Her clothes were on her bed, as her mother had promised. She changed quickly, leaving her dirty sundress a crumpled pile on the floor next to her bed. After pulling her shirt on, she looked down at her dress, lying next to the space between the bottom of her bed frame and the floor, thinking about the empty darkness that filled that little area.
Taking a running leap to land in the pile of blankets and plush animals waiting to envelope her was her preferred method of getting in bed each night. Standing with her bare ankles and shins exposed to that emptiness always seemed to overpower her rational senses. Her imagination was strong and would work against her whenever she stood next to her bed and would happen to notice the darkness underneath.
Her heart fluttered and sped up as she snatched the dress up off of the no man’s land around her bed. She flung the dress into the corner of the room, onto a pile of used paint-with-water coloring books as she bolted from the room, too afraid to look back at her bed for any sign that something might have just missed grabbing the dress.
By the time she had made it down the hall and back into the kitchen she had forgotten about the mysterious space that lingered beneath her each night as she dreamed. Mommy had already started making lunch, and was peeling potatoes over the sink. Janey grabbed a slice of potato skin out of the sink and popped it into her mouth as she made for the back door.
“Stay on the porch, sweetie,” called her mother, “I don’t need you running off somewhere or getting all dirty again right before lunch.”
Janey walked to the edge of the cement platform that they called the back porch, and sat down with her legs dangling over the edge. She traced a ‘J’ on the bare cement of the porch; kicking her legs idly. The breeze had gotten a bit stronger and more regular since she had been inside the house but it was still a wonderfully bright and beautiful afternoon. She noticed a glare in the grass where she had been playing. The tiny windshield of the abandoned jeep was reflecting the sun into her eyes. She started making a mental list of all the fun things she would try to do after lunch.
Lunch was mashed potatoes and meatloaf. Janey ate quickly and even had seconds on the potatoes, but was disappointed when she learned that the cinnamon rolls were meant for some other time. Her mother and Lee were talking about some movie they were interested seeing. Janey had a hard time understanding the appeal of a movie where the only thing that ever seemed to happen was talking. Where was the fun and adventure in that?
“Mommy, can I be excused,” Janey blurted, ignoring the fact that she had just interrupted something Lee had been saying, “I’m done eating. Can I go outside and play?”
“Sure Janey, just stay where you can hear me ok?” her mother replied as she stood to clear the dishes from Janey’s place at the table.
Returning to the site of the Siege of Mr. Fluffy Bottom, Janey gathered up the toys; pulling the bottom of the front of her shirt out to make a primitive basket that could hold more toys than her arms alone could. Returning to the back door, she stepped inside and let go of the bottom of her shirt, dumping the toys carelessly inside the house and leaving again before her mother could see what she’d done and tell her to put her toys away properly.
She wandered around the yard, stopping to pick dandelions here, or watch a trail of ants somewhere else. She quickly lost track of time, caught up in her own thoughts, and eventually found a tree to climb. The tree wasn’t technically in the yard, but she was confident that she could hear if called.
She stood in the tree and tried to make herself invisible to the environment around her. Standing on a branch and holding onto the trunk of the tree, she could see a horizon much further away than any she had seen before. She smiled as the wind rustled the leaves all around her and blew her hair gently back from her face. The wind was getting stronger, the tree swaying with her in it. The leaves rattling against each other made a sound that reminded her of the loud static sound of a TV without a signal. Beneath that she could hear the slow deep rumble of thunder in the distance.