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There was a delicate cry drifting through the air. Somewhere, hidden behind a lie, the voices haunt her dreams; they whisper, demonic, eerie, chilling, sharp like the shatter of glass into a million tiny pieces. Now and then a gasp for air, sharp, filling the space with a lingering depression - a deviating shun to any remaining hope. And something else chimes in the aura, the flowing drip of eternal hardship, unusually welcoming and harmless: a solitary tear. It has not in fact strayed very far from the river of sorrow, concealed behind a piercing stare. It was a thoughtful tear, shed for no small account, memories of a soft embrace; innocence as beautiful as rolling clouds in the heavens. Such a tear has never seen a smile of empathy, or a giggle of joy; it has never been prey to any such danger as love. But still, it trickles down a young woman’s cheek, telling tales of the lies behind her frozen eyes. Chloe never sleeps at night.
The stashes of dirty laundry piled higher in obscure places. The stench of stale cigarette smoke grew just as distinctly as the tension and fear, hanging about the shambles of the apartment. There was a pale young boy with notched brown hair, asleep under the kitchen sink. The boy had turned eight just a week before, and his mother managed to slip him a ragged white teddy bear, which he clutched tenacly tonight in his hiding place; the boy’s name was Andy. Andy dreamt of a cave covered in gleaming Emeralds; the stones were all fake, expect one. He scrambled about, knowing he had little time to find the genuine one, the safe one, the one that would not hit him; wait- what? The stone had a face now; it shot Andy a demeaning scowl with the familiar words, “Shut up, you worthless piece of trash.”
The world started to spiral around him, focusing in on the horrendous stone. Andy darted further into the cave until his body was enveloped in a sheet of thick pink smoke; he heard a woman’s soft, frightened cry. He saw the silhouette of a frail figure, beaten and bruised, flash into vision for half a second and then fade away. Then there was a strident crash, the young woman gasping, and then, “stupid dame” rebuked coldly. He heard the woman whimpering as she took her nightly beating with the cowardice required for survival. The intensity of the screams grew out of control, until suddenly he jolted awake. Andy had no caressing hand to meet his brow, there was not a soul to help the child fend off his nightmares. He came to the reality that his mom, Chloe, had done something to “upset” Phil; that was what Andy had taken to calling his father, since “dad” seemed to much of an endearing term. In truth, it took very little to set Phil off, but once he exploded there was no going back. Whenever Phil was about to turn “ugly,” as Andy and his mom referred to it, Andy remembered the opening of a biography on concentration camps during WW2 he watched in school, the announcer would say, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Anticipation; that was a big word, it had been on his vocabulary list, it meant that queasy feeling you get in your stomach when you’re waiting for Phil to throw the first hit. It was true though, the actual hitting was never that bad; Andy just floated away to his special place, you never had to worry about anything, there were always joyful thoughts there, like eating cotton candy, or driving a racecar, or even living with the Brady bunch. The “ugliness” crept into Andy’s scope when he was watching Phil slap around Chloe. Chloe had fixed the family some pancakes one Sunday morning, and Phil locked her in the closet for two days, just because she hadn’t asked his permission first.
Andy heard the commotion come to an end, which usually meant Phil had gotten tired and fallen asleep wherever he and Chloe had been. Andy got to his feet, and stumbled over to his mom. She lay, exhausted, on the living room floor; there was a stream of blood flowing down from her right ear. Her once lovely hair, was now nothing but a large matt, Phil said that “dogs didn’t need no hair brushin’.” Chloe mumbled some untranslatable remark, as Andy dragged her to the couch; he knew there was little chance of waking the inflictor from his alcoholic state.
“Mom, your ear is bleeding, are you okay?”
“I’m fine, sweetie; we got no way to clean it up anyways, the water got turned off this morning, and Phil found the first aid kit under the bed; that’s why he- you know. I figure we don’t have anything to patch ourselves up with anymore.”
“Your eye is clouding up awful bad, maybe I could go fetch someone to fix it up?” said Andy with a tone of no expectancy, for he knew what the reply would be, Chloe was petrified of Phil, and she never took a stand against him. The mutual knowledge of the answer, led Chloe not to waste her breath; which was hard for her to spare those days. Both of them got up, the child pulling the mother to her feet, attempting to lead her to the bedroom, when a hand thrust out, gripping Andy’s ankle, pulling him to the ground.
