Category Archives: Fiction

No Place to Hide

“John’ll be here any minute.  Git this room cleaned up.”

I looked around the living room.  It seemed clean to me. Mama hit the pillows on the couch, again then set them square on each end.  When did we get pillows? I wondered.

So much was changing and I didn’t understand why.  John was spending more and more time at our place. Why was she all of a sudden worried how it looked?

The door opened and I jumped.  Mama was making me as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  The expression Granny used so often always made me smile, but not this time. Instead my thoughts were interrupted as John stumbled into the apartment.

I missed the days when he’d knock.

Mama rushed up to him before he’d even shut the door.  She leaned up to give im a kiss but he turned his head and it landed on his cheek.  She tried to move closer to him and he took a step back.

“What’s wrong?” Mama asked.

“Those fucking assholes,” John said as he crushed the Budweiser can he’d been holding in his fist.

Mama grabbed his arm and led him to the couch.  “What happened?”

John stood in front of the couch, his knees pressed against the cushions.  “Someone told Jim – that no good lazy bum – about my time in the joint and he fired me.”  He looked down at Mama and snapped his fingers as he added, “Just like that,” his words slurring.

“He can’t do that!” Mama said.

“Well he did.  I’m gonna kill the fucker who ratted me out.”

“Don’ go gittin in any more trouble than yer already in.”

Without warning John turned and his hand cracked against Mama’s face, sending her head reeling.  She took a step backward to keep from falling over.

Mama gasped but I silently cheered.  This is it! I thought.  We’re finally going to be done with John!

I waited for Mama to yell, for her to order him out of our apartment – and our lives – forever.  I could barely breathe.

But she didn’t yell.  She didn’t tell him to leave.

Instead she walked into the kitchen without a word.  I heard a door open and shut, then another. The refrigerator opened and ice clinked into a glass.  The rest of apartment was silent until John said, “Wha’ you lookin’ at?”

My skin prickled as he lurched toward me.  He was between the hallway and me. No way did I want to be alone with him.  I looked for a way to escape. I could duck into the kitchen with Mama, or try to get around John and run to the bedroom where Jack was playing.

As I hesitated John got closer.  The look on his face changed but I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.  He seemed less angry but I was still afraid.

Before I could decide what to do he was in front of me.  He ran his hand over my neck and across my shoulder. I shuddered.

“I bet you could make me feel better,” he said as his fingers trailed down my arm.  He grabbed my hand but I yanked it away before he could get a good grip. He reached for my other shoulder and I went in the opposite direction, slipping behind him just before he could grab me.

I took my chances with Mama, afraid he’d corner me in the bedroom.  I didn’t know what he had in mind but I didn’t want to find out.

Mama stood facing the counter.  One hand rested on the laminate while the other held a glass to her lips.  I recognized the brown liquid in the cup and the glazed look on her eyes when she turned to me.

I stopped suddenly in the doorway, deciding at the last minute to go to the bedroom.  At least Jack was in there. I reversed direction and ran smack into John’s round belly.  One of his beefy arms went around my back while the other ran over my hair. “Be a good girl,” John said.  “Come sit and have a drink with us.”

His grip was too tight for me to get away.  He pulled me further into the kitchen and pulled out a chair.  As he fell into the chair he pulled me with him. His hand was bruising on my upper arm as I stood facing him.  Without looking away he said, “Get me a drink, woman. Daddy’s had a bad day but it’s lookin’ up.”

Mama didn’t move.  His gaze shifted to her and he said, “I need a drink, dammit!”  His rumbling voice made me shake, but as his attention turned to my mother I slipped from his grip and headed out to the living room.  I didn’t know where to go. I thought about running out of the apartment, but what then? I looked down the hall. Granny’s door was open.  She was out playing Bingo or something. I scooted quietly into her room, shutting the door most of the way behind me.

I stopped to listen.  My breathing was heavy, my heart pounding in my chest.  I heard John’s chair scrape back on the linoleum floor. Then I heard a thud and shattering glass.  I turned away from the door and searched the small room for a place to hide. The mismatched furniture filled the tiny space but didn’t offer many hiding spots.  I was about to head to the closet when I heard awkward footsteps coming down the hall.

John’s voice asked, “Where’s your sister?” and I realized he must be talking to Jack.

Frantic now I realized I might not have time to make it to the closet.  I threw myself onto the floor and crawled under the twin bed, the metal frame just barely high enough off the floor for me to fit.  As I pulled my feet under the door to the bedroom creaked open. “Come on out, Katie. I ain’t gonna hurt ya.”

I could see his feet walk slowly into the room and I held my breath.  He walked around the bed and opened the closet. He slammed the closet door shut with a bang then said, “What the fuck?  You lil’ shit. When I find you…” His voice trailed away as he left the room.

