CCW Finalist, Fiction
I hate this. I hate this. I hate this.
My head hurts and my stomach aches and all I want to do is sleep and never wake up. And I would if it wasn’t for this poor little waif walking at my side. Our bare feet have become chilled from the dark dirt floor of these woods, and with an inward sigh I pick up my daughter and continue on this hard trek forward. We only have on our simple brown dresses with pockets on the front which reach to our knees and short sleeves that leave no protection from sharp tree branches that snag and tear at tender flesh.
On my right hip clings my little one as she keeps her thin arms clutched around my neck. Ducking under another low brown branch the only sound in this vast forest is our chattering teeth against the dawning frigid cold. Bo keeps her right thumb lodged between three-year-old baby teeth. Her eyes are dark and huge like Vincent’s but she has my long faded blonde hair. Okay, keep walking ahead. Right foot then left foot then right again. Keep repeating.
“Mama,” a little voice whispers in my right ear. “Am scared.”
“It’s okay. Am here, Bo.”
“Okay, but am still scared.”
She lays her head back down on my shoulder and my grip tightens as a new burst of urgent energy warms my stone feet and takes us further away from danger. Behind us is the fear that answers to the name of Vincent. It towers 6’4” in bare feet, has serious brown eyes and strong hands that haunt my body. I pause next to a fallen log covered in moss and crawling bugs. Bugs I remember bugs and how my older brother liked to hide them in my doll’s hair. His name was. He had freckles I think.
Go! my mind suddenly screams, don’t think don’t remember just walk faster. I listen. Climb over the rotting log and feet land in muddy water filled with crumpled leaves. Keep moving through the massive tree giants away from danger. Before long my hip is in terrible pain and I have to shift Bo to my other hip despite her wails of protests. We have been walking so long our feet are caked in dried dirt and covered in thorn scars.
That latest memory repeats in my mind and quickens my already frantic pace.
* * *
“It’s so dark!”
Vincent laughs at Bo’s reaction to wearing sunglasses for the first time. They are Minnie Mouse shades with bright red on the side and he says that he bought them while at Disneyland in California. We are lucky because he loves us so much and waited until Elisa and the kids were asleep before he was able to sneak out and shop at a corner 24-hour tourist shop near the hotel.
“Don’t you like them?” he growls.
Eyes on the cement floor, I nod.
“I even bought your favorite,” he says, “Daisy Duck. You used to say Disneyland would be one of your favorite places to go. I thought even if the sunglasses are for the outside that you two might enjoy them in here.” Bo giggles and hugs his long legs. “Thank you, Daddy,” she says.
He leans down and kisses her pale check with kind affection. She smiles, then retreats to her small corner of the room with her two dolls and big Angel Baby. My own eyes have taken flight around our home. I am standing next to the queen-size bed that sits in the middle of the room covered in pillows and various colored blankets. To the right is a closet that contains my dresses and outgrown dresses that I pass down to my little girl, and white nightgowns. To the left is the built-in bathroom with pink sink and old-fashioned iron-clawed tub. Bo, like me, enjoys bubble baths.
My silence has been too long. I haven’t thanked him quickly enough for the sunglasses and with a deep growl, Vincent slaps me across the face. The strength of his anger sends me sprawled on the cement floor and before I can blink, he yanks me up by the hair and delivers another slap and another. Fingers dig into my cheeks and draw blood. Bo whimpers in her corner.
“YOU said you wanted to go to Disneyland when you were nine, right? I take time out and buy you something special and all I get is SHIT!”
I attempt to thank him but my voice is a low whisper and not good enough. He backhands me against the head and before I can stumble, throws me into the cement wall. I slide down with a quiet thud. My eyes are screaming as I chew on another split lower lip flowing with dark water. Through blurred eyes I see Vincent tower above me and with a sharp quick kick to my stomach I curl into a ball. My arms are torn upward as Vincent jerks me onto the big bed and covers his large frame against my tiny one. My ribs are punched for the thousandth time and Vincent’s eyes change from anger to wild lust...
Dress and panties torn off, large hands clutch breasts, he is in frenzy. His own clothes tossed aside and with one quick sharp thrust he is once again inside me. The bed frame makes a loud continuous whack! He pounds into me. Calling me those other women’s names again. I know my place and lay still. No crying or screaming. Always hollow. With a loud grunt Vincent shudders, comes, and lies still above me. He eyes are closed and his face holds a peaceful look.
I feel a light touch and turn my head right.
Bo looks down at me with sad eyes.
But when her father suddenly rolls off me and sits up, she takes flight into the bathroom. Grumbling, Vincent yanks on his clothes and without a backward glance unlocks the iron door at the end of the room. I hear him mumble, “Ungrateful bitch.” Then the door shuts silently and locks.
My hands shake as I pick out a different dress from the closet and button the front. My breath hisses as I slip into new underwear. Sore, aching, cold, and slightly shaking I run a hand through my long blonde hair to fix it. Take a deep breath and walk into the bathroom. Bo is curled into a ball in the empty bathtub with her thumb in her mouth. I slowly kneel and gently rub her back and hum a forgotten childhood tune. Maybe five minutes later she opens her eyes, which are red from crying. Seeing my newly bruised face Bo sits up and new tears fall.
“Poor Mama,” she says. I climb into the tub and hold her in my lap with tired arms. She looks up and gently touches my swelling face. “Poor Mama,” she says over and over as my own tears fail to fall.
