“Are you sure we’re not going camping?” seven-year-old Jenny asked her mom for the third time. “Maybe you’re just not telling me because it’s going to be a surprise?”
Elaine stopped chopping carrots and bent down to give her daughter a hug. “I wish that was what we’re doing, but it’s just not going to happen this year.”
Elaine and Jeff had talked about camping, thinking they might go back to the Sask Landing park where they’d had such a great time with some old friends last year. But the Hansons were busy with seeding when the camping reservation system opened, and by the time they remembered to check the website, there were no spots available.
“It’s because they’re only opening every other site,” Jeff had said, shaking his head at his computer screen. “I’d better phone Greg and tell him it’s off.”
A quarter hour later Jeff called Elaine back into the office, then closed the door so the kids couldn’t hear them. “Greg says we can bring our trailer and camp in their yard,” he said. “We could still go boating. What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” Elaine said, weighing the fun of a getaway against the disappointment of camping in a farmyard and the complications of explaining to Connor that suddenly it would be okay to be in a boat with another family that wasn’t technically in their “bubble.”
Ten-year-old Connor had spent a lot of time keeping up with the changing COVID-19 rules, and was always quick to reprimand the Hansons if they got out of line. A little too quick, Elaine thought. The week before, he’d given his grandmother, Donna, a 20-minute lecture on the dangers of going to her friend’s birthday party.
They’d finally decided to just stay home. “This can be the year we build a treehouse,” Jeff said. “And we’ll find all the best fishing spots on the Souris.”
The staycation had been a success. For the most part the Hanson farm in 2020 was no different that the year before, camping disappointment aside. The crop was turning out nicely, with the Hansons right in the middle zone, not way too wet or way too dry. Their farm employee, Mark, had kept on working. And with Elaine and Jeff both on the farm all day, having the kids at home for the last few months of the school year had been more of a treat than a hassle.
With no rush to get to soccer games every evening, the kids had the free time to take an interest in seeding, and Elaine, freed up from her previous role as soccer-star chauffeur, had time to make sure they understood what was going on and why.
But now seeding was over, the initial excitement of “living through a pandemic” had gone stale, and five rainy days in a row kept everyone mainly inside. Elaine hoped Jenny and Connor had forgotten that, back in the winter, their parents had promised them a week away at summer camp and a family weekend at the waterslides in North Dakota.
But yesterday, the same day that the kids realized the treehouse was not waterproof, they also remembered the promises their parents had been forced to break. And little Jenny had had enough.
“You don’t let us do anything!” Jenny shouted, squirming away from her mom’s hug.
“How about this?” Elaine tried. “We’ll pick up Connor from Grandma Donna’s and go down to the beach as soon as the sun comes out.”
“Connor always gets to go to Grandma’s and it’s my turn!” Jenny hollered, stomping out of the kitchen and down the hall to her room.
Elaine rolled her eyes and started kneading the dough for the buns she had planned for supper. She’d tried to send Jenny to her grandmother’s house with her brother earlier that morning, but Jenny hadn’t wanted to go.
Before she was finished with the dough, Elaine heard the door slam. She glanced up at the clock. It was early for Jeff to be in from the shop. “Jeff?” she called. Nobody answered.
Elaine pulled her sticky hands out of the dough and held them up in the air as she walked to the porch. “Jeff?” she called again. But there was nobody in the porch. Instead, there was an empty spot on the boot rack where a pair of girl’s pink boots should have been.
Through the porch window, Elaine saw her daughter, wearing Connor’s hand-me-down windbreaker with her new pink and purple backpack strapped to her back. Elaine couldn’t imagine what Jenny had in there, but judging from the way the little girl was hunched over, it must be something heavy.
Then Elaine noticed the piece of lined paper on the counter by the boot rack. Six words. “Nothings fun heer. Im runing away.”
Elaine wasn’t sure if she should laugh or cry. What she wanted to do was run after Jenny, pick her up and hug her and bring her back into the kitchen.
Elaine’s phone rang from where she’d left it in the kitchen. She rushed back to pick it up, grabbing a dishtowel to scrape the dough from her hands.
It was Jeff. “Do you know Jenny’s walking down the lane with her backpack on?”
Elaine took her phone back to the porch, where she watched Jenny reach the end of the driveway and hesitate for a few seconds before deciding which way to turn onto the gravel road. “Jenny’s having a rough day,” Elaine said.
Jeff chuckled. “Should I go pick her up?”
Then a dark-coloured SUV came up from the south, getting closer to the house. It came to a stop about half a mile from Jenny.
Elaine’s phone buzzed. “Hang on,” she said to Jeff, and clicked the button to take the other call.
This call was Tara Hunter, one of the Hanson’s nearest neighbours.
“I see you have a fugitive,” Tara said.
“Too many days inside.” Elaine was embarrassed.
But Tara just laughed. “Both my girls tried that. Once each. Madison only got as far as the driveway, but Lori must’ve walked almost a mile before John convinced her to come home for dinner. But he had to promise her ice cream.”
Elaine almost laughed.
“Can I pick her up and take her to my place? Lori’s not doing anything. They could make cookies.”
Lori Hunter had been babysitting the Hanson kids since before she was old enough to babysit.
Elaine thought about it. Even Connor would approve. The Hunters were one of the families the Hansons had been in contact with over the last few weeks.
“Are you sure you want her? She’s in a terrible mood. And she’ll be soaked.”
“We’ll find something she can wear. I’ll bring her back after lunch.”
“Really?” Elaine asked.
“I won’t tell her I asked you. We’ll let her feel like she’s had an adventure.”
Elaine was watching Jenny climb into Tara’s SUV when her phone rang again. Her mother-in-law. “Elaine! Get the car! I was watching Jenny run away from home when someone in a black van picked her up!
Jenny was smiling so big, Elaine could see it from the house.
Leeann Minogue is a writer and part of a family grain farm in southeastern Saskatchewan.