Pinholes of light appear beyond Lynn’s lithe body as he wriggles and squirms through the tight passage, stirring up clouds of dust and insect carcasses. The lack of negative space exposes the substantial distance I have yet to crawl before I resurface.
My brother is my best friend and he wants to be a farmer, just like Papa, when he grows up. Although Lynn is almost thirteen months older, I outweigh him. I can count his ribs through his T-shirt; he can see my soft belly poking out of mine. His hair is bright auburn; mine is almost black. He is rowdy and brave; I am timid and reticent. But I love my big brother more than anything, and I will do anything for his approval, so I let him lead me through these rites of passage, although I’d rather be reading. I’ve read all of the rainbow-coloured Childcraft books, and I’m about halfway through the World Book Encyclopaedias. Maman says they are a luxury; she says she paid the price when Papa discovered them. He gets angry when she spends any money on unnecessary items. I imagine the cool, rough exterior of the navy blue books and the gold-embossed letters.
A dark shape appears at the head of the tunnel. I know it’s Lynn checking on my progress, “Dépêche-toi, Rachel!” he hisses into the hollow, but quickly grows impatient and disappears.
I am on my own, trapped in the darkness. I know Lynn won’t tell Maman where I am if she asks; he would do anything to avoid a beating. I begin to wonder how long I’ll be trapped here and if it will be too late when they find me. I take shallow breaths, and try not to cry, but the panic rises in my throat. He’s only trying to toughen me up—Lynn tells me that is why Papa sometimes kicks him so hard. I sense the weight of the granary pressing down on me. My heartbeat whooshes in my ears and my airway tightens up. The pale rectangle of light ahead grows black spots.
My neck is aching from trying to hold my head up as I crawl. I rest my cheek on the packed earth and close my eyes. Peppery dust contaminates each breath I take. My lungs rattle, but I try not to cough. My arms are stretched out towards the light. I grip the railway ties that stink of tar and oil and inch my stocky body forward. My progress is slow but steady. I feel a nail tug at the back of my sweaty shirt. I am stuck. The light grows weak; the weight of each grain pressing more and more forcefully on my flattened body.
Will I die here, lungs filled with acrid grain dust, crushed by the smell of mice? We will be in so much trouble if Maman and Papa find out I’m stuck here. I can imagine Papa kicking Lynn with his pointy cowboy boots, so I force myself to focus. Maman will cry and talk about how we need to be smarter. Farming is taking a toll on all of us—and it is Papa’s life dream. We shouldn’t make him worry. The dugout, the machinery, the abandoned buildings and the granaries are all off-limits.
I am off-limits. I clench my teeth and feel the grit crunch between them. I try harder. I know Maman will blame herself if anything happens to me. And she’ll pay the price with Papa, again. I reach forward, bend my knees as far up as I can, and drag myself forward. The nail gouges into my back, but I’ve tugged free. I keep going until my arms become dead stumps and my head is too heavy to hold up. My tongue feels swollen and chalky between my teeth.
I cannot give up. I reach towards the wavering light, my arms and legs scream with every forward thrust. I keep moving until I am rebirthed into the heat of high noon. I flop over onto my back and lie spread-eagled in the sun. I gorge my lungs on fresh air and exhale pent-up sobs.
I shake the dust from my hair and wipe the snot and tears from my face. I have to show Lynn I’ve made it out alive.
RACHEL LAVERDIERE writes and teaches in Saskatoon. Her prose and poetry has been published or is forthcoming in various North American literary journals, including Dime Show Review, FreeFall, Gravel, and The Oleander Review. Follow Rachel on Twitter @r_laverdiere or learn more at www.rachellaverdiere.com.