Sun-rays kiss her delicate eyelids, teasing Lilly awake. Opening sleepy blue eyes, she remembers what day it is and smiles. Throwing back the covers, the cold air makes her baby teeth chatter as she swings her legs over the mattress onto the floor, bare feet touching icy tiles. Hands tucked tight under her armpits, she runs to the bathroom, barely making it in time.
“Mommy!” she calls, “Get up! Today is the day!”
Finishing her toilet, Lilly flushes, running back to her room to get dressed. A striped shirt, polka dot pants and pink socks with a red hair bow. She doesn’t know how to make a pony tail, but tries to brush out the mats, cringing as the brush pulls, caught in the tangles.
“Mommy! Can you please do my hair?” she yells.
She didn’t get new shoes, so she finds her old sneakers in her closet and puts them on. Maybe the other kids wouldn’t see the holes on the bottom. Running to her mother’s room, she stands in the doorway, her blue eyes watering with disappointment. Mommy is sleeping naked, her arm snaked around a man Lilly doesn’t know. Beer bottles and powdery white stuff lay on the nightstand as her mother snores loudly. Lilly puts the brush away, walking dejectedly down the stairs to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, she sighs. No milk again and the cereal was all gone, too. Her tummy rumbles in protest, but she’s used to that. There was no dinner last night, only a couple slices of bread she found in the pantry. Lilly wondered what she was going to use to write with or put her papers and books in. Mommy forgot to buy the school supplies on the kindergarten list that came in the mail.
A knock on her apartment door made her jump.
“Christine?” a voice called through the door, “is Lilly ready?”
Lilly ran to door and opened it for her neighbor down the hall. Judy was thirty-ish, a heavy woman with six of her own kids ranging in ages two to nine. She held the hand of her daughter, five-year-old Jasmine, a chubby little girl with a mean face.
“Hi, Mrs. Mackey,” she greeted the woman, “Mommy said thank you for walking me to the bus stop.”
“Mommy,” Jasmine laughed and pointed, “Look what Lilly’s wearing!”
Mrs. Mackey took in the clashing, mismatched clothes and worn sneakers, sighing. No doubt Lilly’s mother was passed out with some stranger after a night of hard partying. While she felt sorry for the child, she had enough of her own to worry about.
“I picked it out myself!” Lilly said proudly, “isn’t it pretty?”
“Why, Lilly, yes! You look very nice today!” she agreed, silencing her daughter with a look, “Come along now so we don’t miss the bus, girls.”
She saw how skinny Lilly had gotten and knew the child wasn’t eating properly. With her own six little Indians, she knew how much food a kid could go through. She observed how Lilly’s clothes hung on her gaunt frame, the delicate blue veins showing just under the skin. Her lovely blond hair was nice from the front, but when Lilly turned and walked ahead of them, she saw a giant rat’s nest of matted tangles in the back and shook her head. Poor thing.
Walking down the stairs, Mrs. Mackey opened the double doors that led out to the stoop, down the six steps to the sidewalk on Voorhees St. Young saplings with their beautiful Spring foliage were now nothing more than gnarled, embittered trees competing for sunlight with the tall, low-income apartment buildings they were placed too close to. The street, filled with more holes than a graveyard, was littered with garbage, needles and other unmentionable debris. The sidewalks had more cracks than the gap-toothed grin of a meth addict and the only splash of color came from the graffiti covered walls. From the open windows of the upper apartments came the boom of sub-culture music and Mrs. Mackey wanted to shield her daughter’s ears from the foul language and sexually explicit lyrics.
After fifteen minutes of waiting, the bus finally came around the corner filled with happy, laughing children, the bus driver looking bored and wishing he were anywhere else but there. Lilly got on first, her eyes as wide as an owl’s as she boarded the bus for the first time in her young life. Mrs. Mackey got a glimpse of the holes in the bottom of her shoes and her heart did a little dance of sympathy. She didn’t want to make the phone call, but enough was enough. This little girl was in trouble.
Miss Natalie looked around at her kindergarten classroom satisfied at the maintenance team’s handiwork. New cubbyholes in place, blank name tags above each one. Brand new sleeping mats for afternoon naps and bright, colorful number lines and ABC’s. Best of all was the new hamster with a three tower critter trail, a running wheel and a level for sleeping. The kids were going to love it! Looking at the clock, she hurried to her desk just as the first child came in through the door. Bright new clothes, backpacks, new hairstyles, colorful sneakers and the sound of excited, happy children filled the room. Until Lilly walked in. Miss Natalie’s keen eye caught the dark circles, mismatched clothes, matted hair as the little girl took in her surroundings, unsure and shy, hanging back just outside of the doorway.
“Don’t be shy sweetie,” she coaxed the child, holding out her hand. “come in and find a seat! You’re going to have so much fun here!’
She was rewarded with a sweet smile, one that lit up the room and melted her heart.
