Broken Glass

February 5, 2009
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Charlotte Pane made another attempt at moving her legs. Nothing. Her body still sat motionless in her car seat, immobile from the sight out her window shield. Nothing could have prepared her for this. The countless therapy sessions, the pep talks to herself on the ride down, the last minute reassuring call from her husband, they all meant nothing now. How long had she been sitting there? It could have been minutes, hours, or time could have been frozen still like her body. Charlotte didn't know or care, time was irrelevant now. This place had sent her into a time warp, stuck in her past, the last place she wanted to be.
Her stare was blank. Charlotte refused to willingly process what was in front of her. Her vision started to blur, the details of the scene in front of her started to become fuzzy, now only the dim outlines and shadows were evident. Colors and light danced across the landscape, she barely noticed the heavy pounding in her head thumping in unison with her thudding heart. Panic rushed through her, the first emotion she had felt in what seemed like forever. She let go of the air she had unintentionally been holding inside her now bursting lungs. Her vision was repaired and her head stopped hammering as she had to mentally regulate her breathing. Breathe in, breathe out. Every gasp brought reality back to Charlotte.
The first thing her still spinning mind could wrap itself around was the barely standing crooked mailbox. It stood barren, to the left of the gravel driveway that her and her car sat idly in. Like so many things about this place, Charlotte tried to not imagine what the mailbox used to look like. She instead focused all her energy onto what it had now become. It was caked in dust that the wind had picked up from the dirt road and cemented on to the box. The thin layer of dirt and grime made it impossible to see the original shiny luster of the box when it was first put in front of the home, and Charlotte was grateful for that. The small box was proof that Charlotte used to weakly convince herself that this place was not the same. It was the tiniest ounce of optimism that Charlotte needed to continue on. The mouth of the mailbox hung open, its umber cover hung crookedly now from only one rusty hinge. She strained her eyes harder to see that, as expected, there were no letters, no packages, nothing but dead leaves and twigs that took their place. The mailbox was empty and broken, just like the home it stood in front of.
Charlotte cautiously stepped out of the car, peering over the still open door that she used as her shield. The weather report projected sunny autumn skies, but she noted the deep gray clouds that hung low above her, almost purposefully to match the aura that besieged her. Her ivory skin and chestnut hair stuck out against the dull colors of the setting. It was quite obvious that the silver luxury car she stood behind did not belong in the driveway of the home either, Charlotte quietly mused to herself when she thought of the unlikely contrast between her car and the rundown house it stood in front of. But most of all, what stood out against the stagnant ambience of her surroundings was the the quaint smile that spread across her face when she realized the irony. She still did not will herself to look at the house, instead she timidly stared at the ground. The house swallowed all bravery and courage from Charlotte, it so easily eased her back into her child hood.
The yard that led up to the home was mostly dirt, overgrown patches of grass and dead leaves sprinkled throughout the lawn. Planks of wood, that were once considered a fence, were staked into the ground. Only a couple were still standing that were scattered around the perimeter of the property. A single desolate oak tree stood at the far end of the plane, looking more lifeless than anything else in the dreary yard. The dull swarthy color of the rough bark and dismantled branches were reflected in the forest that surrounded the home. Shrubs and lifeless, branchy bushes crowded the front of the tiny house. Charlotte observed the barren yard, only a tinge of emotion rose up inside her, that she was able to subdue quickly. Her focus ran across the dirt and grass and up to the vapid plants that shielded the house. She paused her stare right before the house, knowing exactly what was coming, but unsure of what to expect. The thought of the insignificant mailbox irrationally filled her with hope, confidence that the sight of the house would have no effect on her. Without thinking twice she yanked her stare onto the small weathered home, plunging her eyes into the withered sight in front of her.
Memories, like flames, were inadvertently sparked in her head. With every flame, pain flashed through Charlotte, the heat scorching and blistering every inch of the path it took through her memory. The flames grew, intertwining together, arranging themselves into a blaze, an unbearable torture. Charlotte was mesmerized by the pain, unable to pull her eyes away from her former house. An invisible string wrapped itself around her eyelids, pulling them wider and wider, keeping her gaze locked onto the dilapidated home. The comatose her body was able to break now overtook her eyes. Any effort to divert her stare was countered with a harder tug on the string, keeping her eyes in place. She couldn't distract her gaze or even blink, and now the fire from her mind enveloped her eyes too. Charlotte didn't know if the tears streaming down her face were from the pain or the memories and emotions that now consumed her body and mind. For the second time Charlotte's vision became blurry, as the tears built up inside her flooded eyes. Her weeping was enough to pull her away from the house and momentarily extinguish the flames. She collapsed onto the ground, kneeling onto the gravel, head bent in anguish. Any hope that this place was different now, that time had erased any pain from her past, left Charlotte with every teardrop that splattered onto the gravel.
The house she lay helpless in front of looked anything but intimidating. It appeared weak and vulnerable; an object not capable of inducing the feeble state it had instantly put Charlotte into. The neglected shack's roof was partly caved in, the other half was adorned with holes and missing shingles. Worn gray paint flaked off sporadically, leaving a pattern of speckled rough wood behind. Two pairs of windows sat vertically on the first and second floor, the top two windows shattered and broken. The green door had caved in letting a small glimpse into the dark dingy building. Charlotte felt the torment of the home, the affliction that it successfully abandoned onto her. She felt the ailing sensation of the plague the house had put on her circulate through every part of her body. Once again, the fire was lit, now the flames carried anger that coursed through her veins. Her rage clouded the rest of her head. Rising from the ground she still held a stone from the gravel in her hands. This evil place was not, could not be a part of her. She wanted a change that she knew was too much to ask for. She rubbed the rock in her right palm with her thumb. The flames were rising inside of her, releasing emotions stronger than her defiance. Impulsively she drew back her right arm, like she was about to throw a baseball. She gave in, letting the fire inside her reign over her entire body now. Heaving the rock with all her power she watched it hurtle towards the lower window of the house. The fire had won, the house had won. She collapsed again onto the ground as the sound of broken glass scattering across the floor echoed through the forest.
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Charlotte sat at the dining room table, late afternoon sun beamed through a window consuming her and the room in a radiant glow; she was too absorbed in her book to admire the simple beauty. The bustle of Charlotte's mom's frantic steps were audible throughout the whole house in her hectic attempt to cook dinner. The banging and chopping of kitchen cookware was not enough to distract Charlotte from the book she was engrossed in, but the sound of her mom's voice was enough make her look up from the pages.

