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The Au Pair

Genre: Fiction-Short Story

Submission/Publication: Submitted to the Chicago Tribune/Nelson Algren Literary Contest

Mama rang the doorbell again.  It was the third time.  Next she’d knock.  Sometimes it took three rings and two knocks.  Other times it took four rings and one knock.  It all depended on how long Pop-Pop had been talking to Mr. Wolf.  That’s what Mama called it when he drank Rabid Wolf Gin, his every day, all day, hanging buddy. Today he answered the door just as Mama was going to try for knock number one.

“Lee! What are you doing here?” he said with sincere surprise.

“Daddy, I called you this morning and told you that you’d have to watch Leydy,” Mama said pushing her way into his apartment. “Seriously, it was only a few hours ago.”

She put down my backpack and started rattling off instructions that fell on deaf ears.

“Ladybug! Looks like you and Pop-Pop are gonna have a ball today!  What do you want to do first?” he asked me.

“Daddy, listen.  Leydy needs to eat first.  I packed her a few snacks and dinner. Make sure she uses her nebulizer if she gets wheezy.  I’ll make sure to check in on you in a few hours.  So I need you to pick up the phone when I call.  And I should be here to pick her up around midnight.”

“I’m kinda slow and stupid…you should probably write all of that down for me,” Pop-Pop said. When Mama turned to find a pad of paper, he winked at me.  “She thinks I’m an idiot you know.  Like I ain’t never raised a child.”

“OK Daddy, here’s your list.  And here’s $20 in case you need to get anything for Leydy.  Do not, I repeat, do not go spend it on alcohol.  And don’t let me find out that you’ve taken her to Buzz’s.  Got it?”

“Aye, aye, captain,” he said with a mocking salute.  She rolled her eyes, kissed me on the forehead and was out the door in all in one motion.

My mother grew up in this apartment.  And if you let her tell it she had the saddest childhood in history.  Her mother and brother died in a car accident when she was just 10-years-old.  Faced with raising a little girl all on his own, my grandfather, who’d always been a drinker, became an even more avid fan of spirits. He still somehow managed to function.  For nearly 40 years he maintained his job at the glass factory in town.  It was where everyone, who didn’t flee the sad existence of this neighborhood, went to let their dreams die.

Even though she still had her father, she was virtually alone. Pop-Pop spent half of his time working and the other half drinking.  She often wondered why God saw fit to take her mother and instead of him.   They were stuck together and she hated him for being alive.

Despite all of that, he provided what he could for her.  She had a roof over her head, albeit in the projects.  She had food, though it came mostly out of dented cans.  And even when it was time for her to go to college, he did what he could.  She was in her room packing a small box of things to take with her to school when he called her into the living room.  He held out a shoebox to her.  When she opened it, it was full of cash.  It was money he and her mother had put aside for her and her brother.  When her mother died, he kept adding to the fund, making sure that no matter how bad he needed a drink, to NEVER touch it.

She didn’t want the money.  It made her feel disgusting to even hold it in her hands. But even though she was spiteful, she wasn’t stupid.  She knew she needed that money.  So she said thank you and returned to her room to finish packing.

She was three years into her residency when she got pregnant with me. She was dating another resident, my dad, Stanley.  They weren’t married and neither wanted to start a family.  But his strict Catholic upbringing persuaded him to “do the right thing.”

They married and my father continued with his studies.  My mom stopped going to school altogether.  My parents couldn’t afford to both go to school and take care of me.  So she put school on hold and every penny went to my father’s education.  By the time I was in pre-school, Dad had opened a small practice and did consultations at the hospital.  We moved into a house, a few towns over from Pop-Pop.  We might as well have been a few states away because until a few years ago, I didn’t even know he existed. A few years ago, that was when everything went sideways in our family.

My au pair (it’s what fancy people call a babysitter), Irene, started living with us.  My dad suggested it.  He said it would be easier for her to help out with me in the morning and before bed time if she lived in our home.  My mother didn’t object.  She liked Irene, and she knew that I loved her.  But a year of Irene’s occupancy in our home was all it took for my dad to fall in love with her too.  He told my mom that I could stay, but she had to go.

I didn’t stay.  There’s no way Mama would have left me with Irene after this.  So we both left.  She went back to school.  She took on one minimum wage job after another.  I still went to private school, which my father paid for.  But they didn’t have any after school programs.  So I needed after school care.  I used to have Irene.  But Mama refused to let me be left alone with her.  And Daddy refused to pay for daycare because he felt Irene could do it.  So Mama was left to figure out what to do with me while she worked.  She couldn’t afford to hire the au pairs that her rich friends suggested.  But she wanted to keep up appearances with these doctors’ wives she’d once thought of as close friends.  The first time she took me to Pop-Pop’s apartment she made me promise that I wouldn’t tell anyone about who my new au pair was. In fact, we’d come up with a cover story.  After school I was cared for by “Thomasina,” a nice woman from Ecuador that my mother had found through an agency.

I was really scared during my first few visits.  I’d never been in a neighborhood like his before.  And my mother didn’t do much to dissuade my fears.  She just told me that I was to behave myself and she would be back soon to pick me up.  I sat with my coat on in a chair by the door until she returned.  Pop-Pop tried to talk to me, to get me to play.  But I refused to even look him in the eye.  It wasn’t until three visits later that he stopped talking to me.  Instead he pulled an old puzzle out of the closet, spread it on the table and began working on it.  After an hour of silence I crept over and sat across from him.  He didn’t say a word, just pushed the box close to me so I could see the picture on the front.  We finished a 1000-piece puzzle in two hours.  When Mama came to pick me up I was asleep in the bedroom having eaten a grilled cheese sandwich my grandfather made for me.  He was next to me, more passed out than asleep, having drank half a bottle of gin.

I started to get excited every time I got to go over Pop-Pop’s house.  I liked the familiar smell of his apartment…a combination of hot sauce, Old Spice and gin.  He’d sometimes take me to Buzz’s, the bar across the street.  His friends there, other regulars, would sit me on their laps and let me help them play chess.  Sometimes they’d give me change to put in the jukebox.  Other times he’d drag his lawn chair down to the courtyard and let me play on the jungle gym with the other kids from the projects.

In addition to being warned to behave, to listen to Pop-Pop, I was also given instructions for caring for him.  I was never sure who was in charge, him or me.  She wasn’t the only one dishing out instructions. From him I was always told what I could and couldn’t tell Mama about our time spent together.  I should never mention Buzz’s.  I should never talk about him falling asleep in his lawn chair while I played unsupervised.  And under no circumstances was I to tell her exactly how much he drank. Although, he was often passed out when she came to get me.  So I’m sure she didn’t need a blow by blow of what went on while I was in his care.

Yet and still, I was always clean, well fed, and, most importantly, alive when she picked me up.  And since she didn’t have to pay an au pair, something she couldn’t have afforded anyway, she continued to leave me with him.

When she dropped me off this time it was because she was going to a gala to benefit the hospital.  It was the kind of fancy event my parents used to attend together.  But this time my mother would be going alone, and my father would be bringing Irene.  Also in attendance, would be several of my parents’ mutual friends, fellow doctors and their wives, the same women who offered the services of their au pairs to my mom.  Little did they know I had the best au pair of all.

After mom dropped me off, Pop-Pop and I watched TV for a bit.  Then he took me outside to play while he went to Buzz’s.   He told me as soon as the street lights came on I should meet him at Buzz’s because he didn’t want me playing in the dark.

I was outside for about a half hour when it started to happen, an asthma attack.  I’d had so many that I knew exactly when one was upon me and what to do. I started wheezing, then my chest tightened.  By the time I’d made it to the bottom of the slide I could barely breathe.  I reached in my pocket for my inhaler only to remember that I’d left it inside.  I had to make a choice, try to make it up the stairs to Pop-Pop’s apartment or try to make it across the street to Buzz’s.  I went for the latter. But after taking a few steps I couldn’t move another inch. Titi, one of my ‘project friends,’ as Mama called them, ran over to me.

“Ley, you alright? Need me to get your granddad?” he asked.  I managed a nod and he called over to Punchy to stay with me while he ran across the street.

Moments later Pop-Pop stumbled out and over to me.

“Ladybug, need me to get your nebu-thingie?” he asked, unable to pronounce nebulizer. I shook my head no and grabbed onto the cross hanging from my neck and held it up to him.

“Cross? I don’t understand. Christ? Christ Memorial!?” he shouted. I nodded yes.  It was the hospital my mom was interning at and my father occasionally consulted at.  It was also the hospital for which the gala was being held tonight.

Titi ran back over to Buzz’s to tell him that we needed a ride to the hospital. Pop-pop picked me up and held me as we sat in the back of Buzz’s Cadillac.  I don’t remember much about the ride or what happened when we first got to the hospital.  But by the time my parents…and Irene, got there I was sitting up in bed doing another breathing treatment.

Mama looked horrified.  Daddy was too annoyed with Pop-Pop to be upset about my attack.

“Lee-Anne, what is she doing with him?” my father asked.

“Jesus Stan, that’s not even remotely what’s important right now,” My mom said.  Then she turned to me, “How’s my baby doing?” She suddenly looked so tired.

“Lee, I’m sorry.  I forgot to give her the nebu…the thing that you brought with the tubes. I forgot. It’s my fault.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK Daddy.  I think she’s gonna be OK.  Right sweetie?” asked. I nodded.

“She’s not fine Lee-Anne.  She’s in the hospital.  She could have died for Pete’s sake. Meanwhile your Dad was sitting around getting wasted.”

“I thought she got a new au pair,” Irene muttered under her breath.

“That’s what she told me,” my dad replied.

“I’m doing the best I can Stanley! And Irene, how about you try shutting the fuck up.  It’s not enough that you take my husband…you need to weigh in on my current station in life too.”

“Lee-Anne, I would appreciate if you wouldn’t speak to Irene that way…”

Just then the doctor came in.

“Lee-Anne, Stanley, so good to see you two.  I’d hoped to see you at the gala, but unfortunately I got stuck here tonight.”

“Herb, it’s nice catching up.  But would you mind getting to what’s going on with our daughter please?” my mom said.  She was trying her best to not look as annoyed as she was.

