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Saturday, February 27, 2016

From Burn Pain to Unexpected Grief

Sipping the steaming coffee in the early morning chill, I pondered the previous day’s crisis. How grateful I was that none of the children had been hurt and gave thanks for friends who’d come to my rescue.

“How’s the arm?” Doug asked, pulling a chair from the table. “Kids still sleeping?”

“Yeah, they had a hard time settling down last night. New place and all. I reckon they’ll come up when they hear us stirring,” I said, repositioning my arm in the sling. “My arm’s more of a hassle than a pain, really. The bulky burn bandage will take some getting used to. I took a pain pill when I tucked the girls in again around midnight; it hasn’t worn off yet.”

“I can check your place on my way to work if you like. It sounded like there’s a mess of coal dust to clean up where the furnace pipe disconnected in the kitchen, but if we can secure the pipe, I think the furnace should be okay.”

“Do you think it’ll be safe to light the coal? Or, is there some time we should wait for the fumes that blew the pipe? I can’t remember if I shut the furnace door after I put out the flames melting my arm.”

“Don’t know. I’ll check with George at the garage. He’ll probably know someone who can answer that. For now, just rest that arm.”

When Doug returned two hours later, the news that brought him home from his law office mid-morning brushed all thought of the furnace out of my mind. I had not seen this coming.

“I tried to tell Martha* that you’re a better Mom with one arm than Mary* ever was with two. I said I had complete confidence in your ability to care for the three kids while your arm is healing.”

I said nothing. My friend, a man whose hair and beard I’d trimmed in my dorm room when he and Cathy were just dating, must have noticed the trickle of tears moistening my cheeks. He added, “I’m so sorry. I tried to make her understand that the accident made no difference. I urged her to reconsider, recommending my opinion as the County Attorney, not just your friend.”

“When’s she coming? My voice sounded as strangled as my shattered heart felt. “I’ll need to tell the kids. And, their things. I need to gather their things. Do you think this’s permanent, so I should give them their Christmas presents now, or should I wait to see if they’ll be back? I’ve already wrapped them. Mom helped me over Thanksgiving.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. If they’re new things, Mary— “

“Yeah. I thought of that. The girls might not get them anyway. Guess I’ll wait. I’ll pray they’re back by Christmas. Mom and Dad are expecting us.”

I forced myself to take deep breaths, restraining the massive pressure to wail away the pain of my sudden grief.

“The social worker’ll be here later this afternoon.”

“Today! What’s the rush? It’s not like they’re in any danger because I burned my arm. Today?”

Talk about a shock. The news ripped apart the pieces of my crumbling heart. Had I not been responsible for taking care of the kids right then, I’d have thrown myself on the bed and cried for a few days. That would have to wait.

Deni* and Jamie* finished eating their lunch while I rocked Susie*. I watched her, holding her own bottle and smiling up at me with the nipple still between her lips. “You better keep your lips closed, little lady, or you’ll be wearing that milk.”

Before long, Susie fell asleep.  The usual routine was to lay her down at this point. Not today. I didn’t want to let her go. I remained in the rocking chair, watching the girls at the nearby dinner table.

I slowly rocked, feeling the warmth of her small body against mine. My thoughts dropped back to the first bottle I’d handed her long months ago—picked up off the floor in the motel room. Fortunately, I’d opened and smelled it before trying to comfort her with curdled milk.

That day, the Sheriff had let me coaxed Jamie from under the bed, while Deni sat opposite her, tears streaming down her freckled face. With one phone call, our lives had been knitted together; mine changed forever.

That day, I knew the small children left that motel room for a warm, stable home. They’d have plenty to eat, and the preschooler could stop struggling to care for her younger siblings.

But, this day? They’d be leaving as unexpectedly as they’d come. What would their lives be after today? My heart refused to let me think about it.

When Deni began taking plates to the kitchen, I laid Susie in the playpen to finish her nap.

“Read to us, Mama Dar,” Deni said, handing me the last plate. “I can hold the book.”

