I wrote the below piece as a short story entry in a writing contest. Not so much for the prize but more for the practice of writing…although the prize money would be nice too. The magazine I wrote this for normally selects longer pieces but after writing the story, I felt it was complete even though it was short. Anyway, as I said before, I entered it to practice writing and to make myself write. Hope you enjoy it!
Through the Eyes of a Child
by: MaryEllen Herrera
I’m just a child but I still see things. Like the time I was playing outside. It was such a beautiful day and it was perfect weather to search out the critters that crawl in the dirt. The night before I could hear the gentle patter of rain against my window and rain always brings out the best bugs! Once the sun was up I was outside on my hands and knees crawling from place to place when I came upon it.
A few weeks back my dad had taken me to the river bottom. He was bringing the people there some water and sandwiches. I like these trips because there are a lot of things to see; although I have never been able to really explore much because my Dad makes sure I am always within hearing range. It was during this trip that my Dad saw a man with two young kids. Dad started talking to the man and I wandered a little ways off. I didn’t wander far and was able to hear my Dad calling to me. It was time to go and even though it was only us two that came to the river bottom, we left with the man and his two kids.
They set up camp in our backyard. The man would leave every morning with my Dad so I figured my Dad let him work at the store while his kids stayed at the house. I was never really introduced to the family but I found out listening to the conversations around me that the man’s name was Ralph and his two kids were Howard and Mae.
Next to the shed where Ralph stayed was a large tree that shaded a patch of dirt. Under the tree rested a few boxes and containers. I believe they belonged to Ralph because they appeared soon after he moved into the shed. The boxes kept the dirt nice and moist for the bugs and I always could find something interesting wiggling around under them. The rain from last night made it even more of a treasure than usual, but the rain also loosened up a few of the boxes. What I found there along with the bugs made my eyes widen.
The moving of the box uncovered the stuff that was stored inside. A few magazines tumbled out and I on the cover of one of them I saw a lady. The picture made me blush and I quickly turned around and headed back to the safety of the house. Bugs were forgotten as the picture of the lady stayed with me as I turned on the TV. I felt like I did something wrong seeing that magazine outside with the lady lying on a rug with nothing on except the hat that rested on her head. It took me a few commercials and few episodes of that rascally cat, Heathcliff, before I could forget that magazine. Nobody ever asked and I never told and I thought that those magazines were the worse my eyes would ever see, but I saw other things too.
Summers were when the house became the fullest. My mom would be home and watching my brother and me and then there were Ralph’s kids and some days my cousins would be there too. It would be a house full of commotion and finding a place all to your own could be hard. This is how it came to be that I saw something much worse than those magazines out in the yard.
This summer began like the others but then Ralph started to complain about having some back pain. He complained so much that Dad decided to give him a few weeks off to recover and so it was Mom who was leaving with Dad in the morning to help at the shop. Since Mom was gone, it was Ralph watching us for those two weeks. I didn’t mind much because I knew it would be a full house once my cousins came over.
In previous summers, my cousins Sally and Matt would stay with us and this summer was the same. After a few weeks with us, I noticed that Sally was behaving differently; she didn’t want to play with me, my brother or Matt and whenever we tried to get her to play with us she’d sigh and make up some excuse as to why she needed to stay indoors. Eventually we stopped asking but I still secretly hoped she would one day be like she when she was fun to be around.
Last summer Sally was so much fun! Like the time she took us to the creek down the road. We splashed in the water and caught tadpoles all morning. We even took some home to watch them grow into frogs. Another time she had us searching the streets for change but she called it hidden treasure. Not until we had found over 50 cents did she let us in on the secret – our treasure money was going to be cashed in at the hotel down the street. Earlier she had noticed a sign in the office window which read “Penny Candy for Sale”. Yeah, she was fun when she wanted to be and unfortunately this summer she didn’t want to be fun.
Without Sally’s great ideas, Matt and I pretty much sat around inside watching TV or playing Mario Brothers. You can only watch TV or play video games for so long before you get restless and bored out of your mind. After failing to find my brother or of getting Matt of the couch, I went looking for Sally hoping today was the day she’d change her mind and play with us.
She wasn’t in the house so I decided to check outside. As I walked out into the yard I heard some giggling going on at Ralph’s so I went over and opened the door to the shed. I found Sally and a lot more. At first I wasn’t sure where she was but at hearing the door open, Ralph’s head popped out from underneath a blanket on the floor. He didn’t look happy at all and I was about to explain why I was there when I saw Sally peeking out from under the same blanket. She was smiling until she saw me and then she looked kind of scared. It was at that time I heard Ralph’s angry voice saying, “GET OUT!” I slammed the door shut and rushed back inside.
I didn’t know what to think but I felt weird inside. I found Matt still playing video games in the living room and sat next to him. When he asked if I found Sally I mumbled that I wanted to watch TV. Matt turned off his video game and clicked through the channels. I don’t even remember what we ended up watching but I do remember hearing the back door open and Sally walking in. I didn’t look away from the TV and she didn’t say anything as she sat on the floor with her back against the couch. From that day on I kept away from the shed outside. Nobody ever said anything to me about that day and I never brought it up and I hoped that was the end of my bad experiences…but again I was wrong.