'Dinner will be ready in a few, move your things so I can set the table, Char,' her mother shouted, trying to talk over the sounds of the clamorous kitchen, 'And Paul will be home soon.'

Charlotte cringed at the name. Even over the noise of the kitchen the last comment was more distinct than any other sound that filled the house. Her mother said it as more of a warning than a statement, or maybe Charlotte had just grown accustomed to the caution that the name always carried with it.

She collected the notebooks and paper strewn about the table and shoved them into her back pack. She trudged into the connecting living room, which served as a front room, TV room, and her mom's piano room as well, and situated herself onto the only seat in the tiny area, an old couch that sat next to the front door. The racket from the kitchen was still clear, the small space and thin walls of the house made silence impossible. During Charlotte's effort to make herself comfortable on the lumpy cushions her eyes absent mindedly roamed the room. They drifted atop the ancient television set, over and around the unkempt, cluttered floor littered with clothing, crumpled papers, old food- all mostly Paul's- and then finally rested upon her mom's trite, beloved piano. Deep groves and cracks spread throughout the aged but still vivid color of the lush darkened wood. The once alabaster keys had been chipped and worn down into a chalky gray. The piano had been passed down from her great grandmother, someone she never had the chance to meet, and left behind for her mom. It was the only valuable thing the family owned, Paul had threatened to sell it countless times. Charlotte shuddered at the thought; Paul never appreciated it like she did. Not the piano itself- Charlotte had no knack for music and aside from its hidden splendor the instrument didn't reward Charlotte in any way- but she loved more than anything the person her mother became when she sat down on the worn leather seat of the piano bench. The keys were electric, an instantaneous burst of energy surged through the chords, a current of vivacity reaching her mom's fingers and bringing the woman back to life. Every tone, every melody, even the rare mistakes that her mother's fingers made, Charlotte savored every sound like the sweetest candy in her mouth that she never wanted to dissolve. Charlotte never saw her mom at the piano, she saw the piano woman, carefree and exhilarated as her fingers effortlessly glided across the keys. Her mother would close her eyes, let the music wrap itself around her and sway her anyway it wanted. She trusted the music more than anything else, more than any person. Charlotte could sit and watch her for hours; she longed to find something that she felt so passionately about. Something to depend on, even after the world has failed her something she can trust will always bring gratitude back to her. Charlotte wanted to be more like the piano woman. The piano remained the one constant in Charlotte and her mom's life after her mom had decided to remarry Paul two years ago. But during the two years Charlotte sensed a change in her mom. Something slowly escaping from her mom, the light behind her amber eyes slowly dimming away. The spirit was being pushed out of her, making room for Paul and the rage he carried with him. Charlotte heard the woman in the kitchen, the person that once had embodied her mom but now only claimed that title. The piano woman no longer blessed Charlotte with her songs, she is only a spirit locked up and buried deep inside her mother now. The piano had been silent for the last two years, dead like her mother from the moment she said I do.

