The searches are dragging on. Mitchell is out there helping Aunt Robin chop through weeds and brush. They haven't found our mama and no one has a clue where she could be. My heart feels weird. Every day that she is not home, it feels a little slower, like it is shrinking.
I hear the big group of people changing the way they talk again. They are saying they wish they could have found something by now- a shirt, a shoe, a purse or anything, but they haven't found nothing. The search folks are losing hope and this is the second time something like this happened. They talkin bout going home again and I am worried they gone' stop searching before they find my mama. They can't stop yet.
Franklin still sittin up acting like he ain't had nothing to do with Mama disappearing. The police are claiming they ain't got no more leads. The only hope we had was last week when someone said they saw Mama out near Pine's Mall. Boy these search crews got out to that mall so quick! They scoured that mall trying to find the woman resembling our mother. Dexter and I were over the moon. We were so relieved that our Mama was finally finna come home. "What are you going to do when she gets here?" I asked Dexter. "I don't know probably just hug and kiss her." He said smiling into the distance. "What choo gone' do?" He asked. "When Mama get back, Um never gone let her go nowhere else.
It wasn't our mother though and when they told us the woman was someone else's mama, it was like she disappeared again for the first time. We fell apart all over again.
I see the looks of failure on everyone's face. Folks ready to put this nightmare to an end. I am ready to end it too. Folks got lives to get back to. Robin and Mitchell got to get back to Texas. It's time for school to start again and they will need to start teaching again.
I overheard them talking about a permanent plan. I guess they think Mama ain't coming home no time soon. And now, everybody asking what's gone' be done with me and Dexter. The big group of people going on searches ain't talking about search locations and protective clothing no more. Now they want to know who is going to look after Dexter and Constance.
Robin volunteering again. She volunteered to take us to Texas with her before, and now she is adamant. She say she gone' take me and Dexter with her so that we can stay together. After all, Mama helped to take care of her son when she needed it. I am happy to hear Robin say she gone' help us. I am happy I am going to be leaving this state. I definitely cannot stand to be in Arkansas anymore.
Morning comes and Robin is standing at our bunks. She say she got some news to tell us. "Constance. . . Dexter, y'all come in here. I need to talk to y'all." She says calling us into the living room.
Dexter and I left our bedroom and followed Robin into the living room. She sat on the couch and we sat directly across from her on the love seat.
"Did y'all get breakfast?" She asks.
"Yes, we ate cereal earlier." Dexter crossed his arms at his chest waiting for the news.
"Okay. Well I want y'all to know that last night we made a decision. Y'all are going to be going back to Texas with me."
"Y'all can't stay here with mama and daddy." Robin lowers her head and avoids making eye contact with us.
"They're a little too old to be taking care of y'all."
"Guess what happened this morning?" Robin asks looking up again.
"I ran into Mrs. Anner when I stopped in the store to get me some cigarettes."
"And, just before I walked away from the register, Mrs. Anner turned around and gave me eight hundred dollars for the two of y'all!"
"Now isn't that kind?" She says.
Mrs. Anner is the owner of our town's corner store. I have been going to Mrs. Anner's store since I was a baby. My whole family, all the way back to Grandma and Grandpa, has been going to Anner's. The crazy thing about Mrs. Anner giving Robin eight hundred dollars is I saw the collection jar sitting at the register. It was an old dill pickle jar and Mrs. Anner removed the label. She replaced the label with a wide band of yellow construction paper and wrote Dexter and Constance in black marker across the new label.
I felt embarrassed when I saw the jar sitting at the register, and there was no way I could miss it. The jar sat dead center of Mrs. Anner's check-out stand and the bright yellow label attracted one's eyes like bees to honey. I was forced to look into the jar, curious about the money every time I went to buy something.
It was like we had suddenly become the town's charity case on top of everything else. One thing Mama didn't like was being a charity case. But if Robin is happy about the money, then I guess Mrs. Anner was right to do what she did.
"Mrs. Anner was real kind to collect all this money for y'all." Robin says.
"It is going to come in handy. That is just enough to get y'all some new beds and stuff once we make it back to Texas," she says.
