Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fun and Games

I am nine years old.  Night is passing slowly, trudging along into the small hours of the morning. My room in this old country house is dark like a void- my ears ring in the silence.  I am used up and wide awake, aware of every shift and creek that 200 hundred years has brought to the walls and floorboards of this house.

I never sleep.  I have to stay alert. I can sleep in school- little nods here and there. I can sleep on the toilet in the girls room during lunch. Some nights he comes to my room, though most nights he doesn't. He sleeps next to my mother to assure her that all is as it should be. But every now and then, my specter haunts me and I need to be alert and ready just in case.

Tonight my stomach releases a thousand moths and my throat is a narrow reed from which I struggle to breath. I hear him coming. These night visits are not the same business as our daytime affairs. At night he is always angry. Bothered like a maniacal psychiatric patient, he paces my room in the dark with a pen-light, mumbling his fervored woes. There is not enough wood in the wood closet. He is certain I have done this to spite him. As if he wouldn't notice. I have shorted him by at least two armloads.

He rips the blankets off of me making a tidal wave of blankets and sheets and orders me out of bed. I am dressed in a shirt that is tucked into my pants and a sweater. He never seems to notice this on these nights. The nighty that I wear in his presence in the daytime before my mother comes home is not what he is concerned with right now. He is not thinking about our gentle daytime schooling. He is ruminating about a wall that I didn't clean perfectly, a rung of a chair that is still dusty- tonight it is the wood pile.

He says it can't wait until morning. I have purposely done this to upset him and I will not get away with such insolence. I am not going to be like other children. I am being brought up correctly- to be respectful and to do a job right the first time around. I tell him I am sorry for what I have done. I am sure I had filled the closet right up to the line he has drawn, but I don't dare tell him this. My apologies fall on insane ears and his grip on my arm as he rushes me out of my room is a tourniquet. At the top of the stairs he grabs me up and makes his way down quietly. He rushes me across the house, dodging the floorboards that creek and pop and deposits me at the top of the basement stairs. He tells me to finish the job.

The basement is the scariest place in this hell. It's dirt floors are treaded on by ghosts. It's stairwell houses snakes. There is a troth the size of a massive bathtub that I have looked in once before. I am sure there are dead bodies there. There are spirits here- Lucifer's minions. I would rather anything but to go in the basement- even the things my step father makes me do before my mother comes home. Even that.

He gives me a shove and I stumble down the first few stairs. I regain my balance and catch my breath after such a scare and reach for the light switch. He slaps his hand over it. There will be no light. My body freezes and melts at the same time as terror overtakes me. I cannot come to grips with the hysteria that is so loud inside of me and as my mouth opens to let out a scream, I merely whimper as the door closes and the lock sounds.

I stand in the blackest moment of my life. What is it that am I to be doing? I am supposed to get wood, that's right. If I get wood, he will let me out. I maneuver another few stairs in my bare feet. I hear the snake sliding over her nest, I sense ghosts drifting in their never-sleep. I feel bile rising quickly and I hurl myself the rest of the way down the stairs so I can vomit on the dirt floor.

The door opens. It is like sun after a furious storm. Everything is okay in an instant. It is amazing how light can bring such hope- such disillusion. He rushes down the stairs and wordlessly tugs my sweater over my head taking chunks of hair with it. He rips my button-down shirt down the middle, grabs the nape and pulls it off- my arms fly out like a marionette. He scream-breaths at me to take my pants off. He will not have me dirty my clothes with my own foul stench is what he tells me as he ascends the stairs and latches the door shut again.

I cry. I have not cried in years. If I scream, I will never stop. I know I will never leave this basement even if my body does. Crying is the only way to keep from loosing my mind.  I am naked and cold and my head screams where it has been scalped and I have lost sight of what I need to do to get out of this hell.  I am disoriented. I have gotten jostled and turned around by the hurried and brutal stripping.  I squat and hold my legs. I want to be tiny so the ghosts won't see me. I want to be as still as a pebble, so the snake will glide over me and keep going. I stay like this for so long that my body cramps and I know I will have to move or my body will move on it's own. Now would be as good a time as any to die.

I have had time to think. I remember that I need to get wood. I undo my body to stand. The wood pile is close to the trough. I take small shuffles forward, not sure what will be in front of me. My arms are straight out, my hands are tentacles. I feel cold and damp at my finger tips and snap my hands back. I make sense of the stone wall and turn about face. At the same time I feel a coolness on my face- a specter's breath. I quiver forward. I know now that the wood will be somewhere in front of me. I begin the slow voyage across the dirt ocean. I fear I will never get there and though I have pushed the ghosts and the snake from the forefront of my mind, they are there still, waiting to throw me off course, waiting to paralyze me with fear venom.

I hear something. I am sure something has moved. I stop in my tracks. It is quiet again. What was that? I can't allow myself to come undone.  I continue on. I can do this. I cannot allow myself to believe it is the dead rising from the trough. I have been shuffling long enough that surely I am nearing the wood pile. I bend forward and let my arms and hands swim through the air in anticipation of my goal. It is there and I allow myself a small glimmer of hope. I grasp a piece of wood and begin to lift when something scuttles over my hand. I am screaming now. I have abandoned all control and replaced it with possesed fear. I don't care if he kills me. I want him to kill me. Why didnt I think of this sooner? Let him strangle me. Let him take what little breath I have left.

Like a psychotic dream come true his hands are over my mouth and nose. He has been here in the dark with me all along. He has been the zombie, the ghost and the snake. Of course! When has he ever left me alone?

In this pitch black he is laughing as though he has performed the greatest practical joke in the world. No harm done, right? His chuckles are in my ear like maggots as he winds down and unhands me. What am I doing down here in this earliest of morning, he wants to know. Why would I be in the basement? Is it because I felt bad that I didn't finish filling the wood closet? It's okay, it can wait till daylight.  Run along and go to bed. My mother be leaving in the morning. There will be so many things to do tomorrow.  Lots of things to do.


  1. Oh, Cairn. I just want to hold that child and rock her and let her know that she is perfect and loved and is not alone.

    1. Duly rocked! That soothes the child within. No matter how much i say i am healed, there is always that child who never got much safe touch and she could sure use a stockpile of that now! Love you! Cairn

  2. Actually my dominant feeling here is anger. How dare one human do any of these things to a child! I wish this man had not been given access to you, any of your family and certainly no other children either. I continue to admire your bravery in sharing this, and hope that you get the stockpile you deserved then and still deserve now. I also note that the quality of your writing is quite haunting and am glad that words work for you as a way of communicating these wordless acts of violence that you endured. I want to say "it was not your fault" - it doesn't seem to fit here, but I think that you understand that. There is no shame in the telling of your story. Jo