“Class, my name is Miss Natalie,” she announced, “Welcome to the first day of Kindergarten!”
Lilly was fascinated by Miss Natalie. She was so pretty and she smelled like the flowers in Mrs. Mackey’s garden. Her eyes weren’t filled with black rain clouds and her hand didn’t hurt when she touched her. Looking around, Lilly’s eyes felt full, for she’d never seen so many colorful, beautiful things. She took a seat up front so she could be near Miss Natalie, her eyes following the teacher with hero worship. They started off the day with introductions and Miss Natalie showed the children each ‘station’ of the room. The play station, sleeping station, learning circle, food station which was a table with ten chairs and Lilly’s favorite, a large standing table filled with sand or whatever Miss Natalie wanted to fill it with that day. Much to Lilly’s delight, they were offered breakfast and lunch. Her world was happy, filled with color, yummy food and new friends. She didn’t ever want the day to end.
The Social Workers
But the day did end and as she walked through the door of her shabby apartment, the weight of the world came crashing down on her shoulders. The foul smell of stale beer and cigarettes assailed her nostrils and the sight of her mother sitting at the kitchen table with a drink in her hand filled her with dread.
“Where were you, Lilly,” her mother said in a soft, deadly voice, “you weren’t home today.”
“I was in school mommy,” she explained, eyes cast down, “I had my first day today.”
Her mother stood quickly, knocking her chair over backwards, her face a black cloud. She didn’t have happy, smiling eyes like Miss Natalie and she didn’t smell nice, either. As her mother approached, Lilly backed up in fear until she felt the wall cold on her back.
“Are you saying I’m a bad mother, Lilly?” her voiced dripped venom.
“I’m sorry mommy!” Lilly cried, “The kids made fun of my clothes, mommy, and I didn’t have paper or pencils or a back pack like everybody else.”
“So what do you want me to do about it?’ Christine said hotly, grabbing her by the hair, “Your old stuff is just fine, deal with it! Go to your freaking room, Lilly, before I smack you. Get out my sight!’
A firm knock on the door made everyone freeze. Christine let go of her daughter’s hair, took a last drag of her cigarette and answered it.
Two women in smart looking business suits, each carrying thin briefcases stood a respectful distance from the doorway. Christine raised her eyes brows in question.
“Can I help you?” she asked curtly.
“Hello, Ms. Bremer?” the shorter lady spoke, “I’m Jean Aston and this is my partner, Cathy Willis. We’re from Child Protective Services. We got an anonymous call suggesting a child here might be in danger and we need to talk to you. Can we come in please so we can clear this up?”
Jean and Barbara were met by a disheveled, angry-looking woman who didn’t even bother to get dressed for the day. Still in a nightgown and slippers, she stood with a hand on one hip and the other braced on the door frame.
For the first time, Christine lost her smart ass attitude and felt a real fear. She nodded, opening the door all the way to admit the two women. She saw how they surreptitiously observed their surroundings, taking in the dirty dishes, beer bottles on the table and the disheveled look of things. Their keen eyes also spotted Lilly peeking from around the corner with her red-rimmed eyes and gaunt appearance. This case was going to be a tough one. They hadn’t even been in the home for two minutes and they both instinctively knew the child was going to be taken.
“Don’t mind the house,” Christine tried to explain, “I had such a busy day yesterday, I didn’t have time to clean.”
“Oh, don’t worry about the house, we’ve seen worse,” Jean assured her, making the woman feel at ease. “What’s going to happen now is that my partner is going to be speaking with you and I’m going to interview the child. Where is she, Ms. Bremer?”
“Lilly!” Christine yelled, “Get out here now! Someone wants to talk to you!”
Lilly came in the room slowly, noting the warning look in her mother’s eyes. Dragon eyes, she called them. The same look just before she got hit or shoved. A tall, pretty lady held out her hand to Lilly.
“Hello, sweetie, you must Lilly,” she said softly, “my name is Miss Jean. Would you like to take me to your room and we can have a little chat?”
Lilly glanced over at her mother’s mad eyes, feeling trapped. What was the right answer? To be on the safe side, she shrugged her shoulders, keeping her eyes down.
Jean let the tiny girl lead her upstairs, taking note of the tangled mats where she couldn’t obviously couldn’t reach to brush and the foul odor of poor hygiene. The stairs were worn, dusty and still had the remnants of old carpeting. Passing the bathroom, Jean detected the foul odor of feces and urine and determined that cleanliness wasn’t one of Christine’s strong points. Lilly’s room, at the end of the hall, was more like a walk in closet than a room. Cramped and dirty, it definitely was not the room of a well-loved child. Dirty clothes were piled everywhere and a filthy mattress lay on the cold, hard floor. Without a sheet, Jean could see stains all over it. She had no dresser, no curtains and the barren walls were dull and
chipped with old paint.
© 2016, RissRyker518. All rights reserved.
The author has granted WritersCarnival.ca, its affiliates and syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.