A flash of light caught Charlotte's wandering eyes. They gravitated towards a picture that sat on top of the dusty piano; the only framed photograph in the whole house. A single beam of sunlight was able to escape the dining room and streamed into the living room, now embracing the photo of Charlotte and her mom. The light glinted off the glass cover, illuminating the pale faces of the mother and daughter. Charlotte's arm wrapped around her mom's waist, her mom's hugging around Charlotte's shoulder. The faces were almost identical; the hazel eyes, rosy cheeks, and matching wide open grin as laughter escaped both mouths. Neither was looking at the camera, both beaming at each other as they collapsed into one and others arms from giggling. It was the day before the wedding; the day before everything changed. The light feeling in Charlotte's heart was unavoidable every time she admired the picture, but she would never be able to escape the sinking feeling that followed when she realized times would never be like that again.

The roar of an old car coming up the gravel driveway and the trailing slam of a car door snapped charlotte out of her daze. It was the unpleasant sound she loathed everyday; Paul was home. As his steps became more and more audible as he neared the door panic rushed through her. Instinctually she looked for places to hide, but scanning the room she realized this home gave her no protection. Her heart stopped when the front door swung open and the man she was condemned as a daughter to stepped through the doorway.

Averting her eyes she cowardly stared at the cluttered floor. She cringed even at the sight of his heavy shadow that was cast on the ground in front of her. The pressure of the dark shadow slowly crushed on top of Charlotte; fear strained her fragile body. The smell of sawdust that soaked itself into his clothes from the lumber yard he worked at now wafted through the house. Charlotte despised that smell. She hugged her body, making herself as small as possible. She wanted to be invisible when Paul was around; wanted herself and the pain to disappear. Suddenly the air around Charlotte seemed thicker, she quietly gasped for breath only taking in stale air and saw dust particles. Charlotte was a statue of fear in the presence of Paul; afraid to make any wrong move, to trigger any anger inside of him. She sat silent and suffocating, hoping that Paul would not even acknowledge her. A coat was slung down beside Charlotte's still body, a cloud of sawdust surrounding it. The shadow started to slink around the room accompanied by sluggish steps. Charlotte flinched at any movement, the insides of her body tensed. The shadow continued across the room slowly, her body tightening at every step. The burn of every bruise, scratch and break on Charlotte's skin burned, growing worse as her body clenched harder onto itself; sinking itself deeper into the forever open wounds. It was an unpreventable tendency of her body now, preparing itself for more injuries to be inflicted on it whenever Paul was around. Charlotte gritted her teeth, barring the pain, knowing that Paul himself could strike more anguish than just his presence was capable of. The ominous shadow skulked out of the room and instantaneously the weight of the shadow was lifted of Charlotte's shoulders. She listened as the steps made their way towards the kitchen, and towards her helpless mother. The sounds from the kitchen were ruminant of a common conversation held by a married couple, and Charlotte weakly convinced herself that maybe today was a good day; different than most others, but her still burning scars told her otherwise.

