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Secret Survivor entry - oh dear, but I won't tell who the author is!
Torn Apart

“There’s a phone right in here, Belle.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Grant. But…um, before you go…I wondered….”

“What is it, dear?

Maybe I can just figure it out by myself. Then I don’t have to admit I don’t know how…

“Oh… Belle, I think I understand. Have you never used a telephone before? Goodness, I forget how isolated y’all lived, out there on that mountainside. Now, don’t you fret, child. I’ll help you! Here, take my handkerchief. There, now. You’ve been through an awful lot this week. A tear or ten is normal. Lord knows if I was just seventeen years old and a twister took away two loved ones and my home? Well, there wouldn’t be enough Kleenex in all the world.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“You’re a brave young woman, you know, getting through that storm the way you did. I’ll bet your Granny and Pappy are smiling down on you right now. Shhhh. I know, I know. But they’re in a much better place now. Sitting around sipping sweet tea with the angels, I’ll bet. Maybe with our Lord Jesus, himself!”

“Yes, ma’am.” But, I’m all alone…

“All right, deep breath. Are you ready to make that phone call?”

Ready? What’s ready supposed to feel like? I can’t stop shaking. Will I even recognize Mama’s voice? What if she doesn’t recognize mine? I don’t sound twelve anymore. And how’m I supposed to tell her her parents got killed! Maybe she won’t be too sad. Five years is a long time. No, who am I kidding? Look how happy I get when Mama’s letters come. Kids and parents, they just love each other, no matter what…

“Yes, ma’am. I’m ready enough, I guess.”

“You’ll be fine. Oh! There’s the church bell. Mercy that’s loud! This room is right below the steeple, you know. Hand me your paper and I’ll show you how to dial the number, then I have to hustle downstairs for the noon service. I’m assisting Pastor John today. Watch me, now…there. That’s all there is to it. Okay, it’s ringing. Here you go, and good luck, dear.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Grant. Bye.”

Wish she’d stay with me. Okay, I can do this. Concentrate! The ringing sounds strange, like hearing the ocean in one of April’s seashells. And an actual phone is ringing right now someplace else? That’s so—

“Charleston Women’s Correctional Facility, how may I help you?”

“Um… I…”

“Hello? Is someone there? Please speak up.”

Get a grip, Belle! “Yes, hello, ma’am.” Breathe. “My name is Belle Thompson. And, I’d like to speak to my mother, please. She, um, lives there, in Block B?”

“What’s her name?”

“It’s Margaret J. Thompson.”

“One moment, please.”

Oh no. Did she hang up on me? It’s so quiet; I don’t hear anything in this thing. What do I do? What—



“I’m sorry, did you say Margaret Thompson is your mother?”

“Yes. I mean, yes, ma’am. And I know I haven’t talked to her in a while, but we’ve had a terrible disaster here at home and I need to speak to her, like really bad.”

“I see…”

Whoa, her voice changed.

“Honey, here’s the thing…”

Why does she suddenly sound so…nice?

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this. But, your mother was released last November. She’s no longer an inmate here.”

“She…wait. What? Well, where is she? Where did she go?”

“I have her records pulled up on my computer. I’m so sorry, but there’s no forwarding address.”

“I don’t understand. I have a letter right here from her. I got it last month. She talked about how gross prison food is! She has to still be there!”

“Please, miss, calm down. You have the letter right there? Look at the envelope. Where was it postmarked?”

Baltimore, MD? Oh God, oh God, oh God.

“Honey? Are you there?”

“I’m…I’m sorry I bothered you.”



~ ~ ~ ~

Torn Apart
(Sans dialogue)

         Seventeen-year-old Belle Thompson dragged herself dutifully down the ugly, windowless hallway. She concentrated on the way her feet skated inside the too-big Crocs that someone from town had donated to her. These days, she had to force her thoughts to linger on stupid stuff like that, to keep her mind occupied. It was far better that thinking about serious matters like last week’s tornado that blasted her life to smithereens.