After the shed incident I felt awkward around Ralph; mostly when there wasn’t anyone else home but us kids, so I asked my Dad if I could go with him to the store and help out. It took several tries but one day during breakfast Dad asked me why I was still in my pajamas. I looked at him confused and didn’t know what to say. He just smiled and said to get dressed that I was coming to the store with him. I jumped off the chair and was changed within a matter of seconds!
The store was a wonderful place for a kid to explore. Dad had some fantastic stuff there and he let me play with anything I wanted to. Nothing was new so Dad didn’t mind me playing with the merchandise. And then there were the people; they were a lot of fun too. Dad liked to help those who were “down and out” as he put it and when he found people in need he let them work at the store. He paid them and sometimes even offered them a place to sleep. Some people stayed for a long time but others would wander in and be gone in a few days. It didn’t matter to Dad if they stayed or left, he just wanted to help however he could.
I felt important as I walked into the store with Dad. All the people working there waved or said “hi” to me and Dad told me he had a special assignment for me. He led me to the back room where the donations were stored. He showed me two large bins full of books and said it was my job to place the stickers with the prices on each book. With a pat on my back Dad left me to my special assignment.
I began by emptying the first large bin. Once the bin was empty and the books were scattered about on the floor, I began by placing a sticker on the first page inside of each book. I didn’t want to ruin the book’s cover with an orange sticker. Once I had a pile of books priced, I replaced them in the bin. I did this until I noticed several Goosebump books on the floor. I opened one of them and became absorbed in the chilling tale about a puppet and the puppet master. It was a pretty gruesome story and I….
The yelling in the store brought me back to the present. I could tell by the voice that it was Ralph and he sounded real mad. I could hear my Dad too but his voice didn’t sound angry, it sounded a little scared. I crept to the door and slowly opened it…just enough to peek out and see into the store. At first all I saw was my Dad’s back but then I noticed a few other people hiding behind the checkout counter. I heard a loud explosion, saw my Dad fall and in his place I saw Ralph with his arm raised and a gun in his hand. I slammed the door shut, ran and hid underneath the desk.
I shut my eyes and covered my ears against the sounds coming from the store. I couldn’t make sense or understand any of the words. My mind was racing and I couldn’t hold on to any one thought. I’m not sure how long I was under that table but I froze when I heard the door open. Footsteps, then a man’s face appeared in front of me and I screamed! I tried to run away but the man grabbed me. It took me a few more screams to realize it wasn’t Ralph and the man wore a police uniform.
This time I was asked questions and I answered the best I could. I was so very happy when I saw my Mom walk into the room. I hugged her for the longest time and told her I wanted to see Dad. She hugged me back and I never did see Dad again.
Mom never talked about that day or asked me what I saw. I was anxious to hear what happened to Ralph but all I really knew for sure was that Howard and Mae were taken away. Every time I asked my Mom something, she would tear up and mumble that she had to do something and leave the room. It was by chance that I finally heard about Ralph’s fate.
I was watching TV and clicking through channels when I saw what I least expected. There on the screen was a picture of Ralph. What I had stumbled upon the news channel. Normally I would have quickly changed it because I found the news programs my parents watched so boring, but seeing Ralph’s face and his vacant stare that seemed to be focused directly on me, I knew I had to listen to the newscaster. In a matter of seconds I discovered Ralph was sentenced to two to five years in prison and that he was eligible for parole in two and a half. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant but I didn’t have a good feeling about it. I clicked off the TV and went outside for some fresh air.
Even the fresh air couldn’t keep my mind from replaying the information about Ralph over and over and over. I had to know what it meant. I searched for Mom and told her what I saw. Before she could give her usual “escape” speech, I ran to her and wrapped my arms around her as tightly as I could as I shouted, “Tell me! Tell me what that means!” Her eyes were glossy with tears as she bent down to my level. Her words would haunt me for months afterward, “Later…when you are older you’ll understand.” I cried. I wanted to understand NOW but she wouldn’t give me any explanation…and I knew no matter how much I cried or asked, she wouldn’t tell me.
I’m just a child but I still see things, but for now I wait and I hope I can grasp the meaning of this when I am older.
…..It’s been many years since those incidents in my childhood – the incidents that changed my life forever. Ralph is out, able to enjoy life while I know deep inside he never really paid for or took responsibility for what transpired that day. What is three years behind bars compared to the rest of his lifetime of freedom? How is that justice for taking a life?
I often wonder what the outcome would have been if I wasn’t a child or if I could have spoken out and shared what I saw; I wonder if it would have changed anything. Being a child meant being sheltered from the murder of my Dad but in truth I had something to say and I think what I had to share might of helped paint a more realistic picture of who Ralph was and the events that took place. Then maybe Ralph would still be behind bars and maybe I would feel as if justice was served.
Is it because we live in a society where adults feel they are the only ones who have something valuable to say? And is it that children cannot possibly bring any value or insight that they go unheard…many times silently living through the most awful situations? I believe children are the silent witnesses of this day. Let us strive to make them heard.