Thursday, May 7, 2020

Lost and Found

Emma ran out of the flat into the tangled weeds behind their building and made her way to the gravestone in the graveyard beyond. She needed some air. She put her hand on her big sister's stone and said, "I miss you, Eliza." 

She cried a little but wiped the tears off of her face with the hem of her dress. Her sister had died two weeks ago and Emma still didn't quite know what to do with herself. She felt lost. Eliza had brushed her hair and had made her clean her teeth. Now that Eliza was gone, her hair had gotten more than a little ratty and she rubbed her tongue across her teeth. Emma resolved to at least clean her teeth today, to let Eliza know that she hadn't forgotten her. 

She made her way back into the house, picking her way carefully through the brambles. When she entered the flat, she called out to her Mum and Dad but got no reply. She walked through the small dining space to their bedroom and stood in the doorway. "Mama?"

She got no response and walked over to the bed. She shook Mama's shoulder but she wouldn't wake up. She seemed cold so Emma got a blanket from the sideboard and put it over her Mum and Dad. She patted her Papa on the shoulder and said, "Sleep, Papa. It's okay. I know you're tired." She noticed a bad smell in the air so she opened the window a little. 

She went to the kitchen and found an old biscuit that her Mum had made and sat at the table as she nibbled it. Mama hadn't made a proper meal for a few days, but Emma was resourceful and managed to find things to eat. She wished for fresh milk but was content to have some water. 

After Eliza had died and they had buried her in the boneyard, her Mum and Dad had retreated to themselves. Emma knew that they loved her but they had gotten so quiet and they didn't laugh and play like they used to. Papa hadn't said much anyway once he got back from what Mama called the Great War, and he had left half of one of his legs over there. He also had a hard time talking to everyone, because he was always so out of breath. Mama explained to the girls that it was the mustard, but Emma never understood that, because she always liked mustard when they had it with dinner. 

As Emma nibbled at her biscuit, she heard a knock on the door. She went over to the door, taking her biscuit with her. She opened the door a crack and looked out to see who was there. When she saw that it was Mrs. Brambadge from next door, she opened the door wide. 

Mrs. Brambadge said, "Hello, Emma. How are you?" She was usually a very cheery sort but seemed quite serious now. 

Emma shrugged. "I'm well, thank you." She continued to nibble her biscuit. 

Mrs. Brambadge cleared her throat and said, "I was wondering if your Mum and Dad are about. I had hoped to talk to them."

Emma looked up at her and didn't say anything. 

The neighbor continued, "I really need to talk to them if they're here, you see. There have been some things happening that...well, I really think I should talk to them. Can I do that, love?"

Emma took her hand and led her inside. She drew her over to where Mama and Papa slept in their bed and pointed. "They're in there. But you probably should let them sleep. They've been very tired and they sleep all the time lately." 

Mrs. Brambadge looked at her and then looked up into the dimness of the bedroom. She put her hand on the doorjamb and took a step inside. Then another. Emma heard her say, "Lila? James? Are you awake?" The woman stepped further into the room and Emma heard her gasp. 

The nice neighbor rushed out of the bedroom, braced herself against the wall, then leaned over and vomited profusely, all over the floorboards that Mama had just scrubbed last week. 

She looked up at Emma, who watched her calmly. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "Oh, my dear child. How long have your Mum and Dad been...sleeping?"

Emma thought about it. "Well, Mama made these biscuits a few days ago." She took another nibble and looked at it. "There's a green spot here, but it still tastes good." Mrs. Brambadge looked up at Emma from her crouch on the floor, a look in her eyes that Emma knew was one of both horror and sadness. Emma didn't know how she knew this but she supposed that she'd seen enough of both in her short time on earth. 

Mrs. Brambadge made her way to her feet, brushing away the flies that seemed to have descended upon Emma's house lately. She closed the bedroom door firmly behind her, pressing her hand to her mouth. She took a deep breath and then grabbed Emma's hand. She pulled her along behind her to the door, her ample bosom leading the way. 

Emma held back. "No, Mrs. Brambadge! I need to be here when Mama and Papa wake up! They'll be hungry."

The woman looked down at Emma, who realized that the neighbor was truly very distraught. "Oh, child," she said, her hand on Emma's head. "Come with me next door."

Emma resisted. "I told you! Mama and Papa will be hungry when they get up!"

Mrs. Brambadge peered at her. "Emma, your Mum and Dad aren't getting up. They are sleeping, yes...but they...they aren't going to be hungry if they wake up. And yes, I said 'if.'" 

Emma bowed her head and then looked up at Mrs. Brambadge. "They aren't going to wake up are they, Missus?" 

Mrs. Brambadge shook her head. "No, child. I don't believe they are." 

Emma slipped her hand into Mrs. Brambadge's. They walked outside and Emma looked up at her. "Are you my new Mum?" 

The older woman looked startled and looked down at Emma. "Why, yes, child. I suppose I am. I seem to have found you, haven't I?"

Emma nodded. "Yes, mum. Will you brush my hair?" She smiled up at the nice lady and they walked home.