The corner store was unusually cold that evening. In between blowing her hands warm, Prudence mechanically put away cigarette cartons behind the counter. Apparently she had made a promise to the owner’s daughter that she would accept the cigarette delivery so she could watch her son’s Christmas Pageant, but she didn’t remember the actual conversation. Prudence was on her hands and knees putting the last carton in its slot when bells clanging against the opening door startled her. The store had been closed for an hour and she was sure she locked the door behind her.
So who came into the store?
She quietly crawled dragging her knees across the gray wooden slats on the floor and she noticed her knees were bare.
No wonder I am cold; I am wearing shorts and my knees are ashy. Her heart was galloping out of her chest with anxiety because Prudence thought she wore her brand- new boot-cut slacks this morning. Now she was going to have to confront this stranger who entered the store and do so without lotion.
But this is a corner store; I know they have lotion in here.
She peeked over the counter but saw no one. She then made a mad dash to the back of the store where they sold the beauty supplies. Prudence grabbed a bottle of lotion but had problems taking off the plastic seal. Just then the door clanged again, and Prudence dropped to her knees.
Who is coming in here?
Her heart now ran at top speed. Her eyes darted all over the store looking for an escape. She then noticed a kitten peeking its head out around a package of winged sanitary pads.
The bells clanged again and another kitten ran down the aisle.
Another clang produced four more kittens. The clangs were repetitive until the whole store was covered in kittens and their meowing sounded like an alien invasion.
When Prudence opened her eyes she darted straight up in bed and stared at her alarm clock. It said twelve thirty-six. After slapping at the alien invasion a few times she realized that it wasn’t the alarm going off rather her cell phone ringing. She straightened the scarf on her head and groggily grabbed for the phone that was sitting on the charger.
“Hello?” she said in a disgusted tone.
Prudence rolled her eyes as she recognized the voice on the other end of her phone.
It was Kevin.
Kevin for the twelfth time this week has called Prudence to ask her why Mekayla hasn’t called him. For the first twenty minutes Prudence would entertain his small talk and then Kevin would clam up. Forcing her to ask him the obligatory -are you okay?
Kevin would then ask her the same questions over and over again.
Why hasn’t she answered the phone?
Why won’t she call me?
When do you think I should call her again?
Should I drive up there?
Prudence stuck to the answers she gave the first five times Kevin asked those questions, but not tonight. There was a time that she actually thought about giving him some but after she saw how emotional he got over Mekayla, Prudence lost all interest. She may have confessed at one point that she wished men would be more sensitive, but after twelve straight days of trying to console this man, Prudence had enough.
“Hey Kevin.” She said with an annoyed tone.
“Were you asleep?” Kevin asked.
“Not anymore!” She said angrily.
“I’m sorry Pru, you want me to let you go?”
“Actually,” Prudence clicked on the light that was on her nightstand, and grabbed a cigarette to light, “No I want you to talk to me. In fact I want you to talk to me until you get all of the talking out of your system. I want you to talk to me until you come to a decision about what you are going to do about Mekayla. Because to be brutally honest Kevin, if you continue to blow up my phones the way that you do I may be forced to change my numbers.” She took a long hard inhale and let the smoke out slowly.
“Damn,” Kevin said meekly, “Is it like that?”
“It’s gotten like that.” Prudence finalized her rampage. Kevin was slightly apprehensive to continue the conversation but continued on anyway.
“It’s been a week Pru.”
“Then go see her Kevin.”
“What if she won’t see me? What if…”
She cut him off in mid sentence, “What if she does? What if all she wanted was for you to go see her and grovel on your hands and knees and beg her to forgive you? You will never know unless you go see her.”
Kevin frowned and snapped, “That night you told me not to go after her!”
“Your foot is broken Kevin!” Prudence yelled through clouds of smoke.
Kevin looked down at his foot and shrugged. He was disheveled as if he hadn’t had a personal hygiene regimen in a week. He rubbed his thumb and forefinger through his stubble and replied, “Yeah, you right. But I get my cast off next week.”
“Then go next week.” She said putting out her cigarette.
“You think I should?” Again he asked meekly.