“Right, of course. So it looks like Leydy had a pretty bad asthma attack.  But she’s doing much better now thanks to your baby sitter.  He got her here quickly, gave me a run down of her medicines.  I was very impressed.”

“I, I wrote down the name of her medicine and put it in my wallet just in case.  I wouldn’t be able to remember on my own.  So I wrote it down,” Pop-Pop said beaming with pride.

“Where ever did you find him?” Dr. Herb asked. “You must give me the name of the agency he’s from.  My wife and I are actually looking for a new au pair ourselves.  She told me how you were asking around a while ago and she gave you the name of our old girl.  But you told her you’d found someone.  This must be the guy.  You know I never really thought about having a male nanny.  What do they call them these days? Manny right? Hilarious! So yea, just let us know where you got him and…”

“Herb, I didn’t realize it until now, but this many of mine has really come through for me these past few years. In fact, he’s been coming through for me for a long time. And I’m really proud of him.  He’s not my au pair.  Doctor,” my mother said grabbing my grandfather’s hand, “I’d like you to meet my father, Mr. Thomas Edwards.”

I don’t know if anyone could tell, but beneath my nebu-thingie mask, I was sporting a giant smile.

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting and indoor

Dedicated to my Pop-Pop, my best bud, my puzzle partner, my teddy bear gifter…my au pair.

Lilies

Genre: Fiction-Short Story

Submission/Publication: Submitted to the Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction

I walked past a house today that reminded me of one I used to live in.  It had blue shutters, a white picket fence, and lilies lining the wrap around porch.  I stood on the sidewalk staring up at the house and thinking about the third grade.  I hadn’t thought about that year in a long time.  It was the last year we were all in that house together.  It was supposed to be the best year ever.

I remember that as a child in the weeks leading up to the third grade, I was filled with an unparalleled level of excitement. Most kids aren’t excited about school, but I wasn’t most kids.  I loved learning and I loved even more showing off what I learned.  Part of the third grade curriculum involved multiplication and division, cursive writing, and book reports. All of this felt like ‘big kid’ stuff, stuff I was sure I’d excel at.

One of the most exciting things about the third grade had to do with my new teacher, Miss Stein.  She had been a teacher’s aide for my kindergarten class.  I always liked her.  There was something sunny and sweet about her that made her the perfect candidate to be surrounded by children all day.  She had this uncanny ability to make you feel ike you were the best, most special person in the room.  So when we got a note in the mail with class assignments on it, and my mother recognized her name and told me, I was absolutely delighted. Yes, third grade was going to be amazing.

My father was unfazed by my announcement that I was going to have the nicest teacher ever in Miss Stein.  He didn’t remember her from my kindergarten class.  But he patronized me with a pat on the head and a “Good for you.”

On parent-teacher night, my mother went to the high school to meet with my brother’s teachers,  while my father went to my school to meet with Miss Stein.  They would have liked to go together.  But for the first time since I’d been going to school, mine and Bo’s parent-teacher night was scheduled for the same date.

While they were gone, Bo bequeathed me his baseball card collection and his skateboard.  He couldn’t give me his bike, he’d be using that to run away.  He knew that our mother would come home less than pleased with his performance of just a few months in high school.  So he was planning to get as far away from our house before she returned to deliver the news to our father.

When our parents came home, Bo was just getting around to getting his bike out of the garage.  So they were able to stop him before he had a chance to flee.  He was given a 2-month sentence of no video games, phone, or friends.  He might as well have been grounded for life.  Living without those things for more than a few days was pure torture for him.

Our father’s night went a lot better than Mom’s.  He couldn’t stop raving about Miss Stein, how nice she was, and how much she loved having me in her class. He was excited about the projects that she’d lined up for our class for the upcoming year.  So it was no surprise the next morning when he cut flowers from our garden for me to give to Miss Stein.  He said it was to keep me in her good graces. I thought that was an excellent idea, at least at first.

Miss Stein loved the bouquet.  She revealed to me that lilies were her favorite flower because her first name is Lily. I felt some odd kinship with her.  Teachers weren’t real people and therefore didn’t have first names. But the fact that she shared something so personal (and frankly, impossible) made me feel like she and I were friends.

Almost immediately, Allen Quade zeroed in on me as the latest target of his bullying.  The flowers drew unnecessary attention to me. After the first day I gave Miss Stein the flowers, Allen made it his business to interrupt their delivery.  He would snatch the bouquet from my hands and step on it, or throw it in the trash.  He called me a spoiled little rich girl because my parents had a house and a yard, from whence the flowers came.  To avoid him, I had to resort to hiding in a janitor’s closet until the bell rang for us to line up for class in the morning.

Miss Stein found out about what Allen was doing and scolded him for it.  She also sent a note home to both of our parents letting them know what was going on.  My father had recently lost his job at an accounting firm and spent most days at home scouring the newspaper for jobs or tending to his garden.

“Jack, I need you to take care of this since I’ll be busy at work,” my mother said. She’d picked up extra shifts at the hospital since my dad was laid off and barely had time to do anything anymore.

“What is that supposed to mean Lisa? I don’t understand why you have to degrade me every chance you get,” he replied.  He’d taken to spending most of his free time at home in the garden instead of looking for work.

“I’m not degrading you. I’m stating facts. Besides, you seem to like Miss Stein so much.  I would think you’d be excited to go speak to her.”

“I do like her actually.  At least she’s pleasant, which is more than I can say for you!”

The next day, my father drove me to school after carefully cutting and arranging a bouquet of lilies for Miss Stein.  He told me to go play while he while he spoke to her. When the bell rung, all the children lined up at our designated spots and waited for the teachers to come out to take us into the school.  Miss Stein walked out with my dad.  They were both smiling and laughing.  He winked at me and gave me a wave before walking to the car. Before I went home that day Miss Stein made sure to tell me what a special and brave little girl I was and how lucky I was to have a dad like mine.

Everywhere my mother turned, there was a reminder that my father wasn’t working.  If it wasn’t the bills piling up at the door, it was his dirty shoes and gardening tools left strewn about the back pork or the worn arm of the chair that he sat in for hours on end when he wasn’t in the garden.  She gave him grief for not having a job and spending all her ‘hard earned money on fertilizer and other shit.’ I’m sure the pun was intended. Bo didn’t like him being there either.  When he was at the firm, he’d stay late at the firm several nights a week.  But now that he was home he could better regulate Bo’s curfew. But I was different.  I liked having him at home.  Since he was home all day he could drop me off and pick me up from school. And he could deliver flowers to Miss Stein himself.  That meant that I was free to play on the playground before classes started as opposed to hiding in the janitor’s closet.

So while things at school were getting better, home was a different story.  My mother was barely there and when she was, she and my father hardly spoke unless it was to exchange unpleasantries. School, ironically, became my solice.  And I was extra excited when Miss Stein asked me to join the after school tutor program because it meant less time spent at home.

Tutoring occurred after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Every student tutor had one student in their grade to work with and you’d meet with your tutee once a week.  I picked Tuesday afternoons.  I was really excited about tutoring partly because I was helping someone, but mostly because I could show off how smart I was.  But I was disappointed when on the first day of tutoring, Allen walked into the gym/cafeteria/auditorium in our school and sat down across the table from me.

He greeted me by calling me PeePee Penelope or Pissy Penny or some other horrible nickname he’d come up with for me.  Seriously, you wet yourself on a field trip to Turtleback Zoo once in Kindergarten and you never live it down.  I threatened to tell on him.  Miss Stein and my father were sitting at a table near the door talking.  All it would take was one word from me and Allen would be in big trouble.

“If you tell Miss Stein, I’ll put boogers on you, and shove your face in the toilet and then I’ll…I’ll,” he lowered to a whisper at this point, “I’ll punch you in the vagina.”

All three punishments seemed particularly vicious, especially the last one.  And while I was fairly certain that Allen wasn’t totally clear on what a vagina actually was, I didn’t need verification.

Even though I didn’t say a word about Allen’s insults, he continued to torment me regardless.  During tutoring sessions he forced me to do his homework for him while he covered my arms with boogers he’d picked and rolled especially for this purpose and kicked me under the table. All of this occurred while our teacher and my father sat across the room talking.

One day in the middle of one of our sessions, Allen came up with yet another one of his bright ideas. We had a multiplication test coming up.  And he surmised that something would be amiss if his homework was always done perfectly, but he failed the test.  So he suggested I let him cheat off of me.

“Piss, it’ll be so easy.  I already sit next to you.  All you have to do is not cover up your paper like the big fucking nerd you are.”

“Come on Allen, please don’t make me do this. What if we get caught?”

“We won’t get caught.  And if we do, you won’t get in trouble. Besides, of you don’t do it I’ll…”

“I know, I know, punch me in the vagina.”

“That’s right, big ol’ vadge punch will be coming your way.”

The day of the big test came and I was so nervous I felt ill.  I sat there contemplating putting the wrong answers down just so that Allen would fail.  But that would be denying my own intellect and I couldn’t do that.  Cheating I could do…but lying, somehow that was a problem for me.

So I let him copy all my answers until we got to the end of the test.  I covered my paper for the last two answers.  He kept trying to get my attention to tell me to stop.  But I refused to look his way.  Then he kicked me so hard that I yelped in pain.  That was when Miss Stein caught us.  She called us up to her desk and took a look at our tests.  She immediately knew what was going on.  She said she would be sending notes home to our parents.  I nearly died right there on the spot.  I couldn’t concentrate for the rest of the day.  I knew my mother would be upset that I cheated.  And I knew my father would be upset that I’d made Miss Stein angry.

At the end of the day, I was the last one to leave the class room. I knew that I’d have to retrieve the dreaded letter from Miss Stein.  And I knew I’d then have to give said letter to my parents.  I don’t know how long I’d been standing in the closet with my head down when she called me over to her desk.

“Penny, can I talk to you for a second?” she asked.  I nodded without looking directly in her eyes.

“Penny sweetie, although I’m disappointed in you for letting Allen cheat off of you, I’m not angry.  I just want to know why you would let him do that?”

