She could see the big oak tree from across the lake like a distant beacon drawing her attention to the opposite shore. A concrete grain silo stood behind it, a structural backdrop that looked to a five-year old much like a fixture keeping the Tootsiepop-shaped tree standing. The girl spent hours contemplating how she could cross the water to that distant shore and reach the shelter of those limbs.
She dreamed the limbs a delicate lime flavor of the lollipop and could almost taste a tartness in her mouth. Sometimes she sat on the front porch looking from the lake’s opposite rocky shore until it became too dark to see, and she fell asleep there dreaming of the boughs’ cover. Sitting under that green canopy might hide her from notice, especially from that of Buster and her momma, and she’d finally be safe.
Even though Buster wasn’t her daddy, she had to do as he said. His demands became more hateful if her mother left the house and wasn’t witness to his ministrations. Momma never noticed the bruises. She would see them on her legs and bottom at bath time if she took the time with the little girl, but she missed lots of things. Something she did behind the closed door of her bedroom kept the woman from paying much attention to her daughter at all.
The girl studied that distant tree to consider how she might actually climb up into those wooden arms. That’s how she planned her escape. Leaning into the dirty face of her rag doll as she fell asleep using its stuffing as a pillow, she told it, “It’s time to go. I feel like I’m dying.” And she hadn’t even yet lived. Its owner’s tears streaked the grimy doll baby’s cheek, which gave a few hours respite before morning’s light greeted her on the hard wooden slats of the porch swing.
With no herpetological expertise of her short 1850 days of life, she didn’t realize snakes traversed those waters. The recent heavy rain churned them up to the surface as they themselves swam for refuge. One bite to a 30-pound swimmer could mean she’d never make it to the other bank.
She took a life vest from Buster’s layout boat and tucked her doll between the straps and her chest, apologizing for the wetness her friend would experience during the crossing. They’d sort out the drying later she thought and waded into the water, her feet swirling up a muddy mess below as she did. Worried about getting whooped for stealing that jacket made her dog paddle out fast before anyone saw her leave.
Momma didn’t realize she’d gone. Didn’t know anything until a woman from Family Services knocked on the door the next night. It took quite a ruckus banging to rouse her from the bedroom. A couple having a picnic under that oak’s shade spotted the little one up nestled up in a crook of two branches. An afternoon of questioning made the girl finally confess where she’d come from, why she sat on a damp life jacket up in a tree cradling her doll with no parent or sibling around to watch her.
She thought that tree saved her life, protected her until the authorities found her and brought her to a new family. One with nobody like Buster around to give her bruises ever again. Her new family had both a momma and a daddy, and they lived in a nice house in town. One with its own small oak tree in the back yard.
They said lightning struck that tree a few years before and broke a few branches, so it wasn’t as round as a Tootsiepop. But she could reach its branches just fine.
*Studio 30+ writing prompt – dying image – Wikimedia Commons