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Posted by: Cheryl ( )
Date: October 22, 2018 01:23PM

A chapter from my new novel in progress.
The working title is "The Stranger in My Family."

Chapter 4
Two little orphan girls scurried back into an adobe cottage as Eric and Rhoda pulled up in their new blue Studebaker.

Rhoda had once visited her distant relatives here in Gilbert, Arizona. She and Eric were eager to adopt the girls who lived there.

Rhoda surveyed the packed earthen yard adorned only with a prickly pear cactus on either side of the rough planked door. She clicked her tongue. “This is worse than I remember.”

Eric shook his head. “We’ll get them out of here and up to the Land of Zion. They’ll have the blessings of the one true church and we’ll have children like everyone else in the ward.”

“And finally you’ll be more in line to be Bishop someday.”

Mabel answered their knock. Before she shook hands with them, she dried her pudgy hands on a ragged apron which was once white. “I remember your visit when you were only about nine or ten,” she said to Rhoda. I’ll get Fredericio. He wants to talk to you before you take the girls.”

The house reeked of coffee odor as they entered the cool dark living room. “Reprehensible,” Rhoda thought. “These girls have been living with coffee guzzlers.”

Fredericio, who the girls called ‘Uncle Fred,’ wore patched overalls and a faded plaid shirt over his bowed legs and barrel chest. His voice rumbled like gravel, and Rhoda thought he might be a smoker.

“We’re sad to let these girls go,” he said. “We’ll miss them when they’re up in Utah at that Cloverdale place where you live. Remember, you promised to bring them back two or three times a year starting with this July and again before the New Year’s 1948. You still agree to that, right?”

“Yes, yes, yes.” Eric waved off the question. “We said that in every one of our long distance telephone calls. Are the girls ready to go?”

He and Rhoda peered across the dim living room at the two little waifs cowering in the kitchen door way.

Eric beckoned. “Hello, Edna and Martha, come on out here where we can get a good look at you.”

The two inched closer. They looked young for ages four and six. Long butterscotch braids hung on either side of their worried brown eyes highlighting pinched tanned faces. Edna in her clean but faded overalls attempted a wan smile and a mumbled hello.

Little Martha trembled in silence behind her older sister.

“Let’s sit and rest a few minutes,” Rhoda said. “It’s barely nine o’clock and already blazing hot.”

She felt embarrassed to be even distant kin to such poverty. An arched niche recessed in the pink stucco wall displayed an ornate cross and rosary beads. The Mormon Church forbade idol worshiping which included displaying crosses and prayer beads. To avoid the idols, she gazed at a crack in the ceiling.

Martha and Edna perched together in a wooden rocker and Rhoda and Eric sat on the stiff cowhide love seat.

Fred stood by anxiously and Mabel said, “I know Mormons don’t drink iced tea, so I stirred up a pitcher of lemonade. I’ll get glasses of it out for everyone.”

As Mabel served drinks, Uncle Fred dragged in kitchen dinette chairs for him and his wife.

Rhoda resisted holding the cold glass against her sweaty cheek, “Did you girls have breakfast?”

Edna spoke for both of them. “We had tortillas and beans. They was good. And we had ‘em at supper too.”

“Well, well,” Eric said. “Are your things packed? I’ll carry them out to the trunk.”

Mabel brought in two shopping bags heaped with what looked like a couple of stuffed animals and clothing. “They lost everything else in the fire,” she said.

Eric barely noticed the girls rush to hug their Aunt Mabel and Uncle Fred as he hauled their bags to the car.

When he returned, Edna was standing tall, set to go, but Martha held back. Her chin trembled. “I can’t go. Mommy will come back. She won’t know where I am.”

Mabel held her. “There, there, mi pobrecita. These nice people will take good care of you and we’ll be seeing you soon. You’ll have pretty clothes and nice rooms and lots of people to love you as much as we do. She kissed Martha’s hand which was scarred and looked like blotchy seersucker. “After the big fire, this little one has suffered in the hospital for weeks with bad burns on her hand.”

Mabel used a pleading tone. “Please be patient with Martha. She doesn’t understand about her mother being . . . uh . . . gone.”

The girls clung to Aunt Mabel until Rhoda insisted it was time to go.

From the back seat of the car, Edna tried her hand at small talk. “I know all about cactuses.” She pointed out the window at huge pin cushion looking cacti. “You can make candy out of ‘em. They’re prickly pears like at our house.”

Rhoda shook her head. “Not your house any more. You mean Mabel and Fred’s house, don’t you?”

“Yes, and there’s a Yucca.”

To Rhoda it looked like a dry clump of spikes.

“And that giant pretty one is a saguaro. They’re special.” Edna puffed up proudly.

To Rhoda it looked like a scarecrow with arms raised in a stick up. She shrugged. “Hmm. That’s nice.”

Martha’s tummy ached from wanting her real mommy. They were driving away from the last place she might find her. She curled in a sad little ball and pretended to sleep.


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