The Living Daylights
"I warned you!" she screamed. "I warned you not to go traipsing around in the fields when you have work to do!"
Sarah's mother was unable to contain her anger. She reached for the strap hanging by the old refrigerator.
"I'm going to show you what happens to little girls that spend their time daydreaming instead of getting their chores done."
Sarah's legs quivered. She had never seen her mother this mad before. She couldn't speak-couldn't run away. The moment rushed forward and she was unable to stop it. It was as if her legs had been dipped in cement, her muscles turned to string, her bones to glass.
"What duya think, child, that running a farm is easy? That we've got nothing better to do than to laze around all day?"
Sarah's heart jumped like a toad in her chest. She tried to find her voice, but it came out dry, cracked and weak--electrified with fright.
"I'm sorry, Momma. I'm sorry!"
"Oh, no...that's what you always say. But sorry ain't gonna cut it this time."
Sarah heard something different in her mother's voice; something that showed on her determined face like a final decision that had already been made. She stormed forward, jaw clenched, riding a wave of fury, and then grabbed Sarah roughly by the arm. "This time I'm gonna beat the living daylights out of you. Duya hear me? The living daylights!"
Her mother's arm rose, and Sarah saw her father's belt dangle momentarily in the air like a dead snake.
"Momma, please...no!" Dumbfounded, Sarah gasped and prepared for the inevitable.
The whistle of the belt through the air was like a magic incantation that slowed the flow of time, stretching each second into minutes of prolonged agony.
The sting of the first blow watered her eyes and brought her to her toes as if she could rise above the pain. She tiptoed like a ballerina; circled around her mother, yet was unable to dance away.
She thought then that it would be over, but her mother's grip tightened on her thin arm, bruising it. Instinctively, Sarah's hand shot out behind her, trying to block the next blow.
The belt caught a part of her wrist, raising a large, ugly welt on her arm. Tears flooded past her cheeks, ran down her neck. She bit so hard on her lower lip, she tasted blood.
Her breath caught in her throat, and the room reeled as her eyes spun like pinwheels. She felt her backside swell with blood, and she could actually sense the heat rising up her spine.
Yet still, it wasn't over.
Tiny dots of color twinkled in her vision. They seemed to draw together and form a shape as Sarah swooned, her knees buckling beneath her.
The blow landed across her back, bringing a new kind of pain on fresh, unscathed skin. Sarah curled into a ball on the cool linoleum floor, panting for air like a beaten dog. Her eyes were out of focus, blank. Somewhere, far away in her head, she could see herself running through the wheat fields attempting to capture fireflies that fluttered just out of reach. Oh, what pretty little lights, she thought. Living daylights.
Sunshine, filtered through the yellow curtains of the kitchen window, fell in delicate patterns across the floor, as if everything had been draped over with an enormous piece of gossamer lacework stitched from golden thread. The netlike ornamental fabric of light shimmered in time to the rising and falling of Sarah's breath.
Faintly, she heard herself crying.
It wasn't until later, while alone in her room, that Sarah felt as if she were made of cobwebs and tears instead of flesh and bone. Her lower lip had finally stopped trembling, and her whimpering had all but turned into a whispered moan.
Worse than the throbbing pain on her backside, Sarah felt crushed and heartbroken. For the first time in her life she sensed she was unloved. Had all the love, trust and caring she felt for so many years been a lie, a trick? The thought made her feel queasy, sick to her stomach as if she had just discovered shards of glass in a honey jar. She saw herself as two people: the Sarah of her past with fond memories of loving parents; and the Sarah of now, who felt stunned, humiliated--betrayed.
When her father came in from working the fields, he never bothered to peek in on her. It was then obvious to her that her parents didn't love her at all. She was no more than some hired-hand they used to keep the house clean.
Completely drained and exhausted, she vowed to run away and never come back.
Although she could no longer see them, Sarah's thoughts drifted to the living daylights. Had they really been beaten out of her? She vaguely remembered seeing something.... It was like catching a glimpse of someone in another world, a world far away from where she was now. A place where she could live and love and never be fooled again.
The purple light of dusk faded to black and the wind made a sound as if it had learned to weep. The longer she listened to the sound, the more she realized it wasn't the wind at all, but rather someone crying outside.
There was a soft tap at her window.
Sarah lifted her head (slowly, because it felt heavy and waterlogged). A young girl stood at her window staring back at her with violet eyes, the shade of faded rose petals. The same twinkling lights she had seen earlier danced about the girl's head. At first, Sarah thought it was her own reflection, but the doppelganger tapped at the window again, and motioned for Sarah to come out. Then sadly wiping at her eyes, the image backed away and was lost in the shadows.
"Oh, my God," she said in a breathless little voice that teetered on the edge of more tears. "Was that real?"
In panties and T-shirt, her usual sleeping attire, she moved to the window.