Something inside me broke.  I could no longer contain all the emotions I’d bottled up for weeks. So I burst into tears and told her everything.  I told her about Allen’s threats and terror.  I told her about being teased by my classmates who thought I was rich and a smarty pants. And I told her I was scared to make her upset because I knew my father would be angry if I did so.

She sat quietly listening and when I was done, she wiped my tears away.

“Penny, sometimes life is tough, even for 9-year-olds.  You could have told me or your dad what was going on. I wouldn’t have been upset with you.  I only want the best for you.  And I’m sure your father wouldn’t be angry either.  He’s probably still sad because your mom’s not around.”

“You know about that?” I was shocked that she knew the ins and outs of my home life.  But my father spent so much time talking to her that it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all.

“Yes, your dad told me.  Your mother, she passed away some time ago, right? And your poor father, having to raise you and your brother on his own.”

“Passed away? Wha…what are you saying?”

Her face changed.  She went from looking at me with sympathy to sheer confusion. Then she looked at the door where my father was standing.

“Hey Penny, what you doin’ here so late? It’s not Tuesday.  I was outside waiting for you,” he said.

“It’s my fault Jack, I mean Mr. Williams.  Penny was helping me with the spring bulletin board and time just got away from us.” She lied.

“Oh, I see.  Well come on then Penny.  And I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?” he said to Miss Stein with a twinkle in his eye.

“No, I’m sorry Mr. Williams but we have the spring standardized tests coming up in a few months and all of us teachers will be coming in early to prep for administering them.  So your visits will have to stop,” she said. Then she looked me square in the eyes as she put the letter addressed to my father only, in her desk drawer.

When I left with my father that day I remember feeling so strange.  I didn’t understand quite what had transpired in those last few moments with Miss Stein but I knew that something had changed.  From then on everything would be different.

Since Miss Stein no longer wanted my father to visit her in the morning he would send flowers with me.  She would always take them with a smile, but it was the kind of smile you gave kids when they drew a crappy picture for you.  She also terminated his after school time with her.  And she removed me from the tutoring program as a way to limit my time with Allen.

Eventually the bouquets stopped and life was as normal as it could be.  My father had stopped bringing me to school at my request.  Instead my brother would walk me to and from school.  Somehow that seemed easier, better.

On the last day of school I snuck out and cut some lilies for Miss Stein.  I wanted to give her something from me to show her how much I loved being in her class.  I hid them in my bookbag so Bo wouldn’t see them and tease me about it.  And I kept them there until the end of the day so none of the other students saw them.  But when I pulled them out to present them to her they were wilted.  This set off unexplainable, uncontrollable tears.

“I just wanted to give you something! I just wanted to give you something from ME! Something he hadn’t touched! Something he hadn’t ruined! But it’s all ruined!” I screamed.

She grabbed me, almost impulsively, and pulled me into her.  She didn’t say anything.  She just held me as I cried.

After that year nothing was the same.  Miss Stein didn’t come back to teach.  My parents split up and Bo and I went to live with mom in an apartment.  My dad eventually got back on his feet.  But he never planted a garden at the house again.  There were no more lilies for him.

 

Black Sheep

Genre: Fiction-Short Story

Submission/Publication: Submitted to the Bellingham Review for the Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction Contest.

When we got out of the car at Aunt Yancy’s house the dust from the driveway that the station wagon had kicked up was still in the air.  I coughed. My sister Trixie rolled her eyes at me and told me to stop being so dramatic.

Before we reached the porch, Yancy came springing through the screen door.  She was easily 70 years old.  But she was quick and strong.  I guess you have to be when you take care of a farm by yourself.

She ran out and hugged my mother tightly.  Then she picked me up and swung me around like a rag doll.

“Kevin,” she said with a slight nod to my father.

“Yancy,” he replied with an equally cool nod.

She was still holding me, even though I was too big for anyone to be picking me up anymore.  Her grip was tight, almost suffocating.

“Hi Aunt Yancy,” Trixie said.  She was the only one who hadn’t been acknowledged.

“And hey there to you.  Aren’t just growin’ like a weed? We should probably get you inside.  It’s mighty bright today, and you can’t afford to get any darker.”  She put me down and ushered us into the house.

“You sure Trixie is gonna be OK here?” I heard my father say as the screen door closed behind me.

My parents were going on yet another marriage saving trip. They’d already gone on two.  Once to the Poconos and another time to Cape May.  Both trips lasted about a week.  Both times their honeymoon euphoria would last about a week after the trip.  But they’d soon start fighting again.  We never went on those trips with them.  They’d always drop us at a relative’s house.  We usually stayed with our grandmother, Dad’s mom.  But she died last summer.  Apparently, Aunt Yancy was the only one my parents knew that was willing to take in two kids for two weeks.

This was our second visit to her house.  The first visit was a few summers ago.  I don’t remember much about the visit except for the fact that I was scared of the ‘monster’ that lived in the back room.  Poppa, my mother’s grandfather, Trixie and my great-grandfather, had a stroke several years ago and occupied one of the bedrooms in the rear of the farm house.  Aunt Yancy, having never married or moved away, was the one stuck caring for him. I didn’t know much about him except that he was missing teeth (and toes thanks to diabetes) and had pretty foul mouth.  Thanks to his stroke you could only understand half of the insults he hurled from his bed.   The only other thing I remembered about Aunt Yancy’s house was that she made a mouthwatering lemon cake.  She gave me a healthy slice and said that I reminded her of the cake…sweet and yellow.  She started calling me Lemon Squeeze after that.

When our parents told us that we would be staying with Aunt Yancy and Poppa for a few weeks, both of us objected.  Trixie said Aunt Yancy was mean.  Aunt Yancy could be a little mean to Trixie and to Daddy.  But, she was always so nice to me.  It was Poppa that I was concerned with.

Mom assured us that Yancy loved us both very much and wasn’t mean, but we may be made to do chores and help her out with the farm.  As far as Poppa went, well “he’s too old to be too much of a nuisance. Just stay out of that back room and you’ll be fine.”

And so, here we were, standing in the middle of Aunt Yancy’s sitting room.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see the dust trail the station wagon made as it drove away.

The first few days went off without a hitch.  Trixie didn’t want to do anything other than read her books.  She’d brought along Are You there God, It’s Me Margaret, Superfudge, and at least three Babysitters’ Club books.  We were only staying for two weeks.  But Trixie could plow through a single book in less than a day.  All the books she read didn’t have any pictures in them and therefore, were of no interest to me. I was more entertained by drawing, coloring, making necklaces out of buttons, or any other doo-dads I could find laying around.  I once made a necklaces out of some frozen peas my mother had dropped on the floor. It looked beautiful.  It tasted disgusting.

The third day things changed.  Aunt Yancy woke us up early in the morning and asked us to help her with some of her farm chores.  Collecting the eggs and milking the cows were fun, at least I thought so.  Trixie was equally bored and grossed out by pretty much everything we did. And she wasn’t afraid to be vocal about it.  Aunt Yancy ignored her until about 11am when she sent her inside.

“Go on now gal.  Go read your books, or whatever it is your lazy black behind is content to do all day long,” Yancy said.  Trixie skipped off into the house.  I’m not sure if she didn’t catch the underhanded insult that Yancy threw her way, or if she didn’t care.  Either way, she was happy to be done with the dirt, hay, chicken coops, horse shit, and cow teats.

“Why I gotta stay out here and Trixie gets to go inside?” I asked.

“Because my little yella wonder, you can stands to be out here in the sun.  Your black ass sister can’t.  It’s about to be high noon and if she stay out here, she likely to be blue-black before I can say amen.”

I didn’t like that Aunt Yancy sent Trixie inside so she wouldn’t get a tan, partly because I didn’t understand her reasoning, but mostly because I’d tired of the chores and wanted to go inside myself.

That night after dinner, Aunt Yancy went into Poppa’s room to feed him and wash him up.  We could hear her grunting and straining in consternation.

“We should help her,” I said.

“Why? If she wanted help she’d ask for it.  Besides, Logan and Mary Anne just broke up and I just don’t know what to do with myself,” Trixie said, then took a sip of lemonade and went back to reading.

I wanted to help Yancy.  But Poppa scared me.  I’d only laid eyes on him once.  The last time we visited, I went to the bathroom, which was just past Poppa’s room.  When I came out he was standing in the doorway of his bedroom with a wet spot on his pajamas, screaming for Yancy to come clean him up.  I stood paralyzed.  I’d never seen a grownup wet themselves.  I didn’t think it was possible.  Or maybe I just never thought about it.  I couldn’t see past my own nightly accidents that would happen every time that our parents fought.  And I wasn’t used to people yelling.  Even though our parents fought all the time, they managed to do so in stern yet hushed voices.

I decided to be brave.  Brave meant walking down the hall and knocking on that door, that door, Poppa’s door.

I took a deep breath and started down the hallway.  I was almost there when I stopped in my tracks.  I could hear Poppa from inside, cursing and calling Aunt Yancy names.

“In here lookin’ like fuckin Heckle and Jeckle, bringin’ me that  nasty ass stew you just love to make.  It like you don’t know how to cook shit else.  And then you lets me lie here all damn day after I mess myself.  Just a sittin’ in my own shit all day!”

“Daddy, please!” was all that Aunt Yancy had in the form of a response.

I looked back down the hallway.  I could see Trixie, sitting in the same spot on the couch, buried in her book, unawares of anything besides MaryAnne and Logan’s broken relationship.  She wouldn’t be any help.

I bit my lip until I tasted blood.  You can do it Arlene, I said to myself before knocking on the door.

“What?!” Aunt Yancy and Poppa said in unison.

“I, um, I, Aunt Yancy, do you need any help?” I asked, praying that she’d say ‘no.’

“Who’s there?” Poppa asked.

“Daddy, remember I told you that Violet and Kevin’s girls were going to be staying with us?”

“No I don’t remember no sucha thing.  Because had you told me that you’d be having some god damn kids running around my house, I woulda told you to go to hell.”

I could hear Aunt Yancy let out a long sigh.

Finally, “Naw baby.  You go on and play.  You don’t want nothin’ to do with this business anyway.”

I tripped over my own feet as I ran back down the hall.

When Aunt Yancy was done she carried Poppa’s dirty linens down the hall and told us she was going outside to clean them.  She looked tired, and sad.