Charlotte would never be able to get used to the sight of the disheveled man that sat across the dining room table from her ever day. His gruff face was slathered with an unkempt beard that made up for most of the hair he was missing from the top of his head. The shoulders of his stocky body were always hunched, and usually covered by the plaid shirts required for his lumber yard uniform. Charlotte searched her mind everyday for what her mom saw in such a vile man, but there was never an answer, and she expected there never would be. The dinner table was always silent. Charlotte had learned her lesson to never speak unless spoken to around Paul. He had complete control over her and her mom; every word and movement that they made was under Paul's jurisdiction. Charlotte tugged at the sleeve of her shirt. The memory of her old clothes; tank tops, short sleeves and shorts tugged at Charlotte's heart. Now only pants and long sleeved shirts took their place; anything to cover the evidence of Paul's reign over her and her mother. In the middle of summer, when her classmates would ask her why she wore so much clothing, a shrug is her only explanation. Charlotte's thoughts were interrupted by her mother's reaching hand beckoning to clear her empty bowl. She pushed the bowl away, and stood up to return to the couch.
The sunlight that had lit the house disappeared with the sunset and Charlotte tripped over the messy floor trying to make her way across the dark room. She listened intently to the dishes being cleaned and low grumbles from Paul; probably complaining about her mother's cooking. She made another attempt at reading her book, but she could barely depict the words in the moonlight. As the voices from the kitchen become louder Charlotte strained her vision harder; her eyes hurting from the constant effort to make out the undecipherable words. The voices formed into shouts now, the entire house shook with Paul's tremendous bellow. The aches and pains of Charlotte's scars danced across her skin, searing every previous injury. Her heart started to pound as the hostility in the kitchen escalated. She tried to focus on reading, but now more than ever the words on the page have blended into the paper, leaving no distraction for Charlotte. Still, she vigorously scanned the book wrenching her eyes in hopes of keeping her ears oblivious to the screams from the other room. And then, like first thunder of a rainstorm, the shriek of a plate shattering on the kitchen floor, broken glass scattering across the ground, followed by the familiar sound of flesh hitting flesh is echoed throughout the house. Absolute silence enveloped the home; a silence that screams louder than any fight between Paul and Charlotte's mother. Charlotte was as still as a sculpture again; trying to anticipate what would come next. The frame above the piano was now overtaken by moonlight. A beam glinted off the glass cover catching Charlotte's attention. The cool light from the moon made the identical faces even paler. Thoughts that had permanently engrained into Charlotte pulse through her mind. If only I had know what was coming that day. If only I could have warned my mom the horrible fate that awaited us inside of Paul's angry fists. If only. Through the dining room door Charlotte saw her defenseless mother collide with the table, the chairs scattering onto the floor.

'Look at this mess you've made!' The beast howled stepping out of the kitchen. Charlotte cringed at the sight of Paul, his eyes burning with rage and a sly grin spreading across his face from the entertainment of hurting his wife. He reached out for the woman sprawled across the table, but was stopped by her frail arm.

'Don't touch me Paul! Get away!' Charlotte's mom screamed attempting to save herself. The beast's grin widens into a smile, cackles escaping his body as he grabs the powerless woman and flings her onto the living room floor. The sound of Charlotte's mom's weak bones coming in contact with the hard wooden ground made a sickening crunch that rang inside of Charlotte's now wide open ears. Instinctually Charlotte lunged for her whimpering mom cowering on the filthy ground. Before she can reach her mom's hand, comfort her and tell her that everything will be better in the morning, a quick impact crushed her lungs and sent her back onto the couch. Every scar was lit on fire and now accompanied by the stinging in her rib cage. Charlotte screamed out in agony as the torture of her past beatings from Paul are all brought back to the surface. She pressed herself against the couch as she saw the blood thirsty animal making his way towards her. His eyes were glowing embers and his devilish grin wider than ever when he reached Charlotte and wrapped his fists around her frail arms. She could no longer look into the eyes of this beast and instead gazed up out the window to find the shining moon watching down on her, its beams of light wrapping themselves around her body like Paul's clinging fists. Charlotte felt her tender skin bruising under Paul's cruel grip.

'Look at me!' Paul shouted. Charlotte ignored the man and continued her gazing out the window. The pain seemed to dull, almost disappear like she wished she could do as well. And then she felt the sharp corner of the piano jab into her back that Paul had flung her against. The old piano teetered and with it the frame collapsed, slipping onto the floor and shattering into pieces on the ground on front of her.

'You listen to what I say! Now look at me!' Charlotte unknowingly followed the command. Her eyes met his, the fire inside his now scorching into her mind, leaving their mark on her memory forever. And in that moment something clicked inside of Charlotte; the embers from Paul's eyes igniting flames inside of Charlotte's amber eyes as well. The flames rose inside her, her body succumbing to the both rage and courage that it brought with them. Charlotte's body was numb, and now Paul no longer had reign over her.

