A Different Blue Page 13

The day dragged on. I was used to being alone, but I was afraid that day. Night came and Jimmy didn't return. I opened some re fried beans, heated them up on the little stove in the camper, and spread them on some tortillas we had made the day before. I made myself eat because it was something to do, but I found myself crying and swallowing my food in great gulps because my nose was clogged and I couldn't breath and chew at the same time.

There had been one other time when Jimmy stayed away all night. He had come home acting strange and stumbling around. He had fallen into his bed and had slept the day away. I had thought he was sick and had put a cold rag on his head, only to have him push me away, telling me he was fine, just drunk. I didn't know what drunk meant. I asked him when he finally woke up. He was embarrassed, and he apologized, telling me that alcohol made men mean and women cheap.

I thought about what he said for a long time.

“Can it make women mean too?” I asked Jimmy out of the blue.

“Huh?” he had grunted, not understanding.

“Alcohol. You said it makes men mean and women cheap. Can it make women mean too?” I didn't know what cheap meant, but I knew what it meant to be mean and wondered if alcohol had been part of my mom's problem.

“Sure. Mean and cheap both.” Jimmy nodded.

I was comforted by that thought. I had assumed that my mom had left me and Jimmy because I had done something wrong. Maybe I had cried too much or wanted things she couldn't give me. But maybe she drank alcohol and it made her mean. If alcohol made her mean, then maybe it wasn't me after all.

I fell asleep that night, but I slept fitfully listening even as I drifted off, trying not to cry, telling myself it was alcohol again, although I didn't believe it. I awoke the next morning, the heat seeping into the camp trailer pulling me from dreams where I wasn't alone. I shot up, shoving my feet into my flip-flops and stumbling out into the blinding sunshine. I ran around our camp site, looking for any indication that Jimmy had returned while I'd slept.

“Jimmy!” I shrieked. “Jimmy!” I knew he hadn't come back, but I comforted myself with calling for him and looking in outrageous places where he couldn't possibly be. A muffled whine had me running around the camper in jubilation, expecting to see Jimmy and Icas approaching from the direction they had headed the day before. Instead, I saw Icas, still several yards off, limping, his head hung low, his tongue practically dragging in the dirt. There was no sign of Jimmy. I ran to him and scooped him up in my arms, blubbering my gratitude that he was here. I wasn't a big girl, and I staggered a little beneath his weight, but I wasn't about to let him go. I laid him down awkwardly in the shade of the canopy and ran for his bowl, splashing lukewarm water into his dish and urging him to drink. He lifted his head and tried to drink from a prone position. He managed to splash a little water into his mouth but did not drink with the gusto one would expect from a dog so clearly in need of water. He tried to stand, but now that he was down he couldn't seem to find the strength to rise to his feet. I tried to support him as he attempted to drink again.

“Where's Jimmy, Icas?” I questioned as his body trembled and he slumped to the dirt. He looked at me mournfully and closed his bleary eyes. He whined pathetically and then was silent. Several times throughout the day, I thought Icas was dead. He was so still I had to get close and check to see if he was breathing. I couldn't rouse him to eat or drink.

I waited for two more days. The water in the camper tank was almost gone. I still had food. Jimmy and I were frugal, and there were weeks at a time between trips to the store. But we were frequently on the move, and we had been in this spot for a week before Jimmy had disappeared. What finally forced me into going for help was Icas. He ate a little bit and drank a little more, but he was lethargic and whined softly when he was conscious, as if he knew something he was unable to communicate. On the morning of the third day, I picked up the dog and hoisted him into the truck. Then I climbed up behind the wheel, scooting the seat as far forward as it would go. I left Jimmy a note on the little table in the camper kitchen. If he came back, I didn't want him to think I'd run away and taken all his tools. I didn't dare leave them behind. If someone happened along our campsite, I knew the lock on the door wouldn't keep anyone out, and if the tools were taken, there would be no more carving. No more carving meant no more food.

There was a twenty dollar bill in the ashtray. It seemed like a lot of money to a kid. I knew how to drive the truck, but I struggled to see over the steering wheel. I grabbed the pillow from the bench that folded down into my narrow bed each night. Sitting on it gave me just enough height to see the road beyond the wheel. Once I was out of the quiet canyon we had been camped in, I narrowly missed colliding with several cars. My driving experience didn't extend to driving among other vehicles. I didn't know where I was going, but I figured if I stopped at any gas station and told them my dog was sick and my dad was missing, someone would help me.

I managed to keep the truck going in a straight line, but it wasn't long after I'd started seeing homes crop up in ever increasing patches that flashing blue and red lights pulled up behind me. I didn't know what to do. So I just kept driving. I tried pushing the gas pedal down harder, thinking maybe I could speed up and get away. That didn't work very well. Plus, the truck started to shake the way it always did when Jimmy tried to push it to go faster. I slowed down and thought maybe if I went really slow the police car would just pass me by. I slowed way down, and the police car came up beside me. The man behind the wheel looked angry and waved at me with his whole arm, as if telling me to scoot over. I scooted and came to a rumbling stop. Another car with flashing lights came speeding toward me from the other direction.

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