“Okay, but just one story today. I need to talk to you, girls.” My voice cracked, as I silently asked the Lord to strengthen me.

Closing the book and laying it on the end table, I stood. “Okay, girls, let’s rock.”

Little giggles erupted from Deni and Jamie as they leapt from the sofa and ran to the wooden chair. I sat down, holding out both arms.

“Who first?” Almost-three-year-old Jamie said, bouncing from one leg to the other.

“Both of you are first,” I said grabbing almost-five-year-old Deni to sit on my right leg. “Here you go,” I said to Jamie while patting my left knee.

The children laughed as the three of us snuggled, holding on to one another. “You know that Mama Dar loves you, don’t you?” Little heads nodded, followed by squeezes and affirmations of feelings being mutual. Well, Doug told me today that your mother wants you to come live with her.” I felt the little bodies tense and then relax under my arms.

“How long?” I couldn’t be sure if Deni meant how long until Mary came to take them, or how long they would stay with her.

“I don’t know. Mrs. Martha will come today to drive you to your mother’s house. I’m asking Jesus to bring you back as soon as He can, but I don’t know how long that is.”

Jamie patted my bandaged arm, which hurt like crazy with the pressure of a child’s body against it. “Cuz you hurt your arm?”

“Yes. I don’t want you to leave. I’m sure we could still do okay until my arm is all better, but Mrs. Martha said she can’t be sure I could do it alone. Your mother wants you to come live with her, so Mrs. Martha said this is a good time to take you back to her. I’m sad to see you go, but it’ll be nice to see your mother again, won’t it? I’ll be praying for you.”

“We pway for you, too, Mama Dar,” Jamie said, adding a squeeze around my neck.

“Me ‘n’ Jamie’ll pray for you every day,” Deni said. “Mama don’t know nothin’ about prayin’, but we do it.”

“Remember to pray for your mother, too. Maybe she’ll learn how from you girls. Let’s pray together now, before Mrs. Martha gets here, okay?”

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I prayed for each of the kids. Jamie gently wiped away each tear as it dropped from my eye. I heard her one-word prayer that God always heard and answered, “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.”

After Deni had said her “Amen,” she put her head on my shoulder. “Mama Dar, don’t worry about us. Jesus’ll take care of us. I know He will.”

Seconds later, I heard the crunch of tires on the snow-packed driveway. “Okay, girls, Mrs. Martha is here. One more squeeze and we’ll answer the door.” The three of us pressed into one another, finishing with a little groan that caused a simultaneous giggle.

I stood, staring out the glass door long after the departure of my little family. The pain in my heart numbed my body. I never felt the sub-zero cold hitting the glass so near my tear-soaked face. I sobbed, remembering only their waving arms and gentle smiles. Deni’s words echoed in my ears, soothing my heart. “Mama Dar, don’t worry about us. Jesus’ll take care of us. I know He will.”

Many times throughout that night and the days and nights that followed, I replayed Deni’s confident words, usually adding something like, “I know He will, Punkin, but what’ll Mama Dar do without you?”

*Names changed.

Story thread begins with this link: With Just One Phone Call

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Plan B

Sitting at Cathy’s dinette table, I cradled my bandaged limb; even my fingertips had been burned. I wore the prescribed cotton sling, but the pull of the cloth support created too much pain in my charred forearm. Using my good hand, I relieved the pressure by lifting slightly on the injured arm’s elbow. The shot the nurse gave me eased the searing agony but clouded my reasoning. I fought to bring my mind out of the Demerol-induced fog.

“—you think?” Cathy turned to look at me, holding the dishtowel against the plate.

“Sorry. My mind is wandering. What did you ask me?”

“That’s okay. Pain medicine can do that. I asked you if you wanted to phone the kids to let them know you’re here?”

“I’m sure Carroll explained about the furnace exploding and burning my arm, but maybe I should let them know I’m okay. Carroll planned to bathe them right after supper, so I’ll give her just a little more time.”

“So, they know they’ll spend the night at Carroll’s, and you’ll be here?”

