“Calm down! Take a deep breath. It’ll be okay!” I whisper to myself.
“Open the door, Alyssa!” he shouts.
The door shudders under his heavy fists.
Masking my nervousness, I retort, “No!”
“Will you, or not?” His voice takes on a threatening note.
I dare not reply this time.
“Just three seconds more!” he adds.
I feel him flinging himself with all his weight against the door. It shivers violently but doesn’t give in.
His violent blows resonate throughout the house. My door grasps feebly on to the last vestiges of life.
A heavy fear settles upon my heart. What if the door gives away?
Then, it stops, all at once. An answer to my silent prayers.
“I’ll make you regret! Wait and see,” he screams. With a tinge of relief, I hear his footsteps retreating down the staircase.
How long has it been? I don’t know. Beads of sweat linger on my forehead.
“Calm down! He can’t reach you.” I assure myself. Once again.
I put my earphones on. The same, old numbness wraps its cold arms round me. Just the soft notes. Just the beats of a pacing heart.
Outside, the sun’s setting, bathing the sky in a myriad hues. I wish I could be out there. But, there’s no speck of life on the streets. Even Maddy’s café has its shutters down. Occasionally, a police-car passes along dead lanes, on patrols. The once-busy metropolis has gone into complete lockdown, as the deadly virus spreads like wildfire.
My cousin, Susanne calls, after her long shifts at the hospital.
“Looks a bit grim, Ale! Maybe, this is our World War.” she says. Her nervous laughter reeks of fear. It must be grim, indeed. Even her contagious optimism has given up.
The last speck of day reflects off the window-panes as the sun disappears beyond the distant skyscrapers. Is this how the world’s to end, then?
An ear-splitting crash drags me out of my reverie- shattered china-clay, photo-frames…..my memories. His voice pierces into my ears-“You’re a good-for-nothing whore, just like your mom.”
The same-old-words. That tone.
Those images rise again, dragging me along to the darkest crevices of memory. To the days after Mom’s funeral, when Stepdad became my legal guardian.
One by one, they pass by….
Five-year-old me cowering before Stepdad- tears streaming down my face; the sarcastic smile on his lips; tight slaps across my cheeks; stifled wails-
His face an inch from mine…. “Your mom was a whore,” he shouts.
I stare , dumb-founded.
Another scream- “What was she? Repeat after me.”
I stutter . I didn’t know what it meant. Neither did the childrens’ dictionary.
His fingers wrap around my nose, lips to stifle the sobs. I struggle in vain for a breath. Air was precious back then. You had to struggle for it.
The same images…. year-after-year.
Once, I shared it with Susanne.
The next day, Aunt stopped by- her eyes stern, yet sad.
“How can you be so ungrateful? He may be a bit strict, but he loves you. Don’t ever think bad of him, again.”
I wanted to ask her the meaning of “whore”. Maybe, just another expression of his love. Now, I often wonder if he’d have come into my life, had it not been for “our house”.
By the time she left, I could sense the calm before a storm. It had reached him. The details of the night aren’t clear anymore- only my own screams return to haunt me even in the safety of my college-dorm, in the midst of friends.
Next day, Susanne apologized.
“Thought they’d stop it,” she said.
“Me too,” I replied.
We promised never to bring it up again. They’ve been locked into a corner of my mind as “those images”. Many a time, they break free to turn the brightest dream into the darkest nightmare.
Now, they’re back, again.
“Stay-Home—Stay-Safe,” they say. Am I the only one who can’t be safe within these four walls?
The mellow morning sunshine peeps in through the window and rests on my cheeks. Maybe, he’s shouting again. Maybe, I’ll have to wait for his drunken stupor to sneak out to the grocery. But, it’s slowly turning into “the-new-normal”, as it used to be. Life flows on, from one low to the next, till you forget the high itself.
Even, Susanne’s busy these days. The phone rings on. Texts don’t reach her. I do hope she’s fine.
As I scroll down the feed, the headlines grab my attention- “1st medic-professional yields to COVID-19: Mother critical.” I check the photo once more. A sudden rush of tears blurs my vision.
Is it possible for someone to just vanish into thin air? To be there one day and be gone, the next? Without a hint? Through thick-and-thin, she’d been my sole support- Susanne, with her contagious love for life. She deserved to live…more than I ever did.
Thousands of unanswered questions flood my mind. Why didn’t she let me know? Did she not trust me enough? Wish I could see her once more. Just once.
The phone drops from my trembling fingers. Darkness descends upon the bright spring morn.
Another month goes by. Summer’s here- the season for sunbaths, crowded beaches. But, not this time. The end’s nowhere in sight.
Some days I wonder if it’s worth it- this heavy burden of guilt- the guilt of living a life she deserved. Yet, night passes on to night. I linger on. I don’t know why.
Maybe, someday, the night’ll end. I’ll find a home. Mom, Dad smile back from the photo-frame- the only family-picture left. The rest have been lost in shattered frames- Stepdad’s demonic rage. This had once been home. But, it isn’t anymore. Not with him in here.
The world outside smiles, whispers tales of hope. That everything will fall back into place.
But, what if Hope’s , after all, a dangerous thing? What if it’s actually the end?
Photo By: Ava Sol
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