SLAM!! The sound of the back screen door jarred Lili out of her reverie. She was relieved the house was still quiet. At least until her cousin, Rosa, came charging into the kitchen.
“SHHH!!!” Lili hissed at Rosa. “ ‘Screamer’ is still sleeping! Don’t wake her up.”
“Lo siento,” Rosa whispered. “Where’s everyone else?”
Lili told Rosa that her parents and brothers had gone into town for groceries and she was stuck at home watching the “screamer”. Lili really hated being the one left behind with Ema. She screamed whenever she didn’t get her way and lately she seemed to scream all the time! If it was too hot, too cold, if you were sitting in the wrong position, she would scream. Ema was such a terror! The only person that could control her was Dad. Lili supposed that was because Dad was the one that always fed her as a baby. When Ema was very little, she used to crawl to the door and wait for Dad to come home and feed her. Sometimes Lili would help. If Dad ran late, Mama would ask Lili to try and feed her. Ema would let Lili feed her, but only sometimes. Lili could not figure out why some days Ema was agreeable with her and not others.
“Lili, let’s go to my house,” Rosa said. “ My mom bought me this great make-up kit! We can make each other up.”
Lili loved that idea! But she knew she would get into trouble if she left Ema alone. Lili’s father was extremely protective of Ema. Of course, she was Dad’s favorite! Sometimes it seemed that Ema was his only daughter and that she was hired help
Dad was always doting on Ema. ‘Ema this, and Ema that’ was all she would hear from him. He didn’t even pay much attention to baby Carmen when she was born a year after Ema.
“I can’t leave the little Ema. Dad would have a fit.” Lili leaned over on the table and started sulking.
“She’ll be alright!” Rosa exclaimed. “ When she wakes up, she will just go out to the front porch. The others will see her and come out to play. She won’t tell on you and you know the other house moms will watch her.” The house they were living in was a two story, multiple family house. It was old and run down, but the rancher thought it was good enough for the workers.
“Okay.” Lili said, caving in to Rosa’s idea. “Come on. Let’s go out the front. I’ll let the neighbors know to keep an eye on her.”
Just as they were walking to the front door, they heard her. Ema was awake!! They could hear her little foot steps on the floor above them heading for the stairs. Rosa grabbed Lili’s hand and they ran out the front door. As they sprinted across the front porch, Lili called to a lady sitting by a window of one of the adjoining sections of the house that she would be back and to keep an eye out for Ema. She didn’t wait for a response. They had to move fast before Ema could catch up to them. As Lili and Rosa continued off the porch and through the front yard, they heard Ema’s screams start. Lili looked back and hesitated for a moment. She could see Ema through the front screen door, her little face was cross and she was wailing. Lili almost considered going back, but Rosa would not slow down nor let go of her hand. “Ema will be fine,” Lili reassured herself. “She’ll stop screaming and come out to play when the other children wake up.” Lili knew that would be soon. No one could stay asleep with the girl screaming that way.
“AAAAGGGGHHHHH!!!!!” Ema was furious! She could not get out the front door. “WHY?? WHY?? WHY??” Ema was screaming in her head. “Why can’t I go out the door? I want to go with my sister!! Why can’t I go out the door, God??!!!” All of these thoughts were in her head. Ema would always ask God questions. Her mama had told her to always ask God for whatever she needed. Right now, she NEEDED to get out the front door and go with Lili. But God would not let her!!! She tried to reach for the door handle to pull it open again, but a force like a wall stood between her and the door. God kept pushing her back. “AAAAGGHHHH!!!!” She screamed louder and harder.
Just as she took a deep breath to continue her tantrum, Ema heard a still small voice speak, “Back door.”
“Oh!”, she exclaimed. Ema ran to the kitchen and out the back door as fast as her little legs could carry her. She ran around the back of the house and headed right after her sister and cousin. She knew the way to her Uncle George’s house easily enough. The family would always gather together in the evenings and sometimes they would go to her Uncle’s house. As she got closer to the house she could see Rosa’s window. There was a clear view in from the front porch.
Tired and out of breath, she slowed down and walked the rest of the way. When she reached the porch she went to sit on the steps just below her cousin’s window. Ema could see them putting on make-up. They were giggling and having a good time. Little Ema just sat there and watched them. Tio George saw Ema sitting outside and opened the front door. Ema turned to see him motioning her to come inside. She shook her head. She didn’t want to spoil her sister’s fun. Lili was always so busy with chores that Ema didn’t get to see her like this very much. She just wanted to watch her. Uncle George left Ema sitting quietly outside.
“Jesus, I love my sister.” Ema thought, “She is so pretty when she smiles. She is almost as pretty as Mama. I wish I could make her smile and laugh like that.” Ema wished Lili would want to spend time with her without Daddy telling her. “God, would You make this happen? I want her to be happy all the time, even with me.”
“It will be done.” Ema heard that familiar voice come into her head for the second time today. This made Ema smile. She knew He would keep any promise He made to her. She would just have to watch and see it come true.
