“If we had a dog, it would guard us,” I said. I’d wanted a dog since our last one died in a coyote fight, but Mom and Dad would never take us into town to get another one. Maybe they’d wanted to save it for a Christmas present, but from the looks of things, we weren’t having Christmas this year.
Mom shifted uncomfortably on the couch and rubbed her back for the fifth time since Dad left. “These are all good ideas, guys. I want you to write them all down while I go lie down for a bit. Listen to Daddy. Okay, Meg?”
“Okay,” said Meg. Mom squeezed her and kissed her, and Meg ran off to play with the dolls I was quickly outgrowing.
Mom went into her bedroom, which she didn’t do often now that the heat was out, and she stayed there for hours. Dad got dinner ready for us—a can of beans mixed with some ground-up venison, heated up over the fireplace and eaten with spoons and fingers since no one felt like washing forks. He took some to Mom, and he stayed in the bedroom for a long time.
When he came out, he looked nervous. “Owen, Merryn, you’re in charge. Brooke, you’re my gopher. You know what that means?”
Brook nodded. “It means I go for stuff.”
“Right. I need you to go for some clean towels, and I want you to boil a knife and a pair of scissors. Can you do that?”
“Are we having scissor soup?” Bennett asked.
Dad didn’t answer and went back into the bedroom. I saw a glimpse of Mom through the open door. She was kneeling by the bed as if she was praying, her face buried in the mattress, one hand on her belly and the other squeezing a clump of the quilt.
My heart caught in my throat before the door closed. Meg must have seen it too, because she grabbed my jeans. “What’s wrong with Mommy?” she asked.
I might have been lying. I didn’t know.
Owen and I got a bunch of stuffed animals, and we helped the little kids put on a play with them. Normally, we didn’t like childish stuff like that. Today was different. We didn’t care. We played until eight o’clock, when we all took sponge baths with the warm water left over from the scissor soup. Then, since it was too dark to read and the fire was going down, Owen and Brooke and I took turns reciting poems and Bible verses and making up stories until the little ones fell asleep.
Our voices covered the sound of Mom screaming into a pillow. The sound of Dad trying to comfort her. The sound of Dad’s voice growing gently louder, sterner, more afraid.
The wind picked up just as the last story died down, covering the house in white and cold and silence.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.