Still afraid to breathe I stayed under Granny’s bed until I fell asleep.

Be Like Children

When Mama finally came to fetch us he was in the car.  I still didn’t like the look of him.  He didn’t belong here with us. Jack grabbed the seat behind Mama, for once snapping the seat belt into place without being asked.  I slid into the seat behind the strange man who made Mama act funny. Then I glared at Jack and he stuck his tongue out at me. If only Mama could see how Jack really is, I thought.

Mama pulled the car into the street and I felt a sense of relief to be going back home.

As the stranger leaned toward Mama, his mouth grazed her ear.  He said something we weren’t meant to hear and she giggled. While he was bent over I studied the snake tattoo winding its way from under the tight white t-shirt near his right shoulder.  It curved around toward his left ear. It seemed almost alive and I hoped it couldn’t see me. The man said something else and Mama swatted his arm. He grabbed her hand and held it still.  Mama looked away from the road and they stared at each other until a horn blared.

Mama swerved the car to the right and I fell toward the center of the car.  Before I straightened I saw his hand slip up Mama’s thigh under her new floral skirt.  I pushed myself upright and looked out the window.

I was never going to let a boy touch me that way.

The drive to seemed to take forever.  I watched as buildings and trees flashed by.  A boy on a bicycle reminded me of the accident the previous night.  Did the man on the bike live? Did he have family to meet him at the hospital?  A woman walked a dog smaller than a cat as a man with a great big fluffy dog that looked like a bear struggled to keep his giant dog away.  Would the big dog attack the little one?

Mama pulled the car into the lot of the church.  We were late, as always and there was only one spot left, all the way in the back, past where the pavement ended.  Before we could get out of the car Mama said, “Y’all made us late dawdling at yer dad’s so I don’t want no trouble.  Just git in there and take a seat.”

I wanted to point out that if we had known she was coming to take us to church we would have been dressed, but I knew there was no point.

I walked slowly toward the church.  Ahead of me Jack held Mama’s left hand while the stranger help her right.  In frustration I kicked a rock. I must have hit it harder than I’d meant to.  It went flying toward the man then bounced off the back of his knee. Without stopping he glanced over his shoulder at me.  I couldn’t read the expression in his narrowed eyes that seemed almost black. But a shiver ran through me.

As we entered the church, Mama wasn’t satisfied to sit in the back.  Instead she marched straight down the center aisle to a half-filled pew in the center.  She leaned forward and said in a half-whisper, “Are these seats taken?”

My cheeks burned as I saw the pastor pause in his sermon.  Mama eased into the pew, squeezing in front of the people already seated there.  The man wasn’t able to fit and three people moved into the aisle so he could slide in next to Mama.  Jack followed. Apparently they didn’t see me and the original occupants of the pew filed in after Jack.

I was left standing in the aisle. My skin tingled.  I knew if I didn’t sit with Mama she’d be mad, so I whispered to the person at the end of the pew, “Can I get in too?”  She frowned at me, then sighed as she shifted her knees to the right enough so I could scoot past. As I got to where Jack was seated I realized there wasn’t enough room for me.  “Scoot over,” I said to Jack.

Mama leaned over past the man and with a shushed me with a finger over her lips.  I pointed wordlessly to the full seat. Mama said, “Jack, come sit on my lap baby and make room for your sister.”

Jack jumped up and cuddled on Mama’s lap.  I sat down next to the man, his arm and leg pressed against me.  I could smell the stench of stale cigarette smoke along with something I couldn’t identify.  I tried to ignore him and stared straight at the pastor, but I could see him looking down at me out of the corner of my eye.  What is he staring at? I wondered.

The pastor cleared his throat and said, “Let us turn to Matthew 18:2-6.”  I reached toward the bible in front of me at the same time as the man, my hand bumping into his hairy one.  I pulled back as if I’d been bitten. I found an extra one that was to the left, in front of the people who had let me in.

I turned to the page.  I couldn’t read yet but I had learned to recognize the names of the books of the bible and I liked to follow along.

The pastor read in his rumbling voice:

“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.

And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’”

The pastor paused, his gaze resting on each member of the congregation for a moment before moving onto the next.  With his eyes firmly fixed on me he said, “In this passage Jesus honors the innocence of a child. He asks all of us to hold in high regard the innocence and forgiveness of children.  Then warns that anyone who causes harm to one of his followers, one of his children, would be better off drowned.”

He continued to talk but my mind was stuck on what he’d said.  I didn’t know anyone who didn’t look down on children as anything more than an inconvenience.  For the first time, the pastor seemed to just be telling a story, a fairy tale like Goldilocks and her bears.

Is This God’s Plan?

