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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #1870968
A young girl's last memories.
A Prayer For You, For Me

By C. T. Hill

Mother told me a prayer once, one that explained my death, though I could not recall the words.

Death is an odd thing to consider if you really stopped to think about it. Mother told me about death, about what it would be like. All white lights and comfort, outstretched hands and welcoming smiles.

Sadly, death was nothing like that. It was neither glamorous nor special, though some might call it simple. But no, I am afraid that it is a bit more than what Mother thought.

The wood floor groaned the same with each step, but the sound remained lost to the world, somewhere unseen, somewhere unheard. The walls looked the same, ever enclosing, that dull off white that surrounded my childhood, my every memory.
The world was different, as if I had been dropped into a deep hole with no escape, but there was no hole, no dark cellar responsible for my creeping fear. The fan moaned with every pass, flickering shadows while the incandescent light bathed the room in a dull, yellow glow. I pushed through the door and out of my room. The hallway was just as narrow, the entryway just as empty.

A warm breeze kissed my face when I stepped outside, making its way to everywhere, to nowhere. There was still wind, though I suppose I should not have been surprised. I looked around. The paint separated itself from the weathered wood beams that surround the porch. The house continued on in its drab existence. The world aged as if nothing significant had passed, as if my death was little more than a ripple in an ocean filled with waves.

How similar being dead was to being alive, almost like I was simply dreaming.

Father swung open the screen door and spilled himself into one of the porch chairs. His white t-shirt displayed remnants of last night's dinner. He rubbed his hands over his scalp, through nonexistent hair. I stood directly in front of him, but remain unnoticed, overlooked like everything not in a whiskey bottle. His eyes were glazed. His breath was sour. He tugged on the bottle of whiskey and slouched farther back into the chair.

Mother was in the kitchen sitting at the table, stacks of papers and unopened envelopes surrounding her. Her eyes were locked on the wall at the far end of the room with an almost invisible line of tears trailing down her cheeks.

A can popped open from inside the house. Grandpa found his recliner. There was no TV in the sitting room, nothing that would resemble a normal home. The beer was a substitute for any visual entertainment. He greeted one large gulp with another, each helping to wash away the burden of consciousness.

I glanced at my father. His face twitched. His knuckles clenched. It would not be long now. I went back into the small house, through the sitting room where Grandpa mulled, silent, mute, and into the kitchen where Mother sat crying. I moved closer to her and placed my hand on her shoulder. She could not feel it, at least not in any physical sense, but I watched with a quiet smile as her mood lightened and she slowly began wiping her tears away with her sleeve.

She turned her head to me, slightly to her left and over her shoulder, as if acknowledging my existence—though I am sure she did not fully understand. With a silent resolve she lifted herself out of the chair and pushed through the screen door and out to the backyard. Sheets, blouses, coveralls, and faded jeans littered the weighted lines. I follow her out, but stopped at the wooden steps that lead down into the small yard.

I heard the front door crash shut. Grandpa mumbled something in dissent and caught what sounded like the back of Father’s hand. The yell came next. “The hell you at woman?”

Mother’s face blanched. Her eyes searched frantically for any source of refuge, but the backyard was small, too small even for a child to hide.

Father stared through the door; his face full of color, his words ripe with venom. “I thought I told you to clean that shit up!” He punched open the screen door and lumbered down the steps.

He moved straight towards me. His face contorted into its usual display of disgust. He passed right through me and continued on to Mother. She remained fastened to the ground, arms at her side, head lulled at her chest.

“She’s gone, damn you, gone forever.” His eyes raged with drunkenness. He pulled her eyes to his with a slap that snapped her head to the side. “How many times do I have to fuckin’ tell you? Dammit woman, between you and your piece of shit father, God knows how I survived this long.”

Tears made their way down Mother’s cheeks once more, but Father was too enraged to care. He tore down the sheets in his path and stomped his way back towards the house. “Get this house cleaned up or I swear by Jesus I’ll punish you.” He didn’t even waste the effort of turning over his shoulder while speaking before he disappeared back into the house.

I knew he would grab the bottle again, buying Mother a brief respite before his next rage. Mother dropped to her knees, gasping for breath in between sobs. She looked around, lost, distraught. “I’m so sorry, baby. I’m so sorry,” she said to the empty backyard.

Grandpa peered out into the yard cautiously before finally coming out. He crossed the sparse expanse to where Mother sat and helped her up. “Why? Why do you stay?” he asked her, though I am sure he knew the answer as well as anybody.

Mother shook her head. “He’d find me. No matter where I went or how long it took him, he’d find me. You know what he’s capable of.”

Grandpa, after a moment’s pause, nodded his head, sullen in his agreement.

Not long after my tenth birthday Father started sending Mother away on pointless errands and time-consuming chores. Grandpa hadn't moved in yet, so it left me at home alone with Father. Once Mother left, he would make me take baths, even when I didn’t need one and even though I no longer needed help. Father insisted, and if I ever said no, well, I only made that mistake once.

Mother knew. I suppose mothers always know. She tried everything possible to stay home, or to take me with her, but Father would say no with words first, then with his fists. Mother called the sheriff, but he and Father were old friends, so he paid us no mind.

One day Mother fought back. She sunk a knife in Father’s back, but it didn’t do all that much. She almost paid for it with her life. She didn't come home from the hospital for almost two weeks. Father wouldn’t let me go and see her. “She is being punished,” he said.

