After the storm.
She sat there on a wire milk crate just outside what was left of her home. She gazed at the morning sun's gleam on the train tracks. The tire swing was wrapped tightly around the Oak tree trunk and a piece of red tin swayed, dangling from a limb in the gentle breeze. She was turning and touching a small pine tree branch in her hand and clinching the wet soggy grass with her toes.
The pain from the pine needles felt good, she was alive. Her father had told her when he came home from Vietnam, "Pleasure is the breath of a liar, pain is a tear full of truth." She wanted to look behind her at the devastation but she couldn't. She wanted to look for her daddy but she could feel in her heart that he was gone. She saw it take him.
Distant voices broke the haunting silence. She saw them coming through the soy bean field. She remembered what her daddy was shouting to her, "Emily, stay here in the tub! We'll be OK! Stay under the quilts and hold on to the faucet!" A tear fell on her the lace of her white slip as she looked up and saw a woman running to her. The woman cried, "Oh my God child! Are you OK?" The woman gently draped a blanket around Emily and knelt down beside her.
Emily glanced at her a moment and went back to squeezing the pine needles. The woman shouted for other men and women to check what was left of the house. The woman said, "My name is Jackie. What's your name sweetie?" Emily started to speak but just swallowed and looked down. Jackie said, "It's a miracle that you survived the tornado. You must have a lot of Angels."
Emily softly spoke, "I don't have Angels. It wasn't a tornado. I have 16 stars." Jackie got her to sip some water from a bottle and said, "It's OK sweetie. You are going to be OK." Jackie brushed back Emily's long red hair with her hand and asked, "Who else was in the house with you?"
Emily turned away and said, "My daddy but the train got him. It was a black train. I saw the smoke outside the window. I heard that awful whistle. Daddy can't give me any more stars. Momma promised he would after she died. I only got sixteen stars."
Jackie hugged her and said, "Talk all you want." Emily wiped away a tear and said, "Momma gave me a star on every birthday. Once, when I was ten, she made daddy drive three hundred miles to see my new star. The clouds wasn't going to keep us from seeing it."
A man came up and started to say something but Jackie waved him away. Emily went on, "My birthday is just five days away. On April 7th and daddy was going to point out my seventeenth star. Momma died in January. Now daddy is gone and I only get 16 stars. I guess we stop getting stars when everyone we love is gone?"
Jackie slowly pulled the pine branch from Emily's hand and saw little specks of blood. Jackie said, "There is an ambulance coming down the lane. They'll need to take you to the hospital to be checked over." Jackie helped her into the ambulance and it left for the hospital. Four men came up from a hollow, carrying Emily's father's body. Jackie watched the ambulance go down the lane with such sadness in her heart for the 16 year old girl.
Jackie went to visit Emily that night. She walked in her room and saw Emily standing at the window. Jackie said, "Hi sweetie, remember me?" Emily smiled and said, "Hi, I was just looking at my stars." Emily handed Jackie a piece of paper that had a word drawn out by dot to dot. Emily looked out and up at the sky while saying, "You know, my momma spelled out my birthday present in the stars. I only needed sixteen to spell LOVE."
By the end of that summer, 45 year old Jackie had adopted Emily. It seemed as if a fate filled with love had brought them together. A bad storm came the next Spring. Jackie was at work and rushed home only to find Emily standing in the front yard, facing the fierce winds.
Jackie struggled as she ran against the wind to Emily. Just as Jackie reached her, Emily fell to her knees and cried out to the sky, "I love you!" Hail and rain began to spit down hard from the darkened skies. Jackie grabbed Emily and hugged her to try and protect her from the hail as Emily kept crying, "I love you!"
Jackie shouted, "Emily, Emily we have to get to the house!" Jackie managed to pull Emily up and they stumbled across the yard to the porch. Emily was still crying, "I Love You," over and over. Jackie held her tight and stroked her dripping soaked hair as Emily's voice became quieter with each, "I love you."
Jackie managed to get Emily to sit in the porch swing. Jackie held her as the storm subsided. Emily wiped her tears and softly said, "I remember now. I remember the day of the storm. I was lying in the bathtub. I peeked out and saw the storm take him. I tried to get out of the tub to help him but hands held me down. I felt four hands holding me down in that tub. It was momma's hands. It was daddy's hands. Emily wept.
Jackie held Emily tighter and cried with her.
That evening, the skies cleared and the stars were brilliant! Jackie walked out in the yard with Emily. Emily pointed out her stars. Emily rested her head on Jackie's shoulder and said, "Momma believed that every human being would have their own Galaxy someday. When she would talk about it, daddy would smile and say, "You are a Galaxy my dear. I see it in your eyes."
Jackie smiled and said, "Emily, that is so beautiful."
Emily smiled and said, "You are my seventeenth star Jackie. I love you."
© 2010 Tom Cornett