That night I lay awake on the lumpy mattress with the bar where the couch folds sticking into my back and my brother spread across most of the bed.  The sheets were tangled around him, as they usually were. I had given up fighting him for covers at least a year ago. I listened to a clock tick somewhere behind my head and watched the shadows move across the ceiling as cars passed, shining light through the thin white curtains.

Mama’s apartment didn’t seem so bad when I was here.  I wouldn’t even complain about going to church tomorrow if I could just go home.

I thought back to the last service I had attended with Mama.  She sat staring at the pastor like he was a teacher in school about to give away all the answers for the test.  He always said things like “God works for the good of those who love him.” I had tried to love him. I sat in those pews three times a week, praying Mama would stop yelling at me and Jack would stop throwing toys at me and Linda would stop hitting me and Daddy would just love me.  But it never happened. Nothing good ever happened, no matter how hard I prayed.

It’d be better to believe there isn’t a God than to think he didn’t love me enough to answer even one prayer.

God, I pleaded silently, if you really are there send me a sign.  Let Jack be nice just for a day. Or let Daddy give me a hug and tell me he loves me.  Something so I know.

I held my breath and waited.  Nothing happened. What did you expect dummy?  Jack and Daddy are both sleeping anyway.

I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to think of a prayer God could answer in the middle of the night.  Just then a loud screech followed by a crash came from below the window. I jumped from the bed to see what was going on.

The street was dark except for one headlight from an SUV that was turned toward the sidewalk instead of the road.  It seemed the other light was buried in the side of a tiny car that was half its size. A bicycle lay bent and twisted across the double yellow line.  An man, or maybe a teenager, was sprawled on his back, his face dark with either shadows or blood. I shivered even though the apartment was warm.

I looked at the ceiling.  This isn’t the sign I was asking for, I thought as I dropped the curtain closed.

I turned back toward the bed.  Jack was still snoring softly. Suddenly I heard a door open, then click shut.  Daddy was making his way slowly down the hall, his soft shuffle easily distinguished from Linda’s heavier stomp.  Her walk was angry even when she wasn’t – or maybe she really was mad all the time.

Daddy emerged from the blackness of the hallway like a ghost coming out of the mist.  Maybe this is the sign!  I was still in shock from the scene out the window, but maybe God had a plan after all!  My heart raced with anticipation.

This is it!

“What are you doing up?  Get back to bed!” Daddy sounded angry but he always did when he was woken up in the middle of the night.

“But -”

“You heard me!”

I didn’t like the look in his eyes.  How could he be so mad? If he’d just look out the window he’d see that those people needed help.  I opened my mouth again, but as he approached I ducked my head and scurried to the bed like a mouse fleeing to the safety of a hole in the wall.

I guess I had my answer.

When Can I Go Home?

I stood at the chipped green laminate counter spreading peanut butter on two slices of soft white bread, attempting to make lunch the only way a 6 year old can.  Linda, the wicked witch of the living room, came in, her nose crinkled like she smelled something bad. I couldn’t tell if that was a special look just for me or if she always looked that way.

“Don’t leave a mess on the counter when you’re done,” she said.  “And make sure to empty the dishwasher and clean the dishes in the sink.  You were supposed to do that last night.”

I nodded as I dipped the knife into the purple ooze of grape jelly, peanut butter melting into the sticky goodness.

“Did you hear me?”  Her voice rose to a screech.

“Yes, ma’am.”  I replied.

“Answer me when I speak to you!”

I nodded again and she smacked the back of my head hard enough my chin hit my chest.  Tears stung my eyes but I wouldn’t let them fall.

“Yes, ma’am,” I repeated as she stomped out of the room.

I topped each gooey slice with another slice, then put the sandwiches on two plastic plates from the dishwasher.  Setting them on the kitchen counter I called, “Jack, lunch!”

Daddy popped his head in through the kitchen door.  “Not so loud, pumpkin. Linda has a headache.” I turned so he wouldn’t see me roll my eyes.  I had learned early on not to let him catch me being disrespectful.

I trudged into the living room where Jack was playing with a Transformer I had brought from Mama’s.  He was cross-legged on the foldout couch where we slept, the sheets tangled at the end of the bed. I never understood why Daddy couldn’t get a place big enough for us to have a bedroom.  Between him and Linda they had three cars and a fishing boat. Seemed to me he could have arranged something for us.

“Come eat so I can get the kitchen cleaned up before Cruella comes back,” I said.

Jack continued to play with the Transformer.  I grabbed for the doll – he hated when I called it that – and he pulled it away just before I could get it from him.  “Go eat your lunch,” i repeated.

He went back to twisting the Transformer into a car.  I reached for it again and he hit me with it hard on the back of my head, right where my skull meets my neck.  “Dad,” he called. “Katie hit me!”

He scooted off the bed right before I could make his accusation true.