“Kevin!” Prudence shouted at him.
Kevin kind of chuckled which caused Prudence to chuckle and then the two broke out in a hearty laughter.
“Have I been that bad Pru?” He asked still smiling.
“Yo, I have been tempted to change my phone number Kev.”
“Are you serious?”
“Man I’m sorry, it’s just…” Kevin stopped in mid sentence.
“I know sweetie, I know.” She said trying to be supportive.
“Okay I have a doctor’s appointment Friday evening and then after that I am going up there. I have to make this right.”
“Good for you.” Prudence said clicking off her lamp.
“So, why you in the house on a Saturday night?” Kevin asked.
Prudence decided that the gory conversation was out of the way; it was okay to entertain Kevin with some more small talk.
“I ended my evening early.”
“I had a date.”
Kevin frowned slightly, “And you ended your evening early? I don’t understand.”
Prudence clicked her lamp back on again and lit another cigarette, “Well you know that party we went to last week?”
“The freaky party?” Kevin asked raising his eyebrow.
“Yeah,” She said chuckling.
“My date was the guy who threw it.”
“Are you serious?” Kevin managed to sit up placing his cast on the floor.
“What happened?” Kevin said through a sinister laugh.
“He was too short.” Prudence blew smoke out with her response.
“You nasty ass!!” Kevin exclaimed.
“No you idiot,” she said rolling her eyes, “I meant he was about five-four.”
“Oh. Well what’s wrong with that?”
“Kev, I’m five-nine.”
“Point taken.” He nodded in affirmation then he gave a sheepish grin, “But before you let him go did you at least get a discount card?’
Prudence’s eyes became as big as saucers, “Oh who’s the nasty ass now?”
“I’m sayin. If Mekayla doesn’t take me back I may have to expand my horizons.”
All of a sudden Kevin was becoming aroused and he didn’t understand why.
“Well at one point in time you coulda came over here.” Prudence mumbled.
Kevin laughed, “I know.”
Prudence chuckled back, “Oh did you?”
“Men always know.”
“Whateva playa, you don’t know shit.” She said chuckling.
“Yeah aiight. But you said coulda. You mean to tell me I still couldn’t.”
“I thought men always know.” She teased.
“Shut up. So I can’t?”
“Nope.” She said putting out her cigarette again.
“Why not?” He asked raising his eyebrow.
“Because I don’t like you.”
They both laughed.
“Well look man,” Prudence said. “I’m goin back to bed.”
“Aiight baby girl, thanks for listening.”
“I would say anytime, but the next time you call me you better ask me out to dinner.”
Prudence clicked her phone shut and smiled to herself. She started caressing her legs and when she reached her knees seemed to remember her dream from earlier. She lifted her satin pajama leg and sighed a sigh of relief at her meticulously lotioned knee.
After clicking off the lamp again, Prudence continued to caress herself as she wondered what the kittens meant in her dream.
There was good news, and there was bad news. Sadiah suffered from a severe traumatic brain injury, which caused her to be in an indefinite coma. She could wake up tomorrow, or she could wake up ten months from now, there was no way of knowing. The good news was that the type of injury that Sadiah had did not require surgery. Also she was breathing without the aid of a machine. Good signs, but the uncertainty was wearing down on Mr. Gibson-Daddy and Pete.
They would watch her in shifts with the doctor’s advice that verbal stimulation was not good for Sadiah so Pete and Mr. Gibson would speak in whispers around her.
With most of her facial swelling gone, she looked like an angel sleeping. It took everything Pete had not to tear up as he watched Mr. Gibson fuss over his daughter. He gently reached out and touched his shoulder.
“Hey, Stephen.” Pete said.
Mr. Gibson turned around slowly, “Good evening Pete. Is it that late already?”
“Fraid so,” Pete responded. “Any progress today?” He asked hopefully.
Mr. Gibson shook his head slightly, “No. I thought she may have fluttered her eyes but I guess I was just tired. I’m imagining things, ya know?”
Pete nodded his head in caring affirmation and pulled a chair over to the opposite side of Sadiah’s bed. The pair sat for a while listening to the incessant hums and beeps of the machines monitoring her progress.