“In the dark?” Trixie asked.  “How will you be able to tell the poop is gone if you can’t see anything.”

“What did you say to me?”

“I just said that it would make more sense to do what in the mor…”

Trixie didn’t finish her statement before Aunt Yancy had landed a slap square on her cheek. She went flying off the couch and took down her glass of lemonade with her.

“You get your lil ungrateful black ass up!” she yelled.  But Trixie didn’t move.  She was stunned. “Get up now!  Since you so damn smart, you can come outside and clean this shit with me!”

I started to walk over to Trixie but she held her hand up to signal me to stop.  She’d somehow regained her senses and stood slowly.  She walked outside and Aunt Yancy trailed behind her.

They were outside for at least an hour. When they came in it was bedtime so we went to sleep.  That night Poppa wasn’t the only one who had an accident.

Our visit was different from that point on.  Aunt Yancy was two different people with Trixie and I.  With me, she was the ever doting, ever spoiling, sweet as pie, Auntie.  She let me color and play with all the old toys she had up in the attic. While I colored, or drew she’d bring me sweets she made especially for me.  She’d put them on this little plate with balloons painted on it that I loved.  I got to sleep as late as I wanted to and I only did the chores I liked.  By chores I mean ‘chore’ because the only one I liked was milking the cows. But all of my sister’s time was relegated to chores.  No more Judy Blume.  No more Baby Sitters’ Club.  Just hauling wash, cleaning, and helping Aunt Yancy tend to Poppa.  It was fun for a few days.  But that routine soon got old.  I felt guilty for all the privileges I was given, while Trixie was being punished for something she didn’t have any control over.

I tried helping Trixie with her chores.  But that backfired.  Aunt Yancy would yell at Trixie for being lazy and ‘forcing’ me to do work that ‘pretty little yella hands’ like mine should never do.

When my mother called to check on us, nearly at the end of their trip, Aunt Yancy reluctantly gave me the phone.  I didn’t tell her what had been going on for the past two weeks. But she could tell by my voice that something was wrong.  She told me to sit tight and they’d come and get us right away.

Our parents were staying at a bed and breakfast at least a half day’s drive away.  When I told Aunt Yancy that they would be picking us up early, she immediately blamed Trixie.  Her punishment was a round of extra chores. Falling at the end of the list was getting Poppa ready for bed.

I tried to help Trixie, but she wouldn’t let me.  She knew if we were found out it would only result in her getting in more trouble.  So I sat painfully by and watched her go through a series of chores that took her hours to do.

“Don’t worry,” she told me. “Mom and Dad will be here soon to pick us up and when they get here I’m gonna curse mean ass Aunt Yancy out.”

It made me smile…but only momentarily.  Her suffering would soon be over.  But suffer dug a hole deep inside of me and filled it with sadness.

Aunt Yancy had already washed up Poppa and fed him while Trixie was finishing up her chores.  All that was left was emptying the chamber pot and redressing his bed. Poppa was sitting in his arm chair muttering orders and obscenities at Aunt Yancy when Trixie went in the room.

“Alright now Trixie, help me put new sheets on this bed and then we’ll get Poppa in it,” Yancy said.

“It’s like havin’ two of my own nigra slaves,” he said with a laugh.  I was standing near the doorway, just out of sight.  But I could spy his toothless grin from  just beyond the door.

Yancy and Trixie worked silently and steadily.  The bed was made in seconds and Poppa was tucked in before he could say another mean thing.

Trixie went to grab the chamber pot and grimaced.  It was filled to the brim, itfs contents nearly spilling over the sides.  She walked slowly and deliberately through the room, careful not to bump into the bed, or the chair.  But as she was nearly in a clear space she tripped on Poppa’s slipper and spilled the entire pot on the bed. Silence fell upon all of us until Poppa finally cut through it like a machete.

“What the fuck is wrong with you!? You done spilled shit all over the place. Go get a mop and clean this shit up you black ass, good for nothing, shiftless, stupid, lazy nigger!”  But she didn’t move.  She couldn’t.

“Daddy…” Aunt Yancy began.  But he had a few choice words for her as well.

“And you.  You ain’t shit either.  You never was shit.  It’s like I can’t get no good help around here.  Your food is nasty.  You fumble me around like a rag doll.  I wish you wasn’t the only one of my children left to take care of me.  I wish I didn’t have to look at your black ass face every fucking day!”

Yancy sighed.  She closed her eyes for a moment.  And without opening them said to Trixie, “Trixie baby, do Aunt Yancy a favor.  Go on out the room, clean yourself up and wait for me in the kitchen.”

Trixie, finally able to move started to back out of Poppa’s room.

“And Trixie honey, close the door on your way out.”

We walked to the kitchen and could hear Poppa’s yelling soon turn to muffled grunts.  The bed was moving.  Things were being knocked off of the bedside table. And then, for a long time we heard nothing.

Eventually Aunt Yancy came out of the room and walked into the kitchen.  She was sweating and shaking.  She reached in the refrigerator and pulled out the lemon cake she’d made earlier. I initially smiled, her lemon cake was my most favorite thing in the whole world to eat.  But then I got sad again because I realized that Trixie would probably have none.

Yancy reached in the drawer and pulled out three forks. She handed one to me and then one to Trixie.  She didn’t say a word as she started shoving forkfuls into her mouth. Her hands were trembling and she was crying.

“Is, is Poppa sleeping?” Trixie asked.

“You could say that,” Yancy replied through a mouth full of cake. “Now don’t just sit there you two, dig in!”

We tentatively joined her.  But we were both scared that somehow this sweet, smiling being before us would return to her usual malevolent self directly.

We sat like that for what must have been an hour.  Then as we heard the station wagon turn into the gate Yancy broke the silence.

“It’s good that your parents are comin’ to get you.  Old Yancy ain’t too good carin’ for kids anymore.  I can barely care for myself these days. I suppose I was a little too hard on you Trixie.”  I think that was her form of an apology.

“You know girls, sometimes when people are sad, and hurtin’, they just don’t know what to do.  They builds up that hurt inside of ‘em ‘til it becomes a fist, a fist in place of they heart. Then they uses that fist to hurt others.”

“Like…like Poppa?” I asked. But I knew she wasn’t talking about Poppa.

She just smiled, leaned over and kissed Trixie on the forehead, and got up to open the door.

We didn’t find out until we got home.  But apparently, Poppa died that night, peacefully in his sleep.

The Curse

Genre: Fiction-Short Story

Submission/Publication: Submitted to the Fish Publishing for the Short Story Contest.

 

All this blood.  I never thought there would be so much blood.  Then again, I never thought I’d be here, like this, covered in blood, with the sheriff screaming at me, Asking what I’d done.  But I had to stop the curse somehow.  This was the only way.

How did I get here? I could blame him, my brother.  But it’s not his fault, not entirely.  He was bread and born in sin, as was I.  But he bore the brunt of the ungodliness.  And how unfortunate for me, that I was forced to live with all of his sins.

As I said, we were bread in sin, our mother having been so driven by her immoralities that she sought to lay with our father’s brother.  He too was of the immoral, or some would argue, amoral, sort. He gambled, he drank, and like our mother, hadn’t found his way into the house of the Lord for many years.  It’s a wonder why father stayed with her.  Thankfully, for him, the Lord saw fit to wipe Mother from this earth after she bore us, her final sin.  As soon as we’d been expelled from her body, she expired, she ceased to exist.  Although evidence of her sins would go on to live with us, her curse, the curse. And Father would have to live with that sin as well.

Father was a champion for Christ.  He lived his life according to the laws of the Lord.  And he tried his with all of his might to make sure that we lived that way as well.  He taught us everything he knew about the bible, which coincidentally was everything that his father knew about the bible, and his father before him.

But Brother, he, he just couldn’t manage to do anything right in Father’s eyes.  He was nothing like me.  I always listened, and headed every word that departed from father’s lips. Please understand, this isn’t a story of conceit.  I wish not to pump myself up, but rather to tell the truth, something I’ve always done.  Brother fought all things good and true.  That’s probably why father sat me at his right hand and Brother at his left.  He explained that God had done the very same with his two sons, seating Jesus at his right hand and Satan at his left.  He warned Brother that Satan didn’t remain at God’s side (good or bad) for long, and he was cast down to hell.

But for some reason, Father’s warnings didn’t seem to deter Brother from his evil ways.  And as a result, father beat him mercilessly for it.

The first memory I have is one of these beatings. We were just four or five, and I recall my Father attempting to teach us the only skill he had outside of reciting bible verses at will, the art of taxidermy. Stuffing dead animals was my father’s profession.  When he wasn’t in church, or home beating his bible, he could be found in his shop, which was adjoined to the side of our home, stuffing and mounting.  I remember being so excited that Father would let us touch his tools he’d warned us against playing with so many times before. Brother, however, was less than enthused.  He just sat quietly in the corner of the shop playing with a patch of hide that had been discarded.

Then suddenly, and inexplicably, Brother hopped up onto the table to get a closer look at what we were doing.  Father yelled at him to get down, but instead of complying he hopped up on a stool and grabbed one of Father’s tools. One might think that Father would be excited that his son, his bad son, was eager to learn something new.  But instead Father was enraged.  He grabbed the tool from Brother and screamed at him.

“How many times must I tell you that the left hand is for Devil’s work?! You never listen!  I wish you could be my good son! My good son always listens!”

It was true, I always listened.  But Brother, he never did.  He must have forgotten the rules.  And he would pay for it handsomely.  Father made us wait while he heated an iron in the stove that he used to burn refuse from his shop.  Then he took the iron and held to Brother’s palm, lest he ever forget again that we aren’t to use our left hand again and engage in the Devil’s work. He could look at the scar left by the iron and be reminded.

It was many weeks before Father brought us back to the shop.  This time, however, he spoke only to me while Brother sat in the corner, fingering his wound.  I listened very closely to Father.  And as time went on I became very skilled. And as I got older, Father even let me take over most of the jobs that came into the shop.