         If Belle wasn’t vigilant, her mind wandered right to the rescuers recovering the empty shells of her grandparent’s broken bodies, their souls blown away by the storm’s fierce winds. Or to the matchstick pile of splintered wood that was all that remained of her home. For days now, her body moved only by the grace of invisible marionette strings dangling out of a taunting blue sky. They lifted Belle’s arm to return a worried well-wisher’s wave, and they swung her hands together in mimicked prayer at daily mass. Thank goodness too, because she had zero energy of her own. It was the divine puppeteer who pulled up on her knees now so she could shuffle along beside Mrs. Grant in the upstairs corridor of her temporary residence, the Trust First Baptist Church.

         Despite her best mental efforts, Belle’s concentration strayed from her gliding feet to her hammering heart. Every knock in her chest echoed in her ears and reminded her that she was still alive. Well, her body at least. So when Mrs. Grant stopped at a nondescript door, turned the gold handle, and ushered her into the room, Belle clutched the letter she carried and fought to block out all thoughts except counting her racing heartbeats. The sight of the telephone tripped her up, though. She abruptly lost count.

         She was going to talk to her mother today! Emotions assaulted her like a swarm of gnats converging on a sweaty face. With Granny and Pappy gone, her mama was Belle’s only kin. Just knowing she wasn’t all alone in this world gave Belle an ounce of courage. But her stomach twisted in tight knots. Would her mama even recognize her voice? They hadn’t spoken in five years, since Belle was twelve years old. And what kind of reunion would this be, on a telephone and with the terrible news Belle had to deliver? How did you tell somebody her parents were dead?

         Mrs. Grant was talking, but her words seeped slowly into Belle’s consciousness, like spilled glue into a paper towel. She didn’t expect Belle to operate the telephone, did she? Pinpoints of sweat broke out across Belle’s forehead. Pappy hadn’t trusted telephone service. He said people could listen in, spy on you. He’d insisted their conversations with folks happen face-to-face during their weekly trips into town for supplies. The other six days a week were spent up on their mountainside, isolated from the world. Belle had never even held a phone to her ear. She lowered her head and cast overwhelmed eyes to the foreign device.

         Overhead, the church bell summoned parishioners to twelve-o’clock mass. The resounding peals vibrated the floor through Belle’s plastic shoes and traveled up her body, shaking loose a couple heavy tears from her brimming eyes.

         Kind Mrs. Grant offered Belle her handkerchief and consoling words. She plucked the envelope from Belle’s hand on which the church secretary had written a sequence of numbers. Mrs. Grant demonstrated, for future reference, how to punch the buttons on the phone to dial up the Charleston Women’s Correctional Facility. She handed the envelope and the receiver to Belle, wished her luck, and hurried off to assist Pastor John with the noon service.

         The weight of the handset in her trembling hand surprised her. Like the ocean’s roar in a seashell, a hollow tone rang out from deep inside and stopped, rang out and stopped again. Belle tried to imagine another phone, in a faraway room in Charleston, ringing at the same moment. Somehow, she just couldn’t picture it.

         A woman’s voice spoke. It was so loud and close; its startling force straightened Belle’s spine. She tried to return the woman’s greeting, but her throat squeezed the words down to an indiscernible wheeze. She scolded herself, commanding her brain to concentrate. The next time she opened her mouth, a slightly more coherent request to speak to her mother, an inmate in Block B, spilled out.

         Belle tightened her grip on the receiver and listened, the crease in her brow deepening. Surely the voice was mistaken. There was no way her mother had been released from prison a year ago? Mercifully, the telephone desk stood against a wall that supported Belle as her world tipped and she slumped back against it. If her mother had gotten out, she would have come home! This woman had to have her facts wrong.

         Belle flashed the envelope for the phone to see. Here was proof that the voice was wrong! This letter from her mother arrived just last month. She’d written about the disgusting slop they passed off as food in the “joint.” Mama said Granny’s goats ate better than she did in there. How could her mother have sent this letter from prison, if she didn’t live there anymore?

         And then the voice asked for one, devastating piece of information. Belle shook her head no, pulling the envelope closer to her face, blinking to clear her diluted vision. Through hot tears she stared at the tiny print on the faded postmark.

         Baltimore, Maryland. Her mother mailed the letter from Baltimore. Not Charleston. Not West Virginia, at all. Maryland. Might as well have been China.

         The receiver slipped out of her grip and landed with a soft thud on the Berber carpet. Belle stepped out of the bulky Crocs and walked, barefooted and shaking, out into the hall.

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