(Eight years old…)
Angrily, I wipe at the tears blurring my sight. I want to see Momma’s smile. Desperation and fear squeeze my heart until it hurts.
“Jack,” Momma wheezes. She sounds very sick. I can see it’s hard for her to breathe. She manages to open one of her swollen eyes a little. It looks like it hurts.
I quickly rinse the cloth, and try to wipe up some of the blood, dribbling from the corner of her mouth.
“I’m here, Momma,” I say, my voice thick with tears. I gently pat her hair, the same way she always pats mine when I’ve hurt myself. I wish I could hug her, but I’m scared I’ll hurt her.
“Promise … me, Jack,” she whispers.
“Anything, Momma.” I nod eagerly. I’ll do anything to see her smile. My momma has the prettiest smile. It always makes me feel safe.
“Promise … you’ll … look after … David.” Her breaths wheeze in and out, making whistling sounds that scare me.
“I promise, Momma.” Her mouth twitches as she smiles at me. “I’ll look after David.”
She keeps smiling for a long time. I sit by her, wiping the blood from her face and arms. As long as Momma smiles, everything will be okay.
I crawl onto the tiny bed and lay down beside her, taking her hand in mine. When I feel how cold her fingers are, I try to rub some warmth into them. I close my eyes for a bit, feeling tired from worrying over Momma.
The door slams open, waking me with a fright. Quickly, I sit up as Father walks toward us. He always looks angry, especially when he sees me. He stops next to the bed and he gives Momma a harsh look. He leans over her and takes hold of her jaw, making her smile disappear. He turns her face towards him, his fingers digging into her pale skin.
He lets her go with a shove, shouts loudly, “Sven!”
Sven and Eduardo follow Father everywhere. They’re always mean and I’ve learned to stay out of their way.
“Yes, Sir?” Sven stands by the door, his hands clasped in front of him.
“Go burn the body,” Father says, his voice angry and scary.
I blink a few times as Sven walks toward us and picks up Momma. He throws her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. My eyes widen as I realize what’s happening. I jump from the bed and race after Sven.
“Leave her alone!” I start to pound my tiny fists into his back. I don’t care that I’ll get in trouble. I just have to make him stop. “Put Momma back on the bed. She’s sleeping.”
A hand clasps cruelly at the back of my neck and yanks me backwards.
“It’s time for you to become a man,” Father growls.
He shoves me forward and I have to jog to keep up with his big steps.
We walk out the back door and past the pretty flowers Momma loves so much. She always stops to smell them. We keep going, further than I’ve ever been with Momma when we come outside for walks. We near a building, the brown one I’ve been told not to go close to.
Sven opens the heavy looking door and steps inside. Father shoves me again, making me stumble inside. Sven throws Momma on the floor, her body falling in an awkward position. My eyes are huge and burning. As I start to tremble from being scared, I have to bite back the tears.
I watch as Sven opens a steel door, picks Momma up, and puts her inside the tiny space. It looks like a huge oven.
I can’t see what Sven does because his big body blocks my view. Suddenly, flames jump out of nowhere, quickly swallowing Momma.
I yank away from Father, a loud scream bursting from my dry lips. “No!”
I grab hold of Momma’s foot, and start to pull at her, trying my best to save her. The flames lick at my hand, hot and painful. I don’t let go until fingers wrap around my neck, ripping me away from Momma and flinging me backwards. My body slams into the wall, and the impact makes a sharp pain rattle through my body. I fall to the floor, biting on my bottom lip to keep the tears from falling.
Father’s huge body towers over me, making fear explode inside my racing heart.
He glares at Sven, and says, “It’s time for the boy to start earning his keep. Put him with the other slaves.”
I don’t understand what that means. My eyes fall on Momma as the flames eat her. I can’t tear my eyes away from her.
My eyes burn from the fire.
My hand burns from the fire.
My heart burns because I know that I won’t see Momma’s smile again.