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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Drama · #1415369
A story of child abuse and a neighbor's dilemna of what to do about it.
There was a knock at the door. It wasn't very loud, and I had to turn off the water in the kitchen sink to be sure it was a knock.  There it was again, a knock--definitely.  I wiped my hands on my apron and moved to the front door, peering through the peephole. Unable to see anyone, I opened the door as far as the security chain would allow.

A little girl, no more than six years old, stood on the front porch. Her dirty face and disheveled clothing told me she wasn't there to sell cookies. Opening the door all the way, I smiled at the child and said, "Hi there, sweetie. How can I help you?"

She raised her eyes to meet mine, and there were trails of tears that had streaked through the smudges of dirt on her face.

"Oh, honey, are you alright? Are you lost?"

Her voice was little more than a whisper.  "No, ma'am, I'm not lost. I live right there." She pointed to the house next door, which made me remember people moving in there a few months ago.  I'd never seen the child up close. She always seemed to be playing alone in her backyard whenever I saw her, which wasn't often.

"Well, what can I do for you?"

"Could I have a drink of water, please? It‘s so hot out here."

"Sure, dear, come in. It is awfully hot outside." After leading her into the kitchen for a big glass of ice water, she gulped it down ferociously and asked for more.

"My name is Mrs. Williams.  What's yours?"

"I'm Sarah."

"Where's your mommy, Sarah?"

"She's home."

I was somewhat puzzled.  "Why did you come here for a glass of water, Sarah? It would have been much faster to go inside your own house and get one."

"I can't go in my house."

"Why not?"

"Mommy locked the door."

"Did you knock?"

"Uh huh. But she didn't come, so I came over here. I hope she doesn't get mad at me." Tears welled up in her blue eyes as her chin started to quiver.

Kneeling down to wipe her tears with my apron, I spoke in my most soothing voice. "I'm sure she won't get mad at you. She's probably busy and didn't hear you knock on the door. Moms don‘t get mad that easy."

Sarah‘s eyes widened and her words came fast. "My mom does. She gets mad at me a lot ever since my Daddy went away. I try to be a good girl, but Mommy says I'm bad and shouldn't have got borned." Tears threatened her eyes, and mine.

I wrapped my arms around Sarah and hugged her close to me, unable to believe my ears.  How could any mother say such a thing to an innocent child?  Dirt and tears mingled together into a smudge on my blouse as I rocked Sarah and whispered, "Shhh, baby. It's okay. Sometimes moms get mad and say things they don't mean. You're a very good girl, sweetheart, and your mommy loves you very much." My words were an attempt to convince myself as much as Sarah.

Trying to lighten the mood, I smiled at her and asked, "Would you like some milk and cookies?"

"Could I? I love cookies!"  A large grin spread over Sarah's face.

"Of course you can. Let's go wash your face and hands first, and you can have all you want."

She was jumping up and down, clapping her hands when we heard a woman screaming her name. Sarah stopped mid-jump, and a look of terror came over her face.

"I gotta go," she said, as she sprinted for the door. Following behind her, I watched from the doorway.

Her mother met her halfway between our houses. She was a  heavyset girl who looked as if her teen years weren't very far behind her.  Disheveled hair made her look as if she'd just woken up.  She grabbed Sarah by the arm and jerked her toward their house--her voice loud and shrill. "What the hell were you doing over there?"

"I was thirsty, Mommy."  She squealed in pain and began crying.  "The nice lady gave me a drink of water."

I began to tremble with a mixture of anger and fear, watching that woman slap the poor child's face as she dragged her onto their porch.

"I've told you never to leave that backyard! Now you're really gonna get it!"

My heart jumped into my throat at the sound of Sarah begging,

"Noooo, Mommy, please! I'll be good, I promise!" Her terrified voice trailed off as her mother tossed her into the house like a bag of trash and slammed the door.

I had difficulty comprehending what I'd just witnessed.  Never had I seen anyone treat a child that way. My thoughts raced, wondering what to do about it. Should I call the police? What would I tell them? "My neighbor got angry at her child and slapped her." They'd tell me to mind my own business. It was times like this when I wished Charlie was still alive. He'd know what to do. In my younger days, I'd have gone over there and given her an earful, but that idea was quickly dismissed; it would only make things worse for Sarah. So, I did the only thing I knew how to do--nothing.

