Summer Memories
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  • Post published:13/05/2021
  • Post last modified:13/05/2021

SunsetEmma listened to the lonesome call of the loons carried into the kitchen on the warm night breeze, and shuddered. To most people the sound of these birds, and the warmth of the summer air, meant vacation and joy. To Emma the sound meant fear. She did not know why, but even now at the age of 43, it would seep into her pores then fuse into a slithering venomous serpent whose poison ate away at her life-force.

Aunt Dotty was bustling around the small cottage kitchen cutting squares for the children while Emma chatted about the drive up from the city. She was enjoying her first coffee of the day, but as she lifted the cup to her mouth her hand froze there as if trapped in amber. She was staring in horror as her uncle’s large hands with their arthritis-thickened joints rested lightly on her son’s shoulders. They were both leaning over a jigsaw puzzle and intently staring at the key.

Jagged, shattered, fragmented shards of memory swirled, and then coalesced in her mind. Those hands. Those hands close to her son’s throat.

~

All of a sudden she was 10 years old and crawling into a black locker that smelled of pitch and mold. She sat on a thick pile of coiled rope staring at her brother’s face which was partially hidden in shadow. “Just sit here and don’t say a word,” Eric whispered. The whites of his eyes glinted against his dusky face as his gaze flickered behind every few seconds. The look of fear on his face more convincing than his words. “Promise? Promise me you won’t say or do anything until I come for you?” When she nodded her head he hesitated for a second then closed the door.

The lattice screen was only inches from her face. She could see out, but no one could see her sitting there in the dark amongst the ropes, traps, and fishing tackle. Sometime later – she may have slept – a sound startled her. Jerking upright she watched her uncle and brother as they walked down the jetty toward the boat. The boat rocked a little as the boy stepped into the craft. It rocked quite a bit when the man did.

“You untie us,” her uncle’s gruff voice commanded. But as Eric moved toward the line, large hands fastened around the boy’s throat. Emma watched her brother’s eyes bulge as her uncle bore down with all his strength. Eric’s mouth gaped wide as he tried to drag air into his lungs. His hands, pathetically small against her uncle’s meaty grip, scrabbled ineffectually as he tried to free himself. Then as the boy’s grip fell away his body was hoisted into the air like a dangling fish flaccid and lifeless.
The only sounds were the heavy wheezes of the man and that of a fishing loon.

Emma sat motionless, unable to breathe, as if her uncle’s hands were around her throat as well. She watched him drop the inert body of the boy to the deck, her eyes glued to that motionless heap. She could feel the boat sway as her uncle walked to the stern of the small craft before yanking open the top of the long seat that ran across the back of the boat. Her eyes only turned to him when he grunted as he pulled a heavy, tarpaulin covered bundle from inside the bench. He took two steps to the gunnels before tipping it out of the vessel onto the weathered planks of the dock. It landed with a thump and a crinkle.

Emma watched as her uncle lifted the package over one shoulder then slowly strode toward shore. She waited for an eternity before creeping out of her hiding spot and rushing over to her brother’s still shape. She sat by his lifeless body for a long time, rocking and begging him to wake up. He never did. The sight of a bobbing lantern returning to the boat spurred Emma to leave Eric and scramble back into the dark locker.

Her uncle rolled Eric’s body into a small tarp before hoisting him over his shoulder like yesterday’s catch. Following him into the inky darkness she watched as he buried her brother in a lonesome hole beneath a large oak tree.

~

A frantic Aunt Dotty contacted the police when Eric still hadn’t returned the next night. A week later Emma’s broken childhood turned from nightmare to horror as each night her uncle’s heavy footsteps stopped in front of her door. “Go by. Go by. Go by,” she chanted. He never did.

Lying in bed the terrified little girl would feign sleep; the only sounds were that of clinking metal as he fumbled for his belt, and the echoes of birds calling to each other through the open windows.

~

The rattle of her vibrating pager brought Emma back to the present. The coffee cup shattered as it dropped from her nerveless fingers. Jumping to her feet she felt the rush of adrenaline in her veins as panic coiled in her gut. “Get your stuff. We’re leaving.”

Everyone looked startled at the wild expression in her eyes.

“But Mom, we just got here,” her daughter whined.

“Now!” she bellowed at the kids.

Sullenly both children obeyed at once. She followed them out to the car and gave a small sigh of relief when she slid in behind the wheel.

“Damn,” she said. “I forgot my keys.”

When she rushed back in through the door she could see the puzzled expressions on her aunt and uncle’s faces.

“What’s happened?” Aunt Dotty asked with concern.

Emma picked up her purse and keys, but when she lifted her head she saw her uncle staring at her. Hatred and rage poured from every fiber of her being. He staggered back two steps as the colour drained from his face. She saw his hands reaching for his throat just before she turned and ran for the door.

~

“Why are we stopping here?” Her son asked as they pulled into the brightly lit parking lot. The double doors of the police station were also brightly lit, and two cruisers sat parked next to the curb.

“Stay here,” she instructed. “I’ll be right back.”

Emma walked toward the doors, her footsteps accompanied by the buzzing hum of street lamps and the trilling call of mating birds in the distance.

 

Image Credit

Photo by Gab Halasz. All rights reserved.

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