“Don’t you be touchin’ my woman, rat!” the man uttered in a drunken tone. Andy was paralyzed with fear; he dreadingly concentrated on his word, “Anticipation.” Phil got on top of the fragile little child; Andy felt a sharp pain in his mouth. The boy’s teddy bear lay innocently cast aside seeping up the pool around the child, it was no longer a cream white. The toy was permanently marked with pain and suffering, it would be a constant reminder of “Anticipation” and “Ugly”; red, a dark crimson red.
“So you fell down a staircase, huh?” The school nursed inquired in response to Andy’s account of his chipped tooth and bruised arms. In truth, the nurse and the boy had not been strangers to each other, since he moved to Chicago two years ago; there was not however, much the nurse could do about Andy’s situation. She could alert the school to file a report of abuse that the police would never get around to checking out, or she could simply treat the boy to the best of her abilities.
“Ouch!” the child retorted to the nurse’s examining of the scars on his neck, where Phil had practically strangled him a couple weeks ago. She tried offering him another another first aid kit, to slip into his backpack and bring home to his mother, but he refused heartily. She sensed that kit’s reception had not been a pleasant one at home. She sent Andy back off to math class, where he usually parked himself in a deep sleep after his “morning checkup.” He limped down the hallway, trying not to bend his sore knee.
“Hey, gimp! Who said you could pass through our hallway?” screamed a boy laughingly as he and his gang saw Andy hobbling back to class.
“Leave me alone, you overgrown delinquent.” Andy answered so soundly that it might have been perceived threateningly had it come from anyone but him.
“Hah! Who’s gonna make me?” The boy snapped back, as he and his minions started to progress towards the frail little creature. Andy struggled to run away, knowing he wouldn’t stand a chance against the boys, and felt as though another beating might be the end of him. However, he couldn’t keep his own weight, his legs gave way, and he went tumbling into the row of colored lockers. He saw that the boys were now running in their eagerness to devour another helpless victim, he felt his heart trying to flutter out of his chest to go fly with the doves. Andy traveled to his “special place.” He pictured a single dove in his mind, flying in the warmth of the sunlight. Then he saw a plastic bag blow up, out of an alleyway, it caught the bird by the wing; the lack of a support took the creature out of the sky, sending it down on to an open road. The bag did not inflict enough torment to kill the dove, just enough to be a hazard. The real pain was in the dove’s anticipation, not knowing what to expect, possessing little worldly knowledge, simply waiting for death to bring peace. Eventually, a car would come, and take the struggling creature out of its agony. The car would bring the dove serenity; yet peace never comes until one’s horror is too much to bear.
As Andy walked home from school, he thought of a show he had seen on television once, a boy got a black eye, fighting at school. The boy knew his father would get angry if he spotted it, so the boy tried to cover his face with his mother’s makeup. Andy thought of how lucky the boy was that his dad cared that he had a black eye, not only would Andy’s dad not have cared, he would have been the one to inflict the scar. Andy pondered the value of his life; he quite often thought of things that one would consider “beyond his years.” Andy had something he would tell himself when he was feeling superfluous; he whispered the words to himself as he walked back to the apartment, “Life is a puzzle, and everyone is a piece; the picture isn’t complete without you.” Andy used to take the bus to and back from school, but not anymore; for a kid like Andy, the bus was a death trap; undisguised.
Andy hesitantly pushed open the apartment door, everything seemed quiet; Phil must have been out. Andy snuck into his parent’s room, into the very back of the closet, into a hidden chipped pink box; it was his mom’s hope chest. He opened it; there was an old doll, a faded photograph, and a bronzed baby shoe; all three seemed exquisite treasures to the boy, but the photo was his favorite. It was his mom, she was in a blue dress, her fine golden hair curled, and best of all; she wore a gleaming smile. She was with some boy Andy had never seen outside the picture; they were on their way to a school dance. Unconsciously, Andy’s lips curved into a slight grin; it made him happy to observe his mom’s smile, since he rarely had a first-hand account of the sight.
