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Memory of a Freed Bird

Shouts entered our bedroom through the crack of the broken door. I pressed my hands over my little sister’s ears, but no matter how tight I held them, the hatred ripping from our mother’s voice found its way in.

“Why can’t they ever stop?” Gracie asked me. A few tears spilled from her eyes as I let go.

I glared at the door, shaking my head. I couldn’t give her the answer she deserved when I didn’t know it for myself.

“It must be the alcohol,” I said, quickly wishing I hadn’t. My sister might have been eight years old, but she was no fool.

“They fight like this even when they’re not drunk.” She turned around and looked up to me with those glistening eyes. “Why can’t they stop?”

Blaring music rose in volume as our mother’s voice thundered over it. There was a violent crash from the next room, killing the music and empowering the hoarse yelling that followed.

Gracie and I watched the door, prepared for the rest of it to fly off its hinges. She jumped when the yelling moved closer to our bedroom. A gasp escaped her mouth. She ran to the door and pressed her back against it.

“Help me,” she said, holding her feet against the ground like two cinder blocks. I wanted to pull her away like the time before. They were ruthless when they fought. They were strangers to us. It was as if we were blocking the door against a couple of robbers who wanted to hold us hostage. They didn’t care if Gracie was in front of the door, neither did she care if she got hurt in the process.

I ran to her side, fed up with making it easy on them. If they wanted to get in, they would have to work for it. I dug my heels into the ground, ready for battle, but nothing happened.

The shouting and thumping against the walls made their way into the kitchen where the fighting continued. Gracie held her position until I nudged her arm.

“They’re too wrapped up in themselves this time.” I kicked the bottom of the door. “They probably forgot to drag us in the middle of it.”

I walked away and leaned against the window. Gracie followed behind.

“Do you ever wish you could create your own world?” I asked. “You know, a life where you have all the control. A world where people actually knew you existed?”

She traced my stare to the stars flickering in the midnight sky. I looked at her, admiring the genuine way she honored their beauty.

“Gracie, did you know that the only reason I come home from school is because of you?” She kept her eyes on the sky, but I knew from her smile that she was listening. “Honestly, I don’t know if I could have made it through this mess if you weren’t here.”

She reached for my trembling hand and I let her take it. It was the gentleness in her touch that promised me everything would be okay.

We both jumped to the sound of glass shattering. The words I hate you and I wish you were dead roared together, creating a storm of crashes that lasted for a long minute.

“I can’t take it anymore!” Gracie cried. “One day they love each other and the next day they want to kill each other. I just want it to be over.”

I grabbed her shoulders and pulled her into my embrace. Rivers of tears ran down her cheeks. I could barely hold back mine.

“Can you read me another one of the stories you write? They always make me feel better.”

“Hey,” I said, facing her to me. She wiped her face with the back of her hand. “Forget the stories. Let’s start one of our own.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean let’s get out of here.” I pointed to the window.

“But it’s dark outside.”

“So? It’s darker in here.”

She walked to the window and placed her hand against the glass. Loud music suddenly played from the living room until there was another bang.

“Where will we go?” Gracie asked, staring into the sky.

My thoughts raced like one shooting star after another.

“Anywhere we want. Just imagine,” I said, stepping beside her. “There’s an entire world out there full of families and not all of them are as scary as ours. We can pick any family we want and just start over.”

“I’m really mad at them right now, but I’ll still miss Mom and Beau.”

“I’ll miss them too, but Mom and Beau don’t deserve us anymore. Do you want to be fourteen like me one day and only have hitting and screaming for memories? Or do you want to remember a life filled with excitement and happiness? We deserve that.”

Gracie unlocked the window and lifted it all the way up. She took in a long breath of fresh air and closed her eyes.

“I want to remember a life that smells just like this.”

I put my hand on her back and breathed in the night air.

“Then let’s go,” I said. “And not just because we have school tomorrow, but because you want to be free.”

Gracie turned and hugged me. The weight of her body fell into my arms.

“I’m glad I have a sister like you,” she said. When she pulled away, I watched her grab something from the desk before walking back over.

“You’ll need these,” she said, handing me a pen and a small notepad. I smiled.

The shouting boomed against the walls, traveling closer to our room. Gracie quickly pulled up the rest of the window and popped the screen out. I tucked the pen and notepad in my back pocket and sat beside her on the ledge.

I held her hand and together we whispered, “One, two…”

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