We hid from the soldiers for days, squeezing into small, tight places, until we found a dirt road—one Mama said was in the Middle of Nowhere. She said she wanted me and the unborn baby as far away from civilization as possible. Or at least what remained of it.
I didn’t understand that then. I was aware of only my fear and Mama’s hand, and the fact that I hadn’t seen Daddy since the day the soldiers ripped him from Mama’s arms one month before.
Mama had cried for days when he’d left, and I did for a day, even though I hadn’t understood.
Now all I have of him is the sound of his jaunty laugh when he’d spin me until I was dizzy. I had liked feeling dizzy then, but after he’d left, and when Mama and I were on the run, feeling dizzy made me homesick for Daddy. And sometimes even for that old warehouse we and so many others called home.
Mama and I traveled for days. She had to stop a lot to rest, sometimes to throw up. Sometimes nothing would come out and she would gag until I felt sick, too. She said it was the baby, and I hated the baby.
But then Mama had her, and I didn’t know how to hate something so tiny. I loved her, especially because Mama let me name her. I named her Rose, because to this day, I’ve still never seen one. Mama used to talk about them all the time, about their beauty and their perfume smell.
A few days after Mama had Rose, she bundled her up in her jacket and we continued to travel. I whined a lot, but Mama told me there was nowhere safe.
Then we saw the abandoned house. It was the only one we’d seen without broken windows and doors. The only one that hadn’t been ransacked. The mountains on the evening we found it were majestic, since the house was nestled right at the base of them. In that moment, I imagined I was a normal little girl, with a normal house in a normal world. Maybe like the one Mama grew up in.
The cupboards weren’t bare, and there were clothes and supplies. Even lots of books, which I still read now. There were even chickens and farming equipment outback, a shiny red wheelbarrow catching my eye. It wasn’t until our second day there that Mama found the body. The man was as white as the chickens and covered in wrinkles; Mama said he’d died from old age. She buried him out back, behind the chicken coop, and I helped cover him in dirt.
She shed tears. When I asked her why she was crying, she said it was because she wished I knew the value of a life, wished that seeing a dead body wasn’t something so normal for me. And again, I didn’t understand.
Eventually, tears turned into smiles, and smiles into laughter. I wasn’t so homesick for Daddy anymore, or even the warehouse. We were happy, and Mama even swung me around until I was dizzy.
Jennie is a published author of paranormal fiction, a lover of fairy tales, and an avid supporter of the Oxford comma.