UNA, a novel by Mary Elizabeth Raines

EXCERPT FROM UNA
by MARY ELIZABETH RAINES

"Kitty, take my arm," whispered Una. "There are some soldiers coming. Walk faster and act normal."

"Gramma, I'm scared," whimpered Kitty loudly, dragging her heels even more and refusing to take Una's arm.

"Shhh," pleaded Una out of the side of her mouth.

Kitty's hysterics increased and Una stiffened, white-faced.

"I'm scared, I'm scared, I'm scared," the girl moaned. "They're going to shoot us! I know they are!"

The soldiers had already crossed the street and were getting closer. Desperately seeking a solution, suddenly and swiftly Una dropped the sack onto the road and slapped Kitty hard across the face, shouting loudly.

"Shut up, you goddamned little brat!" she yelled in a coarse voice.

Surprised, Kitty began to cry and scream in real terror. Una grabbed the girl's thin arm with one hand, and with the other slapped her on her face and bottom repeatedly and furiously, as the girl tried to duck away.

"Shut up, stupid. Shut up, shut up!" she cried, punctuating each slap with a shout. "Idiot!"

The soldiers grinned at one another and relaxed their hold on their rifles. Una continued to yell at Kitty and pommel her, scolding with a deliberate crescendo of severity and volume as the soldiers passed them.

"Don't you ever run away from home again, do you hear me? Look at you, running away without even wearing a jacket, stealing..."

"Gramma, I didn't..."

"Shut up!" screamed Una in a shrill voice. "Me leaving my work to chase after you in the cold in these ridiculous old clothes. This is humiliating! I should turn you over to these soldiers, right now-that's what I should do. Idiot! Don't you ever run away from home again!"

The soldiers, who were now behind them, guffawed. Una picked up the sack and grimly marched forward, shoving a stumbling, terrified Kitty in front of her.

"Hurry up. Wait 'till we get home. Then you're really gonna get it, you little crybaby!"

She moved faster, shoving her granddaughter down the sidewalk, a howling Kitty trotting ahead. Above the masquerade of Una's clenched jaw and scowl, her eyes brimmed with anguish. She prayed that the soldiers would turn onto a side street at the end of the block. When she finally had the nerve to look back, she saw that her prayer had been answered; the soldiers were gone. Even so, she kept up the charade until they were well into the fields. It was only when they were safely at the edge of the woods, near the spot where they had left their robes, that Una put down the sack and pulled Kitty to her. The girl's face was red and beginning to swell, and she was crying.

"Oh, my honey lamb, I'm so sorry," cried Una.

She held the girl tightly as the child sobbed in her arms, and rubbed her frail body with her hands moving in soft swirling circles, as if wishing she could erase the effects of her blows with her caresses.

After a few moments, Kitty drew back and looked up at her with moist eyes, sniffling.

"Gramma," she said, "don't feel bad."

"I tried not to hit you too hard, but I know it hurt," said Una, cupping Kitty's face tenderly. "Do you understand why I had to do that? Please, do you understand, Kitty?"

"The angels told me you had to pretend in front of the soldiers to save me," replied Kitty. "They told me you really do love me."

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