I made a point of watching for Sarah over the next few days. There was no sign of her for almost a week, then there she was, sitting on a swing in her backyard. Her arm was in a cast! Heading outside with a handful of cookies, a wave of my hand beckoned her to the fence. She came over slowly, looking over her shoulder as if making sure her mother didn't see her.

"Hi, Sarah, I brought these for you since you didn't get to have any last time."

"Thank you, Mrs. ...."

"Mrs. Williams," I said with a smile. "What happened to your arm, Sarah?"

Her eyes focused on the ground at her feet. "I ... I fell down. It was all my fault."

Of course, it was most likely a lie, but I didn't want to cause her any more trouble. I leaned over the fence and whispered, "Sarah, I just want you to know that if you ever need me, I'll do whatever I can to help you. All you have to do is come to me, and I'll help you."

Her glistening eyes looked deeply into mine.  She hesitated slightly and looked down.  "Thank you, Mrs. Williams."  I could barely hear her soft voice.

"And don‘t forget, I think you're a wonderful little girl."

Tears trickled down her face, as she turned and walked slowly back to her swing, cookies in hand. Hurrying back inside, I couldn't shake the image from my mind, of a sad little girl sitting on a swing, all alone in a big world.

Several weeks passed without another sight of my little friend. Beginning to worry about her and unable to sleep, I sat on the couch, trying to work my crossword puzzle.  A frantic knock sounded at the door. Who in the world could be knocking on my door at this time of night? I rose cautiously, fearing for my safety. Another knock, louder and faster this time, was accompanied by Sarah's terrified voice screaming, "Open the door, please!"

Unlocking the door as quickly as I could, Sarah fell into my living room, panting and crying.  Her nose was bleeding and her cheek bore the imprint of a hand.

"I'm scared!  Don't let Mommy hurt me again!"

I reached to lock the door, but someone flung it open. Sarah's large, intimidating mother stood in the doorway glaring at both of us as I held her daughter in my arms. She grabbed Sarah's arm and yanked her from my grasp. Her words sounded slurred as if she‘d been drinking. "Come on, you little brat! You're coming home with me, right now. Don‘t mind her, lady. She‘s a bad kid; you never know what kind of lies she's gonna tell."

Sarah looked at me with pleading eyes. I summoned all the courage inside me. "Let go of her, or I'll call the police!"

"Listen here, you old bag, she's my kid, and I'll do anything I want. You just mind your own damn business before I kick your ass, too!"

She dragged Sarah out the door.  Screams filled the air as Sarah struggled in vain to escape her mother's grip.  I raced to the phone and dialed 911. The operator listened to my nearly hysterical account of what had happened, asking me questions and trying to calm me down. "Please hurry!" I pleaded. "I don't know what she might do to that little girl."

"Officers are on the way, ma'am."

Shrill sirens approached in the distance. My mind whirled as prayers flew out to God that Sarah would be okay. When the police cars pulled up in front of my house, my excited waving directed them next door. The officers pounded on the door, but no one answered. We heard screams coming from inside, and they managed to break the door down within minutes.

Waiting on the sidewalk in my nightgown, a shiver crept over me in spite of the warmth of the night. Please, God, let her be alright. She's just a little girl, and she doesn't deserve this. I watched as two officers led Sarah's mother out of the house in handcuffs. Another officer motioned for the rescue workers to come inside.

"Oh, my God! Is Sarah okay?" As I started toward her house, an officer blocked my path. "I'm sorry, ma'am, I can't let you go in there."

After what seemed like an eternity, the rescue workers emerged with a small figure on a gurney, wrapped snugly in a sheet. Fearing the worst, I hurried over to them.  Looking down at Sarah, her face was barely recognizable.  Her eyes were swollen nearly shut; her face and mouth were covered with blood.

Tears flooded my cheeks as uncontrollable sobs racked my body.  One of Sarah's eyes opened slightly, and a faint smile appeared at the corners of her bloody mouth. "Don't cry, Mrs. Williams," she whispered. "I knew you'd help me, just like you promised."

They put her into the ambulance and drove away after they assured me she'd be okay. One of the officers turned to me and said, "You probably saved that little girl's life. If you hadn't called us when you did, I don't know if she'd be alive right now."

Hanging my head in shame, my words echoed in my ears.  "If I'd called you a month ago, none of this would have happened. I'll have to live with that for the rest of my life, but I'll spend it trying to make it up to that brave little angel."
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