Little Girl Gone – Chapter 3

Reprinted with the permission of Grand Central Publishing.


Copyright © 2011 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.


Chapter 3

(Click here to read Chapter 1)

(Click here to read Chapter 2)

 

Little Girl Gone Cover

The Great Dane truck trailer where Linda had spent almost five months of her pregnancy was eight feet wide and twenty-seven feet long. Up on blocks, the trailer had been on the property when Madora and Willis moved in. An eyesore, but too big to move.


Like many neglected rural properties, this one had for some time been a dumping ground for derelict machinery and equipment, but Madora disregarded the trash when she saw the little house. Stepping across the threshold for the first time four years ago, she had been afraid to hope that Willis would finally want to settle down, marry her, and have a family. A weight dropped from her shoulders when he said the spot suited him fine. She disregarded the cracked and bumpy orange and brown linoleum, the oven that did not work, the stained sink. These were temporary eyesores and inconveniences. All that mattered was that the gypsy months of wandering the West were over and her real life had begun. As if to prove he felt the same, Willis had taken the time to paint the house a deep, forest green and trimmed the windows in white. Working as a team all one weekend, they had dragged the rusty backhoes and graders, the carcass of a refrigerator, the flat tires and corroded tanks and coils of wire, and dumped them behind a mound of boulders, where they still lay like the skeletal remains of the property’s history. The Great Dane trailer could not be moved without a tow truck, so they stippled its battered aluminum exterior in camouflage shades of gray and green and tan that blended with the sycamores and dusty cottonwoods along the dry creek bed at the back of the property.


Initially, Willis had been fascinated by the trailer, but then he forgot about it and more than three years passed. Eight months ago, he had cut a window-sized hole up high on one side and installed an air-conditioning unit and an electric generator to power it and a few lights. Madora assumed he was making a room for himself, a place to study when he went back to school.


He never mentioned Linda. He just brought her home and put her in the trailer one rainy night.


He had brought her into the kitchen, water dripping off his ankle-length plastic raincoat, his black hair plastered and shining against his head. Behind him, had stood a girl with straggly hair in frayed-out Levi’s and a yellow T-shirt, hip shot out, staring down at her bare feet.


Madora remembered thinking that Linda looked like a Tinkertoy, round in the middle with sticks for arms and legs.


“She’s pregnant, Willis.”


“You think I’m blind?”


“You’ve got to take her to a doctor.”


“Pregnancy isn’t a disease, Madora. Besides, I’m a Marine Corps medic. I can manage a pregnancy. It’s not brain surgery.”


At that moment, Madora was juggling four or five thoughts at the same time, and it was hard to know what to say first. She didn’t mind helping this pregnant teen with nowhere to go, and she admired Willis for his generosity and didn’t want him to think she was stingy. But they were always short of money by the end of the month, and feeding one more was going to be a stretch.


“And where’s she going to sleep, Willis? We’ve only got the one bedroom.”


“I fixed up the Dane.”


“The trailer? But it’s freezing out there.” All the blankets they owned were on Madora and Willis’s bed, plus an old sleeping bag. And still they were cold at night.


“I put a mattress down and a couple of blankets and she can wear those flannel pajamas.”


The ones he had given Madora. A gift of soft, blue flannel pajamas at the start of the cold weather, a surprise. She loved his occasional and unexpected bursts of generosity, and she knew it was small of her to begrudge this girl the comfort of warm pajamas.


“What’s she going to eat?”


“I stopped on the way home and got a couple of burritos.”


“Where’d the mattress come from? And the blankets? We don’t have any extra blankets.” If she asked too many questions Willis would become defensive and then angry and accusing. He would say she did not believe in him and lacked commitment to their shared life, the terms of which he set without consulting her. And that was all right. She was by nature a follower. He was smarter than she and far more worldly. But she needed to know the truth. “Did you plan this ahead, Willis?”


“I’m going to take her over to the trailer now.” He opened a kitchen drawer where this and that collected and pulled out a padlock.


“What do you need that for?” Another question.


“She’s been on the street, Madora.” His tone implied Madora was a stupid girl, perhaps a little retarded. “Do I have to tell you what that means? She’s probably got drugs in her system and she could start hallucinating and walk right out the door. Believe me, Madora, I know about this kind of thing. The lock’s for her own good.” He paused. “Get it?”


All Madora knew of the world was what she’d seen from behind Willis, on tiptoes, looking over his shoulder. What he said made perfect sense.


“She needs a hot drink,” he said. “Make a thermos of tea and put a lot of sugar in it. I’ll come back and get it.” Before he left he smiled at Madora. “I don’t want you getting wet, catching a chill. It’s pretty bad out there. I’ll come back for the tea. Don’t trouble yourself.”


“Just tell me first. Did you plan this out ahead of time?”


He had never hit her, never even threatened her, but sometimes Madora felt the possibility of violence flow between them like an electric current.


“I’ll tell you the truth, and will you then be satisfied or will I have to keep explaining myself?” He sighed like a porter putting down his load after a long day. “I’m not going to lie, Madora, about how much this hurts me, your doubt. After all we’ve been through and all we’ve been to each other, you still don’t trust me. When the person I love most in the world doesn’t trust me or believe in me, do you know the pain, Madora? Trust and love, they’re almost the same thing. If you don’t trust me, it means you don’t love me. You can’t love me.”


The wind rose, whining up Evers Canyon and moaning in the eaves of the house, driving the rain hard against the windows. A draft came in at the floorboards and ran like a spider up the back of Madora’s leg. Along the creek somewhere a branch broke off a cottonwood, sounding like a pistol crack.


Willis sat, resting his elbows on his knees. “Maybe I should have told you before, but it happened too fast. I didn’t do a lot of thinking or planning.”


And yet he had a mattress and blankets in the trailer, waiting. Madora let the thought slide away, out of her mind forever.


“I admit, I’ve been watching Linda for a couple of days. Every time I went into Arroyo she’d be standing by the long stoplight near the freeway, holding up this feeble little sign saying she’s pregnant and hungry, and today when I saw her, in the pouring rain, I knew I had to bring her home.” His dark eyes looked into Madora’s, and she read in his expression a deep and inexpressible longing to be understood. “And I knew—I thought I knew—you’d want to help her too. I guess I just totally misunderstood.” He stood up. “If you really want me to, Madora, I’ll take her back to town. But is it okay if she eats? First? She needs something.”


Awash with shame, Madora laid her hand against his cheek. The goodness of the man brought tears into her eyes. “You’re right; you did the right thing. We’ll make the trailer comfortable for her.” Madora would not think about the mattress and blankets laid out in advance or consider the implications of the padlock. “You go along and get her settled. When you come back I’ll have her tea ready.”


And the flannel pajamas.



Read Chapter 4



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Reprinted with the permission of Grand Central Publishing.


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