It was eight large stones and a dead mouse Hannah pulled from her worn down jean backpack. She kicked the rocks around her mother’s empty garden and dumped the rodent into a shallow grave. It was the third time this month someone broke into her locker. Last week her jacket was stolen and the week before half her textbooks were ruined. When she showed the shredded pages and the painted covers to the principal, he accused her of doing it for attention. Tattling now would make no difference. Instead, she trudged down the five blocks from school to her front door, trying not to cry for all the old folks on porches to gawk at. It was hard enough to not cry at school; every word she spoke was shouted over and laughed at. Crying in front of a bunch of adults she didn’t know, Hannah couldn’t handle that embarrassment.
When everything was dealt with, she climbed the three cement steps to her porch and unlocked the door. There were forty minutes before her sisters got off the bus and that was just enough time to wash her backpack and her face. Her mother wouldn’t notice the new rocks in front of the house. Her mother barely remembered to eat most days, but her little sisters would see her red eyes and start chanting around the house about her crying. They’d chant until their mom came home and she’d grill Hannah for hours on why she was upset. Was she suicidal? Was she on drugs? Why was she so sensitive? Then she’d scream about how weak Hannah was and how pathetic being the victim made her.
Her mother meant well. A single mother raising three kids from two useless men that abandoned the lives they created for the better sense of pleasure and excitement new women gave them. She heard her mother crying sometimes. Other times, she heard less desirable things. The damp basement and its dirt walls didn’t make much of a difference when her mother brought home a new boyfriend. Sound carries when your ceiling is someone else’s floor.
If everything was quieter… a hoarse, familiar voice whispered.
Hannah shuddered, opening the door to her room. A dark descent of thirteen stairs and an arm’s length reach to turn on the dim lights of her hideaway cave was littered with potential tripping hazards made of fluff. The creaking of the door was an alarm that set off whimpers and mews. It brought a smile to her pale face.
“I’m home guys,” she said. She could hear the thumping of Night’s tail against the steps, Teddy whimpered from her bed in the corner and Jet weaved between her feet, purring. Her mother liked to bring home animals they couldn’t afford and they all ended up downstairs in her basement. Three dogs, two cats, the washer, and dryer. It was always her job to fill the laundry and put it away since no one wanted to be in the basement. “I’ll feed you guys in a minute.”
Dropping the lid to the washer and turning the yellowish dial, she pulled it to start and dropped her forehead on the cold metal surface. The vibrations of water rushing into the drum were enough to ease her headache and the cool sensation felt nice against her heated face. A few serious yips and a large rottweiler mutt jumping on her back and Hannah got the hint. She pushed herself off the machine with a grunt and trudged her way up the stairs with animals at her feet. Past the kitchen, snagging a soda from the fridge, she pushed open the back door and let the dogs out, set her drink on the counter, and filled the cat bowl next to the ceramic duck on the window sill. Hannah ran a finger over the duck and squinted at it. Her mother had faded duck curtains and towels in the kitchen. Event he potholders with holes were covered in ducks.
Petting Jet and Queenie, the fat cats pushing each other out of the bowl, Hannah took a drink and filled the dogs’ water bowls. The same routine, day in and out. She’d get to sit down later, after helping the twins with their homework, and read a book or two. When the lights went out upstairs she’d crawl into bed, turn on some low music, and start her homework. She couldn’t wait to open her new book. It was sitting on her crooked nightstand under her grandmother’s old lamp since yesterday. She’d saved her birthday and holiday money and finally gotten to go shopping with her grandparents. That book was everything she could afford, leaving her with enough pocket money for a few candy bars at lunch over the next two weeks and a few dollars she needed for supplies from the school shop.
Hannah let the dogs back in, looking over the private backyard. Her eyes lingered on the darkest corner of the tall wood fence. She’d broken her knuckles on the board once. The blackness was enticing. A surplus of color being absorbed into a single space, it pulled at her as if she were a ray of light.
You don’t have to listen…
Hands rested on her shoulder. They crawled up her neck, traveling through her long blond hair towards her face. Hannah relaxed, closing her eyes.
The squeaky horn an old bus rang out. Impatiently, it went off again and Hannah let the storm door slam behind her, racing to the front of the house. Her socks slid on the wood floors, grabbing the handle to steady herself and throwing the front door open. She was out of breath when she reached the last step of her porch and waved frantically at the bus driver. The woman glared, parked the bus, and snapped the door open, letting Annie and Bonnie off the bus. With a shake of her head, the bus driver closed the door and drove off.
“Hannah almost got in trouble,” Annie laughed.
Bonnie nodded. “Hannah forgot us.”
“No,” Hannah whimpered. She beat on her chest trying to stop her racing heart. “I didn’t forget, I got stuck. The dogs wouldn’t let me out.”
The girls laughed. “Silly dogs.”
Want to read more? Join me on Patreon to finish the story.