We were the only taxidermists in the county, a hunting county.  So one would think that business was plentiful.  But it wasn’t.  And Father struggled to keep us warm and well fed.  Father was concerned I would lose my taxidermy skills due to the lack of work.  But thanks to Brother, I had plenty.   Father let me practice on animals that had fallen victim to unforgiving passing trucks or discarded by hunters.  And Brother, he wanted me to be good, even if he couldn’t be.  So he would bring me animals to practice on.  He always ‘found’ them.  And they always had the same injury, a broken neck.  I thought it odd that so many creatures would befall the same fate.

As we got older, Brother picked up some skills from watching me.  He would quietly watch me from the corner as I worked.  And when father wasn’t around he would try his hand at taxidermy, his left hand of course.

One night, while we were up working late, he showed me something he’d been working on.  When he had the time to make it, I never knew.  We spent all of our waking hours together.  But his piece must have taken many pain staking days.  What he crafted was a beautiful spectacle.  He’d created a glove, a large monstrous beauty of a glove, out of pieces of hide and claws from discarded animals.  It was perfectly fitted to his own monstrous paw, and covered his scarred mangled left hand, a hand that had been so tortured from years of abuse from Father.

I marveled at it.  I always thought I was the one with all of the talent.  But no, Brother had become quite the artist.    If only Father could have seen it. Maybe he would change his mind about my brother. No, no that wouldn’t do.  I told him to never show Father his creation.  It would only anger him further. Instead he should only share his talents with me, which he did from that night on.

He would take me out on his excursions.  He showed me what he did during the witching hours, how he found specimen to practice on, how he procured them.  He was a hunter.  He would lie in wait until some unsuspecting creature would take rest, and then like a sprite he pounced on it; and with the quickest, almost gentlest snap of the neck, the poor being ceased to exist.

The first night I witnessed this, I was horrified.  But he assured me there was no sin in watching, only in doing.  And he was willing to be the evildoer so as I could remain good and chaste.

His clawed masterpiece soon became his witching tool.  He graduated from snapped necks to slit throats. There was a blood lust in him that couldn’t be quenched.  I knew this needed to stop, but what could I do? I was always the meeker of the two of us. And somehow this increasing evil made my goodness all the more holy and pure.  I needed him to be bad so that I could be good.

By the time we were in our teens I was barely sleeping.  I would go to school all day while he stayed at home and slept.  He never went to school.  He’d been expelled, not by the headmasters, but by father.  Father deemed him too bad to go to school, too evil to be deserving of education.   When I returned home I would spend hours doing school work, reading the bible with Father, or working in the shop.  And when father retired to bed, it was time for Brother’s witching.  I tried refusing his pleas for company.  But how could I deny my brother? He never wanted me to participate, only to watch.  It was as if sharing with me these deeds brought him the greatest of joys. And so, I went. And so, I watched.

While I was at school I missed him terribly.  I could think of nothing more than when he would take me out next, on one of his excursions.  I was almost obsessed with him, that is until she came along.  She transferred into my literature class halfway through the year.  She was beautiful. And though I didn’t know exactly what love was, I was pretty sure that was what I was feeling for her.  She was kind to me at first, allowing me to walk her home from school and carry her books.  But when Father caught me giving her a kiss goodbye one day, he dragged me into the truck and drove me straight home.  He read to me every scripture about heathenish women that he could find in the good book.  He beat me until I understood that she was evil and what I felt for her was lust, not love.  I started seeing her differently. And when she asked me to the dance I called her a whore in front of the entire school.

At first Brother didn’t understand why I’d stopped speaking to her.  He too thought her beautiful, having only my description to paint a picture of her for him.  But after father beat him for putting lustful thoughts in my head, he started to understand that she was bad for me.  And he vowed to make things right.

When he went from squirrels to dogs, I gave no protest. And when he ventured further into town and for nights on end made me sit in wait with him outside of her house, the girl from my literature class, I said nothing.  But when he dragged her from her bed I begged him to stop.  He said very plainly that he couldn’t stop, that he was doing this for me, and that when he was done punishing her for what she’d done to me, I could make her beautiful, respectable, deserving of the love I held for her. And so, I silenced my protests. And so, I watched.

He cupped her mouth with his gloved hand and snapped her neck.  Then, after dragging her back to the shed behind our house, he used that gloved hand to carve her up from the inside out.  He said he was cleansing her of her sins.

I asked him if he had done this before.  He seemed so skilled, clinical as he removed her womb.  He confirmed that he’d ‘practiced’ on a few others, the women in town who’d gone missing a few weeks before, he was responsible for their grieving families.  He told me if I looked closely in the stove in the shop that I could see their bones mixed in with the discarded bones of animals that father and I had worked on. I should have been horrified.  But I was mesmerized by his tales of murder and dismemberment.

Once she’d been thoroughly cleaned out, and his deeds done, I took her into the shop and made her whole again.  I’d never touched a dead body before that night, not a human one.  And I’d never touched a girl. But I did my best.  Not having the experience or tools for such a task I improvised.  I stuffed her with hemp and sawdust and wiped her down with formaldehyde.  I gave her face color with the paint we use on the fish.  It wasn’t perfect.  But I thought she looked beautiful, and he agreed.  We brought her back to her house and I laid her in bed, making sure to tuck her in bed nice and tight.  I gave her a kiss, my second kiss ever and my last kiss with her, before I heard him whisper from outside the window that we had to go.  The sun was coming up and Father would be awake soon.

When I slipped into my bed, and my few short hours of sleep were filled with dreams of her, of Brother and me, of what we did.

I was awoken by father’s screams from downstairs. The police had phoned and asked to speak with him.  They’d discovered her body.  And considering the way she’d been put on display, sought out the only man in the county who could have been responsible for such an act, Father.

I ran to him and found him sitting with his head in one hand and the bible clutched with the other. He asked me what I’d done. Why would he think me responsible? I looked at brother for a confession.  But he, who was now standing next to me offered nothing but a shrug.

I grabbed Father by the hand and lead him to the shop to explain.  I told him everything, about the animals, and the women.  He sat in shock offering no words, just a trembling lip and warm tears escaping from his eyes. I wanted him to see that Brother wasn’t evil, that he’d helped me.  He wasn’t evil, he was skilled and did for me the things I was too weak to do.  I pleaded with Brother in hopes he would defend himself. But he sat quietly in the corner of the shop saying nothing.

I was distraught.  I didn’t know what to do, I looked again to my brother, who was sitting toying with his clawed paw, distant as if he weren’t even there. I begged for him to help me.  A smile came over his face and he stood slowly and walked over to me.  He put his arms around me and gave me a reassuring hug.  Then, in a move so swift I barely saw it, swiped his gloved hand across father’s neck.  Father barely managed to gurgle out, “But my son…why?” before he fell to the ground.

The next hour we worked in silence, cutting Father up, feeding him to the fire, cleaning the blood from the shop.  Brother took off his glove and kissed it before tossing it into the fire as well. He knew that his deeds were over, that they needed to end.  But I knew that destroying the glove wouldn’t stop the deeds.  And somehow, he knew this too.  So without telling him to do it, Brother held out his left hand and I used a hack saw to cut it off. He didn’t flinch at all.  He didn’t wince one bit. But it must have hurt, it had to.

And so here we sit, waiting for the iron to be hot. Once I burn the wound, I think we’ll both finally be free. As I touch the iron to the place where his left hand once was I hear a blood curdling scream.  But it’s not him screaming.  He’s just standing there before me, smiling a knowing smile. He holds his finger to his lips and tells me to quiet down, and points to the window, from which the police can be seen approaching.

But before I can say amen, the door flings open and the sheriff runs over just in time to catch me before I pass out.  The last thing I can hear before everything goes dim is, “Son what happened to your hand?”

Confused I look down to see the seared flesh of my wrist.  I lift my eyes for some type of explanation from Brother, but he’s gone.  And somehow, I can smile, because if he’s gone, so is The Curse.

Dirty Dishes

Genre: Fiction-Short Story

Submission/Publication: Submitted to the Glimmer Train Press for their Family Matters Contest.

“When I was in the military…” was the opening to all my father’s many speeches.  I was the only one in our family that saw my father as this great orator.  My mother referred to everything that came out of his mouth as “another one of your father’s ‘stories.’” The word ‘story’ was always surrounded by air quotes, as if to somehow further invalidate what he was saying.  But she never vocalized this dig louder than a whisper. My sister Liza always found the most negative ways to portray our father.  Any time she was forced to sit through one of his lectures, which, for her, was often, she could later be heard telling her friends that he berated her, belittled her or harangued her. (I had to look that last one up.)  Liza was always being so dramatic.  And I didn’t understand why she chose to make things so hard for herself.  If only she listened, she’d never have to be ‘harangued’ again.

Sir, which is what we called our father, posted a monthly chore chart on the refrigerator.  Everyone in the family had tasks to complete.  Sir’s were mostly outdoors chores, mowing the lawn, washing the car, raking leaves, things that could be done on the weekends since he spent so much time at work during the week.  Our mother’s chores were mostly of the domestic nature, laundry, ironing, cleaning and cooking.  Liza and I got the rest of the chores, garbage, tending to the vegetable garden in the back yard, shining Sir’s shoes for work, and washing the dishes. Liza and I had an agreement, regardless of who’s day it was to do what, I would do the dirty chores (garbage and gardening) and she would do the others.  I was a tomboy so the opportunity to play in dirt was beyond exciting.  And toting garbage from the house to the bins directly beside it didn’t really seem like a chore at all.  Liza liked the idea of spitting on Sir’s shoes to shine them.  She was obeying his wishes and disrespecting him all at the same time. She said she liked doing dishes.  “It’s the only time everything in the world is quiet,” she would say.  Liza would stare out the window aimlessly, waiting for the water to get hot.  I used to wonder what she was thinking about.

But that all changed one night.  Liza had snuck out with her friend Deedee.  She tried to sneak back in but Sir was waiting for her in the dark.  As soon as she wrangled the chain lock off the door Sir turned on the lights downstairs.  I watched from the top of the stairs as he ripped her from head to toe.  She must have borrowed one of Deedee’s dresses.  It was too tight and too short and that certainly didn’t miss Sir’s observatory tirade. By the time he was done Liza was fuming.  She had tears in her eyes but she was too angry to let a single one drop.  She tried to push past Sir to come up the stairs but he stopped her.