I took off after Jack right as Daddy walked in.  He grabbed my shoulder and pulled me to a stop. “Leave your brother alone.  I told you Linda isn’t feeling well. Why can’t you just be quiet for once?”

I wanted to tell him it was all Jack’s fault.  He was the one who hit me.  But I knew he wouldn’t believe me.  Jack was everyone’s favorite and I was Cinderella – there to do chores but not really part of the family.  I dropped my head and mumbled, “Sorry,” before heading back to the kitchen.

Jack was sitting at the small glass-topped table, a wide grin splitting his face.  I snatched the plate off the counter, almost sending his sandwich to the floor in my haste.  As I put it in front of him I leaned in close and whispered, “I otta let you starve.” I wouldn’t have thought he’d be able to smile any more than he already was, but I was wrong.  He started swinging his leg as he took a bite of his sandwich.

“Try it,” he said around a mouthful of bread.

I sighed.  Even a 4-year-old knew I was bluffing.  How is it even my stupid brother is smarter than me?

I turned to start emptying the dishwasher.  I didn’t feel like eating anymore.

Linda waddled in as I was stretching up to put a couple of glasses into a cabinet just beyond my reach.  Her shriek almost caused me to drop them. I pushed them up on the shelf just before they toppled to the counter.

“Your Mama might let you live like pigs but here you’re expected to clean up after yourself Katherine.”  I cringed at the use of my name. No one but Linda called me that. I hated it, and I hated her for using it.

“I’m cleaning it up now,” I said.

She leaned in real close like I’d done to Jack.  “Don’t talk back to me little girl or I’ll have your Daddy wash that mouth out with soap.”

Oh how I wanted to spit in her face.  It was right there, begging for it. But I knew I’d pay if I did.  Instead I looked at the ground and said, “Yes, Ma’am.” As I turned to wipe the offending crumbs from the counter I glanced at the clock on the microwave.  When is Mama going to come take me home?

A Visit with Daddy

A knock on the door raised the hair on my arms.  We never had visitors. I looked at Mama who was smoothing her floral dress – the one she normally saved for church – as she headed to the door.  Pausing, she fluffed her hair before opening it. What’s up with her? I wondered.

Standing in the hallway was a bull of a man.  His bulky frame filled the doorway and made Mama look tiny and frail.  Aside from his pale skin, he reminded me of Mr. T from the A-Team. Except that I never imagined being afraid of Mr. T.  He was a hero, a protector. This man wore a black t-shirt spread tight across his solid chest, and jeans were pulled down over pointed cowboy boots.  His head was shaved almost bald and his angular chin was covered in black stubble. Tattoos covered both arms.

I sank deeper into the scratchy couch cushions, trying to make myself invisible.

“Let me get my purse,” Mama said as he stepped into the room.  Her voice sounded funny. Higher than normal. My heart raced and the sound of the ocean filled my ears.  I could barely breathe. I looked around for Jack, feeling protective of the little monster. He was nowhere in sight.

“Doug will be comin’ round here sometime.  Can’t never count on him but he said he was comin’ to get ‘em before bed,” Mama said to Granny.

Tears stung my eyes.  Not Daddy’s!  I put my hands over my ears, not that it would do any good.  Why hadn’t she told me we were going? I hated staying with my father and his wife.  I refused to call that witch Linda my stepmother.

Mama went backto the man without ever looking in my direction.  Maybe I really was invisible. She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek before saying, “Ready.”  As she shut the door he put his arm around her shoulders.

Granny didn’t leave me time to dwell on who this new person might be or why he was touching Mama.  She pushed herself from her chair at the kitchen table and shuffled into the living room. “You heard your Mama.  Your Daddy’ll be here before long. You better go pack a bag for your brother ‘n you. He’ll be mad as a hound dog if you ain’t ready when he gets here.”

I scrambled off the couch and into the bedroom where Jack was playing with his cars.  I stepped on a tiny truck and let out a cry of pain. It felt good to have a reason to scream.  I wanted to throw myself on the bed and sob until the hurt inside went away, but it probably never would.  I’d be crying til I was old as Granny.

“We’re going to Daddy’s,” I told Jack.  He kept playing like I wasn’t even there.  Maybe I’m still invisible, I thought. I pulled a bag from under the bed and threw clothes in it for both of us.  I also threw in a few toys for Jack and a book for me. I had no idea how long we’d be gone. Usually it was just a night or two but sometimes it was longer.

There was another knock on the door and I practically jumped out of my skin.  Granny opened the door and I heard Daddy’s low voice. I zipped the bag closed and it stuck on one of my shirts.  I pulled at it furiously, trying to get it unstuck. Daddy didn’t like waiting. My hands shook making it harder to get the fabric free.  I yanked hard and it ripped loose. I zipped the bag closed the turned to Jack.

