A short work of true fiction.
They were eight, six and eighteen months when we moved in.
Alexia, Carolanne and Anngrace.
Alexia, the oldest, was eight.
Shoulder-length brown hair, olive skin, sharp nose and cheekbones. Narrow green eyes and a whippet-thin mouth held in a tight line.
Tall for her age, she kept her broad shoulders squared. Perpetually braced for impact. A wary expression and cagey demeanor – experience had made her vigilant. Schooled by adults whose behavior was predictable in its unreliability and erratic in response to provocation.
Better to eat the cereal dry out of the bag than to complain the milk had gone sour.
Carolanne was six.
A small, chestnut-shaped face. Long, shiny black hair and caramel-colored skin that hinted of her Hispanic father. Sylphlike, she disappeared in the shadow of her older half-sister, appearing inconsequential a defense mechanism against the capricious nature of adult attentions.
Sideways glances from her newest stepfather while watching cartoons on a Saturday morning, her purple Princess Jasmine nightgown tucked under her feet. Invitations to sit on laps of grown men as they watched the ball game or smoked a cigarette on the back stoop.
Better to go unnoticed.
Anngrace, nicknamed Boo, was not yet two years old.
Dark curly hair and large, wide set blue eyes like her mother. The nickname the result of a perpetual look of surprise on her face, as if someone had slipped quietly behind her and loudly clapped their hands. Plump, pliable, acquiescent. The perfect accessory for visits from CPS. Boo and her sisters dressed in matching outfits.
The sidewalk in front of their house a well-worn path for weary social workers with bigger fish to fry than three young girls with a roof over their heads and a mother with a steady paycheck.
A perfunctory check mark made on a form. Nothing to see here.
By the time their mother had eased her semi-truck out of the driveway on another run, their faces were pressed against my front door screen, Alexia dragging Boo by the forearm, Carolanne close behind.
Can we come in? They’d ask in unison, the door handle already turning, pressing their way into the front room.
Hair brushed and braided. Shoelaces tied.
Bike chains greased.
Refuge from fights and hangovers.
Scraped knees and Bactine. Periods and Motrin.
They were fourteen, twelve and seven when we left.
I watched them recede from sight as we drove off in the U-Haul, their childhoods caught in an undertow.