She could barely look at Father after that. God knows what he did to her.

When she finally came home she looked terrible, like she had been in a train wreck. Grandpa moved in a few days after that. “Grandpa’s sick,” Mother told me, but I thought he seemed pretty healthy.

The baths stopped for a while, but I noticed Father drank more. He looked at me with his hard eyes, and every time he did I just knew that he hated me.

One night a few weeks later, he decided that he didn’t need for me to take baths anymore. I don’t remember much about that night other than the stink of alcohol on his breath and pain, lots of pain. Mother and Grandpa screamed and banged on the door, but Father had wedged my chair up under the knob.

The world faded in and out after he left, but I remember a commotion outside. When Mother’s face appeared I saw that she had already taken a bruise, and part of her hair was matted to her head, though it was too dark to see with what.

“Oh God, my baby. Oh my God,” she said through the sobs. She cradled me. The world faded in and out as she rehearsed a quiet prayer. “Lord, we will be leaving....” But her words drifted away, lost to the darkness, forgotten along with the rest of the night.

I don't recall what happened after that, though I know I felt safe.

Some days later, when I woke, all of the pain was gone. Everything was somehow the same, but unmistakably different. I heard Grandpa talking to a man that I assumed was a doctor. “She will make it, though I am not sure how with wounds like hers, not to mention her…” His voice trailed off as he thought about what to say, and more importantly, what not to say, but he recovered quickly. “She’s a fighter.”

The doctor looked right at me, or through me, but couldn't see me. I was certain I had become invisible.

He shook Grandpa’s hand. “I am truly sorry... for everything,” he said with a sympathetic nod before leaving the house.

It took almost a week for Mother to get out of bed, another two before the men stopped coming. I assumed they were different kinds of cops, for they were always with Father’s sheriff friend, but I could not be sure. They never stayed long.

Mother cried. Father drank. All the while I remained unseen. I soon began to wonder what exactly had happened, though I was sure I did not want to know the answer.

Grandpa’s voice brought me back to the yard. He shook his head in disgust at the house, at Father. “If only I had been here sooner. I could have helped.”

He was talking about the time Mother fought back.

Mother fell to her knees once more, her body racked by the same relentless sobs. “It’s my fault,” she cried. “It’s all my fault that she’s dead.”

“Oh honey, no. It isn’t your fault.” Grandpa did his best to console her. “There is no one to blame but that…that evil man.” He raised his eyes back to the house.

“You don’t understand, Pa. He didn’t kill her.” Her body shuddered with the revelation. Her sobs came stronger, faster.

Grandpa’s face was etched in confusion. “What are you talking about, dear?”

“She was still breathing when I went in there. You were unconscious. I couldn’t stand to see her like that, not my baby. She was broken. Her little body was broken.” She coughed momentarily, barely able to hold it all together. “I tried to go with her. I wanted to go with her. I don’t know what went wrong.”

Slowly, she pulled up her sleeves up one at a time, revealing two long white scars that traced up from each wrist. “They saved me somehow, brought me back, but I wanted to be…” She paused, unable to finish.

Grandpa gulped as he tried to hold back the tears. “You… you killed her?”

Her body rocked forward, her hands in front of her face. “God I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.”

The screen door swung open and Father sloshed his way down the steps again. His whiskey bottle was in his right hand. Anger was clear on his face. “What the fuck did you just say?” he bellowed through slurred lips.

Mother looked up in horror. Grandpa placed himself between her and Father, but he was no match for the younger man. Father tossed him to the side like a twig and moved on to Mother.

I watched in terror as he wrapped his hands around Mother’s throat, as the blood built up in her face and she coughed and gasped for air. “You took her away from me, you bitch! I should have rid the world of you long ago!”

She sputtered, but managed to choke out a few words. “I… saved… her…”

He squeezed harder, and for the first time since my death, I cried.

I didn’t see the shovel until it made contact with the back of Father’s skull. His hands fell away from her throat and Mother collapsed to the ground, gasping for air through a crushed wind pipe.

Father stumbled forward. He slowly turned to see Grandpa holding the shovel in both hands, ready for another swing.

“Go to hell you son of a bitch,” Grandpa said before sending one more devastating swing straight at Father’s head. The metal crushed into the side of his face with enough force to make a sickening crunch. Father's knees buckled and he crumpled to the ground.

Grandpa ran over to Mother, discarding the shovel as he knelt down next to her. He hugged her head in his arms and spoke in the softest voice. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I’m sorry for everything.” The smallest smile crossed Mother's face, ever so briefly, but before she could answer her head sunk forward, limp in his arms. With a shudder, Grandpa let out a terrible, sorrow filled cry.

The world brightened then. I looked around, unable to figure it out. And then, I saw her walking towards me. I ran to Mother and she caught me in the warmest embrace. She looked deep into my eyes and started a quick prayer, one that I am sure I had heard before. “Lord, we will be leaving, we have to leave. Help Pa understand. Tell him not to forget you, not to forget us. Tell him that we will meet him again in heaven. Amen.”

She kissed my forehead and hugged me once more. “Come, darling, there is somewhere I want to show you,” she said through a loving smile. She took my hand and led me away.

I saw the light shimmer, the light Mother spoke about before, and somehow, in that moment, I knew that everything would be okay.
© Copyright 2012 C. T. Hill (elemenopy at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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