“Clean up the toys.  Daddy’s here and we need to go.”

He ignored me and pushed two cars into each other, crashing them together over and over.  Boys!  Why are they so dumb? I wondered.  I scooped up the cars that were scattered around and threw them in the bin.

“Hey!” Jack yelled, then threw a tiny police car at me.  It hit me in the middle of my forehead with a thud.

That little….”Kids!”  Granny called.  “Yer Daddy’s here!”

“We gotta go,” I told Jack, pulling on his arm.

He moved with the speed of a sloth, but eventually got to his feet and followed me to the door.  I looked back over my shoulder and realized the police car and the red convertible he’d been crashing into it were still on the floor.  Mama would be furious if we left the room a mess so I ran back and threw them in bin. Taking one last look around I was content that the room was tidy.

“Kids!”  This time it was Daddy.  He didn’t sound happy. I scampered down the hall and into the living room.

“Sorry,” I said as I entered, my eyes on the floor.

“It’s about time,” he said.  “Linda’s waiting in the car.”  Without a word he stepped out into the hallway with Jack and me following behind.  Jack was moving so slowly I kept pushing his back to get him to keep up. As we reached the top of the stairs he glared back at me and stomped on my foot.

I swallowed a yelp then narrowed my eyes at him.  For just a minute I thought about pushing him down the stairs.  Looking back years later, there were times I wish I had.

There Is No God

“Don’t go gettin’ yer church clothes dirty,” Mama said.  My brother Jack and I scooted into the tiny two bedroom apartment just before she kicked the door shut behind her.

As she headed into the kitchen I grabbed Jack’s hand and led him into the bedroom the three of us shared.  Jack struggled against me as I tried to pull off his shirt. I almost let go as his teeth came down on my bare arm.  Even though I was nearly two years older than he was, I wasn’t much bigger, and he fought dirty. I didn’t really care about his clothes, but I knew he would need to wear them when we went to church again in a few days and there would be hell to pay if he got them dirty.  It wouldn’t be his fault though. Oh no, it would be mine. That was enough to keep me going.

I yanked hard on his pants and he kicked me.  I cried out in pain and indignation.

“Quit yer squawkin’!” Mama yelled from the kitchen.  A cupboard door banged shut and a glass clanged down on the laminate counter.

I glared at Jack.  He grinned. He liked to fight, especially against me.

“You’ll get us both in trouble if you don’t get outta those clothes,” I whispered to him.

“Can’t make me,” he sang as he swung his hips.

I lunged for him and missed, falling flat on my belly on the floor.  I kicked the rough pine floor in frustration, scuffing my nice black shoes.  Tears threatened to fall but I swallowed them.

Jack ran out of the room screaming, “Ma!  Katie hit me!” He leaned back into the doorway and stuck his tongue out at me.

I lay face down, defeated.  Heavy footsteps stomped down the hall.  I knew what was coming.

“Git yer sorry ass up or I’ll give ya somethin’ to cry about!”  She came into the room and yanked on my upper arm until I was standing.  I kept my eyes down. I could smell the whiskey already on her breath. “Why are ya always causin’ trouble?  Stop fightin’ with yer brother. He’s just a baby.”

I nodded but stayed silent.  As far as Mama was concerned Jack could do no wrong.

Jack wiped his cheeks, clearing away nonexistent tears.  He sniffled loudly and Mama patted his shoulder. “There now.  She won’ be mean to ya no more.” She headed out the door, leaving me to finish getting Jack out of his church clothes.

Jack stood in the doorway and I pushed past him into the hallway.  “Get them dirty. I don’t care anymore.” I was bluffing but hoped he couldn’t tell.

“Baby,” he called after me.

I ignored him and kept walking.

In the living room I turned on the cabinet-style television, a relic Grandma had held onto for 15 years.  It was tuned to one of the three stations available. I sat on the threadbare rug, the pattern so worn and stained you could barely make out where the swirls of color used to be.  It, like everything else in the apartment had been drained of color. It was like living in a sepia-toned photograph.

I looked at the dusty clock on the bookshelf.  It was Grandma’s and had a little girl on a swing, counting the seconds.  I loved that clock. It was time for the Cosby Show. My favorite part about Thursday  nights. How I wished I could be Rudy Huxtable. I watched as her dad – the doctor – tried to take care of little Rudy when she was sick.  It was so different from what happened when I had a cold!

I felt a stab of pain as something hit me in the back of my head.  Jack stood grinning evilly by the hallway leading to the bedrooms. Even at the age of three there was something wrong with that boy.  Tears stung my eyes but I wouldn’t let him see me cry.

Looking behind me I found the truck Jack had thrown.  I picked it up and threatened to throw it back at him, but he knew I wouldn’t.  He was still shirtless and in his slacks from church. One sock was missing. Mama was going to be some mad at me!