There was no one there.
She waited a minute, then another. The girl did not appear. Feeling foolish and confused, she returned to bed and fell asleep.
She woke in the dead hours of the night, shuddering. All she could remember of the dream was the penetrating gaze of the little girl at the window: the girl with the dancing lights that looked exactly like her.
She got up and went to the bathroom, guided only by the thin wash of moonglow that filtered through the sheers over the window. After she peed, she washed her hands and stood for a while looking at her reflection in the silver-black mirror. She realized that she was delaying her return to the bedroom because she was afraid she would be drawn to her window again. When she finally re-entered the room, she found herself approaching the window instead of the bed.
With a sigh, she realized that there was no one there.
Sarah felt as much disappointment as relief. As she stared into the night, an extended chill vibrated through her, and then she saw her.
The girl stood by the old oak tree in the front yard. The same tree Sarah climbed everyday. Her likeness motioned for her to come. This time Sarah didn't hesitate. She lifted the window and crawled outside.
The grass was damp and the early September evening felt cold. She shook off another chill and looked for the girl. She was still there, waiting, with what appeared to be dim fireflies swimming about her.
Beneath a fat moon that spun within the wheel of stars, Sarah ran to the tree. The other giggled, the sweet silvery laughter of a child, and then led the way out into the fields of wheat that stretched for miles around the house. With a sleep-walker smile, Sarah followed her.
The wheat stood waist high, and as she plowed through it, the hissing stalks slapped and bit at her bare legs as if the dark ground beneath her feet seethed with snakes. The strange girl rushed ahead of her, and as Sarah tried to keep up, she found her thin legs tiring even as the other seemed to float effortlessly through the field.
Losing all track of time, Sarah noticed the gray and rose-colored edge to the morning sky. "Stop! Please, wait!" she called out.
The girl snickered and ran on all the faster.
Sarah slowed to a staggering walk, and then fell down in the wheat and lay there wheezing. When she looked up the little girl stood over her, smiling and not even breathing hard.
"Who are you?" asked Sarah still gasping for air.
"I'm you, silly." Her voice could have been a perfect recording of Sarah's. "Don't you recognize me?"
"But...that's not possible. I'm me."
"Are you?" she said, giggling again. She offered her hand. "Come on. I'll show you."
Sarah hesitated, and then locked fingers with the girl and was pulled to a standing position. The other didn't release her. She brought Sarah's hand to her nose and sniffed it, and then made as if she were going to proffer a kiss. Suddenly she opened her mouth and viciously bit Sarah's finger.
"Ow!" Sarah yelled, jerking her hand away. "What'd you do that for?"
"You'll see." Then she bit her own finger, and reached for Sarah's hand again. "Come on...gimme your hand." The sun began to rise. "Hurry up, will ya, before it's too late!"
Sarah felt compelled to obey, and slowly lifted up her hand.
A drop of blood, like a crimson pearl, quivered on her fingertip where she'd been bitten. The girl pressed her bleeding finger to Sarah's, mashing them together.
"What's done?" Sarah asked pulling her hand away. "What are you talking about?" But now Sarah began to see the living daylights again. They flashed in and out of her vision. She felt lightheaded--thin--while the other Sarah appeared to have become more solid.
From behind them, her mother called out. "Sarah? Oh, thank God, there you are. I've been looking for you all morning."
"Go away, Momma," Sarah said turning angrily toward her mother. "You don't love me, and I've already stopped loving you."
Her mother ignored her. "What are you doing out here all by yourself?"
"I thought I'd walk through the fields one last time Momma before doing my chores," the other Sarah said.
Sarah's mouth fell open in stunned disbelief.
"I so love it out here in the open fields."
"I know, it's beautiful," her mother said, then approached slowly and opened her arms. "I'm sorry, honey. I never should have punished you. Will you ever find it in your heart to forgive me?"
The other Sarah rushed to her mother's arms, tears filling her eyes. "Oh, Momma...Momma, I'm so sorry. I'll never forget to do my chores again. I promise!"
"Hey! What's going on?" Sarah yelled. "That's not me! Momma, I'm over here! Can't you see me?"
"There, there, child," her mother cooed, patting the doppleganger on the back and ignoring Sarah altogether. "It's not your fault. You're at an age when a young girl's imagination is the best friend she has. There's nothing wrong with that."
They turned together and started home. The other looked under her mother's arm, stuck her tongue out at Sarah, and gave a little smirk.
"Momma? Momma, wait!" Sarah screamed. "Momma, I wanna come home! Momma?"
She ran after them, gliding through the wheat.
As the sun rose, Sarah saw a river of living lights flowing toward her. Silently they came out of the sky by the hundreds, by the thousands, and then crashed into her heart and carried her away as hushed as golden sunshine in a waking dream.