The jeep flew over the mound of dirt, bouncing a bit as it came back in contact with the earth. It muscled its way through the pond and up the bank on the other side, its engine roaring loudly the whole time. The way through the jungle it had just entered was treacherous and much swerving and dodging ensued before it suddenly skidded to a stop. Towering far above the jeep was a colossal beast, a bear, raring up on its hindquarters ready to deliver a mighty shuddering swipe with its great paw that could easily send the entire jeep tumbling and careening out of control through the jungle. The jeep slowly started backing away from the huge creature. The bear roared, preparing to attack.
“Fire!” bellowed sergeant Kilroy to his team of troops, “Give it everything we’ve got, NOW!” He shouldered his rifle and began firing on the bear, trying to focus the majority of the shots on the bear’s snout and eyes. “Bubba! Use the bazooka! That’s what we have it for!”
Bubba propped the bazooka on his shoulder, kneeled down and switched it on. Sergeant was yelling something at him but he couldn’t hear above all the gunfire of the other soldiers. He shrugged, lined his eyes up with the sight and pulled the trigger. After a short pause of nothing happening he was rewarded with a hot blast of smoke in his face, making his eyes sting and tear up. The rocket seemed to fly in slow motion as it made its way toward the massive bellowing beast. It made contact right in the center of the bear’s chest, leaving a huge smoking scorch mark on the bear’s plaid overalls.
Mr. Fluffy Bottom stopped roaring and looked down at his smoking chest—
“Janey! I told you to change out of your dress before playing outside in the dirt like that! Don’t you ever listen to what I say, young lady?”
Still holding her teddy bear and a green plastic soldier in frozen combat poses, Janey looked up to see her mother standing in the back door. She was smiling at Janey with her hands propped on her hips and holding the back door open with her shoulder. A small cloud of dust was drifting from where Janey sat, back towards the house, occasionally defining the shape of a sunray before moving on. Janey jumped up and began running towards her mother; dirty knees, dusty dress and all. She’d have to figure out how to stir up a lot more dust sometime soon. The sunbeams were pretty and warranted more attention. But not right now.
As Janey approached her mother at a child’s sprint, she spread her arms open wide. Mother and daughter came together in a gentle collision as her mother bent down and scooped her off the ground at the just right instant. Janey hugged her mother with abandon, her dusty muddy melodrama motionless and forgotten in the yard.
“Little Miss Janey,” her mother said as she hugged back, “you are filthy and I’m afraid that now so am I.” She hugged her daughter for a few more seconds and with a little extra squeeze at the end she set her back down on the back stoop. “Get inside and get that dress off and put some shorts on. I left your pink shorts and your Dora shirt on your bed for you to change into.”
Janey loved her mother but she was mostly happy that her mother was home for the same reason that she had been playing in the back yard in the first place. Lee was Mommy’s boyfriend and Janey had learned that the best place to be when Mommy was at work was away from Lee. He was creepy.
On boring afternoons she used to sit on the sofa and watch cartoons or some kids show that she felt too smart for. Some days, he would come over and sit down right next to her; so stiflingly close that the cushions would sink under his weight, tipping her little body awkwardly towards him. He would tell her that she was pretty, that she looked a lot like her mother, that her features were so delicate, her eyes beautiful. After two years she’d heard pretty much his whole repertoire, delivered in a low syrupy voice. She stopped hearing what he actually said, focusing instead on how stupid she was for letting herself get caught alone with him yet again. She didn’t watch much TV these days.
She was six now and still didn’t really understand why he acted the way that he did when Mommy wasn’t home. What she did understand was that it happened less if she could stay out of sight when he was the only one around. Lee disturbed her and she had developed a special kind of loathing for him. She would joyfully assign his name to the victim of the worst casualty in her intensely brutal little toy skirmishes.
But none of that mattered right now, because Mommy was home, which meant that Lee probably wouldn’t even look at or speak to her for most of the rest of the afternoon and evening. At this realization, she took off through the house to change into her pink shorts and favorite shirt. As she passed the kitchen table, she glimpsed a tube of cinnamon rolls in the bag of groceries that still sat there.
She loved those cinnamon rolls, and the way they smelled when they were baking. Sometimes Laura and Mark would make the exact same cinnamon rolls and then the three of them would eat the whole pan of rolls, straight out of the oven. Mark and Laura were cool.
Visiting Laura and Mark was another strategy she had of avoiding Lee. That and they were just fun to be around. They weren’t like most grown-ups; they didn’t make her feel like a little kid when she was with them. She was just one of the gang. Of course, Mommy didn’t know about her regular half-mile walks to visit them, and probably wouldn’t allow it if she had known. But there were a lot of things, anymore, that Mommy didn’t know about.
She resumed racing towards her bedroom, practically outrunning her breath and not even caring. She looked just like any six-year-old would when running through the house at just over the threshold of safety; a happy little ball of clumsy frenetic energy.