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Joey Went Into The Shed by Author Barbara Edwards

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I was shivering when my husband Sam threw the blanket aside and joined me at the window. I loved the view from our high-rise and the lack of that old building smell, the musty reminder of past lives and unhappy memories. As his warm hands slid down my arms, I relaxed against his muscular body. A nightlight cast a soft glow from behind the partially-open bathroom door.

“Bad dreams?’ he murmured. His breath tickled my ear before I nodded.

“I don’t remember what it was about,” I answered his next question before he asked. This routine had become familiar to us. Sam was so patient. He actually loved me: a miracle I couldn’t grasp. I couldn’t tell him that his gentle need for a child launched old fears to the surface. My throat clicked over a dry swallow. I couldn’t tell him. Not tonight, maybe not ever.

We returned to the bed, cuddling under the warm blankets. The details always faded after a few hours, but not my dry mouth or the need to turn on the light. His reassuring touch heated my skin and I drew him closer. His familiar weight, the powerful rhythm of his lovemaking drew me into the happy present and a promising future.

Our apartment perched on the top floor of a recently completed ten story building. Our move to the West Coast had freed me. I wouldn’t live in an old house ever again.

After Sam fell asleep, I stared at the ceiling for hours. It was time for me to make a decision. Did I love Sam enough to give him a child? Was I strong enough to face my childhood fear and let it go? I wasn’t being fair to either him or myself.

The next morning my eyes felt like they’d been rolled in sand and stuffed back into my head as I made coffee, poached eggs and toasted English muffins for breakfast. I was glad it was Saturday and I didn’t need to work. I spent enough hours during the week at the computer doing claims adjustment.

“I’ve been thinking,” I started and he glanced up from the newspaper. His expectant smile choked off the words like a tightening noose.

He waited a minute before he verbally nudged me. “About?”

“Growing up,” I said. I slipped into the chair next to him and grasped his hand with both of mine. Warm as melted chocolate his brown eyes softened as his fingers closed around mine. “When we talked about a baby, I started thinking about being a child. I guess I never really said much about that.”

“You didn’t?” His thick eyebrows inched up. I loved Sam’s face. His nose would be called Roman in another age and his high cheekbones hinted at a touch of Indian heritage. “We talk all the time. You grew up in a small town called Rhodes End. Your parents died after you left home for college. You’re a sweet, well-adjusted normal woman with the sexiest body I ever knew.”

“I’ll agree with the sexy,” I said with a soft laugh. God, this was hard. I wanted to share my fears, but wondered if my solid, rational man would understand and believe me.

“Maybe we should go back to bed and check out all those sexy parts.” He drew me into his arms and pressed a deep kiss to my mouth. I strained closer as relief made me dizzy. I didn’t need to tell him now. It could wait another day. Or two.

Time both dragged and flew in the following weeks. Another month on the pill had me juggling the dispenser as I decided to get another refill. One more I whispered to the mirror. The woman who stared back didn’t smile. Her bleak hazel eyes held dark secrets. Her tight mouth curved down at haunting memories. When I blinked, the frightened child I had been appeared with her hands outstretched. The container slipped from my nerveless fingers and shattered in the sink. The tiny pills spun like the balls on a roulette wheel before disappearing down the drain.

Was it fate? Tears ran down my flushed cheeks. I wanted a child. The only thing stopping me was a nightmare. After all these years I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a child’s imagination. A scary story I’d heard and forgotten. That night I whispered to Sam that the pills were gone. The hours we spent enjoying each other exhausted me. I feel asleep with a contented smile and woke screaming.

“Who the hell is Joey?” Sam demanded as he held my sweaty, shaking body. My hands petted his chest as I fought to calm my breathing, slow my racing pulse.

“Joey? I don’t know…” I brushed my tangled hair from my face with a shaking hand. “The only Joey I can think of was a kid from my neighborhood.”

“These nightmares are getting more vivid, aren’t they? Don’t try to placate me,” he grumbled. When Sam sounded stern, I didn’t argue. He had a backbone of stubborn I couldn’t bend. “Maybe its time to get professional help.”