"I want y'all to walk over there today and tell Mrs. Anner thank you." She says.
"Okay Robin. We will," Dexter says.
"When are we leaving to go to Texas?" Dexter asks.
"What is today, Saturday?" She says.
"Yes." Dexter says.
"We plan on heading out on Monday around noon I reckon," she says.
"If it is anybody y'all want to say bye to, you have about two days."
"Okay." Dexter said.
"I am getting ready to go and run a few more errands around town."
"Y'all start packing up what y'all want to take with y'all," she says.
"You can't take everything. We don't have room in the car. Just get you some clothes and your favorite toys for right now."
"Alright." Dexter says.
"I'll see y'all later on this evening." She says. "Bye-bye,"
"Bye Robin." I said.
Robin left the house. Dexter and I decide to take the walk to Mrs. Anner's to thank her for the money. We also need to let her know that we will be moving to Texas and she won't see us stopping in anymore for our snacks.
We headed out of Grandma's house down the dead-end road. When we reached the end of the street and made a left on Austin. We walked up Austin Street until we reached Anner's store.
Dexter stepped up the jagged wooden steps first. He pushed the heavy wooden door open. The floor planks sway as we walk in. The entrance of the store always sways with your movements. A cold burst of air from the window units hits us in the face. It feels good in here. We walked to the register. It is just our luck; Mrs. Anner is working the register this morning.
Mrs. Anner is an older woman. She is Grandma and Grandpa's age. She sat at the register with her lips puckered as if she has tobacco packed in the bottom. Her skin is the color of an eggplant. Her glasses are thick, heavy, and linger at the bottom of her nose. They are trimmed in yellow gold and the shiny metal trim accents her gold teeth.
When she sees me and Dexter a huge smile comes across her face. Her two front teeth are the first thing I notice. The gold glimmers at me like Christmas lights.
"Hey!" Mrs. Anner purses her bottom lip. She is careful not to lose her tobacco.
"Look what the storm blew in!" She says standing.
"Fanny come ‘round here and see who we have in our store."
Fanny came from around back to see who Mrs. Anner was speaking of. Fanny is a large woman and reminds me of Grandma's Mammie salt shakers. She placed her bowl of collard greens and corn bread on the counter as she finished chewing her last bite. Louisiana hot sauce lingered in the pot liquor.
"Hi Mrs. Anner. . . Hi Fanny," Dexter says.
"Hey babies." Mrs. Anner says.
"Hey Sugars," Fanny says waving from behind Mrs. Anner.
"We got the money you sent Mrs. Anner. Robin told us about the money this morning," Dexter says.
"We came to tell you thank you." I say.
"That was really kind of you to get that money together for us." Dexter says.
"Awe shoot. That is the least I can do!" Mrs. Anner says.
"Your family been awwflee good to me. I see one of y'all in here buying something every day. I watched y'all grow up." Mrs. Anner says.
"Well, we just came to say thank you." Dexter says.
"We will be leaving for Texas on Monday." Dexter says.
"We are going to be staying there until we know what happened to our mama." He says.
"Y'all babies leaving. Lord!" Mrs. Anner says. "I sure hope y'all find out something soon. I hate to see y'all's family so worried." She says.
"Come on round here and give me a hug, both of you!" She says.
Dexter and I walked around the register counter to Mrs. Anner. She wrapped her arms around us both, one at a time. When it was my turn I stepped up to her and quickly reached out and grabbed me. She pulled me close to her squishy bossom and gave me one of the tightest, longest squeezes I had ever felt. I thought I would suffocate, yet I wanted to relax into the comfort of her embrace and pretend she was my mama.
Mrs. Anner released me. I look up at her face and Mrs. Anner is crying. Not only are big tears coming from her eyes, but she is heaving and trying to control the rapid breaths escaping her lungs.
"Y'all children take care now." Mrs. Anner says in between short breaths filled with grief. I can tell she wants us to move along. She is overcome.
"Y'all be good to Robin." She begs. "Don't give her too much trouble now." She sobs and blots her eyes underneath her glasses with a white handkerchief.