There was a sharp slam of the front door, Phil was home; that meant they were alone. Andy hurriedly gathered his mother’s memories and concealed them back in their hiding place. If Phil saw them; the horror of the family’s misery would only be exacerbated; Phil allowed no memories, no joy, they had to conceal, never feel. The cycle of recurring oxygen trapped in the closet seemed to have been recycled one too many times. Breath, fresh air, the thoughts were sweet as honeycomb to the little boy. Andy knew who waited on the other side of the locked door, a chilling stare, a patience that had long since been absent, he would wait, Phil and his knife would wait.
There was a consistent tapping of a foot, waiting, waiting, waiting. A slow but sure creak of the door, bit by bit, Andy had to peak, just to be sure. A thin line of light started to beam into the dark, hollow closet. Anticipation; was Phil waiting outside, or was Andy only playing games with himself? He would just check, no, no way he was there; he pushed the door a little farther, then he saw it. A bloodshot eye peeping through the hole, “Hehehehe, I see you-u-u!” Andy thrust open the door, and started to sprint as quickly as his feet could carry him, slamming, banging, cursing; utter confusion filled every gap of the young boy’s mind. It was too late, Phil had caught him by the wrist as he turned the corner; there was a slash here, a slash there; Phil sliced away at his masterpiece.
Chloe reluctantly trudged up the building stairs; she was a moth unconsciously returning to the light. There was one cold night last October when she had run away, alone, with nothing but the clothes on her back. Chloe only returned because she knew she could never survive without her shining star; her little Andy. The woman was thinking of her darling little son as she opened the door to the apartment, there she found him; at least she thought it was him. There was an abrupt thrash, and then a quick lock of the door, tomorrow night, thought Chloe, “I’ll run away for certain.” As the frail girl was used, she reiterated this statement to herself constantly. Chloe’s promise to herself was not; however, a new one, this was what she told herself every time she worried, but poor Chloe always drifted back unconsciously to her “precious light.”
They sat in the corner, petrified, as the dismal shadow descended upon them, Andy clutched Chloe’s hand harder, as he began to fear they might not make it out alive this time. This morning, Andy had urged his mom to stand up to Phil, but to their surprise, hidden in the sofa, Phil had heard every word. After beating and forcing them both to bark and crawl around like the “dogs” that they were, Phil told them that tonight he was going to “bring ‘em home a surprise.” Cowering in the corner, they discovered that Phil’s surprise was a crimson handled, snub nose, pocket pistol. Phil shoved the gun towards the terrorized duo, with an intoxicated explanation that neither of the victims could translate.
“Mom!” Urged Andy in a crazed cry “Do something!” The tears that were always absent, finally found their way into the child’s worn eyes. His soft young voice pleaded with his mother to take a stand against Phil, but the mispronunciation of his “Th’s” made his wise words seem out of place. The boy’s earnest plea accomplished nothing; Chloe’s paralyzed response was nothing but silence. Chloe feared for herself, for her child, she feared fear itself. Andy felt the anticipation rapidly growing in his stomach; but this time was different, this time he pushed “anticipation” away from himself, just as he pushed away his mother. The world moved slower now, Andy heard an abrupt shot, and saw a burst in the wall where his mother's head had been a split second prior to the explosion. Andy’s shove had saved his mother from the cold metal murderer, and now, he would rescue her as well as himself, from the real parasite.
Andy’s feeble hands grabbed hold of the gun, and bit Phil’s wrist with his chipped tooth. In the confusion, the antagonizer flipped the trigger, and time seemed to pass slow enough for Andy to feel the anticipation of the bullet meeting his body. Andy was then overtaken by a vision of the dove; with a car driving full speed towards its tattered body, but the car stopped and the driver came out and released the dove from the bag, sending it off to freedom. The dove’s anticipation of death was all for nothing, instead of facing death, it was set free of its troubles. There was no precious white bird with feathers soaked in blood; there was no need for death to bring peace to the innocent creature. Suddenly, the car started turning a dark crimson, and then it is no longer a car. There was now a man, in a wife beater tank top; but he possessed no purity to overtaken by the puddling crimson; no, he was simply camouflaged in his own hatred. Phil was caught red handed before the dove, who no longer had any reason to fear him. The dove bent down, and whispered this to the stained figure so that none but him could hear:
“You shared none of the terror in the bang or the anticipation of it. Up to this time, I have been caught in your plastic bag, but now I have earned freedom, and you will not share in that either.”