“I just wish I knew what kind of animal could do this to a little girl and just leave her there, in the trash.” Mr. Gibson said stroking Sadiah’s forehead.
“The police are looking into every lead they can,” Pete responded. “I’ll call Officer Mancuso to see if he turned up any leads at the club.”
Mr. Gibson just shook his head, “I don’t understand how she got like this. Sadiah was always a smart little girl, a little sheltered maybe but, smart.” He paused so he could look up at Pete. “Did you know the doctors told me she had heroin in her system-heroin?!”
Pete just looked at him with pity as Mr. Gibson did in fact tell him this several times during the course of the week.
“And to work in that place, that God awful place! She’s only sixteen Pete! I can only imagine what kind of derelicts came in and out of that place.”
Pete continued to offer silent comfort as Mr. Gibson would rant at least one an evening. He reached over the bed and patted his hand.
“Maybe we should talk about more positive things,” he said tilting his head towards the unconscious Sadiah. “If she hears you upset all the time, she may be hesitant to come out of it.”
Mr. Gibson quietly got up and kissed his daughter on the forehead. “I know, man
I know. I just wished I knew why she left me.” He looked at Pete who dropped his eyes to look at Sadiah.
That was the fourth time Stephen asked Pete that rhetorical question. That was the fourth time Pete’s blood ran cold when he heard it. He knew the answer and as much as he wanted to tell Stephen, he promised Sadiah he wouldn’t. There was no way he would betray her trust, especially now when she couldn’t answer for herself. Not only that but he heard Stephen refer to the Horrible Ms. Howard as The Mrs. on several occasions. It was hard for Pete to fathom that while he was supposedly so distraught over his baby girl that he married that woman.
With that, Pete shook Stephen’s hand firmly, “Stephen, go get some rest.”
“I’ll try and if…”
Pete cut him off, “I know Stephen, if she makes any movement at all, I’ll call you.”
Mr. Gibson nodded and kissed Sadiah one more time on her forehead before he left. Pete was left with incessant humming and beeping as he watched over her. He wondered why Mancuso hadn’t contacted him yet and it frustrated him a little. Normally when there was no news, it meant no progress. Pete wished he had pried a little more about Sadiah’s boyfriend. He was sure that he put this poor child in a coma.
There was too much malice in the attack for it to be a random trick. Pete shuddered at the thought of this young girl compromising herself to make money. He shook his hand as if to clear it from those thoughts and gripped Sadiah’s hand firmly.
“Don’t worry baby, you are going to get through this, I promise.” He said to her.
“Can you squeeze my hand if you hear me?”
Sadiah sat motionless.
The church was filled to capacity and glowing in an electric blue. Sadiah was sitting on the choir loft with Mama singing their favorite selection. The pianist was smiling at them, the pastor was smiling at them, and the congregation was smiling at them. Tears streamed down Sadiah’s cheeks and Mama cupped her face in her soft hands and kissed them away. As she closed her eyes she inhaled her mother’s fragrance.
The music faded out and Mama caressed her daughter’s hair as she put her head on her shoulder.
“Baby,” she said, “You have to go back now, Daddy needs you.”
The electric blue hue of the church turned neon red. Sadiah shook her head violently.
“No Mama, I’m not ready.” She turned her head and looked towards the back of the church where she saw Brett and Ms. Howard, stone faced and dressed in black. Sadiah grabbed her mother tight and began crying and wailing.
“Please I don’t want to go back there. Please let me stay with you.”
Mama gently eased out of her daughter’s grasp. She pointed to the back of the church. “They can not hurt you anymore Sadiah. I will not let them hurt you.”
Sadiah refused to open her eyes, “No, Mama, I want to stay with you.” The church became unbearably warm and she opened her eyes to see her mother gone and the church empty. Sadiah began screaming at the top of her lungs but no sound was coming out. She watched Brett coming towards her and with each step she became hotter and hotter until her veins popped open and blood began spewing from them. She crawled under a pew and prayed to God to send the demons away.
Pete was asleep holding Sadiah’s hand, unaware of the spiking in her temperature and the activity of her heart monitor.
to be continued…