“Where do you think you’re going? You forgot to do the dishes before you went out for your romp. That’s how I knew you were gone Liza.  I went up to your room to wake you up to do the dishes and saw that you’d left.  If it wasn’t for your sister telling us that you were out with that Deedee girl, we would have had the police searching for you.”

Liza was looking past him, up the stairs at me.  How she could see me there in the dark, I don’t know.  But she was staring straight into my face, glaring.

Sir turned Liza around and walked her back to the kitchen.  I could hear the water turn on and Sir say, “You have no respect.  When I was in the military…” I didn’t listen for more.  I just walked back to the room Liza and I shared and tried my best to fall asleep before she came up the stairs.

After that night, there was a clear line drawn straight down the middle of our family, Liza on one side, Sir and I on the other, Mama on the sidelines keeping her head low and her nose clean. Liza felt betrayed by me.  And she was done doing anything that Sir wanted her to.   What started as normal teenage rebellion on her part was amped up by 1000%.  Liza outright refused to do any of her chores.  She would pick fights with Sir every chance she got.  Her behavior began to strain her relationship with Mama too.  She couldn’t support Liza’s lack of deference for Sir.  And I surely wasn’t going to support it.  I loved and respected Sir too much for that.

As much of a problem as Liza was becoming, her role in our family as the defiant, rebellious teen, fit perfectly in our dysfunctional unit. We all had our roles and we played them well.

Mama, usually silent and stoic, tried her best to behave as if the upheaval in our house wasn’t happening.  She went about her wifely and motherly duties with robotic precision.  Food was always cooked.  Laundry was always done.  My father’s shirts were ironed and starched to his satisfaction.  We were dropped off and picked up from school on time.

I, on the other hand, tried my best to be like neither of them.  Neither defiant, nor robotic, I was engrossed in everything my father said and did.  I followed his orders to a T.  In addition to my own chores I started doing Liza’s just so that we could have a little peace.  When we’d sit for dinner and my mother would stare off into the distance at what I could only assume was a mirage of the family she wished she had, I would sit head in hand, staring at Daddy as he talked about his day.

I did everything in my power to be my sister’s opposite and I was praised for it. She was a real girl’s girl. Anything having to do with hair, nail polish, lipstick, pink, leopard print or boys, Liza was all over it.  But I didn’t care about any of those things, because Sir didn’t care about any of those things.  He’d always wanted boys and he was very vocal about it.  “You’re the son I always wanted,” he’d say to me, only half joking. So, I played with trucks and army men instead of dolls.  I ran around with the little boys next door and scrapped up my knees on the jungle gym.  I played every sport that our school district offered. I would have tried out for the football team if my mother didn’t put her foot down.

Sir and I had private jokes and asides that Mama and Liza weren’t privy to because they weren’t a part of our club.  It was then, in those days, that I was his biggest champion, and he mine, because we were best friends.

Sir’s role was that of the strict authoritarian.  He made the rules. If you followed them, like I did, then you could see him for the great man that he was…the way I saw him.  If you didn’t follow his rules, well, I guess Liza could tell you how well that worked out for her.

I’m not sure when I stopped being the son my father always wanted.  But somehow, on the eve of my 13th birthday I was starting to have an appreciation for the things my big sister had always held in such high esteem, being cute, and getting boys to like you.  I was starting to have friends my own age.  I wanted to hang out with them more, and Sir less.  I didn’t love him any less though, not even when he started turning cold towards me.  And I definitely didn’t stop doing what I was told.  I’d take a cold shoulder over the screaming fights he’d have with Liza, any day.

Our distance was amplified by the fact that Sir was spending more time away from home traveling for work.  A calm formed in our house when it was just Liza, Mama and me.   I treasured that time so much that I began wishing that Sir’s trips would last longer.  Liza said she wished he never came back at all. And even though we weren’t as close as we’d been, I felt the need to defend Sir.

“But Liza, Daddy works so hard so that we can have all this stuff,” I said pointing dramatically at the house surrounding us.

“Bug, I love you.  But you’re really fucking stupid,” Liza said.  “You have no idea who he is. Your beloved Sir is not on a business trip.”

I didn’t know what she was talking about and before I could come back with a stinging insult, Mama appeared in the doorway of our bedroom with a lazy, “That’s enough girls,” and then she was gone again.

How dare Liza say that I didn’t know Sir.  I knew him better than anyone.  I was the closest to him.  Her comments renewed in me a zeal to be my father’s protector and biggest advocate.

One night while Sir was out, we all sat on Mama’s bed playing a board game.  She was in a good mood, which was rare.  Whenever Mama’s spirits were high, Liza and I capitalized on it.  We’d cling to her until her mood reverted to its usual catatonic. As we sat playing the second game of the night, Liza noticed that the phone in Sir’s office had begun to ring. Mama got up and shut her bedroom door, her silent way of telling us to ignore it.

We tried our best to pretend that we weren’t hearing the phone ring repeatedly.  But Sir’s office was right next to our parents’ bedroom and the ringing went on for nearly a half hour. Finally, Liza couldn’t take it anymore and decided answer the phone.  Mama told her not too, but Liza has never been the listening type so she picked it up anyway.  When she did, the person on the other end hung up.

“Liza, just come back and play the game!” I yelled.  I could tell my mother’s mood was starting to change.  Her face turning to stone right before my eyes.

The rings continued for a few more minutes until our house phone began to ring.  My mother picked it up the first few times but was met with a dial tone.  Finally, when my sister picked up the phone the voice on the other end said, “Is your father there?”

Liza replied, “Don’t worry about where my father is.  I want to know why you hung up on my mother!”

“Why is your mother picking up the phone? I thought they were divorced,” the voice on the other end said.

Mama pried the phone from Liza’s hand ushered us out of her room.  We sat listening outside the door.  I could only hear one side of the conversation, but I soon realized that Liza had been right all along.  I didn’t know Sir at all. My heart sank with every bit of information I could glean from Mama’s conversation with the caller. The woman on the phone was Rose Cunningham, one of Sir’s clients.  They’d been in a relationship for over a year.  He told her he was divorced and that his daughters lived with him.  When she’d pressed him about meeting his daughters he abruptly ended their relationship.  She was hurt and wanted answers but he’d begun ignoring her calls in recent days.  So she began calling every number she had for him, which led to that night’s debacle.

I’d heard enough.  I got up and walked to our bedroom.  Liza followed.  Usually a gloater, Liza refrained from the requisite I-told-you-so, and just sat next to me on the bed.

“When I was little I used to be like you,” Liza started.  “Sir used to take me out on daddy/daughter dates.  He’d leave you home with Mama and we’d go to get ice cream, or to the park.  I loved it man.  Like really loved it.  This one time we went to the movies.  I think I was maybe five or six.  Anyway, when we got to the theater, he took off his wedding ring and put it in his pocket.  Some lady met us there.  And she saw the movie with us.  Then we went and ate hamburgers with her after.  He had his arm around her, like he used to do with Mama.  And he told me that we shouldn’t tell Mama about how much fun we had without her because she would get sad.  So I had to keep it a secret.  And I never said anything to her.  I didn’t really understand what was going on then.  But when I got older I started connecting the dots. I realized that he was still up to his old tricks.  I can’t respect a person like that.”

“What do you think Mama will do?” I asked.  It was the first time I’d thought about how our mother must have felt.

“Probably nothing.  She never does shit.  I think she’s always known.  She may be a bit out of it but she’s not a fucking retard.  But now she can’t ignore it.  I don’t know.  I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

Just then the door opened. Mama told us to go to bed and not talk or think about what happened ever again.  She said she would handle this.  Neither of us was particularly convinced that she would.  But we complied and went to bed.  I crawled into bed with Liza like I used to do when I was little.  And for once she didn’t object.  She even wiped away my tears while I cried myself to sleep.

We woke up when Sir finally came home from his business trip around 2am.  Liza and I laid there, awake but silent, waiting to see what Mama was going to do.  To our surprise, she immediately confronted him.  She was firm and steady in her approach.  I found myself feeling proud of her for not cowering before him, or pretending that the problem simply didn’t exist, as I’d seen her do before.

Sir waited for her to finish, not interrupting once. But when she was done talking he began to spin his tale.  Rose was a crazy woman, obsessed with him.  He would never betray us in such a way.  In fact, my mother should be ashamed for believing he could hurt her in that way.  By the time he was finished he’d made all the women in his life out to be lunatics.  But for the first time in my life I realized that he was the crazy one.  Only a crazy person would take their family for granted, lie to them, and pit them against each other, the way my father had.

Unwilling to listen to any more of the spin doctor’s tirade, Mama went to bed. Liza and I just laid there, unable to go back to sleep, listening to Daddy’s movements through the house. He walked into the kitchen, and yelled, “That little bitch didn’t do the dishes!”

Liza held me tight as we heard him stomp up the stairs towards our room.  When the door flung open Liza jumped out of bed, “Sir, I’ll do dishes. I’ll do them right now!”

“Liza go back to bed. Bug, get your ass up!” he screamed. It was Tuesday, my night to do the dishes.  With all the trauma happening that night I’d completely forgotten.

“I’ll do them!” Liza said as she stood in front of me.

“No, lay your ass back down, Liza.  Your sister needs to learn just like you do, to respect me and my rules.”

He reached past Liza and grabbed me by the arm and dragged me down the stairs to the kitchen. I started running the hot water and stared blankly out of the window as he barked at me.  “You’re getting just like your sister…disrespectful. When I was in the military…”

Virgin Mary

Genre: Fiction-Short Story

Submission/Publication: Submitted to the Mahalat Review.

When Elise first set foot on the grounds of Virgin Mary’s Home for Wayward Girls, she instantly felt unsettled.  There was something about the home that felt different than any place she’d ever been.  The air…it was the air.  It felt heavy, like it was bearing down on her.

Her chest tightened and she contemplated turning around and leaving.  But where would she go? This place was her parents’ last hope, her last stop in a long string of reformatories, boarding schools, rehabilitation centers and institutions for children with mental illness and behavioral problems.  No, there was nowhere else for her to be.   So, she took a deep breath and walked inside.

