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Star in my Pocket

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I have a star in my pocket. Ma told me to keep it safe, to guard it with my heart. I figure I can’t really guard it with my heart, but I sure can guard it with my overalls. I hope she’s proud of me, for keepin’ it safe all this time. Nobody even knows I have it. Sometimes I watch ‘em as they pass me by. They look at me like I’m just a kid, just a kid. They don’t know what I’m hidin’ in my pocket. Ain’t that the funniest thing?



I remember when Ma gave me the star for keeps. She had it before me, wore it ‘round her neck. She told me that she couldn’t wear it anymore, that I had to have it. She didn’t tell me why or nothin’, she just left afterwards. That was the last time I saw her, on my 10th birthday. And Pa says she ain’t gonna come back, but what does he know anyway? He’s out there workin’ day and night, and Ma used to say he doesn’t know a thing about us women. I reckon she’ll be comin’ home soon. She promised.



She looked worried that night, I remember. She was runnin’ around the house, grabbin’ things and talking to herself. I was standing by the front door, watchin’ her as she opened and closed cabinet after cabinet, drawer after drawer. I thought she looked like the bees in the garden, all frantic and such. And she had this look on her face, one like Mr. Mahoney had after his big red barn burned down. She was pilin' food into the basket I'd woven that year in school, and I didn't know why.



“You takin’ that out to the pigs, Ma?” I asked, figuring that the pigs would eat anything. She didn’t answer. “Those blankets, you takin’ them to keep the horses warm?” This time, she shook her head. The basket was full now. She came over and knelt down beside me, her hand on my shoulder.



She said, “Mo, I ain’t takin’ this to the animals. I ain’t comin’ home for a real long time.”



And, bein' the young girl I was, I didn’t really understand what she was sayin’. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t gonna see her for six years. So I said, “Bye, Ma,” and she kissed me on the forehead and stood up. That’s when she gave me the star. She unhooked it from around her neck and slipped it off the chain, placing it softly in my palm, closing my fingers delicately around its many edges.



“You keep that,” she told me, her expression more serious than the time I fed spaghetti to the goats, “And don’t you tell anyone you have it. You hear me, Margaret?”



And I was angry when she said that, because I didn’t like anyone to use my full name- not even Ma. She looked at me for a while, and I think she must have been memorizing my face. I told her that I ought to get to bed since I had chores in the morning and the moon was high in the sky. She nodded and started out the front door, expression all solemn.



“Ma, you takin’ my basket?”



“Yes, Mo.”



There was a carriage waitin’ out there, I thought, because she disappeared so fast. It must’ve been black because I couldn’t see it in the darkness. But I was sure I heard the familiar sound of horseshoes striking the dirt. She was gone. I thought she’d maybe be back in a week. Pa went on trips sometimes, but he was never gone for that long.


Then a week passed, and Ma wasn’t home. Another week, and then another, flew by. Pa said she was just visitin’ Auntie, said she’d be back real soon. But I knew he was lyin’ to me, because Ma didn’t like Auntie much. Ma thought she was old fashioned. Little Eddy said Ma must’ve gotten eaten by a bear. He told me he’d seen a big one when he was up huntin’ by the river. Pa said that was ridiculous, but I thought it was more likely than her going to visit Auntie.



I didn’t give up hope right away. She’d promised, after all. Ma once told met that breakin’ a promise to a friend is the worst thing a person can do, next to stealin’. I was little then.



As I started growing up, I found out that you can’t always keep promises, even if you want to. Sometimes things get in the way, and it isn’t your fault. Breakin’ a promise doesn’t make you a bad person. So I started to think that maybe Ma couldn’t come home. I thought maybe she was out there somewhere, wantin’ to get back, but she just couldn’t.



It was the star that kept me holdin’ on. It was the one piece of Ma I had left. I didn’t know why she’d given it to me, but even as a little girl I could tell it was important. I didn’t even tell Pa I had it. I just went about normally, doin’ chores and goin’ to school, all the while secretly smilin’ to myself because I had a star in my pocket and no one knew but me.



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