As soon as my little sister was born, our mother kicked my brother and me out of the house. I was four, he was two. My sister had blond curls and blue eyes and what they called a rosebud smile that lit up the room so brightly that our father would not have been able to find us right in front of his face if he tried. That was how bad things had become.
One day, Timmy and I tried to get back into the house and reclaim our filial rights. We were also hungry and thirsty. Morning dew and wild apples only went so far. We knocked on the door but no one came. We rang the doorbell, same result. Kicked the screen door so hard we dented the metal part below the screen. We threw pebbles at the windows. Shouted and begged and screamed and cried. Then we realized no one was home.
They had taken our sister to buy some new clothes or toys, we figured, even though she was much too young to appreciate them. That was something they used to do with us until we ceased to exist and Lydia took over. I told Timmy to "Wait here" and got a shovel out of the garage to pry open the bulkhead. That was the weird door that led to the basement. I told Timmy to hang off the end of the shovel handle and not let go. I sat on it to add weight but the bulkhead wouldn't budge. Our dad must have bolted it from the inside. He was like that. Said he didn't want any burglars getting any bright ideas. Or, we figured, his two other kids. The ones he'd forgotten he had.
I went next door to ask Mr. Murphy for something to eat but he and Mrs. Murphy weren't home either. That's when I noticed by accident that they had a quart of milk in their milk box. So I took the bottle and five minutes later Timmy and I were ready for anything. Especially after we sucked the cream off the top. That was always Timmy's favorite part.
We sat down for a while on the front steps and watched the road for our parents' blue Rambler. A lot of station wagons went by but not the one we wanted to see. It was getting to be about lunchtime and I was thinking a lot about peanut butter on white bread. I would even have taken some jelly in it, even though I usually hated when peanut butter and jelly touched each other. But the milk and even the cream were starting to wear off and Timmy and I hadn't done much with our burst of energy except wonder what it would take to climb onto the roof and slide down the chimney. When Timmy started to cry I told him he had to be strong for the two of us because it looked like this might take a while. We'd been on our own for so long you would have thought they'd have sent out the police to bring us back in by now. Or maybe the FBI or CIA. Or even Bruno, the old dog they had got before any of us were born and who was good for nothing except lying on the couch and snoring. I was surprised they hadn't kicked him out, too.
I went across the street to see if old Mrs. Bennett could spare a cookie or two. She always had cookies in a porcelain jar that had a gingerbread man on top. Well, part of a gingerbread man. Somebody had broken off his head and one of his arms a while back. And it wasn't me. Mrs. Bennett handed me two chocolate chip cookies through the back door and asked how my new little sister was doing. The big smile on her face made me really mad. I told her I didn't know how my bratty little sister was doing since I hadn't seen her or my parents in a very long time. She patted me on the head and told me to be a good girl and closed the door. If I wasn't so hungry I would have thrown her dumb cookies onto her tulips and daffodils.
I woke Timmy up from his nap and handed him the smaller one, which he stuffed into his mouth in half a second. I picked up all his crumbs and mashed them into another even smaller cookie and told him to open wide. That cookie was gone in half the time and he asked me for another one. When I told him that was it, he started to cry again and his crying got so loud that I hoped my mother would hear it wherever she was.
Sometime later, I decided to follow through on my plan to play Santa Claus. I walked around the house and figured that the spruce tree my parents had planted near the den would probably get me to where I could then shimmy up the drain pipes and climb onto the shingles. Timmy did as he was told and lay down on the grass to take another nap. I never saw anybody yawn as much as he did. It made me sleepy just to look at him.
The spruce was full of thin branches that made it hard to climb but I managed to get to where I could grab hold of the pipe and one of the window sills and use my knees to pull myself up and reach the edge of the gutter that slipped a little when I grabbed hold of it. I wondered if it would completely fall off and drop me to the ground but it didn't and I kept going until I got my Keds firmly onto the shingles and crawled up to the brick chimney. I took a moment to look around the neighborhood from this new perch. I had climbed a few trees in my life but never been this high. I could see as far as Bobby Spaulding's green house on one side and Patty Merchant's white one on the other side. Everybody and everything looked so small. I liked the view from above and wished I lived in a tree house. You could see so much more of real life when you weren't right in the middle of it.
