TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
She was standing on the porch of a sagging cabin with bright yellow leaves collecting around her feet. As the cold wind billowed her skirt, she shivered and wondered if the owner of the purse really lived here. She knocked timidly and the door quickly opened, revealing a tiny girl holding a hideous, bald doll…
(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)
Life for Emmy’s family had always been hard, but recent years had been the hardest, since the bank had taken their land. Emmy didn’t understand why a bank would take a family’s land like that, but it was a fact and facts ain’t fixable. Now they lived here in a two-room cabin in the old granite quarry in the middle of town. Papa made a deal so they could build there free and call themselves caretakers, but now they only had Mama’s little kitchen garden to rely on, a couple of chickens, and what Emmy and Papa could trap in the woods that ringed the quarry. In the summer they ate a lot of squirrel. As autumn came on like a nightmare’s cold sweat, Mama always managed to bring something home, too. There was no place for hogs or cattle. No place to keep animals big enough to be salted and smoked and jerked and cured, like they used to do, when the leaves turned yellow and skittered like mice across the rooftop.
Emmy didn’t go to school. Mama said everything she might ever need to know was right there with the family and in the Good Book, which they read together every day. Emmy liked the stories, the magic and adventure, but all the begetting made her mind wander, which always led to a swift rap on her knuckles from Mama’s wooden spoon. She learned from Papa how to set snares for cottontails and how to kill a squirrel with a sling shot (guns weren’t allowed in the middle of town), how to bait a trap and how to kill what was caught. He taught her how to gut and dress what she killed, too. She knew these things but she didn’t enjoy them. Few things died clean. Most of the time there was thrashing and screaming and blood, and sometimes you’d have to chase the poor thing down and kill it again. She didn’t like that part at all. It hurt her heart to watch life fade from frightened eyes.
She didn’t have a lot of toys. Her playthings were mostly sticks and branches, rocks and dirt. Her only playmate was the forest. She did have Lulu, though. Lulu had been her mother’s doll, and now Lulu was hers. Lulu’s hair had long since fallen out, leaving a series of holes across her porcelain pate, and her clothes had long since gone, but Emmy loved her anyhow. She dressed her in scraps from the rag pile Mama kept in a corner. She sewed them together herself.
Emmy was carefully sewing a stained scrap of silk into a bodice for her doll when her Papa called her out back where he had a lean-to shed up against the wall. “Mama’s going to town,” he said. Emmy knew the annual trip would fill the lean-to with meat for smoking. It was her job to gather up green wood, and she headed off into the forest to do so, a naked Lulu dangling from her hand.
High above the little shack, on the lip of the wooded quarry, she looked down and watched her mother return from town, bare-shouldered and empty-handed, and she knew the real work would soon begin. She worked hard and fast so she could be done in time. And she was. She and Papa were stacking the last of the new wood they’d gathered when her mother opened the back door and slipped out to join them, her bare feet insensitive to the rocks and burrs. “Get inside child.”
Emmy pulled Lulu from the spot where her pants gripped her belly and, cradling her doll against her chest, she went inside to answer soft knocking at their door. Her mother ran around the side of the lean-to and her father picked up his axe.
“I think your mama left her purse at the general store,” a woman’s voice said at the open front door.
“Oh,” Emmy’s voice was sweet and innocent. “That’s my Mama’s purse alright. She’s ’round back. You can bring it to her yourself.”