Coral – A Short Story

     I watch from the window as the tall, dark-haired woman walks to her car. She is dressed smartly in a cool white dress and matching shoes. Her coral colored toes peek playfully from the crisp, white heels. Coral nail polish is Mama’s favorite too. I suspect it is a secret code for a witches coven that is dedicated to hating children. I stick my tongue out and make faces at the woman behind her back. Ms. Kathy’s neat little brown bun, like the last of my hope, disappears into the green ford explorer. The wheels crunch over the gravel mimicking the sound of my bones once Mother is through with me. This time she had stayed less than ten minutes. Ms. Kathy had spoken in that annoying tone that adults do when they think you are pulling one over on them. Most of the women that come out would simply say ‘mind your mother now and be a good girl’. They have never seen that woman's wrath or the look in her eyes─ the look that could melt all the glaciers in the world.Katherine-Anne- Thomas you get out here right now.” I sulk at Mama’s tone she always screams at me, no matter how far away I am. I take my time, tracing my fingers along the familiar dips and bumps on the wall. I pause at the entrance to the living room and then drop down to my knees to peer around the TV stand. Her blonde mane is perfectly groomed, each strand of hair curled to frame her heart-shaped face. Her bangs have been feathered just right to hover over magazine-quality blue eyes. The seductive curve of her lips are filled in with a fiery red color which almost matches her silky string top. Her legs are adorned in a pair of freshly pressed black slacks and finally completed with black pumps . If it is one thing Mama is good at, it is finding stylish clothes on a budget. She once found a pair of real leather boots miss-labeled at twenty-nine dollars. Not only did she get the boots at a reduced price but also walked away with a complementary matching purse and wallet. Mama always wins.  I cringe at the giggles and coos of my half-brother as he stands to point in his bouncy chair from the kitchen doorway. I hadn’t noticed him since he is on the left and mama is on the couch to the right. “Shi-Shi” Logan squeals in full force. His sing-song voice bounds from wall to wall sealing my fate with the merry jingling of the bells on either side of him.
Katherine, now.” More than her usual yelling spree, it was the calm, collected voice she uses that scares me the most. And today is one of those days. I gulp and rise up on shaky knees. My teeth, no matter how hard I press them down, will not stop chattering. I round the corner and stare up at the fierce, flushed face of my mother. I bring my gaze to the floor a millisecond too late and her hand clamps over my jaw.Don’t you look at me that way, you know exactly what you did,” she spits, tightening her grip. I haven’t done anything, it was more than likely our neighbors that called, but there is no convincing her of that. Besides, apologizing only sparks her anger. I wisely remain silent and keep my gaze on the pearly glow of her coral nail polish. Each glistening toe is digging firmly into the wooden floor. I become mesmerized by the peachy-gleam, the unending sea of warmth deceptively beautiful. I try to imagine what the color would feel like wrapped around my arms. Maybe it would comfort and warm me─ sprinkling cinnamon and peach kisses across my face like Grandma's kisses. Grandma’s kisses were always the best, soft yet solidly planted on my forehead. But Grandma was long dead from the cancer that had spread throughout her body. There was no sense in wishing for her now. Logan’s pre-occupied giggles pepper through the silence. To his delight he had located his pacifier on top of the blue button. He grasps it carefully and then squeals at the start of Mary had a little lamb. I envy his ability to find the joy in small things, oblivious to what life soon has to offer. He won't have to suffer Mama's wrath like I will. Suddenly it is hard to breathe and for a moment my head connects with the ground. The room sounds funny, almost hollow. Mama's shoes come into focus inches from my body. I'm barely able to groan when her shoe makes contact with my stomach, legs, and then arms as I wrap them protectively over my face. She drops to the ground and grabs a handful of my hair to pull my head toward her mouth. "Why do you insist on making me angry?" she says through grit teeth. Mama jerks my hair again a few times and then slams my head on the ground. My body lays as still as a statue until I hear her slowly walk toward the baby. I crack my eyes a tiny slit and watch as she bends down to pick up Logan. His eyes scan the room and then look down at me. He makes an uncertain gurgle and pats Mama's face then points to me. Laughing she nuzzles him to her face and walks into the kitchen. I hear him say "shi-shi" as mama gently lowers him into his high chair.Now, now” I hear Mama coo, “sissy is taking a nap and it’s time for your lunch. How about sweet peas for my sweetie?" I silently count the grooves in the wood. I look as far away as my eyes can without opening further. This is a way for me to gauge time, once I am able to count them ten times it is okay to get up and go to my room. On the tenth pass, I hear the key enter the front door and I quickly stand up to dust off my arms and legs. I woodenly walk to the front door and smile as my Stepfather comes in. He has dark rings under his honey-colored eyes and his normal neat crop of black hair is unkempt. He smells of sweat and metal, no doubt from his long night shift. I know it is almost time for his nap before he has to turn around and go to school. My Stepdad is a good guy, he never touches me or beats me in any way. That makes him pretty decent in my book. I know that he must know about Mom’s beatings but none of us ever talk about it in the open. Mom once confronted him and asked him to use the belt on me, but he had said it wasn’t his place. She had made very large welts that day, repeatedly slapping it across my legs and back.James,” Mama says, her cheeks glowing like the color of her toes. His deep laugh rumbles throughout his chest as Mama hugs him tight. I slowly inch toward the hallway as they talk about each other’s day. I am almost to my sanctuary when Mama calls from the kitchen. She must have finished making lunch because when I return to the living room my Stepdad is flipping through channels on TV and eating a sandwich. My stomach growls in protest as I step into the kitchen. I look down at the off-white tile and marvel again at the perfection of Mama’s handy work.  The toes seem to be getting brighter as the day passes, glittering like the surface of the sun in the afternoon light. I wonder if it may be her natural toenail color. Grabbing a patch of my hair she twists it all the way to my skull until I am down on one knee whimpering. I hate giving in, I hate it so much that I bite down on my tongue and fight not to scream. I stare blankly at Mama’s blouse careful not to show emotion.You listen well you little brat. I want you to do the dishes” she yanks harder until I am sure my hair will be ripped out. “Logan’s father and I are going to sleep, understand?” I nod my head, gritting my teeth at the white-hot pokers in my skull.Your brother is also laying down, so I expect not so much as a clang from this kitchen. Are we clear?” She gives my hair one final tug and throws me against the stove. I immediately drop into a fetal position on the floor. I can feel her staring down at me, analyzing my every move. Finally, there is a shift in the air and then she is gone. Just to be safe, I slowly count to ten before getting up. I pace back and forth, imagining that each step creates a tiny groove in the tile. I pause as something occurs to me, why haven’t I thought of it before? The color, the c-o-l- o-r. I drew it out in my mind, each syllable burning worse than the last. I have to rid her of the nail color. It’s probably filtered into her bloodstream, polluting her mind with its filthy lies. A bad, bad girl− it would say. Looks too much like her deadbeat dad, it would snicker in its low, raspy taunt. No, not the sweet warmth of cinnamon and peach, it is poison like the apple given to Snow White.

