airport was a small building, with only a few flights coming in a week. The inside was pretty nice, though. The social worker waved goodbye at the stairs to the plane, and I boarded alone. It was a nice day, with a virtually cloudless sky.
The airplane was the biggest one leaving that week, and I sat down next to a window. I had been given clean clothes and a shower (a real luxury for someone who usually only showers once every two weeks) and I honestly felt great. I didn’t hear the flight attendant shout safety instructions over the deafening roar of the engines. I was too engulfed in my own happiness to even care. I was still fascinated about airplanes, since when I went here was the only time I had ever gone on one. I was glued to the window in fascination as the plane lifted into the endless blue above.
I think I fell asleep on the plane, because when I woke up the seat belt sign was on and the ground was coming closer. The sky was a darker shade of blue, and in the distance below I could see the tall buildings and dirty streets I called home. Somewhere down there was my mother. I could barely imagine how she was living now, even though we had only been separated for less than a week. She was even richer than the millionaire! We would never have to go to the shelter again.
The plane landed with a bumpy shove. I was glad I had my seatbelt on, or else I would have been propelled into the seat in front of me. The city landscape was nothing like the one we had taken off from. Tall buildings came up from the ground like spikes, and the endless busy bustling on the streets was almost like a welcome home sign.
As I got off the plane, I gagged at the thick, polluted city air. I guess breathing fresh air had mixed me up. I confidently strode into the airport. Surely she would be here to welcome me. I felt a pang of worry as I scanned the airport for her.
Then I saw her.
The rings around her eyes had gone away a bit, and she looked much better than since I had last seen her. Her hair was tied back in a fancy bun, revealing expensive-looking earrings. Her clothes were plain, however. She yeIled, “Kate!” I ran up to her, and I let tears come. Even though we had only been apart for days, it felt like months. Years. We hugged until everyone left, and we were the only ones there.
One Year Later
I sat at the newly-repaired dock, preparing to cast my string. A lot had changed since last year. Aunt Shelly put in her will that we would inherit the lake-house, so we began fixing it up. It was decided that we would live there in the summers and in the city for the rest of the time. We made vast improvements on the house. It is barely recognizable now, and it’s splendor almost matches the millionaire’s house. At the city I started a new private school, and made new friends. I didn’t really have any before. The apartment looks great, and my Mom even went back to college to finish her education. My life has changed for the better.