November 7, 2009

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 7

Chapter 7

The cat swatted her paw at me through the space at the bottom of the door. I pressed my cheek into the floor to see as much as I could of what was on the other side, which wasn't much. The light from downstairs was weak and diffused against the far wall like a last breath.

My head still throbbed. I wiggled my fingertips along my scalp feeling for blood; I found a big goose egg the size of my fist. I didn't remember how it got there.


I scrambled away from the door back into the dark.

Uncle Buck's steps fell hard and slow up the stairs. The cat whined as a shadow divided the bar of light under the door.

I clamped my teeth together and waited.

"Margie," he said. "You ready to come out now?"

"Yes," I tried to say, but my voice got stuck and only air came out.

"We got an understanding?" he said.

I thought of Faye and Winnie. I thought of little Raymond and how scared he'd be if he were the one in the attic instead of me.

I thought of Goldie Beaumont and what awful things she might say to me now, what terrible things she might say to everyone else.

I thought of Mama and what she'd do if she lost her job at the alteration shop, and what it would be like if she sent me for a switch but didn't love me.

And I thought of Daddy. If he ever found out about me and Uncle Buck, he'd be glad he left. There'd be no more cards on my birthday or phone calls on Christmas. He'd never again tell me he missed me or that I was the apple of his eye. He'd finally be able to give all of his love to his new family, and he'd never look back.

"I'm ready," I said. This time, my voice was clear as a bell.

The lock unlatched, and the door creaked open. Uncle Buck's silhouette hung in the door frame. He stood aside and opened his arm toward the stairs.

I swayed to my feet. The blood rushed to my brain, and my legs almost crumpled beneath me. As I shuffled toward the light, warm fluid leaked down my legs. Every step sent pain raking through me from the inside out.

At the threshhold, Uncle Buck stopped me, poking a finger at my chest. "We understand one another?" he asked.

I nodded.

"Tell me, Margie."

I swallowed back a gag and cleared my throat. "Con-fi…con-fi…"

"Confi-denchee-ality," Uncle Buck said. "You keep your word, and I'll keep mine."

I nodded again.

Uncle Buck grinned and stuck out his hand. I flinched.

"We gotta shake on it, friend. Then it's official."

I put my fingertips against his, and he closed his hand around them. The same long, narrow hand that kept me from tumbling over on the lane had a lot more strength in it than anyone could ever imagine.

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