The sun scorched as the sun normally did near mid day. But Bella continued to shiver and shake in her scrunched up fetal position beneath the tall old tree. Every now and again a breeze wafted strongly enough to form ripples across the swimming hole and start the rope swaying. Birds chirped and leaves rustled. Beyond that it was utterly still and utterly quiet. Almost as if Bella were the only soul in all the wide world.
Eventually Bella’s shaking lessened and then subsided altogether. A little while longer Bella lay there and then she slowly sat up, still clutching her dress to her like a shield against the world. Fearfully she peered in this direction and that, afraid that every rustle was danger waiting to pounce. There was no one around.
For some reason there were terrible, horrible looking streaks on her legs. Donning the dress in a daze, she waded into that hateful pond and scrubbed herself. Long after all traces of the mess had been obliterated, she scrubbed still. The skin on both her hands and legs was beginning to burn before she finally realized what she was doing and turned and made her way onto the solid support of the bank once more.
Grief leaked from her eyes and formed twin rivulets that splattered on Bella’s dress. But she had no idea why she was crying. There was a strange thing welling up within her that she had never felt before. Whatever it was aggravated her anxiety and she set her feet to return to the home of her grandparents.
How to explain her long absence? And suddenly Bella became very, very afraid. What had happened? What had she done? The man-boy with the red hat named Junior had said that it was all her fault, hadn’t he? He was much older and wiser than she so he must know. It must be her fault. But what exactly was this, this thing that had happened that was her fault? Because in this place, with these people, whatever this was had never, ever been explained, or spoken of to her. Or to anyone she knew. At least if anyone she knew understood ‘this’ then she didn’t know.
Her head beginning to feel dizzy with the crazy and disjointed thoughts spinning ’round and ’round, Bella began to run toward her grandparents house. As she began to run she had the frightening sensation of being followed. Why didn’t people have eyes in the back of their heads? She couldn’t turn around, she was far too afraid. Instead she pumped her little legs as fast as she could make them go, letting her fear fuel her flight.
Gasping, hurting, tortured in thought she rounded the bend in the wooded trail where her grandparents farm yard began and stopped at the fence near the house where the milk cows were confined. She saw her Grandma at the wash line hanging up a load of laundry. Knowing she was not alone here, she had the courage to look behind her. No trace of Junior Red Hat or anyone else.
It was a day exactly like every other day, everyone working hard and minding their own business. Practicing religion and neighbourliness and she was alone, so very alone, in the midst of it. Because ‘it’ was her fault and she didn’t know what that meant except that she was hurting badly in body and in heart. She felt so very dirty even though she had been washed totally clean in the swimming hole just earlier that day. It was a feeling of dirty that went much beyond the outside. And suddenly she felt angry. It was like a fire that started all the way in the deepest part of her heart and made it’s way through her whole mind and body until she felt fairly consumed with it. And where she physically felt so pained and exhausted as to be on the verge of collapse, the anger brought a surge of new and exhilarating strength coursing through her.
Taking full advantage of this new strength she went to Grandma and helped her hang up a load of the never ending black clothing – everything was always black; why? Bella’s little fingers trembled only slightly as she pinned and listened to Grandma scold her for running off like a foolish little child. Had Grandma looked carefully upon the little girl’s countenance she would have noticed an oddness about her expression that appeared almost hardened, a frightening thing to see upon the face of one little more than a baby. But Grandma scolded, never even sparing the child a glance, and then went on about her day.
The Secret was safe indeed.