“Rose, watch little Al while I go to the store and get a few things for dinner. I won’t be but an hour,” called Jenny Wilkinson to her daughter, who was in the backyard paging through one of her mother’s magazines.
“No need to hurry back, Mom. I’ll take good care of Al.”
Planning to be back before her husband Luke came home from work, she left her three-year-old son with Rose, his thirteen-year-old half-sister. While Jenny got dinner, Luke would play with Al. Neither Luke nor Al tired of this routine because it wasn’t just a routine; it was a joyful interaction.
Al loved his Radio Flyer and squealed with delight when Rose lifted him into the wagon. “Faster, faster,” he yelled as she labored to pull the large, unwieldy wagon up a steep incline. She tripped but didn’t fall while dragging the burden. Perspiration ran down her forehead, and her desire to be rid of the noisy creature in the wagon was fueled by the vibrations of little legs and feet, banging on the floor of the wagon. Al was about to get the ride of his young life.
At the top of the hill, Rose gave the old wagon a heave, sending it into a momentum, which increased as the wagon approached the huge maple at the bottom. In what seemed an instant, the wagon struck the maple’s extensive feeder roots and flipped onto its side. A neighbor noticed the runaway wagon with its tiny passenger and hopped the fence just as the wagon careened into the tree and emptied Al onto the ground. The feeder roots had deflected the wagon and prevented it from colliding with the tree trunk. Tragedy had been averted, and the toddler was alive. His injuries, with the exception of his jaw, were superficial, and the neighbor, who happened to be a doctor, repositioned Al’s dislocated jaw.
After the bouts of heated arguments concerning the prevalence of Al’s accidents had subsided, a stifling silence seemed to bounce off the walls whenever Jenny and Luke exchanged civilities. An uneasy peace filled the house like an angry, caged animal, pacing back and forth, ready to let loose its pent-up rage.
“Now what?” asked Luke, looking past Jenny to Rose, whose strawberry blond hair would’ve turned blood red from being yanked out if he hadn’t controlled himself.
“What?” asked Jenny, trembling.
“What will happen next? Will Al live to be four?” Luke sighed and bolted toward Al’s room. An ungodly frustration was devouring him. How could he protect his son? As he looked at Al fast asleep, Luke’s rage reached its boiling point.
“It was an accident,” Rose cried. The screen door slammed as she lunged out into the backyard. Luke didn’t follow her. The time for discussion was past. A heavy silence hung over dinner and into the evening.
Jenny’s eyes opened. What was that? It sounded like a muffled child’s voice. She glanced at the clock. 6:00. Whatever the noise was, it wasn’t worth bothering about. The figure beside her didn’t move. It was early in the morning, and she hadn’t slept well. After tossing and turning for an hour, she gave up trying to fall back to sleep and looked at the clock again.
“It’s seven o’clock, Luke. You’re going to be late for work!” Tugging at the sheets, Jenny found pillows bunched together. A stifled cry of helplessness stuck in her throat. Luke was gone!
From the hallway, Rose’s voice quivered. “Al is gone! Kidnapped! She entered her parents’ room and stopped. Her mother’s mouth was open and her eyes were shut as she sat motionless by rumpled sheets and pillows. Looking away from Jenny and out the window, Rose embraced her and smiled. The intruders were gone.