The rambling old house was the prettiest house she’d ever lived in, of all the houses of all the relatives who had taken her in. It was right on the Bow River, no fence or anything; the long back yard just suddenly dropped off to become rushing water.
“Don’t you ever go past the garden without one of us, do you hear me?” her uncle had said sternly – and it was an effort for him to be stern, she saw the twinkle in his eyes – then waited for her shy eyes to meet his, and for her answer.
“OK,” she said when she realized he wasn’t going to take a nod as an answer.
“Cross your heart?”
A giggle escaped her lips but then she solemnly crossed her heart, liking this red-headed man and especially his red mustache. She wished she could touch it but she’d never be able to ask.
They all walked to just past the garden and her aunt pointed across the river and to the left. “Do you know what that is?”
The girl squinted at the fences in the distance. “No.”
“It’s the zoo! We’ll go there this weekend. Does that sound like fun?”
“Yeah.” This was the best house ever.
Her bedroom was tiny with a tiny window but it was all hers. For now. Some day she’d live with her mom again. She knew her mom wanted her to, and she didn’t understand why they couldn’t. “She loves you very much, she just needs to go into the hospital for a while,” was what they always said, but she never saw the hospital or talked to her mom so she didn’t think about it much or it made her cry and she was a big girl now, almost five.
Her little body froze. What was that sound? There it was again. “Help! Help!” It was faint, it was high-pitched, but it was unmistakable. “Help! Help!”
The tears started to fall. Someone was drowning in the river. Maybe a lady had gone past a garden and fallen in. What if no one else heard? She lay there a little longer, listening for sounds of rescue, until she could bear it no more. She rushed to find her aunt, gulping down sobs to choke out: “Someone’s drowning! I heard a lady screaming!”
“Oh sweetie. Oh sweetheart,” her aunt said, gathering the shaking body to hers, stroking the fine blonde hair. “Those are the peacocks. That’s the sound they make. It’s just the peacocks in the zoo.”