Sailing the Prairie by by Bill West

Johnny hugs the tree. Feels the sway of wind crackling through branches, like sails of a pirate ship on a search for treasure. He scans the horizon. The dirt track cuts a red swathe through rolling prairie.

Is that someone on the road? Leaning forward - a pale shadow fades and vanishes. Just a twist of dust in the breeze.

Ma had gone down that road, a month after his kid sister died.

He remembered her stretched across Sissy's bed, her fingers twisting the sheet. Sissy's hair red against the white. Pa tried to draw up the sheet, cover her face but Ma pushed him away.

She went funny in the head after they buried Sissy. Always looking, calling her name; at the school, at church, down in the meadow where the flowers grew. Disappeared for days at a time, wandering this way and that, calling, always calling. One day, she didn't come back.

Pa got mad. Said she'd gone off with Seth Baker, her old flame. Then he took to drink. He'd always liked a drop but he'd got so he'd rather drink than eat. And when he drank he would get nasty, call Johnny the Spawn of Satan. That's why Johnny spent so much time in the tree, where Pa couldn't reach him.

Some day soon Johnny's gonna steal some food and a canteen and go down that road. Give his Ma just one more week, then go find her.

The leaves whisper with Sissy's voice. They say, "Hold on. Ma will be back soon." Sissy always did see the best in every situation.


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