Web Site: Official Website of Beth Fehlbaum, author of Courage in Patience
A little girl hides from her abuser, until her grown-up self sets both of them free.
The clothes on the lower rack are arranged too perfectly. Her red Christmas dress with the white bodice trimmed with black ribbon-- and the silk rose pin at the neck-- the one that always makes her chin itch when she looks down-- is splayed in a way meant to cover up the space between the racks. She hopes he doesn't notice. She hopes he doesn't open the door, but if he does..she hopes he doesn't notice that the clothes look too perfect.
Oscar-the-Grouch house slippers from when she was four-- no way they fit now but she can't bear to let them go-- are at odds with one another. She was so disappointed when she got Oscar instead of Ernie. But she didn't say anything. She acted like Oscar was her favorite. It's what she does. She.."acts like." Now she wouldn't trade the Oscars for anything. They remind her of a time when she was happy and free. She thinks.
The right shoe stands guard. Oscar's fierce eyes watch the door, too, but the left is nowhere to be found. Ah. There it is. In the dark. Behind the clothes. On the floor. With her. She rests her head upon the faded green fuzz of Oscar's head and rubs her cheek back and forth, back and forth on the body of the shoe. Its softness reminds her of a long-gone favorite blanket. She closes her eyes-- or does she? In the pitch-blackness of her cave, she has to blink to know if her eyes are open. Yes, yes they are. Wide open and watching the slightest hint of light, or the tell-tale glimmer of shadow beneath the door. She rubs her eyes and wonders what time it is, and thinks about a math test she has tomorrow.
The clothes on the lower rack are arranged too perfectly. They allow no circulation of air and when she does emerge, and she will emerge, eventually, the coolness will strike her and feel like relief. It's an illusion. There is no relief.
She hears her bedroom door drag along the carpet, and her eyes widen. She crosses her arms more tightly across her body and feels herself turning to stone. The door. The door. Blackness in the closet. Stifling ink. She wishes she could become part of the blackness. Will he hear her breathing? Her heart pounding in her ears?
Green and yellow butterflies atop lace-trimmed yellow sheets. Plastic butterflies-- they're supposed to look like wicker but they are plastic-- are the only witnesses, and they watch every night from their perch above her nightstand-- the one where she keeps her diary and writes about what her stepfather does to her. She hopes her mother will find it. She hasn't yet, although the time she had a dirty novel in her drawer right next to her diary, her mother did find it and told her, "I don't appreciate you reading this shit." She writes about sex in the diary; she reads about it in Judy Blume's Wifey.
Her high-off-the-floor bed-- the antique bed frame they found at a flea market for five dollars-- and she and her mother sanded the layers and layers and layers of paint off of it. Did any one who slept on that frame before do what she does? Did any of them seek refuge in the dark? Did they hide, too?
A perfect little girl's room. Antique furniture. Her armoire, another flea market steal, paid for with elbow grease and determination. Stripping, stripping, stripping layer after layer of history from it until the wood, bruised but still okay-looking, was discovered.
Tongue-in-groove drawers that fell apart if she overstuffed them with the clothes she wanted to wear-- t-shirts that were genderless and boxy baggy shapeless pants. Leopard-print panties and see-through jobs with little roses at the hips. Pajamas like kids wear just take up too much room. Silk and lace takes up a lot less room. You've got the body of a woman so you may as well dress like one. "I gave her all my boobs. I got nothin'."
The mattress creaked. Was he sitting on her bed? Was he running his hands over her covers, trying to unroll her even now? Had he discovered her pillows in her place? She feels nothing. She is nothing. She is blackness. She holds her breath. She waits.
I open the door; it drags along the carpet like it always did. It has been years since I have been in this room. Goddamn but it looks the same. Stupid plastic butterflies and cheap roll-up window shades that spring up as if possessed by a demon. If I had known the phrase, "What the fuck?", I would have said it when those stupid shades sprang up without warning.
The desk chair with the green paint on the seat cushion sits crookedly in front of the white desk, the only relic of the first bedroom set. Boy, Mom was angry when she saw that paint. I was mostly upset because the paint got on a football jersey Aunt Sandra gave me for Christmas. Loved that football jersey. But I wouldn't wear it because every time I saw it, I felt bad all over again for spilling paint on it.
What the hell was a tomboy like me doing with a prissy room like this? This place wasn't ME. Football, soccer, riding my bike…swimming, climbing trees, writing stories, playing "War" and "Ghost in the Graveyard"..reading Nancy Drew and Black Beauty and Lassie and the Hardy Boys and Judy Blume and Readers' Digest condensed books with cool stories like Jaws in them…grown-up novels…and books about medicine and trying to figure out what they were doing to me when they operated on my eyes so many times… this room, with its nauseating baby-shit-yellow walls and fucking fake insects on the wall..that's not ME.
