As Momma’s casket disappeared into the earth I clutched Kennedy to my side. Being an instant mother was nothing I’d expected, and yet here I was, my ten year old sister’s sole protection in this whirling insanity. I grit my teeth as the pastor goes on. Kennedy’s sobs into my side make the fabric of my shirt stick to me, and I swallow the impulse to pull away.
“Jenna Strouse,” the pastor says as he closes his book, “loved her daughters. And Mira,” his eyes hold me in place, “she was especially proud of you.”
I bit my lip and nod.
As I drive the deserted streets of Momma’s tiny home town, I wonder if I have done the right thing to bury her here. To uproot Kennedy from everything she knew in the city and move to this spot of nowhere. Community college was a simple thing for me to abandon. I could earn enough money at Grandpa’s shop to keep us fed, and Uncle Sammy was renting us a house at half cost, but would it be enough to make us forget what happened without forgetting Momma?
I carry a comatose Kennedy up the stairs to her room and tuck her in. Smoothing back her hair, I wipe the tear that slips from her nightmare as she begins to twitch and murmur.
“Hush little darling,” Momma’s old rhyme spills from my memory. “It’ll all be done soon. The nightmare is over, and you’ll awake with the moon.” I kiss her forehead and put my lips to her ear. “I’m so sorry.”
In my room I open my suitcase and take out the album I had tucked away when I left home. The clothes I had packed on top of it had kept it dusted, but the spine still cracked as I opened it. Momma smiles at me from the picture with a beer bottle in one hand a cigarette in the other, as I blow out the candles on my eighth birthday cake. Squinting my eyes, I try to look past the smoke at the man in the background. Was that Kennedy’s dad, or another “Uncle,” maybe?
I yelp and grab my heart as my phone vibrates on the nightstand. “Stupid piece of junk.” I pick up the electronic dinosaur and read the name on the flip-phone’s screen. “Sorry, Detective, but I don’t have energy for you.”
Stashing the phone under my pillow, I decide to change Kennedy out of her Sunday dress and into her pajamas.
As I slip her fragile arm from the cloth, I bite my lip. My stomach churns as the pattern of yellow, green, and purple jumps at me from her tender flesh. I carefully trace the outline of Momma’s grip and Kennedy whimpers as my vision blurs.
I shake my head touch her cheek. “Shh.” I feel my arm where similar marks had made their home not so long ago. “She won’t ever drink again, Kennedy. Momma is finally keeping her promise.” I smile as a rare vision of Momma sober flits through my mind. “Forget who Momma was, but not who she wanted to be.”
I pull on Kennedy’s flannel night dress and hold her tight as she begins to thrash in her sleep. Tears stream down both our faces.
“Momma, please.” She says, her eyes shutting tighter.
I rock her. “You’re okay.”
“Mira didn’t mean to drop the vase.”
I hold her closer, my breath catching in my throat. Why can’t she escape that day, even just in sleep?
“Please, Momma, she said she was sorry.”
I feel her stiffen as the dream’s first blow comes. She shudders and squirms back. Her eyes fly open, but I know she doesn’t see me.
“I’m not taking her side, Momma! I—” Her head jerks at the dream’s second blow.
My shoulders tremble as I watch. That day I had fought back, but to wake her now and pull her from Momma’s grasp would mean to put her into a seizure for sure. How much more could she take?
“Momma, stop! You’re hurting her.”
I sigh in relief as the dream suddenly ebbs and she sinks back into the mattress. “Thank the Lord for small mercies.”
In my room I stretch my aching back as I pull on my nightgown. The spring breeze seeps in through the window and wraps me in goosebumps. I retrieve my phone and find another voicemail from the Detective. I call him back and clinch my fist.
“What do you want?”
“You weren’t told you could move.”
“You said I wasn’t a suspect, and I have to take care of Kennedy.” I sigh. “Sir, my sister and I have been through enough.”
“Don’t you want your mother’s murderer to be caught?”
“I want justice for Momma, but my sister is my concern. My Uncle Dave is a lawyer. If you have more questions, or want us to come back, you call him.” As I flip my phone closed, Kennedy screams.
“Momma, leave her alone!” She says.
I race across the hall and try to restrain her as she kicks and bites me.
“Momma, stop! Mira’s turning blue.”
Falling back, I pull at my hair as I watch her fight our ghosts alone.
Her scream rips through the house. “Stop!” She raises her clasped hands above her head and I cover my mouth to muffle my screams of memory. Bringing her hands down, she plunges the dreams knife into the bed and I know our mother’s memory goes limp. Just as Momma had the day she had tried to choke the life out of me over a vase.
Have a question you’d like to ‘ask’ Mira? I’d love to hear it. Leave it in a comment below and I’ll be sure to include it in my next character interview. Thank you so much for reading. I really hope you enjoyed this story. Be sure to check back next Monday for my Ten Questions for a Fictional Character interview with Mira.