God was always with Ema. She figured it must be so because of all the prayers she would hear her Mama saying. She did not understand everything, but she would hear her Mama call her name out to God all the time. Ema knew that Mama was talking to Him about her. So when Mama told her that God was always with her, she believed it was true. Truth was always simple to a 3 year old. If Mama, Daddy, or God said it, it must be the truth.
Ema sat and watched her sister laughing. She kept on praying and thanking Jesus for the promise He had made to her. The promise she was sure would come true. Not much time had passed when Ema heard her dad’s whistle. Lili heard it too. She came running out the front door to run back home, but she stopped when she saw Ema sitting on the front porch. Ema could see that Lili was surprised to see her. She wanted to tell Lili what she was doing. She was trying to think of the right words when Lili ran to her, picked her up and began racing home. Uncle George was right behind them. Ema understood why Lili was rushing. When Daddy let out that whistle, it meant get home, NOW!!!
“Oh, Jesus!! Where are they?” Francesca ran out the back door when she heard Antonio let out the whistle. She made her way around to front yard. She could hear the chopping of wood. The men were tearing up the front porch of the house. They were making sure there were no more snakes.
Francesca and the others had just returned from town to find that one of the little ones was bitten by several baby rattle snakes. A nest of eggs was under the front porch and they must have hatched very early that morning. The snakes had crawled up through the cracks in the porch and attacked a three year old girl playing with some of the other children. She was too small to move away fast enough and she was bitten four or five times.
“Thank God it wasn’t my Ema,” Francesca thought. She ran to Antonio’s side and they looked all around to find their girls. Jr., Carlos, and the baby were with him. As soon as the baby saw Francesca, she began to whine. She wanted her Mama. Carmen was born a little over a year ago. She was very feisty, but Francesca was able to care for her and bond with her the way she never did with Ema.
“There they are!!!” Jr. had seen them first. They were coming with Tio George behind them. Relief washed over Francesca when she saw that Lili was carrying Ema. She knew Antonio felt just the same. He waved to them so that they could go back to what they were doing. As long as he knew they were safe, he didn’t have to have them there. Francesca waved at her girls and told the boys to go with them. She watched as the boys ran to Lili and Ema. They were chattering away. No doubt, they were letting Lili and Ema in on what had just happened. The kids turned and went back the way they came. Lili set Ema down and let Carlos hold her hand as they walked. Antonio’s brother, George continued on towards them. He probably wanted to know why the men were tearing up the front porch.
“Take the baby inside. I’ll help the others.” Antonio was much more relaxed now that he knew his girls were safe. Francesca did as she was told. George reached Antonio and started in with the questions. Francesca went inside the house, upstairs with the baby, fed her and put her to knap. Once the baby was asleep, Francesca, knelt beside the bed and gave thanks to God for the safety of her girls.
“Ugh!” Lili was not happy to have her brothers and ‘screamer’ tagging along behind her. Antonio Jr. would not stop yapping about something or other. She thought she heard the word ‘snakes’, but he was talking too fast for her to make out what he was saying. By the time they were back at Tio George’s house, Lili was ready to scream. At least Carlos would play with Ema. This was the only upside of having him along. Those two were like ‘peas in a pod’. Jr., Carlos, and Ema stayed outside, while Lili went back into Tio George’s house to talk to Rosa.
“What happened?” Rosa asked with only partial interest. She was too busy admiring herself in the mirror to really care.
“I don’t know,” Lili said as she went to lay on the bed and read the magazine lying there. “Daddy waved us back when he spotted us.”
“Us?” Now Rosa looked at Lili. “Did Daddy come back with you?”
“No,” Lili said. “Me and Ema.”
“Ema?” Rosa was confused. “Why was she with you? Didn’t we leave her back at your place?”
“I thought we had, but when I came out of the house, Ema was sitting on your front porch. I was surprised to see her there. She was so…quiet.” Lili began wondering how long the ‘screamer’ had been on the porch. Ema usually made it known to everyone when she was there, but Lili had been shocked to find her sitting there.
The front door slammed. “Daddy?” Rosa called out to make sure her Dad had just come in. She was not going to have her little cousins running around their house.
“Si, hieta.” Tio George came to the door and leaned on the door frame. “Oh! You look so pretty!” he exclaimed to his daughter.
Rosa giggled. Lili asked Tio George about what had happened back at their house.
“Baby rattle snakes crawled up through the cracks of the porch and bit one of the little ones playing there,” Tio George told them. “She was bit 4 times. They rushed her to the hospital but no one knows if she will be alright. It’s pretty bad. The men tore up the entire front porch to make sure they got all the snakes. They found 9 hatched eggs in a nest under the steps.”
“When did the little girl get bit?” Lili asked.
“About a half hour ago,” Uncle George said. “I think just after you got here and a few minutes before Ema got here.”
Lili began to think about the timing of the morning. She and Rosa ran out the front door and off the porch. If the snakes had bit the little girl just after they had arrived, then Ema should have seen the snakes. Actually, Ema should have been bit! Lili sat strait up as she realized this. She got up and went outside. She found Ema and Carlos huddled together on the front porch. As Lili approached them, she could hear Carlos telling her all about the snakes under the porch.
