From the very beginning, my mother had black eyes. Not the beautiful, dark brown irises, but the sad purple that faded to green. I remember being two and pressing my hand against her cheek, where it was outlined by my father’s. His handiwork was often seen on my mother, but only ever by me. She never went into town, embarrassed I suppose, or perhaps trying to protect him. Luckily she never had to.
Our house was an old country two story, with a wrap around porch and large windows. I’m sure it would’ve looked beautiful when it was built, but with chipping paint and years of my father’s anger, it wasn’t looking too good. It was technically a farm, but we had no use for a barn or paddocks. What we did have use for was the land, sprawling fields that gave way to forest. In the spring my mother would plant anything she could get her hands on, and by fall we would eat like kings.
Of course, this food would only satiate my father if it was hot and prepared just at the right time. On the many occasions, this didn’t happen, my poor mother would pay the price. Sometimes it would be a smack and lots of yelling, other times I would find her face purple, swollen, and bloody. She would clean up in the bathroom, in a desperate attempt to hide how bad her state was, but I would always peek through the keyhole.
Once I came between them.
It was Thursday. My father, a gruff man who never shaved and seemed to tower over everything, was watching a game on tv. His favorite team made the mistake of losing 20 to 6, which was bad news for mom. She usually was upstairs in my playroom when he was home. She would read to me, help me learn to spell, and teach me math. We froze mid-lesson when we heard his feet pounding up the stairs.
While they screamed I ducked under the table and covered my ears. Screaming I could handle. When he raised his hand, I ran between them, screaming and crying. Before I knew it I felt a sharp sting on my face, my head whipped to the side and I fell to the ground. My mother desperately tried to cover me, but he quickly picked me up and felt the need to “put me back in my place” as he so said.
I guess my place was downstairs because that's where he threw me. Each hit to a step sent a jolt of pain through my limbs. I had lain at the bottom of the steps and focused on returning my breathing to normal. Every inhale set my lungs on fire.
I was seven the first time I went to town because my mother couldn’t patch up my broken bones. The doctor looked at us with kind but pitying eyes, and my mother hated it. He said he could give my mother some help, but she assured him it wouldn’t be necessary.
When we returned home it was almost 6. Dinner time. Mother assured me I had had a long day, so she made me some warm milk and sent me to bed. She was right, I fell asleep instantly the way children do, and when I woke up I saw the stars.
My mother had often taken me through the woods on sunny days. It was fun to explore the hidden depths of my backyard. I was amazed at how tall trees were, and how small I was in comparison to the world.
It’s amazing how different things can look in darkness.The branches I looked up at seemed more to me now like claws, every shadow a ghost, each sound a scream. And yet I knew all was well because here was my mother, carrying me through it all. I thought perhaps this was something she was doing to calm me since the day was very taxing for a young girl, but the longer we walked the more I felt this wasn't the case.
One day while we had been out exploring, we stumbled upon an old cottage that the original owners must’ve used for farmhands. It was a quaint, two-bedroom with a small living room and kitchen. When I first saw it the place was filthy, I remember painting pictures with the dust on the walls. I supposed my mother was able to see through that.
I’m not sure how she found the cottage in the dark forest, but she was smart and led us there safely. To my surprise, the lights worked when she flipped the switch, and it was clean. The floors swept, the walls washed, with running water and everything a normal house had. There was a couch and beds in each room, with clothes for us both. She must have been planning for a while to make this place a home for me.
The first night I was scared to leave her side, so we slept in her bed and listen to the hooting of the owls outside our windows. She explained that we would never have to worry about our father again, and we would live happily here, just the two of us. I wasn’t allowed to play outside for a little while, but I didn’t mind. I would stay inside and read while I watched her set up a new garden.
I found her trying to keep track of time while we were out there. She never missed a birthday. We celebrated Christmas, Halloween, and every holiday together. As the years passed I outgrew my books, so I decided to sneak back to our old house, just as my mother had done to get supplies we needed.
I didn’t plan on running into him, I really didn’t. But as I crept through the halls I didn't hear the tv, and before I knew it I saw the back of his head. I froze in terror, then began moving backward. I needed to leave. Now. As I made my way down the hall I stepped on the wrong board, and a shriek was sent through the house. My father perked up and went to investigate.
At this point I wasn’t concerned about noise, I was concerned about getting home. I flew around to the back of the house, knocking over a coat rack in my haste to get out the door. As I ran into the woods I heard him shout to stay out of his damn house.
I felt as though my small legs couldn't carry me to the small cottage fast enough. I wanted to be home with my mother, eating stew and reading a book. She was in the garden as I approached, and knew something was wrong. She warned me never to go back to the house again, that we left him for good and people in heaven shouldn't return to hell. I agreed wholeheartedly.
Eventually, my mother lost track of the time we had spent in the cottage. Days pass like hours when you have nothing to do but play, so I didn’t notice the passing of years. The only event that mattered was my father's death, which my mother told me about over breakfast one morning. She was worried someone new would buy the house, and that we wouldn’t be able to stay in the cottage anymore.
I was worried too, so for the first time in my life, I decided I would disobey my mother. This time around I was more careful, I snuck through the trees but didn't dare leave the tree line with all the commotion happening in the yard. Police were removing things from the house, a body came out in a black bag. I crept closer to hear if they had anything to say about the new owners.
All I heard was one officer ranting about how awful my father was, and how he never deserved my mother or I. Another officer consoled him with:
“At least his grave is far away from the wife and daughter’s”
Mother sure was good at planting things in the earth.
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