Tears wet my face for the first time in two years as I rinse every pan, bowl, and plate. I gingerly place them one by one into the dishwasher. It is our newest appliance, one that has taken several of my Stepdad's paychecks to get. I lean over to place the final two bowls in the washer when one slips from my grasp. I stare in horror as it shatters into a thousand porcelain pieces. It coats the floor like newly fallen snow and for a moment I remember seeing something similar outside many Christmas's ago. It was the first time I had seen snow fall as a child. I had wandered out to the living room to sneak a peek at Santa but something brushed against the glass. I remember pressing my face against it and staring in wonder at the blur of white. It gently kissed the tops of the pure, white snow. After some time I had fallen asleep on the couch when someone had wrapped me into their arms and gently laid me in bed. That feels like a hundred years ago now. Even then Mama had hated me but we still had moments from time to time. There was the occasional book reading and she always made sure that I had something to open Christmas morning. Birthdays had been hard but she would still have parties for me at Chuck-E-Cheese. Tears well up as the door to their bedroom flies open. I freeze, my hands clamping over my mouth. I draw a shaky breath, my eyes glued to the doorway. When did the utter hatred for me begin? Why would her eyes never soften for me the way they did for Logan?  There is a thunderous roar as her feet pound down the long hall. There is a breath of silence and Mama is there. Her eyes are wild as she pounces. Cool, clammy hands wrap around my neck and squeeze. “You-did-that-on-purpose-you-little bitch.” I try to open my mouth and speak but the only thing that escapes is air. I plead with my eyes, trying to tell her to let me speak. That all of this is the work of the vile bottled nail polish, convincing her that she needs to end me and that I am a stain on her life. Instead, the only thing I manage is a strangled, wet gargle as I slowly start to loose feeling in my legs. I claw lamely at her python-like grip as we sink to the floor. My eyes lock with her tempests of blue. The coral has won. There is no love for me here. I wonder if there ever was. As the oxygen leaves my body I close my eyes and pray. Maybe this is all a bad dream. I am in my room, playing with the Barbie she gave me for my fifth birthday and I will wake up at any moment. My lungs feel as if they are about to burst but I grow calm, patiently waiting for this nightmare to end. The pressure on my neck loosens and I am left to lay on the ground. My eyes open and I smile at the soft blond curls that brush against my face. Everything is bathed in a warm peachy glow─ its heat wrapping my body. My vision fades as a voice calls to me in the distance. I have forgotten what this sounds like, a tender and soothing voice. Mama is waiting for me at the back door in our old apartment as I walk toward her. I smile shyly at the calm, beautiful woman that reaches out to me. At last, I have found her─ I have found my real mother. There is profound feelings of love behind her baby-blues. Tears spill down my cheeks as I break my stride and run to her. From the distance I hear my Stepfather screaming but it lasts only for a moment before I am swept into her arms. I inhale deeply and marvel at the smell of Mama's perfume, just as I had remembered it all those years ago. She carries me into the house and then lays me on the bed. A kiss is planted gently on my forehead and then Mama gathers me into her arms. She rocks back and forth, softly humming a familiar tune. I smile as the sheets are pulled up to my chin and then over my head. It has been so long since Mama tucked me in. She leans in close and whispers through the sheets, "I love you, babygirl." Mama, my Mama is back and I am home. My words come out gentle as the Summer breeze, "I love you too."

Dedicated to children everywhere that never had a voice.

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