“That’s the plan. They enjoy playing with her kids. I think they’ll see it as a treat.” I spoke to Cathy’s back, as she busied herself putting the clean dishes away.

Without thinking, I leaned forward and rested my arm on the edge of the table. Fiery rockets of white-hot pain launched at the moment of contact. I immediately retracted my arm but too late.  Clenching my jaws hard, I fought to restrain the scream pushing to be released. Burning tears poured over and streaked my cheeks. I swiped the back of my good hand to clear the tears just as Cathy hung the dishtowel. I turned my face towards the window. Like I could actually see anything in the night’s darkness.

As my friend grasped the back of her chair, the phone rang. She let go and moved to answer.

I continued staring into the night, forcing my breathing to slow so my heart rate would follow suit. Did my eyes still reflect that new burst of pain?

I heard Cathy respond to Carroll’s greeting and thought I’d speak to the kids as soon as my friends finished. Instead, Cathy hung up.

She pulled her chair back and sat down. I tensed as I glimpsed her furrowed brow and pursed lips. “What? What’s wrong? You didn’t let me talk to the kids.”

“You’ll get to talk to them, in person, in a few minutes. Apparently, Carroll’s husband doesn’t want the girls to spend even one night in his house. Carroll didn’t say why, but probably couldn’t with him listening to her side of the conversation. She’ll be here in a few minutes.”

I groaned for the trouble I’d brought to my friend, wondering if Cathy and Doug had room for the girls. My former university roommate responded before I asked.

“Don’t worry. There’s a double bed in the basement bedroom. It’s cold down there, but Doug can get the little heater going and I think it’ll be warm enough for the kids. Susie* can stay in the room up here with you for tonight.” As she stood, I asked if I could help her make the bed. “Thanks for the thought, but I think I can do it faster myself than with your help at the moment,” she said smiling, pointing at my bandaged arm. “Just relax.”

I walked over to a chair in the living room, trying to relax. The pain had lessened, but I couldn’t help thinking about Carroll. What would things be like for her when she returned home?

I heard the backdoor open at the same time Doug and Cathy came up from the basement. Deni* and Jamie* ran into the living room, halting just feet in front of me. The little faces stared at my bulky bandages.

“It’s okay. It looks worse than it is, kids. I missed you so much. I’m glad you’ll be here in this house with me tonight. Did you have supper at Carroll’s house?”

Silently, two heads bobbed.

“They’re good little eaters, Mama Dar,” Carroll said, coming up behind them. “I enjoy cooking for kids who like to eat. Susie* fell asleep on the way over. She’s had her bottle.”

As Cathy directed Carroll to my bed in their guest room, I lifted my good arm beckoning the girls in for a hug. Ever so tenderly, the girls took a turn inside my embrace, trying not to bump my injured arm.

“Does your owwie hurt?” Deni barely touched the bulky white bandage as she spoke.

“It hurt a lot when it happened, but the doctor gave me some medicine. It doesn’t hurt as much now.”

“Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Amen,” Jamie said as her tiny fingers lit like a butterfly on the bandages.

“Thank you for praying for me, Princess. Jesus loves to hear kids pray.” I nodded to Deni, who asked Jesus to make my arm all better. “Thank you, Sweetheart. I’m so glad my girls know how to pray for people when they get hurt.”

Seeing the little ones yawn simultaneously, I knew the time had come for all of us to leave the day’s burdens in God’s hands, and let our bodies rest. “Okay, kids, it’s time for us all to go to bed. Susie’s already sleeping. Let’s ask Jesus to watch over us for the night and bless our friends for helping us.”

After we’d prayed, I accompanied Cathy to the basement to tuck the girls in. On the way back up the stairs, I learned that Carroll had returned home as soon as she’d laid Susie on the bed.

She said she’d call you when she could tomorrow. Carroll said not to worry, just to pray.”

“Hard order when I don’t know what she might be facing right now, but I’ll try.”

“Are you tired, or would you like something to drink? What can I do for you?”