Virgin Mary’s was a large ornate building built at some unspecified time in the distant past.  It sat on 10 acres of land that included a few small farm buildings, a barn, a chicken coop, and a now empty stable that appeared to have burned some time ago.

Prior to being a home for lost girls, the building had previously housed a Jesuit school, an orphanage, and a convent.  Through all its forms, the home had always been run by nuns with the help of a priest from a nearby parish.

Its current leadership consisted of two of Christ’s brides. One, Sister Mary Evangeline, was new to the fold.  She’d previously inhabited the school as one of its wayward patrons.  But over the course of her sentence, she’d found her purpose.  The other sister was older, and had outlasted anyone currently living or working at the home.  A stern and frigid woman, she was feared by all she encountered. Sister Mary Eve, or Virgin Mary, as she was called behind her back, was a force that everyone knew better than to recon with.

As Elise walked through the mahogany halls on her way to the office, she could only think of the path that had led her to this place.  When Elise was just a baby, she was adopted by an extremely conservative and religious family.  Her parents were devout Catholics and along with her sister Claire, who happened to be their biological daughter, they spent countless hours involved in pious activities.  For as far back as she can remember, Elise never felt like she belonged with them.  She hated church. She never listened. And she was immediately branded as a willful and disobedient child. She often fought with her sister and was particularly opposed to sharing.  Though Claire was older, Elise wanted to be in charge. She was deemed haughty and punished for refusing to share her parents time or attention, with her sister. As they grew older their arguments often turned physical, with Elise being the violent perpetrator.

Her misconducts went from mischievous to downright criminal and her family soon grew unable to deal with her. They tried several types of institutions to house her prior to settling on Virgin Mary’s.  Their priest suggested they speak to Father Joseph, a visiting priest to their parish.  He worked closely with Virgin Mary’s Home for Wayward Girls and after hearing Elise’s story, felt that Virgin Mary’s would be the proper place to give Elise the structure she needed, to mold her, to provide her with purpose. And that’s how she found herself walking down these polished wooden hallways.

Elise walked into Sister Mary Eve’s office and found Sister Mary Evangeline instead. Evangeline was soft spoken and petite.  She had mousey features like Elise’s, except her face was devoid of the cakey mask of makeup Elise chose to disguise herself in.  Evangeline did Elise’s intake and explained the rules that governed Virgin Mary’s.  Most of the rules centered around keeping Sister Mary Eve happy, which was virtually impossible, but a goal that should be aspired to.   The remainder of the rules had to do with the various chores and duties all the girls had to do to ‘rehabilitate’ them.  The girls were worked day and night so they could learn discipline and to keep them so busy that they didn’t have the time or energy to even think about doing any of the evil deeds that had landed them there.

The first time that Elise laid eyes on Sister Mary Eve, the reformatory’s matriarch, was at the end of her first week there. It was Sunday, and time for mass. Elise walked into the chapel hall and sat near the back.  But before she was firmly planted in the pew she heard a voice that halted all movement.

“You. Front. Now,” the voice said.  It was neither a scream nor a whisper, but a firm, even demand.

Elise stood, refusing to look behind her and see the source of the demand.  She knew it was Sister Mary Eve.  Though they’d never met before, she was sure that the dark, foreboding presence had to be the infamous Sister Mary Eve that everyone had spoken to her about in hushed whispered warnings.

After sitting in the first pew, next to the other three girls who joined Virgin Mary’s that week, Elise waited uneasily for mass to begin.  She’d attended mass with her family for years at their church.  But something told her that mass at Virgin Mary’s would be different.  She was right.

The mass had some of the same main elements, including a priest to lead it-Father Joseph, the same priest who’d recommended Virgin Mary’s to Elise’s family. But it was a portion at the end, that was different than anything Elise had ever witnessed or experienced.

Sister Mary Eve, flanked by Father Joseph and Sister Mary Evangeline, called up all the new girls to stand before their congregation of the wayward. Elise, along with the three others, timidly stood and faced the crowd.  They were asked a series of questions about their past sins.  All except Elise were forthcoming.  She refused to share.  It was as if she were stricken mute.  Sister Mary Evangeline prodded her, but she stood gap mouthed and said nothing. Mary Eve, who was standing directly behind Elise said, “That’s fine.  She doesn’t have to speak if she doesn’t want to. One mustn’t be forced to go to Christ.”

Then there was one final request made of the new girls.  Denounce Satan and accept Jesus as your savior.  Once again the other three immediately relented.  But Elise, unable to speak said nothing. She thought she should comply, if only for show.  But the devil on her shoulder paralyzed her with silence. After this display, Father Joseph ushered out Mary Evangeline and all the girls, apart from Elise, who was still standing unable to move or speak.

Once the room was cleared, Mary Eve bent down and whispered in Elise’s ear, “Et elegit vos. Ad finem opera mea.”Elise didn’t know what those words meant.  She wanted to scream out.  But when she finally felt that her tongue had been released, what flowed from her mouth was, “Ego ut serviatis ei. domi ego sum.”Mary Eve let out a soft chuckle.  And once she’d left the chapel, Elise finally felt freed from her paralysis.  She wasn’t sure what had just happened.  But she felt determined to find out she suddenly felt so at peace after such a horrifying event.

Sister Mary Eve wasn’t always named as such.  Prior to taking her vows, she was an inhabitant of Virgin Mary’s, a girl named simply Eve, who’d come to the reformatory after finding herself pregnant.  She was from a small nearby town.  And like Elise, Mary Evangeline and many of the other girls who graced Virgin Mary’s doorstep, she was lost, an outcast, unwanted.  She was to stay at Virgin Mary’s for the duration of her pregnancy, and for an undetermined time thereafter to ensure her complete rehabilitation.  Her parents were assured by Father Joseph that Virgin Mary’s was where she belonged.

As time went by, Eve felt like she’d been called home.  She’d formed a kinship, a sisterhood, with the other girls living there.  But reformed, she was not.  She often was reprimanded by Sister Mary Agnes, the nun in charge at the time, for refusing to do chores or attend mass. And though the plan had always been for her to give her girls up for adoption, she decided that when she gave birth she would take her babies far away from Virgin Mary’s and raise them herself.

But the night her girls were born, Eve had just a few moments with them before Sister Mary Agnes took her babies away from her.  The weeks following the birth of her girls were a blur.  One night she was led by Father Joseph to the stable where Sister Mary Agnes sat tethered in the center of encircling candles.  He handed Eve a dagger and told her it was her right to punish Agnes for stealing her children.  Eve, without hesitation slit Mary Agnes’ throat.  Then together Eve and Joseph set the stable on fire.  The next thing she recalled was being woken up by another girl at Virgin Mary’s saying that the stable was on fire.  The girls formed an assembly line and successfully doused the flames.  But not in time to save Agnes.

She was forever bonded to Father Joseph from that moment on.  He vowed to help her get her girls back, if only she vowed to do his bidding. Something changed in Eve…or had it always been there.  She didn’t want to run anymore.  She decided to devote her life to her new Father.  And if she couldn’t be with her baby girls, maybe she could help other young girls like herself. Six months later she was taking her vows and with guidance from Father Joseph, taking over leadership at Virgin Mary’s Home for Wayward Girls.

Elise began spending all her free time, which wasn’t much, in the small library located in the west wing of Virgin Mary’s.  She was looking for clues about the Latin words she and Mary had uttered. One day while thumbing through a book, Mary Evangeline walked in and questioned her. Elise revealed everything to her, unsure of why she felt so willing to share with Evangeline.

Mary Evangeline smiled and sat down next to Elise.  She told Elise how she’d been brought to Virgin Mary’s under similar circumstances.  And the what happened to Elise during mass, she’d in fact experienced herself. She was also able to tell Elise what the Latin meant.

Sister Mary had whispered to Elise: “He chose you. My work is done.”

And the words that Elise uttered were: “I am Here to serve him. I am home.”

Elise was still confused.  She felt now, more than ever, that Sister Mary Eve, who should have been on the side of good, per her vows, was indeed evil. But Evangeline tried to quiet her fears.  She explained that every full moon, Eve would leave her room in the middle of the night and be gone for hours. One such night Evangeline followed her to the barn where she saw Eve and Joseph having a private meeting.  She said that what she saw that night pushed her to take her vows and dedicate her life to welcoming girls into the fold of Virgin Mary’s.

“Tonight is the first night of the full moon,” Evangeline explained. “Tonight you’ll be welcomed home.”

Elise felt uneasy, but agreed to meet Evangeline at the barn at the stroke of midnight. When she crept out onto the compound grounds, she felt a stillness in the air.  Not a single blade of grass was stirring.  She saw Evangeline waiting by the barn doors for her. Once there Evangeline grabbed Elise’s hand and led her inside. There they found Sister Mary Eve and Father Joseph standing in the center of a circle lit by candles. They were beckoned to. Elise was frightened but managed to somehow put one foot in front of the other until finally stopping before Eve. Eve reached out her hands and touched girls’ faces.

“My girls, my daughters, our family is finally complete.  And now we can grow our fold.”

Mary Evangeline grabbed her sister’s hand.  “Don’t you see Elise? We’re here for a reason.  We were always supposed to be together. And the Father has given us a purpose.”

“But you’re nuns!” Elise exclaimed pulling away. “You’re supposed to be brides of Christ!”

“We belong to him,” Eve said, looking lovingly at Father Joseph. “He’s searched high and low for girls who were discarded, girls deemed too evil to love, and he’s welcomed them with open arms.  You see, you and Evangeline passed the test.  When asked if you would renounce the devil you refused.  You showed where your allegiance lies.  It lies with the father who loves us so. And though you may not be my daughters by blood.  You’re my daughters by spirit, a very dark spirit.

“In exchange for his love Elise, we willingly do his bidding,” Evangeline said.

Elise looked at Father Joseph whose eyes smiled, and for a moment flashed red.

“And now we must thank the father for bringing us together by spilling our blood in symbolism of our dedication,” Eve said handing Elise a dagger.

“And what then? What happens if I decide to join you?” Elise asked.

“Then, my child, you will help us in our efforts to grow our fold. I will allow you to share my throne as we turn the wayward into warriors, warriors of darkness.”

