(“Rainbows and Dust” by Marc Hermann courtesy of PhotoBotos)

 Leila pedaled fast and furious down the dirt path under giant trees that dappled the sunlight and made shadows tickle past their eyes. 

“Shadow, sun, shadow, sun, shadow, sun,” she sang, trying to match her rhythm to the pattern of the tree’s shadows on the ground.

Her little sister giggled and screamed on the seat in front of her, legs flying giddily. “When can I pedal and you be the rider?” Isabelle shouted back to her.

Leila laughed. “When you are big enough, little sis! When you are big enough!”

Together they chanted, “Shadow, sun, shadow, sun.”

The moment of freedom, riding like the wind, was rare. Their family worked hard together to put food on the table. But today, Mama had smiled, ruffled their hair, and shooed them out of the house. “I’ll cook dinner tonight. You work enough. Go be little girls.”

They had decided on a bike ride, to a field they knew where they could pick some flowers for Mama. The bonus was the downhill just before they got home.

Leila lifted her feet from the pedals and let the bike speed down the hill, smiling at Isabelle’s shrieks. They slid into their front yard, engulfed by a cloud of dust flung up by the bike. They fell to the ground in a tumult of  shrieking and giggling.

As they paused to catch their breath, Leila suddenly realized something was wrong. Isabelle caught her eyes, a worried frown in her eyes. Something was very wrong.

It was too quiet.

The girls picked up the flowers and hurried in.

“Mama! Mama!” called Isabelle.

There. Out of the room came Mama.

Only it wasn’t Mama. It was Papa.

“Papa, what are you doing home?” Leila asked.

Papa swallowed hard, “Oh girls.” He swallowed hard again. “My girls.” 

A tear crept down Isabelle’s face, and Isabelle felt a spasm of fear sluice down her spine at the sight of Papa’s red eyes. Something was very wrong.

“Sit, sit,” he said, motioning weakly to the couch.-

They followed him into the living room, and sat on the couch. Leila felt like she was facing a judgment or something when her father took the opposite chair. She grabbed Isabelle’s hand.

“Girls, while you were gone, your Mama died.”

Isabelle gasped and crushed her head into Leila”s arm. Leila wanted to gasp, cry, scream…but instead she took Isabelle into her arms.

“It was a heart attack, girls. While you were gone.”

“Maybe we could’ve saved her.” Leila’s voice sounded weak to her own ears.

“No, my girl. If you had been here and called the doctor right away, there was still nothing you could’ve done.” Papa came over to the couch and crushed them in one of his bear hugs. “I love you, Isabelle. I love you, Leila.”

“Oh, Papa,” Leila whispered. Isabelle began moaning. “I’ll take care of Isabelle. You go do what you need to do.”

Papa hesitated, then sighed. “Okay, sweet Leila. Take care of her.” He went back into the room he and Mama shared. Used to share. Leila could see the doctor and a couple others around Mama’s bed, but she could not see Mama.

Leila carried Isabelle into their room and set Isabelle on her bed. “You cry. You grieve, Isabelle. Remember Mama loved you, and you still have Jesus. You still have Papa. And me.”

Knowing she could not burden Isabelle with her own grief, Leila left the room and went outside. She crawled under the porch, where she and Leila had put some blankets for picnics. She curled up against the house and sobbed. It felt like a dam bursting loose.

Finally, finally she could breathe again.

She used the bottom of her shirt to wipe away the tears. She crawled out into the sunshine, and took a deep breath of the fresh spring air, gazing up into the sun. She squared her shoulders, and went inside.

Papa was holding Isabelle and rocking on the couch. Isabelle’s face was red and blotchy, and her sobs were as loud as they had been when she’d put her on her bed.

Tears streamed down Papa’s face, too. “I can’t help her, Leila. I can’t help her.”

“Let me, Papa,” Leila told him with a gentle touch on his shoulder. She sat next to him on the couch and lifted Isabelle onto her lap.

“Shh, shh, little sister,” she said, rocking her like Papa had done.

“I want Mama.” Isabelle’s voice squeaked, her throat obviously raw from crying. A sob escaped from Papa at the words.

“Shh. I know, Bella.” Leila could do nothing but hold her close. Then an idea came to her. “Bella, do you remember our bike ride today?”

“Y-y-yes, Leila.”

“Remember the tree’s shadows?”

Isabelle nodded.

“Bella, what came after the shadow?”

“The sun.”

Leila smiled. “That’s right, little sister. Shadow, sun, shadow, sun. We are in the shadow now, but the sun will come next. God always gives us the sun.”

Leila nodded to herself. Shadow, sun, shadow, sun.

They just had to wait for the sun.

The end

This is a flash fiction piece based on the photo writing prompt posted at lsengler.com. Give it a try yourself. What story would you write, given just this picture?