My heart went cold. I’d had a few sessions with a counselor before my parents decided it wasn’t worth the money. They never said they didn’t believe me. They just didn’t want to hear what I had to say, didn’t want to sort out the truth. Deep in their hearts, it scared them, too.

I eased from his arms and slid from the bed. My legs shook but I managed to make my way to the window. He silently followed, drawing open the heavy drapes to allow the brilliant starlight a path. My finger traced the outline of Orion then the Big Dipper on the cold glass.

“I suppose you want to know,” I mumbled. “So do I. Each time I dream a little more becomes clear. I’m so frightened my teeth hurt from clenching them. It happened in Rhodes End. And I buried it deep inside.”

“All of us have bad childhood memories: the bully who hounded us; a teacher who made life miserable; a dead pet; things we forget because it hurts to remember.” Sam’s reassurance helped. He pressed a kiss to my temple and gently asked, “Were you molested?”

“Oh no! Nothing like that! My parents loved me. And I loved them.” I clutched his forearms and gazed into his concerned face until he accepted I told the truth. His comfort reached a part of me that clung to his strength. For a few weeks I found peace.

It was the day I realized I missed my period that another nightmare woke me in a drenching sweat. I rolled over, careful not to wake Sam.

I’d stuffed the positive pregnancy test in the bottom of the trash. I planned a surprise dinner, with wine for him and juice for me. Candlelight and a lace tablecloth, with all the fancy trimmings I usually saved for his birthday and our anniversary.

My palm pressed to my abdomen. I had a reason for facing my fear.

To my relief, Sam hadn’t mentioned a therapist again. Maybe the pleasant chore of planting a baby had distracted him. Maybe he thought the bad dreams were over. I know I hoped they were. My fingers curled into tight fists. It was too late to rethink my decision. Baby cells happily grew and split and gathered into a human being in my uterus.

Sam was suitably surprised. The candlelight glinted golden sparks in this brown eyes as I slipped into my chair.

“We had so many things to talk about. I want to stay home with our child,” I murmured.

His wide grin lightened my heart. He raised his wine glass in a salute as I sipped my fruit juice. “That would be best for ‘our’ family.”

“Family. That is what we are, aren’t we?” I rested my chin on my folded hands. “Makes me think about my parents’ home. We had a big yard. Buster, our clumsy black dog was constantly shedding and Mom had a bird feeder outside the kitchen window.”

Our hands met and he pulled me onto his lap. As his caresses turned hotter, I wondered if it was better to be safely in a bustling city. Did I owe it to my child to take a step back? My insides felt coated with ice.

I’m not a dithery person. My job as a claims adjuster for a large insurance agency demands an attention to detail. After my employers offered the opportunity to work from home three days a week, I’d begun planning a nursery.

A wicker bassinet became the first item we bought. A trifle old-fashioned with a ribbon-trimmed lace skirt, it reminded me of my childhood doll bed. I ran my hand over the soft fabric. I’d loved my collection of dolls. They’d be lined up around my room. Some of them were big enough to wear real baby clothes my mother saved. A frown tightened my forehead. I couldn’t remember what my parents had done with them.

Having a baby had me wishing I’d asked my parents more questions. I had all the family records. I could research my grandparents if I wished. I could go on the web and find all kinds of information. There was a stack of photo albums in a closet if I wanted to see it all again.

I’d be able to note if our child had my mother’s chin or my dad’s ears. Maybe even trace his

resemblance to grandparents, aunts and uncles. I mentally made a note to ask Sam if his family had similar records. It sounded like fun.

When I was young, so many things were different. Every kid in the neighborhood played with the others. The age range was six or seven years older than me to a couple years younger. It was a loose relationship. We didn’t plan on playing baseball, but if there were enough players and someone had a ball and bat, the game could last all day.

The cemetery next door was our favorite playground. In the winter it was the best hill to slide if you had the guts to steer between the headstones. During long summer evenings, the gang would play hide-n-seek until dark. The idea was not to be the last ‘it’ since you often got left behind.

Mom thought nothing of sending me out to play all day. If I didn’t come home for lunch it was because I forgot. I climbed every tree in the woods. I rode my old, second-hand bike all over town or sat next to the old spring and watched the frogs. I started the third grade that fall.

