A Cry for Help
They turned left from Peachtree Street, into the parking lot beside the Brookhaven apartment building. Renee glanced in her rear-view mirror–Mikayla looked like an unstrung marionette slumped against the back seat. “Young lady, put your knees together,” she demanded of her daughter as she pulled into their reserved slot. She checked her makeup, her hair, before shutting off the ignition.
Nine-year-old Mikayla didn’t move. She gazed blandly out the car window, her eyes distant.
“I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with you. The doctors and counselors can’t find anything wrong with you. Take that seat belt off and don’t forget your book-bag.” She exited with a graceful swing of her legs, stood and tugged her tight skirt back into position. She waited a moment, then shouted, “Mikayla Marie Boggs, get your butt out of that car!”
As Mikayla slowly complied, her mother slammed the driver’s side door, locked it with a beep-beep. The child dragged her pink and lavender backpack by one strap; it scraped along the asphalt. She stopped, noting a man across from them and about six cars down. He was looking up. She approached him, then absently raised her chin, her neck stretching until it hurt. She could see it too; something–someone?–was hanging from the edge of a balcony, a balcony identical to hers with symmetrical iron bars and a green railing. “That looks like the floor where I live,” Mikayla said. She quickly counted. “It is, the tenth floor!” She studied the figure that dangled, ready to let go and fall to certain death. It seemed familiar. She heard the rapid, loud clip-clip-clip of her mother’s high-heels on the blacktop.
“What in the hell is that?” Renee said, and then yelped. “That’s my apartment! Who is that? Wait, is that…?”
Mikayla stared at her mother, then at the man in front of her; she recognized him. He was Haas the “fix-it guy” as her mother called him.
“Missus Boggs, is that yours?” the middle-aged maintenance man asked. “I was about to go up and unlock the door, check it out,” he added.
Mikayla forced her eyes upward again. She dropped her book-bag strap and gasped. “That’s Pepper, that’s my Pepper,” she cried. She felt her stomach drop. “Mommy, Mommy, it’s Pepper!” She started to run toward her mother, but froze as she saw the woman’s shocked, enraged expression. “Mommy, Pepper’s going to jump!” she whimpered.
“Missus Boggs, what is she talking about,” Haas asked. “Honey, what are you talking about,” he addressed Mikayla.
She spun around and focused on the man’s face. “That’s my bear, Pepper. He’s very unhappy. He told me he would throw himself off the balcony, but I didn’t believe him. Quick, we have to get upstairs and save him!” She turned back to her mother. “Mommy, hurry, we have to stop him!”
But Renee Boggs didn’t appear ready to move. Her face was flushed, her hands balled into fists, her knuckles white. “Mikayla Marie, how did that stupid bear get out there?”
Mikayla flinched one step backwards. “Mommy, please….” Her face puckered and she began to sob in low, staccato moans of sound; water spilled from her eyes. “He’s going to die….”
“Missus Boggs, go easy on the kid,” Haas said.
She stiffened, thrust a finger in his direction. “You stay out of this. Mind your own business! Get the hell out of here!”
Mikayla lurched, trying to follow him, but Renee strode the few feet between them and grabbed her by one wrist, jerked her twice. “What the hell did you do?” she said, her voice low and angry. “Did you put that bear up there?”
“No ma’am,” Mikayla answered, gulping air. “I told you. Pepper is very sad. He told me, he hates living with us, because you treat me so bad. He said he was going to kill himself, but I didn’t believe him.”
Renee’s hand flew through the air before she realized what she was doing. The slap echoed off brick, cement, and glass. “That’s it. I’ve had it. You want to go live with your father, after what he did to you?”
The girl was wide-eyed, stunned into total silence, the side of her small face blotched with finger-marks.
At that moment, something plummeted past them, crashing a short distance away; it made an awful bang and splat, like a melon splitting as it hit a car and bounced to the ground.
“Oh Pepper, Pepper,” Mikayla screamed, trying to wrench away from her mother’s grip.
“He’s a stuffed animal. Are you an idiot?” she said as Mikayla broke free and ran to the remains, now a broken, smashed, red and pulsing mess. Renee’s perfect mouth stretched into a grimace as she gazed down and watched rivulets of dark blood trickle around her glossy pumps. “Mikayla!” she whispered.