Slipping in and out of consciousness. Footsteps. I try to scurry away, but they keep coming. Closer and closer. Louder and louder. The creak of the handle turning. The bang of the door against the wall. I cower in the corner, afraid of what’s to come.
The luminescent light from the hall creates a vast, black shadow, the same color of Ma’am’s heart. I flinch when the face of my torment comes into view. Her ripe, red rage can be scented from a mile away. Gazing down at her shoes, I notice the woman is in her formal attire as per usual. Her compelling grass-green eyes regard me with contempt, and her scowling, plum painted lips sink further down. She glares down her nose, but I can see that I evoke her interest.
As she lessens our separation, the foul smell of stale cigarettes mixed with expensive perfume stingsmy nostrils. When she tilts back, the lamp’s muted glow caresses her skin, making the angle of her jaw look both sharper and softer.
The aggressiveness rolls off her in waves and splashes me square in the chest. I endure the familiar anxiety overtake me, feel the dimly lit room enclose me. The lump in my throat enlarges and my pulse skyrockets.Thump. Thump.Her enigmatic countenance and sharp orbsmakeme violently tremble in fear. Upon looking deeper into her eyes, I spot a bright hue in the midst of midnight. Her darkness isn't noticeable without light to create contrast, andIwas the light. An impulse to run rushes over me, but there is no way to escape. She knows it. I know it.
I’m not like most children. I’m not like anybody. Very few go through what I do, and most can’t even imagine it, but this is my reality. I know it's wrong.
A prodigious shiver rolls through me, making me tuck my shaking hands between my unhealthily, thin thighs and huddle close to the wall. When I look up, she stiffly strides into the room, bringing iniquity with her. Ma’am stands over a foot taller than me, her sleek, black heels making her impossibly high. From where I crouch on the ground, she is an immense beast. The look she shoots me pins me in place, and I realize I have nowhere to go. I feel cornered like prey that’s about to be ripped limb from limb and devoured. As I look around the boxy room, the same unease floods my belly. Knowing what’s coming, I bow my head, the fight leaving me, and submit.
My eyes fixate across the room at the wimpy kid being stripped of his rights. Bones protrude through his pasty skin, showing how incorrigible his condition is. Scars line his body from head to toe. The angry, red, swollen marks glow in the room and light up the wickedness inside of me. Itshouldhurt when he begs for scraps of food. Itshouldhurt when he bleeds to near death. Itshouldhurt when his body lays limp and lifeless. Sometimes it does, but I don’t show it, and he would never know.
This child, so ingenuous, innocence seeps from his pores. Unfortunately, those are traits of the weak. I itch to rid him of them, make him black and blue with bruises. There is no such thing as goodness in this world.
I bark a laugh, disrupting the serene silence, and shake my head nonchalantly. To people, I look like a normal woman, but only the boy has had glimpses of the tortured, shattered soul deep within. The cruel acts I commit strengthen the unbreakable ice around my heart, the only strength I need.
The child is a reminder of all I’ve been deprived of and what was given to me, unsought. Thinking of this fuels anger so deep like a raging storm morphing into something more. The need to take it out on the boy grows. My heart always warms when I hear the words, “Yes, Ma’am,” leave his mouth.
Today, contrary to most days, I had a reason for hurting him. Earlier I sent the vulnerable boy outside to do some yard work, and not thirty minutes later, I received rapid knocking followed by consecutive dings. Opening the door, the penetrating, cold air numbed my face. A strong breeze made wisps of hair dangle in front of my eyes, disrupting my sight. The sun settled so low it sat on the tips of the treetops. Its blinding orange was a slap in the face. A huge man filled the porch with his feet spread apart like he owned the place. Covered in a blue uniform, he wore a badge stating ‘Deputy’. He was a skyscraper next to my skimpy, shivering boy. The officer’s eyes narrowed into slits and traveled between us calculatingly. From my sun-kissed skin to the boy’s sunburned face from hours of outside labor, my heels and expensive jewelry to his disheveled, homeless appearance. “Is this your so-,” the man starts to inquire, but I cut him off.
“Get inside.” With those two words, the boy scurried away, feet pattering down the halls. He was in for a world of torture, as soon as I got the nuisance standing in front of me to leave. I pulled my wallet from my back pocket and started rifling through the pouches. When I found what Ineeded, I bunched up about twenty Benjamins and shoved them into the deputy’s chest. Then I brought my hand back to rest against the door. My palm yearned to slam it closed, but I used the last ounce of control in me and pinned the cop with a glare. He stumbled back, and his eyes widened, looking at the amount of cash I had so quickly given away.