I turned back to the television but the show had gone to commercial.  A Feed the Children advertisement drew me in, my heart breaking for those kids who didn’t have food.  Somewhere deep inside I felt something stir. I wasn’t sure how I knew, but suddenly I was sure that some day I would be going to Africa to help these children.  I leaned in closer, looking deep into their sad eyes. I felt something warm growing in me as I listened to the story of the little girl who didn’t get to go to school.

Then Jack stood in front of the TV.  Without thinking I hurled the truck that was still in my hand at him.  He ducked and the truck bounced off the screen. Mama came storming in like a tornado.  All the air was sucked out of the room.

“That’s it!  I’ve had enough, ya lil shit!”

I scurried to my feet, not waiting for her to get close to me.  “Get outta my face and git to bed!” she screamed. It seemed to me the walls shook with the violence in her voice.  I ducked my head and ran from the room, not daring to look back.

In the bedroom I lay on the twin bed I shared with Jack, staring up at the dark ceiling.

The preacher at church spoke of love and kindness.  There was no love in Mama’s words. There was no kindness in her shrill tone.  These lessons from church were as fake as the Cosby show, as likely to happen in real life as a father was to take care of his sick child.

“There is no God,” I whispered into the empty room.  “God wouldn’t let children in Africa starve, and he wouldn’t let a Mama hate her daughter so much.”


Why Not Me?

Three sets of escalators never felt so long. Why am I here? What’s the point?

I sigh, then take a deep breath.

At the top, I step off and head down the long hallway, my footsteps echoing on the tile floor. I hear a familiar voice and my nervousness subsides a bit. Others are gathered outside the courtroom door, waiting to be admitted. The conversations around me sound muffled, like I have cotton stuffed in my ears.

My breath is shallow and I suddenly find myself fighting against a surge of dizziness. Someone speaks to me. I smile and nod. Was that the right response? I’m not sure.

I just want to rush through this so I could leave. Why haven’t they let us in?

When they open the huge double doors we all file in and somehow I end up in the front row. I fidget on the hard wooden bench, shifting and wiggling, trying to get comfortable. Sandwiched between a woman bouncing her leg endlessly and a man with arms the size of my lets, I begin to sweat.

I shouldn’t be here.

We sit watching while the bailiffs crack jokes. State and court-appointed attorneys buzz around, waiting their turn to be heard by the judge. Not knowing when he would be called, I pick idly at a cuticle as activity swirls around me.

Before the judge takes the bench I hear the heavy door open, then shut with a thick thud. I turn to see a young couple walking down the aisle. The girl is silently crying as a man, presumably her boyfriend, follows with a hand on the small of her back.

As they take a seat directly behind me, something inside me stirs. From deep within me I hear, “She needs to know that whatever happens today, something good will come from it.” The words aren’t spoken. They come to me as more of a feeling, a vibration inside my core, the way you might experience a conversation in a dream. “And the guy two seats to the left of you needs to know that forgiveness is key.”

I glance at the girl over my shoulder, then look to my left, beyond the woman with the jiggly leg and see a spindly older man with close-cropped grey hair and an angular face.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Really Papa? I don’t even know them. We’re in a courtroom full of all sorts of random people and you want me to just tell these people this? I want to scream in protest but that would only make the situation worse.

“She needs to know that whatever happens today, something good will come from it. And the guy two seats to the left of you needs to know that forgiveness is key.”

Ugh. Okay. But I’m still working on forgiveness myself. How can I tell this man he has to forgive – forgive what I have no idea – when I’m still trying to learn to forgive the unforgivable myself? Who am I to tell them anything?

“Tell them.”

Why me?

“Why not you?”

How did I end up here? Why am I in a courtroom talking to God, when my life has been so full of misery it was impossible to have faith?

A Sanctuary from Her Past

“Welcome to the Inn at Bear Creek.” The petite woman at the front desk greeted me when I only had one foot over the threshold. Without responding I looked around the lobby of the small bed and breakfast I’d chosen. It would do. It would do quite well actually. It was quaint, a little too charming and perfect for my taste but then no one would think to look for me in a place with doilies on the tables and an antique settee by the fireplace.
I stepped up to the solid wood bar used as the registration desk, running my hand over the wood that had been worn smooth over time. How many women had stood in this exact spot looking for sanctuary? Or maybe the guests here were mostly couples looking for a romantic retreat. Maybe I was alone in my quest for solitude.

“You must be Mrs. Bennett -”

“Miss,” I corrected, without thinking. The name Bennett was fictional anyway. Did it matter if she called me Mrs.?

“Yes, of course.” She looked at a ledger spread out on the desk, running her finger along a list of names. “You will be in our ‘Lilacs and Lace’ room.”