“Ema,” Lili said to her, “did you see the baby rattle snakes on the porch when you came out this morning?” Ema shook her head.
“They must have been there. Why didn’t you see them, baby?” Lili was using as sweet a tone as possible. Sometimes Ema would get scared or frustrated with questions because she could not think of the right words to answer. This would make her scream in a heartbeat. Lili waited while Ema thought about how to answer. Carlos decided to help. He was really good at getting information from Ema.
“Nelleh, did you go out the front door?” Nelleh, that was what people called her sometimes, shook her head.
“Why not, Nelleh?” Carlos asked.
“God stop me.” Nelleh said. She had a rather frustrated look. Lili wondered if she was frustrated with the questions or with God for getting stopping her.
“Nelleh, did you go out the back door?” Ema nodded her head.
“Why, Nelleh? Why did you go out the back door?” Carlos was so good with her!
“God tell me!” Ema spoke this out clearly. Her little face was beaming and she had a grin from ear to ear. “He say, ‘Back door.’ Daddy!!!”
Lili looked in the direction Ema was shouting. Their Dad was walking toward them. Lili stood up and watched as Ema ran to their father and jumped into his arms. She felt rather envious. It seemed like it had been years since she had gotten a hug from her father. However, what her father did next, would change Lili forever.
Antonio walked up to the porch, put ‘screamer’ down, and put his arms around Lili. He lifted her off the porch and swung her around, just like he used to do when she was little. He set her down and embraced her in a way that almost brought Lili to tears. As he held her, he verbally thanked the Lord that they were both safe. He stepped back, held Lili by the shoulders and said, “I am so thankful that you were looking after your baby sister, for keeping her safe. Besides, she really loves to be with you.”
Lili was about to tell the truth, but Antonio didn’t give her a chance. He quickly took Lili’s hand and went inside, leaving Carlos entertaining Ema on the porch. Antonio took Lili back to Rosa’s room and found out that they had been making themselves up. Antonio asked Lili if she would like a make-up kit of her own. Lili smiled and nodded her head. He promised her he would buy her one the next time they were in town.
Lili could not believe her ears! Daddy was going to spend his hard earned money on make-up for her. Whoa! Why? She could not seem to figure it out.
“Hieta?” Antonio asked. “Would you please go home and help your mother with lunch.”
PLEASE?? He said ‘Please’? He asked her to go? This was too much! Dad never asked or said please to her. He always just commanded. Lili headed back to the house while her father went to gather up the rest of his kids. As she walked, she kept on wondering. What is going on? Daddy was acting so different. He was treating her like ..like his daughter, like a person that is equal to him. Just as she made it the back of the house, she felt a little hand grab a hold of hers. Lili looked down to see her little sister smiling up at her.
Ema! That’s it!! Ema! Daddy is treating me differently because he thinks that I was taking care of his favorite girl. Oh, my God! God! Speaking of God, Lili stopped just before she opened the back door.
“Nelleh, did God really stop you from going out the front door?” Lili whispered. She could here Mama coming down the stairs and Lili wanted to keep this a secret. Ema frowned again and nodded her head.
“Nelleh, did He really tell you to go to the back door?” Ema smiled again and nodded. The next question was the one Lili was afraid to ask, but she had to ask.
“Nelleh, are you going to tell Daddy I left you behind this morning?” Lili looked carefully at Ema’s face. Ema seemed to be studying Lili’s face. Ema slowly shook her head. Lili smiled wide at Ema and Ema smiled back.
“You happy wit me?” Ema asked. Lili smiled and nodded. Ema hugged Lili and went into the house. Lili followed to help Mama get the lunch ready. About 20 minutes later, Daddy came home. He kissed Mama and the baby. He usually went straight to Ema to kiss her and make sure she was feeling well enough to eat, but this day, he kissed Lili before Ema. Lili grinned and looked at Ema. Ema was just as happy as she could be to see Daddy giving her a kiss.
Lili understood things now. She had been so caught up in her own selfish desires that she forgot how tough things were for her Dad. He and Mama had wanted so much for Ema to live that he sacrificed a great deal. Lili realized that, because Mama could not really help him with Ema, Daddy must have felt alone in his fight to keep her alive.
“My poor Daddy,” she thought. “How much sleep has he lost? How much time has he had to give up to take care of Ema all by himself?” She could see now why Daddy wanted to buy her the make-up kit, why he kissed her and said ‘please’. For the first time in a long time, Daddy must not have felt alone. He must have felt that Lili was a helper in the fight to keep Ema alive, an advocate.
Lili prayed to herself as she got the lunch ready. “Oh, God, thank you for taking care of Ema when I didn’t. Thank you for my Daddy who loves us. I promise Lord. I won’t let him down. I promise, Jesus, that I will help my Daddy fight to keep Ema alive. I am, after all, his daughter and Ema‘s sister.”
After that day, Ema was always in Lili’s sight. ‘Screamer’ could not run out the door without Lili hot on her heels. Because of this, Antonio showered Lili with attention and love. Lili didn’t mind the reasons. Lili loved Ema as a sister should. Anyone that knew the family could see it plainly. Lili and Ema were always together and they were both Daddy’s favorites.