Muttering something to himself, the officer turned around and dragged his feet across my paved driveway, finally deciding to exit my property.
A soft whimper brings me back to the present, and I narrow my eyes. Raw emotion courses through me at the sight of the boy shrinking back from the intimidation I pour into the room. The fierceness in my stance fills some of the insecurities in my heart. As my heavy steps get closer to him, he clutches the bedpost like a lifeline.
Oh, that won’t protect you, silly boy.
A single rumpled sheet floats on top of him, making an ounce of regret flow into my system. It's an unwanted feeling that I cravetorelievemyself of. When I’m finally standing in front of him, I grasp his chin, lift his face, and slap it. I love the sensation of the sting on my palm. He doesn’t make a noise, instead, raising his head. So compliant, so obedient.Good boy.
“Next time I get a surprise visitor I won’t be so forgiving,” Ma’am scolds as she delivers her final beatings for the night. I stutter an apology, wondering what she could do that would be worse. She resembles a growling bear in anger, when she spat words at me, and it took all of me to keep from curling up in a ball and sobbing my heart out. I learned at a young age that only some people have the luxury of crying. My indulgences are a whole banana for dinner if I am perfect for Ma’am.
The remote area we live in is surrounded by a long, covered driveway lined with banana plants. A large oak tree straddles the end of the pavement, blocking anyone from entering or exiting. I could easily slip through the crack between the tree and fence, but it stood there, like a guard preventing me. I feared that even if I left, my heart and soul would be lost here. Ma’am’s heaven was my hell. She wants me beaten, broken, and battered. She wants me to share her agony.
I lift onto my trembling legs and walk into the windowless bathroom. The sound of my overgrown nails scraping against the wooden floors is like that of nails on a chalkboard. I step into the restroom where the chill tile soothes the aching heels of my feet. When I stare up into the mirror, I’m frightened by what is looking back at me. Dread makes my knees almost give out. Vivid, cherry marks embed my skin from years of belts thrashing me. Purple bruises cover my arms and legs, changing my skin color entirely. My body is weak; I could do nothing but crawl some days. I couldn’t even find the strength to eat, but ma’am couldn’t have me dying.
I glide on my tiptoes back into the square where I am held captive. Hugging my knees to my chest, I sway from side to side until I tumble over. I lay there, not finding the energy to right myself. It’s so cold, my teeth chatter, and I feel like I’m turning into ice. Pale yellow walls surround me, inching closer and closer until I pass out from suffocation.
The next thing I know, I’m waking up from a haze. My eyes flutter open to find an almost rotten apple in front of me. I should be disgusted, but the loud moan my stomach lets out doesn’t let me. A furry, cardboard colored piece of dust runs across the floor at lightning speed. Bending down and squinting my ocean eyes, I carefully inspect what caught my attention. My eyes soften at the sight of a tiny mouse scurrying around thefloor, looking for something to ease its appetite. I break a little part of my apple off and set it down for the small rodent. Imagining the tiny creature giving me a grateful smile, fill me up with a few seconds of delight.
I pick up the fruit or whatever that’s left of it, with my rough, calloused fingers. Fingers that had been through so many years of exploit. A body that has been through so many years of maltreatment, never being able to rest or nourish itself properly. I start to doze off thinking today’s the last day like this. Death is a reality to me. One that sounds better and better every day.
I begrudgingly leave the room with a tight smile. A fake smirk. This boy, a child who has no clue how to escape his never-ending nightmare. Today had been bad for him. I thought seeing his pain would feel great, borderline triumphant, but the only thing I feel as the door closes behind me is utter resent. The way he cherishes things that others wouldn’t acknowledge amazes me. The way he gazes at a cracker will make you think it is gold.
Walking down the hall from his room, I listen to my heels tap against the posh marble floors. My mansion was a gorgeous sanctuary that was once filled with laughter and happiness. I used to host parties and regularly redecorate. It’s filled with pristine vases, floor to ceiling glass, and chandeliers made from pure crystals. Anyone that sees the boy’s cell will not believe it is part of my house, but I go to every extreme for his misery. I make my way past my bedroom and drift into my large and lovely bathroom. Peeling off my clothes, my protection, I recoil under the burning spray of the shower head. Sinking to the tile, I cry for the first time in a long time. Chest heaving, I drop my head, trying to pull in ragged breaths. I’m coming to the edge of a cliff; there are starving lions behind me and snapping crocodiles below me. The only thing left to do is a jump.
