I paced up and down the hallway that ran from one end of our house to the other. I would glance out the window every few minutes. My stomach growled in hunger. I hadn't eaten in two days. But I knew that if my hunger was bad, it must be even worse for Mom. She was asleep in her room right now, and her fever hadn't gone down at all. I could only bring her water. No one had come to bring us food since I told the deliverymen she was sick.
I only had one canister of food saved. Mom had eaten that yesterday. Meals were delivered regularly enough that I never saw a need for saving. Now I was afraid. I had asked Mom if I could leave, to find a shop or something, and get some medicine. Every time I asked, the answer was always no.
I hadn't set foot on the ground outside in years. Mom knew I wanted to, but wishful thinking was as far as I ever got. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I would sneak out my bedroom window and sit on the roof of the back porch. That was where I was going now.
I walked into my room, almost tripping on my cat, Burrito. He was the only one in our family allowed to go outside, because he was a cat. We couldn't go to a store and get food for him, so I had to assume that he must find mice somewhere beyond his cat flap. I flopped back onto my lime green bedspread with a sort of half smile on my face. When I was five, after Mom had locked all the doors, I tried to climb out Burrito's cat flap. Unfortunately, I was caught by the deliverymen with my head sticking out the door. They were amused by it for days afterward.
I rolled over onto my stomach, staring at the open sketchbook laying on my pillow. It was open to my most recent drawing, a depiction of my bedroom. The pink carpet hadn't been colored yet, and neither had the walls, but I flipped to the next page to start a new drawing.
I picked up my dark brown marker and began to draw. Before I had truly decided what I was drawing, my hand took over, marking dark brown curls and bright green eyes. I colored Mom's dress hot pink, a color I knew she would never wear but still looked pretty in.
I stared at the drawing for a minute, my eyes prickling with tears. I didn't know if I would ever see her this happy again. I stood up, closing the sketchbook and walking towards my bookcase. I put the sketchbook in its place. I walked to the window next. I pushed the heavy, purple knit curtains to the side and opened the window. I carefully pulled myself out the window, sitting down on the porch roof. I cringed a little as I started to slide, but it didn't worry me. I had been out on this roof many times. I found a bolt to be a foothold and stopped sliding. Now that I was secure I looked around. I hadn't seen so much of the backyard in daylight before. It was very pretty. My heart fluttered a little when a cardinal squawked at me to get off the roof. There were cardinals that nested in our chimney, I had found their red feathers before. I supposed that I was unsettlingly close to his nest. I didn't really want to move, so I ignored him for now. I sat out there for probably ten minutes. When I could find nothing else to look at, I climbed back inside and shut the window. I closed the purple curtains again.
I climbed the ladder to the top bunk. There was no mattress up here, only a few pillows and blankets. This was my reading and drawing nook. I could see the whole room from here, and even out the window a little bit. I picked up the book I was reading. It had a girl in a long, white ball gown on the front. It was one of Mom's books, a romance. It was a nice book, but not one that I would read over and over. There wasn't any action, not even intense kissing. I didn't hate romance, but it did bug me a little when the characters just smiled and held hands and said “I love you” all the time. Unless they did something else, like kiss or fight or tragically break up. Then it was okay. Maybe it was because I didn't have anything to compare it to. My mom loved romance, but she was always comparing it to when she met my dad, so maybe that had something to do with it. I, myself, had never actually met a boy. I guess I'd probably seen my dad at some point. I didn't remember him at all. I wish that I did, but sappy romance stories are not really going to help me out there. Parents and boyfriends are very different; I had only ever known parents.
The first time I'd picked up a romance book, I didn't even finish it. I still struggle though them, wishing I had more reading material. I had shelves and shelves full of books and sketchbooks, and I had read them all. Many times. Needless to say, I was getting pretty bored with my book selection.
I closed my book, without reading any, closing my eyes as well. I let my imagination wander for a few minutes, wondering what it would be like to kiss someone. I only sat up when I heard Mom cough.
I climbed down from my loft and crossed the hall into Mom's room.
“Hi Meri,” Mom said as I walked in.
“Hi Mom,” I replied, trying to smile, but failing. My eyes prickled again. “Do you need something?” My voice cracked. Mom shook her head. She smiled and squeezed my hand. Her mouth never moved, but her eyes said so much.
“How do you feel?” I asked, almost fearful of her reply.
“Not well.” Mom's answer was what I was expecting, but it still made me shiver.
“Me too,” Mom replied, “About leaving you here alone.” So she had thought. She had thought about dying and was afraid for me.
“Can I tell you a story, Meri?” I nodded, and Mom began her tale.
“to start with, it's not much of a story. I don't know all the pieces myself. It's about your dad and why you never met him. Firstly, he didn't leave us. He was taken and threatened. I am not sure how or by whom. He left only because he was afraid that if he didn't comply, they would go after us too. The last time he kissed me was goodbye. He kissed my stomach too. At that point I was eight months pregnant with you. He never said 'I love you' at that last goodbye only because it would have made that goodbye too sad. His last words to me were 'call her Meredith'. He meant you.”
It made my heart smile, just a little, to know that my dad had named me. I wondered if the name had any significance to him, a meaning or something else special. Did he think it was pretty? I hoped it was something meaningful, like his mother's name. That would feel good to me.
“Mom,” I said, remembering the drawing I had made earlier, “I drew you something. See if you can sit up or roll over or something while I go get it.” I sounded so confident. I wasn't sure who needed more convincing of that, Mom or me. I ran back into my room and retrieved the drawing. Mom smiled when I showed her.
“beautiful, Meri,” she smiled as she said it, “you made it look just like me.”
“Before the illness,” I added in my head. “Like you before you were sick.”
“Goodnight Meri. Rest well.”
“I love you.” I almost choked on the words, trying to force back a cry of fear. Somehow I knew she wouldn't wake up this time.