“Oh, Cath! You’ve already done everything I need. Thank you so much for helping us. I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go to bed. No tellin’ if the girls will stay asleep down there. I may need to get up in the night with one, or all, of them. Better get my rest when I can, right?”

In the middle of the night, Deni crept into my room. I felt a light tap on my hand and looked up. As I brought my eyes into focus, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. Jamie stood in the doorway.

Slowly, I slipped out from under the covers, carefully replacing the blankets so Susie wouldn’t awaken.

I wrapped my good arm around Deni, and the two of us left the bedroom. Walking out to the sofa, I turned to the children. “What’s wrong, kids? Do you need something?”

Jamie nodded. “Jamie afwaid down dare.”

I looked up at Deni, arching my eyebrows. “Her can’t sleep, Mama Dar. Me not scared. Her don’t sleep so me neither.” The little red head bowed, and she shrugged her shoulders.

How I wanted to laugh. What a dramatist, this almost-five-year-old.

“Okay. Let’s ask Jesus to help you both go to sleep. I know it’s hard in a different bed. It can be scary in basements sometimes, too. Let’s ask Jesus to help you with that. He understands just what you need.”

After praying with the children, I took them back to their big bed. Planting a kiss on the forehead, I tucked the blankets tightly around each precious child.  Had I known then, what I’d know by that time the following night, I’d never have left their room.

*Name changed
For the first part of the above story, click the following link: From Ice to Fire

Story thread begins with this link: With Just One Phone Call 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

From Ice to Fire

Finally, Susie* fell asleep in my arms.  Stopping the rocker, I moved to the crib and put her down. Please, don’t wake up, I pleaded silently. Had my friends not said they’d stop by, I’d have stretched out on my double bed for a nap.

I tip-toe-ed over to the girls’ room. Deni*, nearly five now, and her almost-three-year-old sister, appeared to be sleeping. Jamie*, my little African-American princess, dropped off while reading. Her favorite book lay open on the floor, inches from her fingertips. 

On the top bunk, Deni’s book lay face-down on her tummy. The tendrils of bright-red curls framed the youngster’s freckled cuteness.

For the next few moments, I quietly repositioned things around the living room and prepared hot water for tea. As I took the kettle off the burner, I heard tires crunching the hard-pack snow.

“Come in,” I said, whispering and pressing my finger to my lips. “Kids are sleeping.”

For the next twenty minutes, the three of us maintained a low rumbling chatter, catching up on the details of our Thanksgiving holiday. Had it really been only a few days since that harrowing trip over icy roads and a house full of ice and mice? Suddenly, I noticed Janet* shudder.

“It’s getting cold in here, don’t you think, Jake*?”

“A bit, I guess. I hadn’t noticed before now.”

“Oh my, yes, it is. I’m so sorry. I meant to stoke the fire before you arrived. I just got busy getting lunch for the kids and then putting Susie down—“

“Hey, no problem,” Jake said. “Let me go down to the basement and put a shovel of coal in the furnace. I’ll just restart it if it’s gone cold.”

“I’m so sorry. Really, Jake, I can do it.”

“No need. You keep jawing there with Janet, and I’ll be back in a flash.”

Janet started another thread of conversation just as her husband turned to go. I felt torn but decided to give Janet my attention.

Fifteen minutes later, Jake emerged from the furnace room below. Washing his hands at the kitchen sink, he looked up at the clock. “Honey, we need to go. I forgot I told my cousin I’d help him at the shop this afternoon.” Jake turned to me, continuing without missing a beat. “Sorry, I couldn’t find the matches. The fire went out, but I’ve got it all set to light.”

“Thanks, Jake. I’ll take care of it from here.”

Things might have been different had the couple left at that point, and I’d lit the furnace. As often happened, the good-bye took a fair bit of time.

Once my friends left, I double-checked on the kids before descending the steps. To my amazement, all three continued sleeping deeply.

I paused a moment before unlatching the heavy metal furnace door. An odor caught me by surprise. Gasoline? Couldn’t be; I stored the little gas can in another room. It’s my imagination, born out of fatigue. I lifted the latch and swung wide the door.

