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[Image of Little Miss Naughty] Angels
by Mija

The hilltop breeze lifted the girl's hot, sticky hair as the twelve-year-old twirled, eyes closed and arms extended.

"Katie! Child?"

The girl ran toward the farmhouse.

"Here, Aunt Viola."

A harried-looking woman waved. Two toddlers played nearby while an infant nursed at her breast.

"More apples! Still, do tend the fires -- I can't watch them and this lot!"

Katie blushed, apologizing.

"Never mind, inside with you!"

Fires glowed in the kitchen's stove and hearth. Heat steamed from boiling pots. Her task was to keep the fires burning and the pots from boiling dry. Tonight, Katie and her aunt would can the sauce, their winter staple, while her father, uncle and brothers ate supper and watched the babies.

Canning and harvesting! Katie cringed at the thought of another miserable week. Irritated, she tossed more vegetables into the pot and added wood to the stove. Katie wiped her sweaty brow. Last year she'd spent harvest weeks outside gathering fruits, and only helped can at night.

Last year, her mother was alive. Everything was different.

Katie's resentment boiled over. She ran back to her hilltop.

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"Don't fret -- Viola'll whip supper up, James."

Katie froze. Uncle Nat's voice -- the men were back! No supper waited, what would Papa say? She swallowed hard and stepped into view.

"Martha Kathleen! How could you leave those fires untended?"

"Sorry, Papa. It was only a minute --"

He shook Katie by her shoulders.

"Fires untended? Viola left getting supper?"

Katie looked down. She knew her uncle and brothers were watching.

"I -- I'll go help."

She turned but her father's hand stayed her. He was a kind man but didn't brook disobedience. She would not get off so lightly.

"Your aunt'll manage." He turned to her brothers. "Boys, help watch those babes. I'll be back directly."

Her father held her wrist tightly and led her toward the barn.

Katie started to panic as they passed the cow's stalls, entering her father's workshop. He took a heavy leather strop from its hook beside the door. Katie cried softly.

Without speaking, her father took her across his knees and leathered the seat of her skirt. He held her firmly as her tears turned to wails and finally sobs.

Then, the punishment over, he tried to embrace her.

Katie tugged away, angry like a little girl.

"It's not fair! Momma never kept me inside!"

Her father stared and cleared his throat.

"I know she's an angel now! But I want her here! Not in heaven! Here!"

Her father ignored Katie's struggles and pulled her to him.

"Your momma was always the angel in our house, Martha Kathleen. Now, we'll --"

Katie heard his voice break as he pushed her away. She thought she saw tears.

"-- now, we'll do the best we can."

Katie stood alone, unconsciously rubbing her bottom, feeling the sting of his words. She breathed raggedly. Her whisper echoed in the emptiness.

"I'll be the angel now, Papa."

Martha Kathleen was a child no longer; in those moments, she became a woman.

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