“What are they?” Helen stared at the strange cookies in front of her on the table.
“I found them when I went into town to get some groceries. They’re called animal crackers.” Helen’s mother kissed her daughter’s cheek and took the bag of groceries to the table next to the sink.
Helen picked up the box and frowned at them. She opened it and nibbled on one. “They don’t taste like crackers, more like cookies.”
Her mother shrugged, her back to her daughter as she washed potatoes. “You’d best put them away in your room somewhere before your father gets home. You know he won’t take kindly to you eating sweets before dinner.”
A shiver shot up Helen’s spine. At twelve years old, she thought herself too old in many ways to be treated like the little girl her mom still thought she was. “When do you expect him home? Isn’t he supposed to be visiting old Mr. Hopper today?”
“Mr. Hopper passed away last night, dear. Your father was busy meeting with the family for most of the day to go over the details of the funeral. The whole town is expected to turn out for it on Saturday. He was mayor back in his prime, a name Hurston was built on.”
Helen made a face. “I don’t want to attend some stupid funeral of a man I don’t know.”
“That’ll be quite enough, young lady. To you room with your treats. Now.”
Helen sighed as she stood. She pushed in the chair, the legs scraping over the wooden floor. Her mother cringed at the sound, but kept working at the sink. The girl exited the kitchen and took the stairs as quietly as a mouse. That was how her mother liked her, after all: as quiet as can be.
When she arrived in her room, she knelt beside her bed as if to pray, but reached under the bed and pulled away a loose floorboard. She hid the box of animal crackers in the secret spot and replaced the board.
She avoided the bed and sat at her desk instead, staring out the window at the branches of the large oak next to the house. She watched a couple of robins flit around each other, as if in a dance, and she longed to be that free, to fly like in her dreams. She kept her eyes on the world outside, anywhere but on the bed.
There are other dreams, too. She smiled. She sometimes imagined she was walking around in someone else’s body, usually as other children in town. While she had no control over where her dreams might take her, her favorites were when she was someone rich like Matilda Forkins or Robert Jenkins. Matilda had all the best dresses and had two porcelain dolls, not just one. Robert was a year older than Helen and had the eyes of every girl in town on him.
But they end, like all dreams. They’re so quick, like a blink. “In the end, I still have to wake up and return here,” she whispered, whisking her gaze from the window and staring at her bed.
The haze of the summer rested heavy on Helen as she sat there, waiting for her father to return home. He would walk in the back door and comment on how wonderful dinner smelled, would kiss his wife, and would straighten his clerical collar. Her mother would make some remark about how proud she was of him for doing God’s work. And Helen would sit there, her mouth shut until she was spoken to by the man.
Helen rested her elbows on the surface of the desk and cradled her face in her hands as she returned her gaze to the window. Her eyelids grew heavy, and she drifted asleep.
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