Work at the farm is never done. I was elbow deep in laundry when the screen door banged open. “Momma! Come quick! It’s Pete.”
The urgency and fear in her shout made my stomach cramp. I dropped the stained pants back into the sink, my mind running through a dozen scenarios. A fall? Snakebite? Coyote attack? We’d been seeing more of the mangy animals around the farm in the last weeks. But the possibilities were endless. Before allowing my imagination free rein, I should access the situation. Please don’t take my son.
My glance scraped Hannah’s face as I rounded the corner of the living room. Tears magnified the blue of her eyes, and her chin puckered. “What happened?”
“He—he’s…” Her lips struggled to form the words. “A man grabbed him. Pete told me to run. Momma, I heard him screaming.”
A stranger had attacked my child? Fury scalded my cheeks, cauterizing my fear. “Where is he?”
“Behind the barn.” She ran ahead of me through the front door, her feet thumping across the wooden porch.
I followed. The door slammed behind me as I dashed toward the hip-roofed structure that had once been the centerpiece of a prosperous farm. Back when farmers could make a living if they worked hard enough. When husbands weren’t conscripted for the war. When we had the time and freedom to raise families.
The air thickened like I was running through ghosts rather than oxygen. I fought to breathe but refused to slow. Even though she had a head start, my longer legs carried me past Hannah. As I rounded the corner of the barn my gaze traveled across the barren fields.
I don’t know what I expected. Blood and the signs of a struggle maybe. Not peace and quiet. The sun crept westward toward the horizon, lengthening the shadows. Even though I strained my senses to their limits, all I could hear was the drone of cicadas and Hannah’s labored breathing. My gaze traveled first to the green harvester that hulked in the weeds like a hungry T-Rex. Nothing there. No stranger lurked in the shadows. Nor could I see my child. “Pete.” I shouted his name into the breeze. “Peter Thomas Walker, where are you?”
A muffled grunt sent me around the base of a gnarled oak. He was near. I saw the canes first, their polished surfaces winking through the tall grass. I hurried forward and saw him. The mop of tawny hair brushing his forehead, the muscular arms that were such a contrast to his twisted legs. He sat with his back against the tree, legs stretched out in front of him. Straight. I halted, my hand covering my mouth. “What…” I couldn’t finish the question. Couldn’t form the words, much less push them past the lump in my throat.
“It was an angel, Momma.”
I took a step back and shook my head. “There’s no such thing.”
Pete pulled his knees to his chest and pushed himself to a standing position. Then he stepped forward with a jerky motion and the same harsh sound I’d heard a moment earlier. “I can walk.” A grin as wide as the sky appeared on his face.
My legs wobbled and I fell to my knees, hope blossoming inside me.
“Petey, you’re okay. I thought…I heard you scream.” The catch in her voice made her sound younger than 15.
Pete embraced his twin, the child who had been born normal. The sister he had never seemed to envy even though she could run and play while he was left behind to struggle against his own body. To rely on the pine crutches his father shaped and sanded and polished before the war touched us. “It hurt at first.”
A tentative smile wavered on my lips. I wished his father could see Pete standing straight and tall. How proud he would be. And then the truth hit me. If my husband was still alive—if he’d not been torn apart by enemy bullets—he might well see his son.
The realization struck me with greater force because of that moment of hope when I’d first seen Pete’s healed legs. The army would return. They would take my boy from here. Dress him up in a soldier’s uniform and send him to fight an endless, pointless war. I raised my fists toward the sky and cried out my despair.