Jake had made a perfect arrangement of wood over the ashes of coal. I knew he preferred a wood fire to the hassle of coal, but the coal burned hotter and longer in the old furnace. I wondered if he’d chosen wood more often than coal to keep the furnace at a low temp in our absence. I’d already noticed he’d restocked the woodpile.

“Better stop your cogitating, old girl,” I spoke out loud. “Get that furnace going before the kids wake up.”

I struck the long wooden match and threw it on the wood. As always, I shut the metal door as quickly as possible to keep any lit twigs from flying at me.

Ka-aa-boom! Before I got the latch hooked, the hot metal door exploded open. Flames of fire stretched out, engulfing my bare hand and arm. I grabbed an old gunny sack to put out the fire melting my flesh.

Surprisingly few embers fell outside the furnace. I stomped them out, trying to figure out what to do next. Should I close the door? Would the fire end up outside the monster furnace, burning the house down, if I left it open? Would it explode a second time if I tried to close the door now? “What do I do, God?”

Picturing what might happen if the kids woke up and came looking for me, I grabbed a metal rod I found along the back wall. Sidling around behind the door, I used the rod to slowly close the furnace. I held the door in place. Nothing. Carefully holding the door closed with one hand on the rod, I bunched my shirttail around my injured hand, working the lever to slip the lock in place.

Feeling the heat about to reach my burned fingers, I tried to take a breath and focus. Click. “Thanks, God!”

Okay, get upstairs before the kids wake up. Wouldn’t that blast have awakened them already? I flew up the rickety steps two-at-a-time.

Swinging into the kitchen, I realized two things at the same time:

The girls had not awakened from the kaboom.
My arm felt like the skin continued to melt away with each passing second.

A smear of black caught my eye. In the corner of the kitchen, a pipe dangled from the ceiling, the connecting ring still attached to the swaying lower pipe. Big black splotches decorated both White corner walls.

Forgetting my arm, I rushed to the bedrooms. Had the kids been hurt and that’s why they didn’t come to look for me? To my relief, all three slept on, totally unaware of the unfolding crisis.

Back in the kitchen, I twisted ice cubes into the sink I’d begun to fill with cold water. The pain had crested the peak and soon would be off the charts. I had to get something to occlude the air to stop the continuing burning.

Tossing the empty ice cube trays on the counter, I let the faucet run and reached for the wall phone. I tried three times to get my fumbling fingers to work the rotary dial to call Carroll. The instant I heard a ringing, I stretched the long coil to the opposite wall.

Plunging my arm into the cold water, I bent so that my whole arm from fingertips to above my elbow had been submerged. If I’d rung a wrong number, I planned to ask the stranger for help.

“Hello,” said the familiar voice of my close friend. She heard my deep sigh. “Is that you, Dar?”

“Yeah, it’s me. Uh, are you doing anything right now, Carroll? I have a bit of a problem over here.”

“Oh, no. What’s happened? Are the kids okay? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, the kids are still sleeping. Somehow, the blast didn’t wake them up at all.”

“Blast? Dar—“

“Yeah, Carroll. I think Jake may have soaked the wood with gasoline, expecting to light the fire right away. He didn’t, and I didn’t know he’d not put coal in for me to light. I think the gasoline fumes must have built up or something. Anyway, as soon as I closed the door on the burning wood, the furnace exploded.”

“Is there a fire?”

“Not now. My arm was burning, and some pieces of wood fell to the floor. I put out the flames melting away my arm. Then, I stomped on the small flames near the furnace. Fortunately, we have a dirt floor in the basement, huh? The door is secured now, and I think everything’s okay as far as the furnace goes. The problem is my arm, Carroll.”

“Should I call the ambulance? What can I do?”

“The ambulance would scare the kids. I’m soaking my whole arm in ice water in the sink now. If you would, please, call Cathy and ask her if she’d take me to the hospital. Then, if you could take the kids over to your house until I get done at the hospital. That’s as far as I’ve figured things out so far.”