“Share? Share?” Elise repeated as she looked at the dagger.  She knew then what she had to do.

Six months later Margaret Earl walked through the doors of Virgin Mary’s Home for Wayward Girls.  Despite her tough exterior she was frightened as she walked through the mahogany halls toward Sister Mary’s office. She’d heard rumors about strange happenings at the home and tried to warn her parents of this.  But they were so sick of her antics, and didn’t listen.

She opened the office door and was greeted by Sister Mary.  The stern woman explained the rules of Virgin Mary’s and what responsibilities Dianna would have.

“So where’s all the other nuns? I thought this was a convent,” Dianna said.

“It was a convent a long time ago.  And I used to have help here.  But tragically our visiting priest, Father Joseph, along with Sister Mary Evangeline, and my predecessor, Sister Mary Eve, were all killed in a fire several months ago.”

“But I thought you were Sister Mary,” Dianna said, confused.

“I am my child.  I’m Sister Mary Elise.”

Sandy

Genre: Fiction-Short Story

Submission/Publication: Submitted to TheGhostStory.com for their annual Halloween contest.

Sandy was my oldest and dearest friend.  She’s helped through some of the most horrible times of my life.  She’s always been there, even when I neglected her…the only one who understood me all this time.  And she came to me at just the right time.

She came to me by way of my pop-pop, a man of little means.  But during the treasured summers I spent at his house, he treated me like his princess.

At the end of the last summer I spent with him, he gave Sandy to me.  He said that she belonged to him when he wasn’t a little boy. And that when he wasn’t around, I could hold her close and think of him.  As my parents drove me away from his house, I had no idea that would be the last time I saw him.  He died that evening.

Sandy brought me peace in his absence. I talked to her about everything.  And sometimes, in those years that my parents fought, I only spoke to her. My silence frightened them.  They worried that my silence was a direct result of my grandfather’s death.  But I wasn’t sad about losing him.  I had Sandy.  She gave me comfort.  And whenever I felt sad, or alone, I’d head his words and hold her tight.  When I breathed in her matted fur I could still smell him, a combination of cigarettes and Old Spice.  No, my silence had nothing to do with him.  It was a protest.  If they were doting over me, trying to get me to speak, they weren’t focused on fighting with each other.

I soon realized that my silence wasn’t accomplishing anything.  My parents bored of my protest and resumed with their constant fighting.  Sometimes their fights would last into the night.  One such night, the fighting was so bad that it seemed to echo across our neighborhood, which was silent with the sleep of the families that lived nearby. Somehow I managed to fall asleep after crying myself dry. I was awoken by my own coughs, smoke had filled my room and I grabbed Sandy to go find my parents.  But as I set close to my bedroom door, I felt impelled to back away.  It was as if Sandy, who was dangling from my hand was pulling me towards the window. I opened it and climbed down the trellis.  When I stood back from the house I saw it was engulfed in flames. How I made it down the side of the house without catching fire myself, was anyone’s guess.

I listened to the voice in my head that said ‘Run!’ and I did just that.  I jetted barefoot across the empty lot of land next to us and rang the doorbell of our closest neighbor. The old man who lived there opened his door and looked past me to my house in shock.  He hurried me inside and rang for help.

My parents perished in that fire. But I didn’t feel alone.  Because I still had Sandy.

The next ten years went by in a blur.  I was shuttled from foster home to foster home, each experience more traumatic than the last. I always told the social workers what was being done to me. When Mrs. Ferguson twisted my arm so hard that it broke in two places I told the social worker.  But she didn’t believe me.  She said she’d been told I broke it climbing a tree and she didn’t want to hear any more of my ‘stories.’ So I stopped telling her.  I only told Sandy. It was during one my late night talks with her that I begged Sandy to help me find a way to get away from Mrs. Ferguson. The next day while I played with the children down the street, Mrs. Ferguson fell asleep with a lit cigarette in her mouth.  Her house burned to the ground with her inside. Luckily Sandy was tucked away in the backpack I carried everywhere with me, safe from the smoke and flames.

When I moved away to college I didn’t pack much because I didn’t have much.  All I really needed was Sandy anyway.  I kept my head down and studied. And as soon as I could, I got a single room.  I didn’t make any lasting friendships.  I didn’t even make acquaintances for studying purposes. And I’d convinced myself that there was absolutely no time for romance.

I lived a life of solitude throughout my undergraduate studies.  But when I was in my second year of my masters, I met him, Derrick.  He managed the coffee shop I frequented.  He always had my coffee waiting for me when I went in every morning.  And it was always made just the way I liked.  He’s said that he made it with love and that’s why it tasted so good.

I recall marveling at how serious he was in those days when we first started dating.  His mood much matched mine, I was always quiet, always a bit brooding.  But over time we softened each other.  I told him things I’d never shared with anyone besides Sandy.  And he listened without judgement.  He loved me without reserve.  He was a real live representation of what Sandy had been for me all those years.  So when he asked me to marry him, I gladly accepted.

We lived, just the two of us, in a small house that Derrick had been renting, for a few years.  But after he got a promotion to district manager, he felt we were in a good place financially to start talking about adding to our family.  I’d never thought I wanted to have any children.  My childhood had been marred by so much trauma and I couldn’t bear to think about bringing another child into this horrible world.  But my husband assured me that it was my traumas that would help to make me a better mother.

It was around this time that a lot of strange little things began to happen to Derrick.  He had accident after accident.  He fell off a ladder while changing a light bulb.  He tripped on a rug and fell down the steps. He passed out when the pilot light on the stove went out and he was trying to surprise me with dinner one night.  He might have died, had I not come home early unexpectedly. The accidents were taking their toll on him.  He stopped sleeping and was convinced he was cursed.  The lack of sleep started to make him go mad.  He was hallucinating. He said he saw things in the house move.  He’d find his keys in a totally different room than he thought he left them.  These hallucinations extended to Sandy.  He said that she would move when he wasn’t looking.  I tried to assure him that she was always in the same place that I put her, in the reading nook in our bedroom. “Honey she doesn’t get up and walk around,” he argued. “But she does move.  Sometimes her head is turned a different direction.  Other times her legs are more askew than before.  It’s small difference.  But she moves!”

I was convinced my husband had completely lost his mind.  But to appease him, and to prove to him that he must have been mistaken, put Sandy in the attic, locked the door, and carried the key on a string around my neck.  This worked for a time.  And Derrick returned to normal.  We were happy again and it was during this time that I got pregnant.

It was a difficult pregnancy.  I was sick morning, noon and night.  My doctor was concerned I wasn’t gaining enough weight. I was plagued with insomnia and when I could call asleep, I was gripped by nightmares. Finally, I resorted to old comforts. While Derrick was at work one day I unlocked the attic and took Sandy down.  I hid her under our bed and when Derrick fell asleep I’d take her out and cradle her under the covers so I could slumber in peace. Besides Derrick, she’d been the only other thing that brought me joy.  And as I awaited my impending motherhood, I needed her more than ever, for assurance, comfort and love.

Things were good for a while.  I had my two loves close to me again.  And I made sure to keep Sandy out of sight.  As long as Derrick didn’t see that she was out of the attic, everything would be fine.

When I went into labor early one morning, I stuffed Sandy under the bed before waking Derrick.  We spent the next three days at the hospital getting to know our new little one, Hope.  I’d never felt love like that before.  Not even with Sandy had I felt so deeply for another being.

We brought her home and as I was getting her settled in her nursery I felt Derrick’s presence in the room.  I turned to find him holding Sandy by her neck, terror in his eyes. He wanted to know how she’d gotten out.  But before I could explain, he vowed to rid us of her once and for all.  He didn’t want to allow her make him lose his mind again.  He wouldn’t let her ruin our family. So he rushed down the stairs and buried her deep in the trash bin behind our house. I watched him stand over the garbage with an accomplished look on his face.  I wanted to rescue her.  But he was right.  I didn’t need her anymore.  I had everything that I never knew I wanted in life.  I finally had a family.

That night as we readied for bed, I gave him a kiss on the cheek and put my arm around him.  I promised him things would be different from now on.  I closed my eyes feeling hopeful, albeit a little sad. My truest friend was gone, reduced to trash.  But the despair I’d felt my entire life seemed to have all but disappeared with the birth of my daughter.

When I opened my eyes from my slumber, I was no longer in my bedroom, but in a different room that I soon realized was a hospital room. My first thought was that I’d dreamt the previous day’s experiences.  I looked down and confirmed that I’d definitely given birth, my belly being much less swollen than it had been in previous months. But I also noticed that my arms and legs were bandaged.  And it was then that the pain set in.  My entire body hurt.

A doctor came into the room and I attempted to ask him what was wrong, but I was too weak.  He checked my chart, and seeing I was awake told me what happened.  As the words flowed from his lips I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’d been unconscious for over a week.  There was a fire in my home that began in the rear of the house in a trash bin that a lit cigarette had been thrown in.  My Derrick and Hope had perished. And I’d been found badly burnt lying on the back patio, clutching a bear. I laid there crying silently.  So the doctor walked over to a chair in the corner where Sandy now sat and brought her to me.  He offered his condolences and tucked her under my arm and promised to return soon to check on me.

The odd occurrences, the doubt, and the confusion that had plagued Derrick and I was finally gone.  My tears dried and I understood that I’d relied on Sandy all these years, but I wasn’t there for her when she needed me. It should have been just her and me all along.  This was my fault.  Derrick and Hope were gone because I dared to believe I deserved to have more than one true love. I looked down at Sandy and she turned to look up at me.  As I exhaled one last time, I saw her smile.

(This is the real Sandy, and the inspiration for this story.)

The Semester

Sable Foster is a fashion design major, in the final semester of her college career. At the beginning of the semester a horrific event threatens to completely derail her life. She spends the rest of the semester trying to put the pieces back together or risk being swallowed alive by all of the turmoil in her life.

You can buy a hard copy for $14.95 USD, 9.95 GPB, or $12.95 EUR. You can buy the Kindle version for $7.49 USD.

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Amazon: I get 30% royalties.

Kindle: I get 7% royalties.

Thanks for your support and happy reading!

Love,

Lo

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