"We won't be no trouble Mrs. Anner." Dexter says. "I promise."
"Y'all know where I am if y'all need me." She says.
"Yes ma'am." Dexter says.
"Y'all want something out the store? Take anything you want." She says.
"I will take a pop." I say.
"Me too. It is hot out there." Dexter says.
"Help yourself. You know where we keep ‘em." She says.
Dexter and I went to the freezer and slid back the sliding door. He took a can of Coke and I took Grape Crush.
"Come on Constance. Let's go sit at the tables and finish our sodas before we walk back to the house," he says.
"Okay" I say.
It was weird that Dexter wants to finish the sodas in Anner's store. Usually we walk home with our stuff, but I guess he wants to take in every bit of Anner's store possible since this may be our last visit. What is even stranger, Mrs. Anner hasn't yelled at us to get up from the tables. These tables are off limits to children. They are for grown-ups and grown-ups only.
We find a table near the old juke box. We sit at the booth across from one another and quietly sip from our cans. Mrs. Anner walks from behind the register. She is wearing a long skirt with a floral apron. On her feet are slippers with off-black hose. She reached into her apron pocket and grabbed a handful of coins. She slipped a few quarters in the juke box, pressed the red flashing button and played us a few songs. One of the songs was "Wang Dang Doodle". I tapped the table and swung my head as the throaty jazz singer described what they would be doing all night long. The music reminds me of the good times we'd had in Anner's store.
Soon our drinks were done. Dexter and I stand. We wave one last time to Mrs. Anner who has returned to the register. She waves back to us. She is still sobbing. Mrs. Anner is really upset and it is hard to watch. I am trying to hold back my tears now. Dexter is stern faced.
We walk out of the store and back towards Grandma's house. We are quiet on the way home. Mrs. Anner drained us of our energy. That was a sad scene. We took turns kicking pebbles along the way. Of course Dexter's rocks go much farther than mine, and he is unnaturally shy about it.
We arrived at Grandma's and we are surprised. Everyone has come to Grandma's house and have gathered on the yard again. Even Robin, Gabe, and Mitchell have even come back. I thought Robin had somewhere to be. I thought she was running errands. Have they decided to do another search? Why are all of these people here?
Everyone's face is sad like Mrs. Anners. If they were going on a search, their faces would not look like this. They would have serious faced or they would look hopeful, or they would be standing in a circle praying. These folks ain't finna go on no searches. Something strange going on. Folks look out right miserable.
We walk past the crowd of people gathered on Grandma's front lawn. I followed Dexter to the living room. When we arrive in the living room, we notice a crowd of folks gathered around Grandma.
Grandma is kneeling on the living room floor, and is crying loudly like a cat in the middle of the night. Grandma is never loud, her high pitched screams scare me. Something happen to Grandpa. Where is Grandpa?
Dexter walks up to the crowd. I think I will definitely stay back. Something is not right.
"What is wrong with Grandma?" Dexter says.
"Oh, Lord, the children are back. Somebody get them out of here." Aunt Gladys flings her arm in the air and extends her pointer finger towards our room. The people seem frozen. No one moves.
"Get them out of here now!" Gladys says again loudly.
Our older cousin Rod, Gladys' son, steps forward and asks me and Dexter to go into our bedroom. We listen to Rod. We know this was not the time to be disobedient. We follow Rod into the bedroom.
"What is going on Rod? Why is Grandma on the floor crying like that?" Dexter asks.
"Dexter, Constance, we got the news today." Rod says.
"What news?" Dexter says.
"They found your mother and she is not alive." Rob says.
"Not alive? You mean she is dead?" Dexter says.
"Yes." Rod says.
"You are lying! All of you are lying!" Dexter stands from where he was sitting on his bottom bunk and yelled.
"I know my mama ain't dead! She WILL be back! Just watch!" He says. Tears come gushing from his smooth brown face. The tears fly out of his eyes at an unbelievable pace. I never knew it was humanly possible to lose that much water from the eyes.
"I am getting the hell away from here!" Dexter says.
