A cool wet rag pressed to Andie’s face. Andie covered the little hands holding it with her own.
“Pickle, you ok?”
A voice, both soft and cracked, answered. “I’m sorry. I tried to stop him.”
Andie lowered the rag and looked at her sister. The bridge of Pickle’s nose was swollen, purple already tracing the edges and coloring under her eyes. Andie sucked in a sharp breath. Angry, and unable to clench her teeth for the pain, she said the unsaid aloud.
“He’s supposed to hit me and leave you alone.” The little girl pressed her forehead against Andie’s shoulder, finding it easier to talk with her face hidden. “You weren’t moving.”
“Oh Pickle.” Andie stroked her sister’s shuddering back. “I’ll get you some ice.” They cleaned each other up, Andie noting the slow, deliberate movements Pickle made and the bruises, blooming like thorny roses that peeked out of her sleeves.
Andie led her sister through the house. Pausing at doorways, they found an empty living room full of empty bottles and their father, dead to the world on his sweat-stained bed.
Andie lifted their bedroom handle as she swung the door open, making sure it stayed on its broken hinges. Pickle’s bed sat in the far corner of the room they shared. She climbed over Andie’s and squeezed around a dresser to get to her little nest. Andie tucked her sister in, stroking her brow til it relaxed and Pickle drifted off to sleep.
Andie laid atop her bed, staring at the ceiling. She was supposed to be a scapegoat, the punching bag, and human shield for Pickle. He’d find fault with her sister and do it again, and more, now that she’d stood up to him.
Andie pulled off her sheet and spread it on the floor. She found clothes, shoes and the picture of Mama. The picture was nestled into the center of the pile, protected. Andie dug under her bed and pulled out Mama’s sewing basket.
She reached out to set it on the pile when a snore rumbled through the house. Andie stood and went just outside the other bedroom. She stared at the sprawling figure. The bedding jumbled underneath his legs and puddled on the floor. Andie entered the bedroom willingly for the first time in years. She pulled the sheet free. He didn’t twitch or even change his breathing. Andie flipped it into the air. It settled over him like fog.
She opened Mama’s kit. Sewing had never interested Andie. She had worn through the knees and tore her sleeves climbing trees. Mama had sewed and patched them closed. Andie kept Mama’s basket not out of a desire to use it, but because it was Mama, fixing things that were falling apart.
Andie’s task was made easier by the thick button thread and upholstery needles she found near the bottom of the basket. Andie sewed all the way around her father, catching thick chunks of mattress in her stitches. He neither woke nor moved as he was cocooned in his filthy bed.
Pickle woke as Andie scooped her up and carried her to the car.
“Shh now, we’re going to Mama’s people.” Andie belted her into the back, bedding and all. “I’ll be back with our clothes.”
Andie headed through the kitchen to grab food for breakfast on the road. The broken broom handle skittered underfoot and bounced off the wall. Andie looked at the stick and then at the wall, behind which her father lay unconscious, bound and helpless.
She left it where it was.