Together We Can Escape This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

September 2, 2011
I sat alone against the crumbling brick wall that surrounded our yard. Time seemed to be suspended in the heat of summer. Everything moved as though it was stuck in mud, trapped in the humidity of the day. My idle mind had nowhere to wander, and I quickly grew weary from boredom.

I saw her walking from the house, coming towards me. She wore a yellow sundress, which swayed with the back and forth motion of her tanned arms. In her hand she carried a brown package. She seemed unfazed by the heat. Her face looked clean and fresh, and her jet black hair was tucked neatly into a bun behind her head. She sat in the yellow grass next to me, shielding me from the torturous sun. Smiling, she pushed the hair out of my eyes.

“What ya up to, babe?” she asked.

“Nothin’, Mama.” She laughed lightly at my reply.

“Well I got something we could do to pass the afternoon, something you’ll really like to do. Why don’t we go on a little trip together? Somewhere cool, so we can escape the horrible heat.”
My smile stretched ear to ear, I thought we would visit the old fashioned soda shop downtown, Or Ms. Carol’s bakery.

“Where we goin’ Mama?”

In answer she held the paper wrapped package out to me. I tore at the brown paper, only to discover it hid a book.

“Together we are going twenty thousand leagues under the sea, in a big submarine with Captain Nemo.” She took the book from my small hands, and turned to the first page.

I looked at her in confusion, “Mama, what are you talkin’ about? Why don’t we just go to Ms. Carols or the ….”

“Sshh, Helen you’ll just have to wait and see.” I sighed, and she began to read from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Her voice was melodic and soft, moving down the page in steady motion. Her smooth hands followed the words as she read aloud.

About ten pages into the story she told me to close my eyes, and I was plunged deep into the sea. That afternoon, and late into the evening, we traveled through the oceans in the Nautilus, With Captain Nemo, and Pierre Aronnax. We escaped the summer’s heat, and ultimately reality. My mother and I were cooled by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, and we sailed through the plotline of the most exciting trip I had ever taken.

It had been dark for some hours, and we had moved into my bedroom, when she closed the book. She moved her hands across the book’s cover, and I knew she wished it hadn’t ended; I wished the same thing. She silently placed the book in my chubby six year old hands, and smiled.

Pulling the blankets tight around me she whispered, “Next time we’ll escape to Pemberley with Elizabeth and her Mr. Darcy.”

That summer we swung through the Jungle with Tarzan and his apes, hunted for buried treasure with Jim and Long John Silver, and danced with Jesse Tuck and his everlasting family. My Mother helped me escape to new lands, and introduced me to new people, through her many books. When Daisy, my first dog, died we hunted coons with Billy and his hounds in Where the Red Fern Grows. The day before the beginning of seventh grade we jumped from a high branch with Finny and Danny in A Separate Peace. Jane Austen’s numerous novels helped me fall in love for the first time, and cope with the broken heart that followed. My life was lived through the books my mother read to me every summer by the old brick wall. Together we escaped life’s challenges, and pain.
After years of reading, her hands still followed the words she read, but they became wrinkled, and age spots began to form. Her voice lost its melodic tone over time, becoming rough and tired. Her obsidian hair showed streaks of grey, and her deep green eyes grew dull with exhaustion. Yet, she still escaped with me as often as she could, burying us both in her words.

The summer of my seventeenth birthday, the reading stopped. My mother had suffered a massive stroke, leaving her paralyzed on the left side of her body and unable to speak. The doctors called it a medical mystery, they were unable to explain why my mother had a stroke at such a young age; she was only forty-eight. The event shocked everyone, but touched me more than others. She was no longer the strong mother I had known, she became weak and frail, unable to leave her bed. I was afraid of her, afraid that if I touched her she would break into pieces of porcelain. I was afraid that if I looked at her too long, she would disappear. I tried to talk to her every day, but I was only talking to myself. Seeing my mother, interacting with her, became a chore.

Three months after her stroke, she fell deep into the hole of depression. She wouldn’t let my father touch her; she wouldn’t eat, or try to communicate at all. My fear of her, of breaking her, grew larger. I felt as though she should be locked in a glass case, looked at but never touched.
I began sitting at the brick wall daily, hiding from my father and his sickly wife. One day as I let the cool stone dig into my back, he came walking slowly from the house. He carried a solemn expression on strained face. When he got close enough to speak, he did not sit as she always had. He looked down on me as he talked.

“Helen, she is real bad. She won’t let me hold her hand, or kiss her cheek. She won’t ever laugh or read, or even cry. I miss my wife, and I’m sure you miss your mama. You miss readin’ with her all the time, and sharin’ secrets. I can’t help her alone Helen.”

“Daddy, what do want me to do? I don’t know how to help her anymore than you do.”

“All you gotta do is talk to her, Helen.”

“I talk to her every day.”

“You know what I mean, really talk to her.” I just nodded my head. I did know what he meant; I knew how to help her come out of the dark and back into the summer’s light.
I walked into her small room at noon, yet it looked like midnight. All the curtains were drawn and there was no lamp on, or even a candle lit. I put the small present I had brought with me on the bed side table. Walking around the room as silently as I could, I opened curtains to let the sun in, and cracked the windows so summer could breathe in the room. She lay on the bed, her questioning eyes following me as I moved about the room. I crossed from the window to the bed, and looked down at her tired face.
I lay down on the bed next to her, holding her like a mother would a child. I tried not to let her see the tears on my face. I leaned in close and whispered, “I’ve got something fun we can do, to pass all this time. It’s a surprise and I think you’ll love it.” Her questioning eyes moved over my face.

I picked up the small package I had laid on the table and opened it. I turned to the first page, and traced the words with my fingers.

“Together we can escape into the sea.”





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