The following is a short story completed in early 2013. All rights reserved, Candace Howze.
I ran away on my little sister’s birthday. My younger sister Natalie had a party at the local movie theater. There were a lot of screaming kids and Natalie spent most of the time avoiding all the activities in which she was supposed to be the center of attention. Mom entertained the parents, Dad retreated into his PalmBuddy in the corner of the room, Jessie fielded questions from the older women about her college plans, and I stayed behind the table of refreshments serving tired parents and hyper kids. It was the worst three hours of my life.
I had just cut Ms. Parker’s third slice of cake when Jessie walked over to me and shook her head.
“Natalie is so quiet. It’s her birthday and she’s not even doing anything.”
I slammed the pitcher of lemonade on the table and shoved a plastic cup full of pink juice at someone’s small child. He had chocolate frosting all on his chin and his nose was running. Usually I would have found this amusing but today I wanted to scream Where is your mother?
“I would like to know why we’re in a movie theater and no one is watching any movies,” I said.
Jessie shrugged. “Go figure.” She looked around the table. “Is there any sweet tea in—”
“Jessie! I heard you’re going to Crawford this fall!” Mrs. Baker came over—all 600 pounds of her. Yes, that is an overstatement but it seemed incredibly accurate at the time.
I surveyed the room looking for my mother, who was in discussion with the manager of the theater, a short man with lots of curly hair and a thick moustache. He was shifting his weight and eyeing a little girl who was climbing on the video game console by the door. A young couple walked through the lobby and glared at us. They will probably never want children after seeing this, I thought.
Dad was walking outside to take a phone call, of course he was. My father worked himself out of our lives, as I liked to say. He was home for the weekends, most holidays, and everything else one would consider important like graduations and birthdays. He paid all the bills. He called often to say he loved us, but I wondered what that meant. Most things my dad said were just words.
Natalie was sitting by herself on the bench near the bathrooms. Her hair was curled; my mother made me do it that morning. She was wearing the pink dress and white shoes our grandma had sent. Her arms were locked around her knees and all I could think about was how small she was. I couldn’t remember being her age.
Suddenly a scream emerged from down the hall. I turned around to see that the boy with the chocolate chin had spilled juice all over himself. My mother frowned at me and gestured toward him. Did she really just tell me to go get him? Again, where was his mother?
I walked over to the boy and took him in the bathroom to clean him up. When we came back to the lobby nothing had improved and suddenly that was the only thing that mattered. I grabbed my purse and quietly snuck out the back entrance of the theater. This was not a new idea. Most nights I couldn’t sleep because my mind was filled with the many ways I would make my escape. It was my dream. Some nights I climbed out the window, or the front door. Some days I just didn’t return from school. Today I actually did it. I left the two people who made me, I left my sisters, I left the neighborhood women who didn’t want to watch their own kids, I left the theater we were probably about to get kicked out of, I left my responsibilities, and I left my source of misery.
About four hundred yards from the theater I heard Natalie call my name. I turned around and she was standing behind me holding her sparkly purple headband. We had spent all week making that headband and she always got upset when it came loose.
“My headband is bwoken,” she said.
I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t ask her why she hadn’t asked someone else to help her. I didn’t complain. I stooped down to fix the headband, picked her up, and walked back to the theater.