“Okay, hang up right now. I’m calling Cathy. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I know you won’t leave the kids alone, so I’m hurrying.”

As I waited, I prayed for the kids to stay asleep until Carroll got here. I also tried to assess my arm. The underwater view obscured some of the damage, but I clearly saw the separation between the two main muscles on my forearm.

Carroll and Cathy arrived at the same time. I left with Cathy while Carroll gathered up clothing for the girls to spend the night. She assumed I’d need a night without children to care for, even if I managed to talk my way out of a hospital admission. The kids slept on until Carroll woke them to go to her house.

The doctor took one look at my arm and pointed to my wrist. “That white thing there? It’s your bone. You’re going to need extensive skin grafts, once your hand and arm are healed. That’ll take months. Look there at your forearm muscles. I’m not sure, but you may lose some function in your fingers. I’m going to admit you so we can get some IV antibiotics onboard. You’ll need heavy sedation for a few days, at least.”

“Can’t do it, Doc. I got three kids to take care of. Just give me a shot of something now ‘cuz I’m hurting so much I can hardly think. I’ll stay with a friend tonight and come back for bandage changes. I can take a few days of oral medicines for pain and antibiotics for possible infection as long as you say. I just can’t stay here tonight.”

Doctor Wong* didn’t like it, but he accepted my decision. He told the nurse he expected the pain would be enough to drive me back sometime in the night, so she should be prepared.

As it turned out, another sad surprise changed my plans, but it had nothing to do with the hospital.

*Name changed.

For the first part of the above story, click the following link: Hallelujah Flight

Story thread begins with this link: With Just One Phone Call

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sub-zero Surprises

Pushing back against my chair, I thanked Carroll for a delicious bowl of steaming venison stew. We’d had a harrowing day on the road; the meal filled more than our stomachs.

“You’re welcome, Dar. What a dramatic story of deliverance! I’m glad we could be here when your father drove up with Jamie* and Deni*. They told us how your car flew off the road near the forest.”

“God really lifted us to safety, Carroll. Not only that, He sent a Highway Patrolman to get us away from the still-running engine. With the exhaust pipe backed against the hill, we could have been delivered from the crash, only to die of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

“Maybe we should go start the furnace, Dar,” Dad suggested. “It’s going to take awhile to warm the house for the kids.”

“You two go on,” Carroll said. “Leave the kids and your mother here with us. No point anyone else needs to be in that sub-zero cold.”

Dad and I stood, reaching for our winter gear as I spoke. “Thanks! It shouldn’t take too long. John said they’d keep the furnace going over the weekend, so he put coal in the furnace this morning. Shouldn’t take long to bring the temp up for the night.”

Tugging at my gloves, I turned to my mother. “You okay here, Mom?” Only then did I notice Susie* had fallen asleep in her arms.

“We’re fine, Honey. Just be careful driving on those streets.”

As the rolling tires crunched the icy ground next to the house, I wondered just how cold it’d be inside the old building. Hopefully, the drafty spots hadn’t been big enough to allow critters.

“Careful on the steps, Dad. Each one has a thick sheet of ice.”

With both of us on the slippery landing, Dad held on to the stiffly frozen screen door. I struggled to dig the ice out of the keyhole, the bitter wind chilling me to the bone. At last, the metal broke through.

I turned the key, using moderate pressure. Click. The old metal hinges creaked as I pushed the wooden door open. My right foot slid out in front of me with my first step into the house.

“Whoa! Watch your step, Dad,” I said, noticing a puff of frosted breath exit with each word. “It’s as bad in here as out there.”

“Maybe we should begin downstairs with the fur--,” Dad said, interrupted by my gasp. “Punkin? What’s wrong?”

“Daddy! Look at the sink.” Still dressed for outside, I pointed my gloved finger at the opposite wall.

My father entered the kitchen, inching one foot ahead of the other in a deliberate skating motion. Once next to me, he followed my stare.

“Well, that explains why your floor feels like a skating rink,” Daddy said, puffs of frosty air hitting the sides of my face as he spoke. I felt his hand grab my arm as I took a step forward. “Don’t turn off the water, if that’s what you’re planning.”

