August 3, 2013 6:46:32 PM
Rachel crawls out from under the bed. She takes her robe from the hook on the closet door. She had awakened in the middle of the night and heard the voices outside the house, then heard the back door forced open, and she slipped out of bed and onto the floor, scurrying under like an insect. She listened as they ransacked the kitchen and living room, their movements loud and uninhibited as they believed they were alone. After half an hour they left but she hadn't moved, lying motionless, afraid to blink, her nose inches from the box spring. She eventually unclenched her jaw and relaxed, then she slept, her body straight and still as if in a coffin. Now she moves towards the bedroom door in the gray morning light, wary of what she'll see on the other side.
In the kitchen, the drawers are out and emptied onto the tile floor, the cabinet doors ripped off the hinges, the kitchen table and chairs overturned. The refrigerator door is open and its few contents splattered onto the wreckage - ketchup, salad dressing, leftover spaghetti. In the living room, a knife has ripped the cushions of the sofa and the recliner and small chunks of foam litter the room like dirty snow. Picture frames and lamps are broken and the television and VCR are gone. And on the walls of both rooms she finds creations in black spray paint - four letter words and cartoonish private parts.
Rachel tiptoes carefully through the fragments of broken glass to the telephone on the kitchen wall, somehow still on the hook. She dials the sheriff's office and asks for her brother Steven.
"Kinda early, ain't it?" he answers.
"I need you to come out here. Somebody broke in and trashed the place."
"Jeez, not again. That's the third one this month. How bad is it?"
"I'm all right."
They say goodbye and Rachel picks up a kitchen chair and sits down. It will take fifteen minutes for Steven to arrive, the sheriff's department on the other side of the county with many bends in many narrow roads between them. Outside, the sun creeps higher and the gray light becomes yellow, the light growing through the kitchen window above the sink and shining on Rachel's bare leg. It's warm and she opens her robe and slides her other leg into the light, and she sits still, closes her eyes, can almost feel the sunshine penetrating her skin. She keeps her eyes closed and imagines this warmth finding her somewhere else - at a hotel pool, on a long walk - and her mind wanders until Steven pulls into the driveway.
"Were you here?" Steven asks. He stands in the middle of the mess with his hands on his hips. He shakes his head, bites his lip. "Little punks." Rachel stands in the living room, leaning against the paneled wall.
"I hadn't been here long. Worked late last night."
"Let me guess - Dale wasn't here."
She shakes her head.
"How long's he been gone this time?"
"A day or two."
"I see the car's not here. He got it?"
"Mary picks me up for work."
"That ain't the point."
Steven kneels and looks more closely at the covered floor. He picks up a coupon that drips with Italian dressing. Then he stands and walks to the back door and examines where the deadbolt splintered the frame.
"How many did it sound like?" he asks.
"At least three, I think. Any ideas?"
"I figure it's some bored high school kids. They don't usually take anything, just do it for the hell of doing it. If your car would've been here they'd have probably kept going."
"They took the TV and VCR."
Steven takes a notepad from his shirt pocket and makes some notes.
Wearing sneakers now with her robe, she walks across the living room, past Steven, and out the back door. He follows her. She sits down on a blue ice chest under the carport and asks for a cigarette. They smoke together, Steven with his back to her, looking out across the overgrown acreage surrounding the small brick house. No one lives within sight and he is relieved they didn't know she was there, that she stayed put and didn't play hero. From here you could scream and scream but it would be the same as a whimper.
He flicks the cigarette into the yard, then he turns and says, "I'll give you the money to get up there, Rachel. Just pack up and go. Mom has told you a hundred times you could stay with her for a while."
"Then go. This afternoon. Take the bus. When Dale gets back I'll come out here and take the car from him and me and the kids will clean up."
"I'll think about it."
"My god, Rachel," he says.
"Don't my god me, Steven. I said I'd think about it. Let me have another cigarette. Mine are lost in there."
He gives her another and takes one for himself. The morning is cool and clear and quiet. They had grown up with mornings like these. Their mother helped them make sandwiches and they walked across the damp fields to the woods and down to the stream. Steven took a hatchet and they built forts and later skipped rocks as they waited for the day to warm up and then they stepped into the spring fed water, wading downstream to where their feet came out from under them and they dove for the bottom, grabbed a clump of mud and hurried up with it dripping between their fingers to prove they'd made it all the way down. Now the fields are overgrown and on a Sunday afternoon Rachel had gone into the woods and looked for the path to the stream but it was also gone. And so is their mother, living with a man neither of them have ever seen somewhere in Ohio.
"What's Dale up to this time?" Steven asks.
Rachel shrugs, the robe falling from her shoulder. She gives it a tug and says, "He's been talking with this guy over in Hattiesburg about buying and selling buffalo. It's supposed to be the new hamburger."
"A buffalo farm, huh? Will this be like the llama farm he had out here in the backyard?"
"At least he's trying."
"Trying is working. Not running all over the place digging for gold."
Rachel stands from the cooler, sighs, doesn't know what to say about Dale. Or about the mess inside. Or about anything.
"I need to clean up," she says instead.
"I get off at four and me the boys will come out and help. You got to work today?"
She moves to go inside and Steven says, "Think we should call mom and let her know?"
Rachel runs her hand across her forehead, then answers flatly, "No." She goes in and Steven walks to his car, looks back at the house, then the radio calls out a wreck on the highway and he drives away.
Read Part 2
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mississippi University for Women professor Michael Farris Smith, whose novel "Rivers" has already drawn rave reviews nationally in advance of its September release, has agreed to share a previously unpublished short story, "Chasing Rabbits" with Dispatch readers. The story will be published in three installments beginning today and continuing through Tuesday.