After my shower, I recline on my bed and take out my tattered, violet purse. The boy’s light, carefree hair in contrast to his almond-shaped eyes are the same as his father’s. Every time I look at my child, I was overcome with nostalgia from more favorable days. I tuck the wrinkly photo back in the excessive, purple clutch, satisfied with the reassurance it gave me.
After the boy's father passed, I started taking out my anger on the boy. And myself. Slipping my shirt over my head, I run my fingers over the marred lines on my body. Opening the nightstand next to the bed, I pull out a bit of razor, sharp, barbed wire and draw on my skin.
I have fallen into a downward spiral of depression, drugs, and self-destruction. I have lost everything, and now the child was all that was left. With every day that passes, I sink further into a sea of grief. I needed to let go. Getting up, I proceed to the dresser. Wrapping a metal chain from the cherry, wood cabinet around my fist, I leave my room with a threatening expression and head for the little chamber at the end of the hall.
Panic climbs in my chest as I look around for the child. I try to seek his dirty stench, but my nose comes up empty. My breathing picks up when I hear a sudden movement from outside. I peek through the drapes to see the boy outside — what a pleasant surprise. I observe him, debating my next move. Taking a phone that he must have gathered from an old box in the attic, he shoves it in his underwear, which was all he was wearing, all I provided for him to wear. Resigned, I walked back through the foyer and snagged the closest alcohol to me. I took a swig of the vodka in my hand and slumped down on a couch that gave me a view of the front yard. Once I made sure he made it out without coming back, I would be done. Without him, I would have no reason left to be alive. So why would I live? More of the same thoughts continue to flood my mind.
I take a match out and light it up before setting it on the floor. I come back to my seat on the couch and reach for the blade under the leather cushion, slowly dragging it across my skin. I watch, unblinking, as all my faded memories burn away, along with my pain.
When I sneak out of the room and peek down the hall, my gaze lands on Ma’am looking longingly at an image. The only thing she cared about was that old, crusty photo. I had seen her intently staring at it before, memorizing all the colors and shapes. My intuition told me it had something to do with the nice man. I have faint memories of those better times. They took care of me, and Ma’am was kind.
I wonder how Ma’am lives with herself. She has such a massive burden of guilt. Looking at her, you would never guess she was evil and brutal. Heartless. Her hair was always pinned up and proper. Her wrinkles and eye bags masked with makeup. Her clothes were still sophisticated and made from the most beautiful silks. The only thing that gave her away was her troubled eyes and eternal scowl. A scowl so deep it sucks you in.
I limp across the sky walk to the building I had never been in. The whole place is painted with dust. I surge forward, startled by the echo of the door closing behind me. My loose legs trip over boxes littered across the wooden floor. The beautiful box, once settled on top of the rest, falls open and cracks with a deafening sound. Pictures. So many pictures. So many memories.
My body, with a mind of its own, bends down to pick up one of the limp photos pooled at my feet. It was in the garden; Ma’am and a baby were grinning as bright as the relentless sun in the background. The baby boy’s arms are tangled around Ma’am’s neck, and his head rested against her forehead. Their expressions are filled with so much love. I studied the boy harder and wondered what I did wrong. Unable to stare at it any longer I drop it like it had caught fire.
I dash down the dwindling stairs that are covered in cobwebs and come to face double glass doors. Pushing them open with my whole body, I deeply inhaled the fresh outside air. It was a cloudless, scorching hot day. Gazing around, I took in everything from the pale yellowish-orange hue of the evening sky to the sounds of birds squawking. The stone path biting into my feet led me to the front yard. When I looked up, the world around me slowed. I saw the intimate oak tree, calling my name. A single tear streams down my face as I take four steps toward it. One. Two. Three. Four.
The November air was sharp, and my skinny, bare legs stung from the bitter cold. I quickly check to make sure the heavy, black phone I had gotten from the boxes in the attic, was tucked safely into my bottoms. I turn around to take one last glance, and I thought I saw a shadow hiding in the window. Trepidation wells up in my wide eyes. Apprehension rushes through my blood. I quickly turn around, not sparing another glance, but it does not stop the little, remorseful pang that hits my chest. After all, this place is all I’ve ever known.
I need to let go of my past. My fear. My pain. After limping to the tree, I speed off using all my strength. I though I felt the heat of flames behind me. Had Ma'am escaped hell, too?