Twisting to look at him, I tilted my head and arched my eyebrows. “Not yet,” my father continued. “We need to warm up the pipes first. Didn’t you leave that trickle so your pipes wouldn’t freeze and break?”

“But, Daddy, look at that? The water did freeze. I can’t imagine why that water’s still dripping through the pipe and down that frozen stream.”

Both of us stood, staring at the clear evidence that John hadn’t been in the house that day, at least. A solid tube of frozen water stretched from tap to bowl. The accumulated water had produced a miniature skating rink. But that wasn’t all.

The tenacious icy trickle continued squeezing through the pipe and over the frozen tube. The thin line ran across the “rink”, spilling over the edge and onto the kitchen floor.

Apparently the water in the bowl hadn’t hardened uniformly because a number of impressive icicles clung to the edge of the sink. Not all of them had completed the connection to the floor, but several had. The steady flow down those ice-formed stalactites fed the floor-size skating rink on which we stood.

My natural inclination had been to slide over and turn the tiny stream off. “You’re right, Daddy. I’ll slide over to the cupboard and get a saucepan to catch the water.”

“I’ll get the furnace going, and soon you’ll be able to turn it off. Those pipes didn’t freeze after all this time, so let’s give them a little heat before stopping the stream. What about the bathroom? Did you leave the water running in there, too?”

We slid gingerly back to the bathroom. Sure enough; the sight mirrored the kitchen plumbing—with a couple of additions.

“Hmm? At least, they froze to death,” Daddy said, holding the two mice by the tail.

“Ugh! I’ll get a garbage sack and search around for family members or friends while you work on the furnace. Jamie would freak if she found a dead mouse anywhere.”

“What about Deni? Or, is an almost-five-year-old not bothered by critters with long tails?”

“Ha, that girl loves any animal she sees. The two years she has on her sister doesn’t make any difference. She’s a total animal lover, Dad. In fact, it’s a good thing we can get rid of them before she sees the mice. She’d want to try to see if any could be revived.”

As Dad turned toward the kitchen on his way to the basement, he called back to me. “Why don’t you give your mother a ring over at Carroll’s. It’d be better if the kids could bathe at Carroll’s before we bring them over here for bed. I didn’t lock the pickup shell. Mom can get the suitcase for the kids’ clean clothing.”

So, while the kids enjoyed warm baths, Dad stoked the coals to a burning heat, and I collected rodent bodies of all sizes.

I shuttered to think what would have happened if that granddaddy of the lot had emerged from his frozen state as I stretched out to grab him from under Jamie’s bed. Then, I realized it would have been a lot worse had Jamie discovered him when she made her routine middle-of-the-night sleeping position change from in the bed to under the bed.

Maybe the freezing temperature of the floor would keep her in the bed tonight? I made a note to stretch a blanket on the floor under her bed, just in case.

Once the icicles began to drip, I snapped them off. The sink-rink slid out in one large chunk. I needed to be careful I didn’t break the tap off in the process.

The sheet of ice covering the kitchen floor proved more of a challenge. It remained slippery as I dealt with the breaking sections.

After securely plugging the hole in the basement that let the critters in, Dad grabbed a mop. The two of us had the house looking fairly normal in a relatively short time. Whatever the frozen mess, I gave thanks that none of the pipes had broken.

When all of us snuggled down into our beds that night, the furnace provided our regular warm environment. Only Dad and I ever knew the condition of the big yellow house that evening. Good thing, too. Mom would’ve panicked and tried to get me to move back home for the winter. The girls would have wanted to try to make icicles in their bathroom sink.

I sighed with grateful relief, as I pulled the warm quilt over my shoulders.  We’d made it safely through the harrowing day. Dropping off to sleep, I believed we’d seen the end of that trial. In reality, the wheels of an even worse trial had just been set in motion.

*Name changed.

For the first part of the above story, click the following link: Hallelujah Flight

The story thread begins at this link: With Just One Phone Call