I walk along the dirt road, trudging back to a place I'm expected to call home. We got out of school early today, so I have enough time to take the long way. I glance quickly around me to make sure no one important is watching. Uncle doesn't want me to take the long way; he wants me home as soon as I can get there. He wouldn't let me go to school if it wasn't required that he does.
No one is there. I veer off my usual path and follow the narrow trail into the nearby forest. The trees are tall and strong, like my brother. I wish I could be that way. I tend to slip through the pieces and cracks that web the small semblance of the life I call mine.
The path turns and zigzags softly through the forest. I love the way it seems so whimsical, carefree. It goes where it pleases without a care in the world, yet it's thoughtful of the trees and the rocks and the other creations sharing its earth; it doesn't push them around or attempt to crush them, but winds its way around so as not to disturb their existence.
I walk slowly, with my eyes on the trees, studying them for their signs of life. A squirrel jumping from branch to branch; a bird in its nest, feeding its young; an inchworm crawling its way up the tree. I smile to myself and look down at my feet, glad for the animals and pondering their joyfulness.
The moment past, I look beside me. There's a lake; a pond, really, and a small one. But it's enough.
A picture. He's smiling at me, surely thinking me silly for my youthful questions, but loving me just the same.
A thought. She really was lovely.
A memory. A new one I've not remembered before.
"There she is," Jake says as we approach the lake. "She's lovely, isn't she?"
"Who is?" I ask. There's no one here but us three.
My brother answers for him. "He means the boat, Jainie."
I look to the lake and see a small boat tied to the wooden floor that's standing over the water. How did they get that floor to stay there, why doesn't it sink?
"Oh. Then why'd he call it a 'she'?" Boats aren't girls or boys, just boats. My child's mind doesn't understand.
"Because she's a she," Jake says, giving me his impish grin.
I'm not sure how to respond, so I ask another question instead.
"Do we get to ride in her?" I figure if Jake says the boat's a she, then he can't be wrong, even if he isn't right. So I'll call the boat a she.
"Of course we do!" Jake's voice holds a note of excitement I can feel, and I'm suddenly more energized than he.
I begin to skip between my brother and Jake, my hands in theirs. "Who's going to drive it?"
"Your brother and I will. You can help us if you want."
I feel my heart skip in anticipation. "I can?"
"Sure! In fact, we're going to need someone who can make sure we don't get too close to the edge of the lake. If that happens, the boat might get stuck. Sometimes we'll get distracted and forget to watch where we're going, so you can make sure that doesn't happen by telling us if we're getting too close. Do you think you can do that for us?"
"Yes!" My young heart is thrilled to be needed by the bigger kids, especially when they help me with so many things I can't seem to do without them.
I have another thought. "But if she's a girl, what's her name? Every girl has a name."
Alex laughs his strong, happy, affectionate laugh. It's made my day that I've made him smile. He does that so rarely, and I love it when he does. That laugh is my favorite thing in the world.
"I don't believe she's got a name yet." Jake thinks for a moment. "How about Myrna. What do you think, Jainie?"
I look at the boat for a minute before answering. "She says she likes that name. And I think it's the prettiest name ever."
Jake smiles again with a curious face and Alex looks at me, his eyes still dancing with the laughter.
"Myrna it is, then!" I give them my childish grin, the brightest smile I have.
Soon we're all in the boat, they rowing and I dutifully watching the shoreline.
That was when we were happier; back before Mom left us, before Uncle started doing such horrid things to us. I remember it so vividly, though it's a memory I'd never reviewed before; one hidden so deep in the archives of my life I never had time to come to it yet, though so easily pulled out by a single glance at this small body of water. I can almost see Myrna out on this pond, the three of us singing our hearts out and rocking the boat, living in the moment, as if those two things were our only purpose and we were as glad of it as we could be.
The next time we went to the lake, Myrna had her name written wonderfully down each of her sides. Jake told me later my brother had painted it there. He never said anything that first day I saw it, my brother, but I could see the humble pride behind his eyes as I expressed my innocent pleasure in his beautiful gift.
I realize I've stopped walking. I'm still standing here, watching the lake, thinking of my brother and his friend. Our friend. I'm going to be late now, and that I can't afford. He'll hurt my brother if I'm late and he'll punish me again when he's done.
I tear myself from the lake, my reminiscence, and reluctantly follow the trail as quickly as I'm able to force myself, back to the place I'm expected to call home.