Of course I am, I thought. I didn’t expect them to have a forest-themed room which would be more my style, but lace? Really?

“Thanks,” I said, trying to sound grateful.

“Your stay has been paid in full. I just need you to sign these forms…here…and here,” she said, pointing to the lines at the bottom of each page. I picked up the pen, then hesitated, the point poised over the paper. I’d practiced the signature over and over, wanting the act to look natural. The longer I waited the more nervous I became.

She’s going to notice, I thought. Just do it already!
My hand trembled slightly and I glanced at the woman. She was busy making a note in her ledger. You’re being paranoid. Sign the paper!

Taking a deep breath I forced my hand to scrawl the words Jessica Bennett. It wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped but I finished before she looked up. She tucked the pages into the back of her book, then handed me a key on a large keychain in the shape of a flower. With effort I kept from rolling my eyes. “Breakfast is served every morning from 7 to 9. It will be laid out in the dining room. Just help yourself.”

I nodded, suddenly barely able to contain my tears. This was how it had been since I started running. Even something simple like the thought of breakfast was enough to choke me with sobs. Would it ever get better or would my past keep haunting me forever?

It was too soon to know. There was really only one way out.

I took another deep breath. If I was going to get out of this I was going to have to fix it. I was going to have to change. It wouldn’t be easy, but the alternative was unthinkable.

I forced a smile on my face and said, “I’m sorry. I’m being rude. What was your name?”

Her face glowed. “You can call me Daisy, everybody does.”

I covered my sudden laugh with a cough. Of course her name was Daisy. “Well, Daisy, thank you for your hospitality.” I grabbed the key and turned, only then realizing I had no idea where the room was.

Daisy stepped around the bar, then reached for my bag. I grabbed it before she could get to it, smiling to soften my reaction. She looked momentarily taken aback before saying, “Let me show you to your room.”

I followed her up the staircase to the right of the entryway, the wood treads creaking under our feet. At least I’ll be able to hear anyone coming, I thought. She walked to the end of the hallway and stopped in front of the door to the left. “Make yourself comfortable, and please let me know if there’s anything I can do to make your stay more enjoyable,” she said before turning back down the hall.

The door swung open with a whine. As I entered the room I felt like I was walking into a new life. A better one, I thought with determination. Things are going to be okay.

Or so I hoped.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompt Haunting.

A Love That Endures

“No! Please. Dear God, no.” His cry was one of anguish few of us ever really experience.

His wife lay in her hospital bed, surrounded by beeping monitors. The smell of disinfectant would have made him light-headed if he had been paying attention. The air hung heavy with thoughts left unspoken.

We’ve been together 53 years. How could God take her from me now? The man sobbed openly, without shame.

He sat in a hard chair, pulled as close as possible. He held tightly to her cold hand, rubbing his thumb over the loose skin. As tears fell he wiped them away without noticing. His eyes never left her face.

The doctor stood silently watching. Normally he would have left already, maybe sent a nurse to check on them periodically. But his heart broke for this man. He couldn’t have avoided giving him the grim prognosis, could he? He wasn’t sure how her heart kept beating as it was. She could be gone any moment. It was his duty to dispense the news honestly.

If only someone would love me as much. His mind wandered to his own failed marriage. Had he ever loved with such selflessness? He never knew love could be so strong, so enduring, so infinite.

“Sir, help me. Please.” The old man implored.

Brought back to the present the doctor found the other man standing unsteadily, pushing on the unconscious woman. “What-” he began.

“Help me!” His harsh tone surprised the younger man.

The doctor placed his hand on top of the old man’s, stopping it. Once he looked up they maintained eye contact. In all his years as a physician he had never seen such raw pain. “How can I help?”

“I want…” He paused, tears overcoming him. “I need to hold her. One last time.”

Together they eased her to one side of the bed, leaving a narrow space on the other. Awkwardly her husband climbed up beside the patient, laying on his side. The doctor lifted her head gently so the man could slide his arm under her neck. The old man pressed himself to her, whispering in her ear.

Feeling like an intruder the doctor turned away.

Just then the monitor that had been steadily beeping in time with her heart stopped it’s rhythmic beat. Instincts kicking in, he spun around ready for action. Approaching the bed he said, “Sir, you’re going to need to move.” When there was no response he quickly reached for the old man’s wrist, anxious to move it off her chest so he could try to get her heart beating again, buy them a few more minutes. To his horror the old man’s hand was limp. Feeling for a pulse he realized they were both gone.

Maybe it was for the best. With a heavy heart he left the room.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompt Infinity.

Behind Closed Doors

She looked around her cramped one bedroom apartment. Dark stains ran across the ceiling where the roof had leaked – or rather where it still leaked on rainy days. The smell of damp gym socks hung faintly in the air. Her landlord refused to take care of the mold growing near the entry door. Light filtered dully through the dirty windows lending a brown hue to the room.