* * *
I pull out of my remembrance trance in time to avoid hitting a dark tree. Pause and realize the sky has gotten a bit brighter than I remember and glance backwards... Soldiers of tall mass and low branches are all I see. Maybe a roaming deer or dog howls to the left. In front of the tree is a large dirt slope. My ears pick up a different sound below us and I venture a few steps forward. “It’s a car,” I say.
Bo pulls her thumb out enough to reply, “What’s a car?”
Instead of answering I set her down on a nearby tree stump and tell her to wait. She pouts, thumb out of mouth, and crosses her little arms. “Wanna be with you, Mama.”
“It may not be safe.”
“Wanna be with you.”
“What if it’s Daddy?”
Her eyes go wide and she stops talking and instead pulls her thin pale legs under her brown dress and hides her head. I tell her to stay still and silent and will be right back. She doesn’t make a peep. A few hurried steps and I see the car is at the bottom of the slope blaring music. The car looks safe but I take a sharp breath in realizing that it could be like before and be Vincent. Please, don’t be Vincent, I pray silently, please don’t be him.
The front door is wide open as is the passenger side door and the paint is yellow not grey. A woman with pink spiky hair is leaning over the open hood and singing along to the music. In her nose is an earring. How weird. She reaches for a book and drops it. Picking it up she sees me and yelps. “What the fuck? Are you crazy just standing there and saying nothing? Good lord, you could have given me a heart attack or something. I thought you were Bigfoot.”
She is yelling but her face is kind and a smile resides on her lips. I find myself whispering and she takes a step forward. I flinch and step back.
“Hey, I was only kidding about Bigfoot, honey. I hear he’s up more north than this and—where are your shoes and jacket?”
Before I can reply she takes off her own large jacket and wraps me in it. It’s so warm and she has such a kind face that I struggle to find my voice. She says her name is Ana and her dumb car was giving her trouble again but it’s okay now. She wants to know my name.
“I bet it’s a pretty name for a pretty girl.”
My hands are starting to shake so much that she wraps them into her soft gloves and rubs them fast.
“You’re half frozen!”
She grins, “Yes, your name, honey. I am Ana and you are?”
My name. My name is. I know the name of Vincent and Bo and Vincent’s wife Elisa and their four kids but my own name is . . . my name is. I am called. “Mama!”
Bo is running down the dirt slope at top speed and throws herself at me. My arms encircle her and pick her up inside the large jacket. The kind woman called Ana has taken a step back and her mouth forms a big O. “She just called you Mama,” she manages to say. I nod. Kiss Bo’s cold cheek.
“But you can’t be no older than twelve. My kid’s sister is twelve.”
I finally find my voice and say, “Am fifteen. She’s mine and she’s three.”
Ana nods and gives a nice smile.
“Okay, then. Well. Hello, aren’t you a little cutie.”
Bo hides her face in my neck.
“That’s okay. My sister Heather was the same at that age. But I bet you have a real nice name with those pretty doe eyes.”
My little one shakes her head and says, “Ain’t ’pose to tell.”
I rub her back and tell her it’s okay. This is Ana and she is nice. It’s okay to tell. But she shakes her head again so I take a deep breath and tell this Ana lady that her name is Bo and my name is— Sharp fingers dig into my neck and my eyes are suddenly watering as Bo shrieks into my ear, “Don’t tell, Mama. Daddy says NOT TO TELL!”
I am stumbling backwards, past the yellow car and Ana’s shocked face, and land in a heap on the hard dirt forest floor. I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t— Air! Groaning. New air fills my lungs as Ana is holding Bo despite her fierce kicking and hands attempting to claw the lady’s face. Bo’s high-pitched screams add to my faded bruised ribs and my face is wet with fresh tears. I can’t remember the last time I cried. Now tears are flowing and hiccups are escaping as I watch Ana hold Bo closely and whisper kind words into her ear. Ignoring the wildcat that slowly subsides to a crying little girl. Minutes pass and then Ana joins me on the side of the road and places Bo back into my shaking arms. I am so ashamed.
“It’s okay,” says Ana, as if reading my mind. “Not only do I have a kid sister, but I have two little terrible brothers. Twins who are five.” I nod, holding Bo so close she might be back inside me safe and sound. “Am sorry, Mama.”
“Am really sorry, Mama.”
I kiss her cheeks and hug her tightly to me.” I know.”
Ana glances around the empty forest road and without a word herds us into the backseat of the car where she lets me dress Bo in a huge sweater with the letters UCLA on the front, socks for us both, and covers us in two heavy blankets after buckling us in. She says her car is good to go and that she is going to turn around and head back to her older brother’s house. He’s a policeman and really nice. He has a wife and four kids. My heart starts to beat a little faster—
She starts the car and looks back at us in the rearview mirror. Her blue eyes cloud for a moment, then clear up.
“It’s Lincoln. He wouldn’t harm a fly, honey.”
She pulls out a wallet and shows me a family photograph of smiling faces. All the people have blonde hair and blue eyes. I nod, filled with shame and guilt. “Oh, honey. Someone’s hurt you really bad, huh? For a long time too I bet. But don’t worry, I am here and I won’t let anyone or thing hurt either of you again.”
Her kindness and honesty makes new tears form and before I know it she has turned the car engine off and is like Bo holding me close as my heart breaks and lets lose all those hidden tears and pains. When I am done grieving I glance down at my small daughter. She is slumped against my back, fast asleep with her thumb as always in her mouth. Ana starts to stand up, but I grab her glove-free hand to her surprise. In a shaky yet strong voice I speak clearly for the first time in years.
“I don’t remember my name. I only remember where Vincent kept me.”