'You will never touch me again!' Charlotte screamed. She felt the flames from the fire pour out of her open mouth. With all her strength she pushed the beast out of the way. Jumping over the broken glass on the floor she flew out of the front door of the house. As fast as her legs could take her she flew up the gravel driveway. She had nowhere to go. The beams of moonlight that had once watched her be battered under the reign of Paul and the thought of never going back to that home again were the only things that guided her. Paul was gone but the flames inside her eyes still lived inside her, a permanent mark left by the beast. The chilly air of the night cooled her wounds and the beams of moonlight interminably sealed them shut. The pain had disappeared, and finally she did as well.
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The engine of Charlotte's expensive car purred as she turned on the ignition. Over and over again she scolded herself. What was she thinking coming back here, this place she ran away from years ago she now so willingly returned to. She had overestimated her strength; she would never be able to handle the dark images of her past. Sliding the gear into reverse she glanced into the rear view mirror before pulling out of the driveway and away from the shack. The mirror held more inside it than Charlotte had expected. The cloudy day had accidentally let a ray of sun streak into the back window of her car, that gave a stack of sheen books piled in her car an unexpected glow. She reluctantly slammed on the brakes, realizing that the highlighted books belonged to her own daughter, a stack of piano books. The flames of emotion threatened to be rekindled, but the meaningless books brought on a new feeling. The day she left her past behind she had sacrificed her mother with it. And now, her daughter, Isabella, carries on her passion for piano, the small spirit of the piano woman still alive and living with Charlotte this whole time. The light from the sun grew larger, stretching across the entire back seat, portending to take over Charlotte as well. This house was as much a part of her mom as it was the beast. The piano and photograph had once lived here too. Charlotte took another look at the house. As she watched the light from the sun overtake the house as well it became apparent to her that this house was not the enemy.
She killed the engine, and stepped out of the car with no testament this time. As if this place was her home again she walked naturally through the lit yard and up to the front door. The door creaked open with barely any force. She stood for a moment at on the door step. Was she overestimating herself again? She was about to step into the abyss of her past, she could never take it back. Not a tinge of regret followed Charlotte as she stepped into her old home. The living room stood covered in light to her left. She tightened her muscles readying her body for the flames to blaze, but after a moment passed nothing but contentment flashed over her body. Realizing that this place was not the true adversary she was able to loosen her muscles and relax her mind. Stepping farther into the house she saw everything had vanished like expected. The house was empty except for the ever present beams of sunlight. A step farther into the house something crunched under Charlotte's foot. The glass from the window that Charlotte had shattered was scattered around her feet. She looked down, now disappointed in herself for breaking one of the only two intact windows of her old home. She bent down desperately trying to mend the pieces of broken glass back together. She realized she looked foolish, broken glass could never be repaired. Instead she stayed kneeling, admiring the prisms of light and color that reflected off the pile of glass and danced around the room, and for a moment she swore she could have seen herself as a child staring back at her from the heap of broken window. She looked harder only to find the pieces of shattered glass. She stood up, the light must be playing with her eyes. She swerved around to leave before her mind could play any other tricks on her when she saw the last undamaged window of the house. It was just as she remembered; the visions of the moon beams streaming through it, wrapping themselves around her as the beast approached. The fire was building again now, the rage the came along with the memories of Paul now building up inside of her. Before she could lash out once again at the house she had finally come to terms with, the light of the window formed a new reflection, the image of Isabella, her daughter. The same hazel eyes and rose cheeks that Charlotte and her mom had once shared as well now were so clear in the intact window. Charlotte was now at the window, reaching out for her daughter, stroking the glass. She would never allow her daughter to be a part of a place like this, a place that held so much brutality. It was so clear now why she had come. She was at peace with her past, and now the power to provide herself and Isabella a better future was in her hands. And just like that, as Charlotte reached for her daughter's peaceful face, a flood of new emotions swept over her body. The rage and anguish that had lived inside her for so long were pushed away by a rush of acceptance. Charlotte was no longer drowning in her past, burning alive from painful memories. She submerged herself in the cool water that now coursed through her veins, and permanently extinguished the flames. Her body was broke through the surface and she was now able to gently float atop the waves of her memories. As Charlotte stepped out of the home, it was the first smile that ever spread over her face in the house. Cool raindrops splattered across her pale skin and streamed down her chestnut hair as she made her way towards the car, in no hurry to make it out of the rain. She could not wait to get home and wrap her arms around Isabella, the way her mother used to do to her. She got into her car, realizing this was the last time she would be leaving this place, not running away this time. She pulled out of the driveway, her last glance at the house she caught the light of the sun escaping that clouds and illuminating the unbroken window, and then drove away into the rain.





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