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A Door Just Opened

By Dorothy Stephens

Chapter 1 (Excerpt)

The next morning when I woke up, I lay listening to the sounds from downstairs: Poll squawking noisily, the clinking of stove lids as Mama stirred up the fire and cooked breakfast, the screen door closing with a loud bang. The smell of frying potatoes seeped up through the floorboards, bringing me out of bed, ravenous. I splashed my face with cold water from the washstand basin, and was pulling on my stockings when I heard voices in the kitchen. Iz was here early this morning. As I slipped on my skirt, I heard the screen door slamming again, then after a short silence, Mama’s voice rising in a long wailing cry. I stopped in the midst of buttoning my blouse. Mama was crying—great wrenching sobs like I had never heard before.


I ran down the stairs and into the kitchen, crying, “Mama! What is it? What’s wrong?”

Mama was alone in the kitchen, sitting in the rocker by the window, her apron over her face and her shoulders convulsing with each sob.

“Mama, look at me! Tell me why you’re crying!” I tried to pull her hands away from her face, but she just shook her head and went on crying.

“I’m going to get Papa. I’ll be right back!” I called over my shoulder as I ran out the door and down the path to the barn.

The bright sunlight hurt my eyes and left me momentarily blinded when I stumbled through the barn door and into the twilight gloom. My shoes rustled in the hay underfoot, and warm wet animal smells filled my nostrils along with the sweet dustiness of the hay.

“Papa? Papa!” I called. “Where are you?”

“Over here,” came his gruff voice, and I could see him then, forking hay into Dolly’s stall.


He stopped, leaning on his pitchfork and mopping his face and mustache with a handkerchief. “What is it?”


“You’d better come. Mama’s in a terrible state!”

Papa threw down his pitchfork and started toward the door. “Why? What’s happened? What’s wrong with her?”

“I don’t know! She’s just sitting up there in the kitchen, crying, and she won’t tell me what’s the matter.”

Together we hurried up the path to the house. Mama was hunched over in her chair, still sobbing, but more softly now.

“What is it, El?” Papa asked, putting his hand on her shoulder. “For God’s sake, what’s wrong?”

“It’s Mary Ellen,” she cried, lifting a face smudged with tears. She broke into fresh sobs.

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