Chapter 21. Write a Novel Challenge.
A flash of red and the pungent scent of water lilies – masking the iron tang of blood. Fractured shards of the accident she’d buried deep come back to Neina.
It was a Sunday in May – her father was tinkering in the garage, and her mother was watching over them from her rocking chair on the porch. The spring air was fresh with the flowers blooming around the farmhouse, and the mellow sun warmed the back of her neck. The memory is tinged with sunflower yellow and sky blue: happy colours, and Neina smiles as she remembers that afternoon.
Their father had built them a boat that they could use on the small pond in the garden. Neina and Ryder were on it, rocking it back and forth and laughing wildly. The surface of the water was littered with flowering water lilies, whose petals little Neina touched in wonder as they floated by.
Then, after a while, Ryder paddled the boat to the edge of the pond and called, “Mama! Ride the boat with us!” Their mother laughed, protesting that she was too old for boating, but as Neina and her brother ran up to the porch to take her hands and lead her to the water, she reluctantly went with them, chuckling softly and leaving her shawl behind. They held her hands and she stepped in shakily, sitting in the middle of the boat with each of her children settled in on either side. Ryder pushed off, and they bobbed to the centre of the pond. Looking off into the distance, Neina could see the scarecrow standing in the lonely field, his argyle scarf waving weakly in the breeze, his canvas sack face smiling at her reassuringly.
She was startled out of her daydream by the uncontrollable swaying of the boat. Ryder was rocking it from side to side! Neina joined in, shrieking gleefully as their mother held on to the sides, laughing nervously. Then, Ryder loses his footing and hits the side of the canoe, causing it to tip, and they are thrown out of the boat and into the cool water. Neina screams as she falls in, shutting her eyes as her face makes contact with the greenish water and she sinks. When she opens them, she sees the blurry bottom of the shallow pond. She waves her arms and legs, struggling to reach to the surface, but its no use. As she flails, she feels something tugging her upwards; lifting her head, she sees the distorted shape of her brother. When they emerge, Neina sputters out the pond water and looks around.
The boat is upside down, drifting. Clouds have hidden the sun, and Neina feels cold all of a sudden. The once refreshing breeze is now a biting wind and she wades to the side of the pond and stands up. With a pang, Neina remembers her mother – where is she?
As she and Ryder look to the centre of the pond, they see a red cloud blooming from under the water lilies. Neina screams as her brother goes back to the centre, looking around for their mother. Their father runs out of the garage, and as he spots his son struggling in the centre of the pond, he jumps in with him. He digs around the water, causing big splashes, and after what feels like an eternity, pulls out his wife.
“Go inside and call the ambulance!” He barks at Ryder, who runs off with a panicked look on his face. As Neina glances toward the shadowed field, she could have sworn the scarecrow is frowning, his scarf whipping in the wind. Her father lays their mother out on the grassy bank of the pond, listening for a pulse. Watery blood spills over the hand that is in his wife’s thick hair, supporting her head. He performs mouth to mouth, turning her head to the side and then back towards his. After a few tries, she coughs weakly, trying to get the water out of her lungs. Neina steps closer, but her father orders her to stay back, adding, “you’ve done enough.”
The ambulance comes to take her away, and Neina touches her mother’s curls for the last time as she is carted away. Her father instructs them to stay put before the ambulance doors shut.
For weeks, their mother is in a coma. An aunt comes to stay with them, cooking casseroles and making sure they shower once in a while. Neina refuses to go the hospital. She is waiting for her mother to come home. Her brother described her as a corpse, and she does not want to see her mom like that. She stays at home, and they all pretend not to notice how often or how early their father carries around a glass of whiskey.
Two months after the accident, a call comes from the hospital. She has disappeared. Her bed is empty, and they can find her nowhere. The police investigate, coming up empty. Their mother, who was lying unconscious a day before, seems to have gotten up and vanished without a trace. The few outdated security cameras in the hospital ‘malfunctioned’ as it was happening. The police do not dismiss it as more than a coincidence, but the pretty blonde hospital attendant with sharp blue eyes and a canine smile says it happens often enough.
Drawn back into reality, Neina realises that her mother’s disappearance marks the moment she began to work relentlessly. To make up for what she felt she had done; as if making sure her mother would have been proud was going to bring her back; and to distract herself from her father’s sorry state; Neina had focused on being the best, and proving to everyone that the coloured girl with the vanished mom could succeed. She’d followed the rules, trying to ensure she’d never hurt anyone ever again. Looking into the scarecrow’s sad eyes, she feels ready to do what her mother couldn’t.
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To read Chapter 20, click here.
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