A familiar whine seemed to envelope her subconscience. Crazy dreams had plagued her all night but now it was as though something familiar was overcoming all the unfamiliar but she was not yet sure how she knew it. For several long moments it was as though she was trying to move, yet she tried and failed and was not even sure if she wanted to move. What was that noise? She knew she should know it but it just would not register. It continued and got louder and then was suddenly punctuated with a strong sloppy lick right in her nose! Marilyn woke up with Teddy standing next to her head with what had to be a smile on his face and a wag to his tail that shook the whole back half of his body looking at her as if to welcome his friend back from the dead.
The sun had not yet come up but had sent various shades of gray as a precursor to the dawn seemingly to further mask the reality of Marilyn's true situation. She sat up and scooted her body a foot away to the trunk of the nearest tree, wiped her hands on her pants and then rubbed her eyes. It took a minute for her to break through the fog of knowledge but she soon remembered what had happened the day before. She was cold, hungry, thirsty and probably worst of all was the fear: fear of the dark, fear of being without her mother, fear of being without a plan.
Teddy was the only bright light in the situation. He continued to grin his confident grin as he stood in front of her now but even he brought about a pang of dread to her. His confident look was confidence in her. He was confident that she would provide for him. He was confident that she would soon get him what he wanted and needed and the realization crashed her mind with unwelcome clarity. Teddy was having a grand time and enjoyed this new freedom but even freebirds must be traveling on, now, and Lord knows Teddy needed a change. Anything was better than being cooped up in the back yard but it was time for breakfast!
Marilyn stood up in sync with the first ray of sunshine and looked at Teddy with her best fake smile.
"It's gonna be okay, Teddy", she said. "C'mon boy."
This was just what Teddy wanted to hear and he jumped up on her to express his approval.
"Get down, Ted!" she muttered still a little groggy from the poor night's sleep. Undeterred, he made a victory lap around her feet and jumped up one more time with grinning eyes. They walked over to the creek. Marilyn found an old two by four and placed it beside the water and then knelt down with her knees on it trying not to get muddy. With her full weight the board sunk in the mud leaving her on her hands and knees in cold, slimy mud. She tried to jump up but her foot slipped and sent her headfirst into the water. With a little more caution she managed to slop out of the mud onto dry land with the creek water being chased off of her cheeks by tears. Her naive resolution to freedom was steadily dripping away and the morning had just clocked in.
She decided to just start walking. She realized she really had no choice. What else was she going to do? In this case, necessity was the mother of mobilization so she walked up over the hill and then over the next hill and even the next. The mud in her shoes and the wet clothes made for a miserable hike and Marilyn felt the world as she knew it collapse a little further with every step she took but she marched on. The sun was up now and as she trudged on she began to finally get warm. She topped a small rise and saw the steeple of a church and she could not help but smile. It represented to her Heaven in more ways than one on this gloomy day. She knew that where there was a church there must be people and where there were people she was sure to find help.
The town around the church was still fairly quiet this warm, sunny summer day but was gradually starting to stretch its legs and come to life. She passed the still-vacant church and walked down the sidewalk to the town square. Small but tidy and inviting, the square had a squatty, whitewashed gazebo with worn natural tone wooden benches around the inside edge. As she got closer to the gazebo she saw a man sitting on one of the benches and she moved rapidly toward him ready to explain her situation and certain that he would jump up and help her.
It was only when she has jumped up the single step from the sidewalk to the shaded area under the wooden roof that she realized things might be different. The man on the bench looked to be dozing but held in one hand the butt of a cigarette. He opened his eyes slowly as Marilyn popped in front of him wide-eyed and open-mouthed. He looked at her and squinted his dark eyes just a bit but seemed not the least disconcerted at the ragamuffin in front of him. He said nothing but looked at the cigarette between his fingers, noting the lack of substance and then looked back at the girl. They stared at each other for a long moment. Marilyn seemed frozen, partly with fear of the man and partly in wonderment of how he looked. He broke the staring contest with a glance that followed his hand to his coat pocket. He pulled out a brown paper sack that followed the outlines of a brown glass bottle. Then he unscrewed the lid and tilted his head back and drank deeply from the copper-colored liquid. With another slight squint he exhaled and burped.
"Who are you?" he finally said.
"My, my name's Marilyn", she said finally finding the words. "Who are you?"
The man looked at her muddy clothes and ratted hair.
"You thirsty?", he asked, holding up the bottle and repressing a smile.
Marilyn was unsure exactly what was in that bottle but knew she wanted no part of it. The brown bag surrounding it was dirty and wrinkled and looked like it had been wet but had dried. Her mouth watered involuntarily at the thought of something to drink but this was no temptation even now. She shook her head as she took in the picture of the man before her. He was tall, she could tell even though he was sitting. His hair was short but slightly longer than his beard and his clothes and skin seemed to be the same dingy brownish-gray color. His skin was just slightly less wrinkled and worn than his pants and jacket and it was hard to tell how old he might be. Marilyn wondered for a second if he was actually a living part of the bench he sat on.
"I ran away", she said, expecting considerably more response than she got.
"How's that working out for you?" the man asked dryly.
"Not very well, to be honest."
"I reckon not." He paused and then added, "Have a seat" gesturing to the bench next to his that made up part of the octagonal gazebo sitting area.
Teddy just laid down in the shade as Marilyn sat on the edge of the seat next to him.
"Do you live around here?", asked Marilyn.
"You could say that."
"Where's your house?" she continued quizzing.
He grinned slyly and looked at the roof of the gazebo but answered her question with a question of his own.
"Does your mama know where you are?"
She just looked down at the worn wooden floor. Her shoulders slumped and the corners of her mouth tightened. He watched her for a moment and knowingly anticipated the tear that eventually forced its way from her eye and down the side of her nose.
"I know where we can get something to eat", he said changing the subject. He put the bottle back in his coat pocket and leaned forward with his hands on his knees. "You interested?"
Teddy cocked his head and licked his lips and the man noticed that the girl did almost the same thing. The man grinned warmly, stood to his feet and said softly, "Follow me. You like pancakes?"
As he stood up Marilyn craned her neck back and said, "Wow! You're tall!"
He made no response but slowly walked off the step of the gazebo onto the sidewalk. Marilyn followed him in amazement, talking as she went.
"I've never seen anybody as tall as you! My daddy is tall but not tall as you. Are you ten feet tall?" she chattered, suddenly forgetting that she had been crying.
"Eleven" said the man with a glance but continuing to walk across the street and to the door of a diner. Marilyn and Teddy had followed but the man was already inside when they got to the door.
"Wait right here, Teddy. I"ll bring something out for you in a minute." She kissed him on the head and walked in.