Dexter ran out of the house. I ran behind him, but he is too fast. Suddenly, he has the speed of a gazelle. I am amazed at the span on his quads as he sprints out of the house. I can't keep up. I lose him. He has run far down the street heading towards Austin Street. I can only see the back of his white t-shirt while he is running. He looks like lightening the way he is disappearing into the horizon.
You can't leave me too. I need you Dex. Now, who do I have?
I turn to look for Robin. I find her outside with Karyn, Becky and Uncle Landon.
"Is it true Robin?" I say my face flooded with tears.
"Is my mama dead?" I say.
"That is what they are saying CeCe." She says.
"I am so sorry." She says while hugging me lightly.
I walk back into Grandma's house. I go inside our room and I close the door behind me. I climb into the top bunk to cry in private. All those people out there don't need to see this. I cry to the heavens. I pray. I cry some more, and finally I cry myself to sleep. I never want to wake again and I am going to try to die in my sleep. I thought. I want to die in my sleep and leave here like Mama.
Morning comes. I wake. And when I realize, I am still alive and still in my miserable top bunk and Grandma's. I am angry. God-damn it! Why am I still here? My head is throbbing from the trauma of yesterday.
Grandma's house is eerily still. The crowd is gone. No need for no crowd now. They already found mama. I see Robin standing near the edge of our bunk bed. She is trying to wake Dexter who is sleeping in the bottom bunk.
"Dexter get up." She says. "We are going to go ahead and get on the road to Texas."
"Cece you wake up too." Robin says.
"Get on up now." She says.
"Y'all pack anything?" She says.
"No. I was going to pack today." I say.
"You pack Dexter?" She asks.
"No ma'am." He says.
"That's alright. We don't have a lot of room in the car anyway." She says.
"Get on up and grab what you can. We will be back in a week or two anyway. We gotta come back for the funeral." She says.
"Get on in there and wash up. Put on some clean clothes. We are waiting on y'all." She says.
"Okay." I say.
"Okay." Dexter says.
Dexter and I got out of bed and got dressed. We went into Grandma's room. She and Grandpa were asleep. We shook her. She woke.
"Bye Grandma. We are headed to Texas." I say.
"Bye Sweet. Sure gone' miss having your sweet little face around here." She says.
"Bye Grandma. I love you." Dexter says.
"I love you too Dexter my handsome, handsome boy. You take care of Sweet, you hear?" She says.
"Come back and visit me real soon Dex. Gonna miss you." She says.
"I will Grandma." He says.
"Tell Grandpa we said bye." He says.
"I hear you." Grandpa said groggily from the other end of the king-sized bed.
"Bye Dexter. Bye Constance. I love you." Grandpa says.
I am shocked. I haven't heard such kind words from Grandpa in years. We load into Mitchell's Chrysler. All three of us will have to ride in the back seat. With Gabe, Dexter, and I it is a tight fit, but we are used to being piled up by now. We drive off.
We haven't had breakfast, and Mitchell decides to stop at Mc Donald's for biscuits and orange juice. We enter the highway. I look out of the window at the familiar, thick green forests lining the highway. Gabe, Dexter, and I are tired. We fall asleep in the back seat, and when I woke, we were halfway to Texas. I hear the radio. Clymax is playing. I hear the lyrics of "I Miss You." The song is speaking to me. I miss my mother so much, and hearing this song feels like torture.
Courtney Hilton is a survivor of childhood violence. Through her writings, she hopes to illustrate the serious implications of violence and trauma on the lives of children and families. She discovered an early love for the healing properties of writing and has managed to stay actively engaged in one writing process or another, be it academic or creative. She has completed her first non-fiction project: a memoir entitled "Fuchsia Sunrise" where she vividly portrays the impact of violence and trauma on its victims. At the heart of her writing is a desire to develop a more empathetic and awakened society. She is in the final stages of a doctoral program in Educational Psychology at the University of California and is scheduled to complete her PhD in 2016. She is currently working as a school psychologist in Los Angeles. She has worked with children and families for fifteen years and has developed a passion for the lives of children. She wants to see the world become a safer place for women and children.