She sat on the second-hand sofa she had picked up on sale at Salvation Army. Rusty springs creaked under her weight, even though she’d lost nearly 10 pounds since she moved in. Weighing 120 at 5’ 6” she couldn’t afford to lose more. A butterfly could land on these cushions and still sound like a ghost rattling chains, she thought. The fabric under her bare leg felt like burlap as she moved unconsciously away from the brown splotch that seemed to grow bigger of its own accord. Soon it would be impossible to avoid.

She rested a foot on the battered coffee table she’d rescued from the dumpster. One of the wobbly legs was shorter than the others but she kind of enjoyed rocking the table back and forth. It soothed her frazzled nerves. Leaning her head back and closing her eyes she pushed it away, then let it fall toward her. Push, fall, push, fall, push, fall. Focused on the repetitive movement she almost missed the mouse that scurried inside the wall behind her head.

A few weeks ago she would have screamed at just the thought of those beady-eyed creatures. Now when they crossed her path she didn’t even flinch. For the most part they went their own way. The exception, of course, was the kitchen. It took a while but she learned how to keep what little food she had from her tiny roommates. Now she opted for cans and jars mostly. She kept cereal and bread in the fridge. Since the refrigerator was barely cooler than the rest of the apartment she never bothered to buy milk or yogurt so there was plenty of space and the mice couldn’t get to them there.

Push, fall, push, fall. Over and over she rocked the table. This is better? she wondered to herself. Were things really so bad?

The answer was yes. Not just a regular yes…but a resounding YES! As bad as her living conditions may be her previous situation was worse. Much worse.

She may have been living in a beautiful home with expensive furniture, but it wasn’t hers. She had been a slave. Sure, the word they used for it was “wife,” but if the truth were told she had been treated no better than the poor souls who had fought for so many years to gain freedom. Only she didn’t have Dr. King on her side.

Because her skin bore no visible scars they had said it wasn’t abuse. For years she had believed them. “He’s just joking,” they’d say when she was hurt by his cruel criticism. They didn’t know him like she did.

They didn’t see what he would do when he came home after she had spent all day cleaning his beloved house and his cherished possessions. They didn’t know that he would look for any tiny crumb, any speck of dirt, any excuse to find fault. And then he would destroy all she had done. He would throw knickknacks on the floor – only hers of course, never his – crushing them beneath his heavy boots. He would rip pages from her favorite books and scatter them around the room.

She had learned to ensure the trash had been taken to the neighbors’ can as on more than one occasion he had dumped trash over her glistening kitchen floor. She thought she had won when she began taking the trash out every day before he got home. But he wouldn’t let her get the best of him. Oh no, he simply went out to the trashcan and brought it inside, pouring out coffee grounds and half eaten food.

But if it were at the neighbors’ there was nothing he could do.

In front of everyone else he was charming, the perfect husband. Perhaps a little demanding but that was to be expected since she didn’t work. After a long day at the office didn’t he deserve to have supper waiting for him? It really was the least she could do. She was fortunate he wanted to support her. She had everything anyone could ever want! That’s what they told her and she believed them.

Her life was in a shambles but they told her it was paradise. Her husband was ruthless but they called it love.

Push, fall, push, fall, push, fall. She rocked the table faster as she remembered the night she told him she wanted a divorce. It was the first time he actually lifted a hand to her. She was sure he was going to strike. She almost hoped he would. At least then there would be proof. But he knew that too.

In the end he’d told her to go, to get out of his house. It didn’t matter that she had spent 17 years cooking and cleaning for him. It was irrelevant that he wouldn’t let her work because he wanted her at his beck and call. The house, and everything in it, belonged to him. She had nothing.

“Go sponge off someone else,” he’d shouted as she walked down the driveway.

She almost turned back. Where could she go? But she knew it was too late.

She had no friends to turn to – he hadn’t allowed her to have friends of her own. She had no money. She hadn’t worked in almost 20 years. She was alone and penniless. What had she been thinking?

The first night she spent alone, shivering under a bridge in spite of the heat, praying for morning to come. Once it did she set out to find a job – any job. She applied everywhere, telling them her phone wasn’t working and she’d be back to schedule an interview. Within a few days she had been hired at a local diner. Although she was still sleeping outside she kept herself clean, using a public bathroom in the park when no one was around.

She kept her tips in a tin can she buried under a rock. After she cashed her paycheck she added that as well. Slowly she saved enough to move into her crappy apartment. Gradually she was rebuilding her life.

Push, fall, push, fall. Suddenly the table crashed to the ground as short leg broke off completely. It doesn’t matter. I’ll get a new one, she thought. She pushed it away and stood. It was time to get to work.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompt Shambles.