Joey was one of us, but he had a queer kick to his gallop. Smart enough to build anything; he made a working miniature guillotine from a knife blade and balsa wood. He cut the heads off crickets and grasshoppers to make us gag. Then he added a weight and beheaded a field mouse. I remember its beady brown eyes staring at me as I protested. Shut up or I’ll build a big one and do you he shouted and dropped the blade. I didn’t like Joey.

That didn’t mean he was left out of the gang. I don’t think we were tolerant as its taught in schools today. He was just one of us and different.

It was hot that summer. The cows didn’t move out of the shade and the road tar melted. My mother wouldn’t buy a new pair of sneakers for me although mine were ragged. They’d be ruined in a day on the soft asphalt she said.

Surrounded by huge pine trees the cemetery was cooler by twenty degrees. The grass had a funny sour smell, full of weeds. Some of the older white stones had only a smear of scratches left where the writing was worn away. A huge pillar on the hill had an eagle at the top and lists of names on the sides from an earlier war. No one came to visit any more.

There was a wide patch of field between our house and the gravel road large enough to play baseball. A nest of yellow jackets took up residence under third base. Not much of a problem since most of us never reached that far and a homerun sent the older kids winging by before they took to the air.

We played King of the Hill on an up-thrust boulder at the back of the cemetery. The steep sides had no hand-holds and the top was a ridge impossible to stand on. You could straddle it, but that made it easier to push you off. That ten foot fall really hurt. And you had to be careful not to fall backwards because of the tool shed.

Painted dark green, it hunkered against the rock like it sought shelter. I doubt if it was much bigger than our bathroom, but kids don’t think about stuff like that. It had a plank door with a single pane of glass painted black from the inside and an old, rusty padlock.

The older kids said when the ground was frozen, this was the place they stored bodies that couldn’t be buried. I didn’t believe them, but I didn’t explore here when the snow was deep.

Joey said there was good stuff inside the shed or it wouldn’t be locked. He checked that lock every day for a week. I didn’t say much. There was no point. I could tell by the way he acted, Joey had a plan.

With a kid’s logic, we played ball in the sun that day. I think it was because we had the right number. Sweaty and over-heated, we broke at lunch, but no-one came back. Joey dragged me under the pine trees where the shadows made goose-bumps race over my skin.

He didn’t let me talk, but I knew what he intended.

When he didn’t go home that night, the police came around. They asked about Joey. I hated the flashing lights and Mom kept pulling my finger out of my mouth. I chewed my nails when I was upset. I told them he went into the shed.

I got to ride in the police car and in typical small town fashion, the whole gang and their parents gathered at the cemetery before I did. The police man wore a Smokey the Bear hat that shadowed his eyes. I didn’t want to get out, but I pointed at the shed.

He took a big flashlight with him. I wanted to warn him but figured he had a gun. He wasn’t a scared little girl like me. He came back after a few minutes, shaking his head. I heard him tell the adults the lock was rusted shut and hadn’t been opened. The other kids caught my eye and one by one slipped away.

They didn’t find Joey. I never played there again. The policeman didn’t ask me about Joey again. I guess they believed I repeated what he told me. I could have told them more.

Joey had dragged at my arm, but I waited at this spot. He swore at me. I wanted to scream, but he ran to the shed. The door was open. Joey went into the shed.

The next morning I made airline reservations to Hartford with a return the next day. Sam held my hand the entire trip, his thumb caressing my skin.

“We moved a few years later,” I explained. “I’ve never gone back, but I need to see the truth.”

“And I’ll be with you all the way. A childhood fear is the worst kind since a child can’t comprehend the bigger world.”

It was like I’d never been away. Summer heat shimmered the air like rippling water. I directed Sam to the cemetery drive. It was blocked with a heavy chain and we walked to the rear. Across the open field I could see a police car parked in our old drive. The pine trees still shaded the ground, the boulder thrust into the air, but the shed was gone.

The baby kicked energetically when I hesitated. He was right. I had to look. Sam held my hand and I felt his love surround me.

The back of the rock was covered with moss. The ground was even and undisturbed. A sense of peace filled me as I realized whatever evil had been here was gone.

Maybe it had been satisfied when Joey went into the shed.

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