November 3, 2009

Peggy McFarland

Left Out in the Cold

Too loud. Mom had kicked them out of the trailer for the afternoon. Daddy needed his sleep. She locked the door; he could not be disturbed. The teary-eyed sisters shivered as they sat on the wrought iron step, bored. Both wished their father worked days.

The frozen dirt driveway held nothing of interest for the three and four year old sisters. A sagging chicken wire fence bordered the back of their tiny lot, a visual divider at best between the trailer park and a forest of scrub pine. The girls gazed at the forbidden woods but did not want to chance their mother's anger. She had warned, "Stay close."

Bonnie's red tights and plaid skirt did not keep her warm from November's biting wind. The cold nipped her exposed skin—last year’s winter coat did not reach the waistband of her skirt. Karen’s coat was also too short but denim overalls protected her skin. Bonnie hugged her shins and rested her chin in the dip between her knees.

With a sidelong look, Bonnie watched her younger sister wipe her nose with the back of her mitten. Green snot stuck to the blue yarn. Karen tried to shake off the glob. She snapped her hand and then stopped to inspect. Still stuck. She flung her hand sideways. Bonnie shrieked. The offending mitten brushed against her skirt! Eyes gleaming, Karen jumped to play a new game: chase big sis and rub snots on her. Karen could play a long time; her nose oozed plenty of ammunition.

Bonnie ran to the fence. Another shriek pierced the quiet afternoon as Karen aimed another strike. The older girl ripped her tights on a jagged tine of chicken wire. Karen squealed but stopped before the fence. Fairy tales warned that woods were dangerous. And so did mom's hand.

Quick to spot weakness, Bonnie taunted her younger sister: baby, baby. Karen clambered over the fence.


Anna heard their muffled shrieks. If he didn’t yell, she could ignore the girls. Heartless maybe, but he'd hit her if they woke him.

She should be outside, with them, playing, laughing…. Anna allowed her defensive voice to beat down her guilt. The girls had to learn to take care of themselves and not depend on others and that life wasn't fair.

But, they looked so vulnerable. Anna reminded herself, they knew to stay-in-the-yard. Her right palm tingled, memory residue from the time she swatted (thrashed oh god she gave what she got oh god please forgive her) their backsides.

Tired. So tired. Of him, of the guilt, of the responsibility, of this shitty white-trash life. She needed sleep. Not now, with a basket full of his wrinkled shirts and the threat of a shiner.

With the television volume on low, she escaped to the glamorous world of her soap and allowed the monotony of ironing numb her.


The setting sun spotlighted red threads against the wire. Dried blood blended into a rust spot. Dead pine needles cushioned a tiny pink sneaker, its frayed shoelace loose in the bitter wind. The approaching sirens did not drown out the papery rustle of dried leaves, or the crow's abrasive caw, or her husband's ranting blame, or her own crushing conscience.


Peggy McFarland writes one nanofiction story daily at twitter. Follow her at, and soon you may read her blogs at

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