The windows are open and I can hear crickets. God, I hated sleeping with the windows open. I was so afraid that someone would come in. "I'm not spending money on goddamned air conditioning when we have that pool in the backyard. If you're hot, jump in the pool.
"You're such a chickenshit. Nobody's gonna come through your goddamned window. Now shut up and go to bed."
Where is she? I sit on the edge of the bed and pull back the blankets. I wonder if he ever fell for the pillow trick. Doubt it.
"The clothes. The ones on the lower rack. They're arranged too perfectly," I say. I am standing in the doorway of the closet. "Oh, wow. Oscar," I say. I bend down and pick him up. I remember how I wanted Ernie.
There's my Bionic Woman doll-- I lost one of her little bionic chips the first day I had her, and I felt so ashamed about it that I never told anyone-- she's on the floor just beneath the puzzle-poster of Donny Osmond. It's on a big piece of green posterboard. He went to "live" in the closet when the streetlight through the window kept catching exactly on his eyes-- and waking up to see Donny staring at me was..too much. I lost one of the pieces of his puzzle and colored in the space with a dark purple marker. But everytime I saw that poster, I saw the missing piece. Felt bad about that, too. Mom and I actually did that poster together. I would get frustrated and try to force pieces together. I think she did most of it after all. Seeing that missing piece-- that was in the daytime. At night, it was all about his eyes. How can somebody that cute look so fucking scary in the dark?
"Your feet. They're obvious. You have them bundled up so perfectly that I can see your feet. And..you need to make yourself flatter. Do the tornado drill position, you know, head down, kiss your ass goodbye. There's a gap, too. I can see the top of your head-- yep-- just saw you move. Gotta keep still when he opens the door."
I move the long red Christmas dress and its hanger makes a screeching sound on the metal rack. I move the clothes on the lower rack until I can see her. She is so covered in sweat, it looks like she just got out of that stupid-ass swimming pool.
"You can stop with the tornado drill position now…oh, you have? Well, goddamn, girl, sit up straight. Believe it or not, slouching like that doesn't do a fucking thing to make those things disappear. Just makes you look retarded. Or hunchbacked.
"Hey. Hey. Look at me. Yes you can. Yes you can. Just try.
See? That wasn't so bad, was it? Tell you what. Come out of this closet-- it's givin' me the creeps, for God's sake. I'll bet Donny Osmond shudders when he realizes he actually posed for a picture in that stupid purple hat. What do you think?"
I reach out my hand to her. Her arms are so locked up that she can't move. I step closer to her and bend down, and say, "Is it okay if I touch you? I'll bet nobody ever asks you that, do they?"
She shakes her head. The movement is tiny. Almost imperceptible.
"Do you want to come out of there? Or do you want to stay in here and sweat?"
Her arms tighten and she stares at the carpet.
"Trust me when I tell you it's a lot better outside this fucking closet."
She narrows her eyes at me.
"Oh. I forgot. You don't trust anybody. Right?"
She stares at the carpet. Then her eyes widen and she is staring through me, and behind me. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I sense that he is behind me.
I see how afraid she is, and it makes me more angry than I have ever been in my life. I whirl around and find myself face-to-face with my stepfather. He stands before me in his white BVDs.
"Who are YOU?" he sputters while looking around for something to hit me with. "What are you doing in my daughter's room?"
"Your DAUGHTER?" I yell. "Your DAUGHTER? She is not your daughter. She is your plaything. She is your entertainment. She is what you use to satisfy whatever fucked up thing there is inside of you."
He begins to shrink. I step forward. He steps back. I am screaming at him. "Who the hell do you think you are? Do you have any idea what you are doing to her? Do you care? Do you have any idea how fucked up you're making her?"
He stumbles back again and falls onto the bed. "How do YOU like it?" I scream. "How do you like feeling vulnerable? You're a sick mother fucker and I hope you burn in hell." He is trying to cover himself and I pick up the child-size baseball bat that she got at a Texas Ranger's game on a Mother's Day. Before her mother met this man. The man is becoming smaller. But not quickly enough. He tries to talk and I take out his face, first. There is nothing he can say to me to soothe my anguish. He has stolen too much from me and I hate him.
I beat him. I beat him and I beat him and I beat him until he is a hole in the bed. There is nothing but blackness now. I turn around and the girl is gone. I am standing in a pine tree forest and the trees are so tall, I cannot see the tops.
I reach to the sky with my fingers, and I don't slouch at all.
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|Reviewed by luna mosley
|why would her brother have let it go on so long? the part about the trees seems kinda random....|
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|Powerful story, Beth; very well penned! BRAVA!
(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Tx., Karen Lynn. :D