(DISCLAIMER: Violence, Miscarriage, Torture, Abuse, Cannibalism)
An abused girl’s tipping point forces her to seek revenge by telling disgusting lies…
He’s drunk. There’s no mistaking the off-beat clap of his worn boots against the dirt floor. Heavy-handed, foulmouthed, and bad-spirited, he’s like all the men in our Turbid Orilon Lake commune. Endlessly vile.
Mother says Father’s good spirit flew away when his first union dissolved. The priest gave him Beth. She died shortly after three stillborn babies fell out of her belly. Two boys and a girl. Mother says when she was given to Father, there was nothing she could do to compete with Beth’s memory. Beth and Father’s union was arranged as all are, but they had loved each other before the priest had put them together. When Beth died, all the good that was in him died too.
Tonight, Father could have passed out in the pub like last time, but no. Instead, the wooden door shivers against its hinges. The lake splashes a stone’s throw outside our door. Startled awake, the water cows with their large dark-brown cyclops eyes groan, murmur and cry like exhausted babies desperate for sleep.
Mother squeezes my arm, her silent warning that I should pretend to sleep. Father is more likely to leave us alone if we ignore him. My little brother, Louis, curls up against Mother’s side. We three have our own cots, but we prefer to push them together, away from Father’s cot on the other side of the room.
Father mutters sharp, quick words. He’s complaining about our cottage, looking for something. I hear a dull cascade as something falls. Probably wooden cups. Father snorts. I open my eyes. He is
strong with ripples of solid muscle surrounded by his protruding belly. Mother’s eyes are squeezed shut. I don’t know how she manages to cry so hard without making a sound. Mother can do a lot of things I don’t understand. She can endure the impossible. Live a lie.
“This place is disgusting.”
It was perfectly clean before you started knocking things down. Mother cleaned every single bowl so you wouldn’t beat her with them.
“Where is my food?”
You ate it before you went to the pub. What does it matter? If we don’t do anything wrong, you just make it up.
I shift my eyes from my mother’s face. The twin moons shine bright through a crack in our wooden walls. In a month, the moons will be full. I will be fifteen, and Louis will be eight, as we share a birthday. Mother always says that twin full moons on your birthday are a sign of the divine, bringing good luck.
Father destroys our fragile little kitchen. Throws himself against its walls. Shatters anything he can wrap his hands around.
Where does he get this energy from? He wakes up at dawn like the rest of us.
Silence. Good. He passes out on the floor. We’ll step over him in the morning. There will be no beatings tonight.
“Finish your porridge. Don’t be here when he wakes.” Mother waves her hands at us. “Get.”
My lips tremble. “We don’t want you here when he wakes, either,” I say.
She holds our faces in her hands and shakes her head. Her eyes are red and tearing. “I’m so sorry. I know. I’ll be all right.”
“No, you won’t,” Louis whimpers.
Once she finishes her duties in the cottage, she’ll go into the fields like the rest of us. If, that is, Father doesn’t render her useless once he finally wakes.
“Besides,” she adds, “I need to clean up my special powders.” Her hair is thick and wiry, like a tangle of sharp bushes. Her hair pin sticks up like a thorn. One of her crooked teeth protrudes slightly out of her mouth as her lips tremble, but she is beautiful to me. Field soil dusts her coppery-brown skin, smooth and specked with barely visible freckles. “You mean your ‘cooking spices’?” I say, brows raised. She’s relentlessly secretive about the contents in her special jars.
She shakes her head. “Just go!” She snaps her fingers. She points toward the door, but her eyes tell us she wants another hug. Louis and I take one last glance at our father’s slumped-over frame, wrap our arms around our mother, then rush out the door.
The sun’s heat immediately permeates my thin rags. I roll up my flimsy sleeves, and it bathes my skin. “Can I go to school today?” Louis tilts his head and raises his hand over his eyes.
“Go to school. I’ll go to the field. If he asks, tell him you worked the field. Father never remembers or notices anything important anyway.”
I wrap my arms around his slight frame and hand him a cloth filled with bread, apples and nuts.
“Don’t forget. You’re the one that has to go to school. When you’re old enough, you’ll get us out of here.” I rub his bald head playfully. Mother recently shaved it when she discovered critters living there. “Remember the places far beyond the lake and mountains?” I ask. “Full towns of women and children who’ve found asylum. Freedom from the priests and their stupid unions. We’re going to get there. We can make it.”
“I know.” He smiles for the first time all morning. His eyes are green just like mine, but his teeth are crooked like Mother’s. I have Father’s straight teeth and pale skin. Louis and Mother are brown like the murky lake that runs through our village.
I smile too. The reality of getting away from Father and Turbid Orilon Lake are the only things that could accomplish that feat. That and Richard.
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