The only thing I couldn't see was my parents and that tiny, pink Lydia with the smelly diapers.
It was not like my parents ever used the fireplace, even at Christmas when the streets were covered with snow, but somehow the chimney's four walls were covered with black soot. I suddenly understood that chimney sweep song and dance in Mary Poppins as I slid my hands and feet into the thin openings between bricks and lowered myself first through the upstairs level then down toward the living room on the first floor. It was as dark as any dark I had ever seen and I couldn't even tilt my head back to see if the sky was still there. I searched around with my feet like I did when I went swimming too far out in the lake and was trying to find solid ground under water but they only touched what felt like a metal plate or door. When I put my weight on it, the thing creaked like it was on rusty hinges. This was not what I had expected. I saw a thin line of light that must have been around the edge of the metal square. After feeling around more with my feet, I realized this was probably as far as I could go. I jumped on the plate ten times and it felt like it moved but it wouldn't break open. It wouldn't let me in. Or out.
I reached up and along the walls for a cranny so I could climb back out but now everything felt smooth. Where was the place my toes had been? I couldn't find it. That was when I heard Timmy wailing at the top of his lungs. I screamed back but my mouth felt like it was full of thick powder. It was. I blew it out and spit it out but my voice stuck hard in my throat.
After a while, I couldn't hear Timmy anymore. I thought about him out there all by himself and hated our mother for forgetting us so easily when the new kid came. I didn't hate my father because everyone knew fathers didn't pay much attention to their children when they were little, even if they were good at pretending, but my mother should have known better. It was her job at least to make sure we had a hot dog and frozen peas and minute rice and chocolate pudding for dinner and were tucked into our beds at night. I hoped I would die in the chimney and my mother would find my skeleton someday and feel sorry for how she had treated me after my sister arrived. Then I realized that wasn't such a good idea because there were still a lot of things I wanted to do with my life. Like learn to ride a big bike and get into the sharks class at the lake. And read Dr. Seuss by myself and be a wicked witch for Halloween.
I thought I heard my mother yell my name from somewhere inside the house.
It was definitely her voice and she did not sound happy. I couldn't figure out why she would be angry since she was the one who banished us from our own home. And I was just trying to get Timmy and me back in.
"This is not hide-and-go-seek!"
For a moment, I smiled to myself. She was right. This had to be the best hiding place in the whole world. If I wanted to, she would never find me in there.
She did not answer and the house was so quiet I wondered if I had imagined the whole thing.
"You are going to get such a spanking!"
If she wanted me to reveal myself, she was going to have to resist threatening me with bodily harm.
"Stop playing games!"
"Where the hell are you?"
"In the wall," I said in a small voice.
"What the hell do you mean you're in the wall?"
"In the chimney."
"Just wait till your father gets home."
"Can I come out now?"
My mother rattled something in the living room and below my feet and all of a sudden I fell smack down onto my bum into the fireplace. Clouds of soot and ash flew into the air and out onto the blue wall-to-wall carpet my mother loved more than anything. Maybe even more than she loved her new child.
That was when I jumped up and ran out the front door and across the street to Mrs. Bennett's backyard and around her bushes to Mr. White's house and over his pile of hoes and rakes to the next street and into the big woods and through the icy cold brook to the high flat rock where I climbed up to sit down and catch my breath and think about what to do next. But I didn't have any more ideas and soon it was getting dark. I heard both of my parents calling my name. Plus Mrs. Bennett and Mr. White and even Mr. and Mrs. Murphy and Mrs. Merchant and Mr. Spaulding. And Timmy's little voice saying "Oozie" like he always did. Nobody sounded angry, not even my mother. I hugged my knees to my chest. Maybe my baby sister wouldn't be an only child after all.
BIO: Rebecca Clay Haynes� stories have appeared in The Binnacle and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and she has work forthcoming in The Zodiac Review and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Before turning to fiction, Rebecca was a freelance journalist and author of non-fiction children�s books. In May, she set off on a multi-year literary journey, staying mostly at writer residencies around the world. At the moment, she's residing in Santa Fe.