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.

Understanding child abuse – An Open Letter To The Public – Part I

Warning. NSFL age 13+ recommended*

You just can’t understand. I don’t mean that to sound rude, but it’s true. Just like any other person that has experienced something you haven’t will tell you.

I can’t speak for other survivors of abuse.

I can’t tell you their story, how they were hurt, or how it affected their lives.

What I can do, is offer you an open invitation to my life, what I’ve gone through, and what others might be (or have been) experiencing.

 

No one likes to talk about child abuse. No one likes to admit it happens, especially when you are a child reaching out to the law.

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If they do know it is happening, many will tell you that it is better that you stay with your abusive parent than go through the system.

For a lot of cases and friends that I grew to know, this is sadly true.

 

I want you to take a moment and think about that statement.

 

 

 

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It is better to stay with an abusive parentthan to go through a system that is supposed to be designed to protect the child.

But it isn’t, is it? It’s a business. Just like any other. Except it shouldn’t be because a human life is on the line.

 

I listened to a podcast earlier in the year called Broken Harts. It was a horror story about how two mentally unstable women managed to adopt several kids. The kids were beaten, starved, and eventually─ lost their lives.

This really digs deep into many situations involving society and children. Way more than on the surface of kids getting bounced around, abandoned, and used as a business.

If you’re naive enough to believe that children aren’t used in sex trafficking that grow up in homes, my friends can tell you a very different story. It is a big money maker, and it’s enough to make you sick about humanity.

 

I won’t get too preachy, and this alone could be another topic of discussion, but we’ll move on.

 

I’m not the worst case you have heard involving abuse. I know there are worse─ far worse─ stories than my own. My stepfather was a prime example of the evils parents can do. (his own life, tragically, did not end well.)

I offer my own story to help with perspective on many others that have had similar experiences and my own thoughts about myself and others. I hope to help educate people through this experience, most importantly to help spread awareness and some compassion.

This journey is very personal to me. It’s raw, it’s very real and not appropriate for anyone under the age of 13. Be warned, things get very uncomfortable.

It’s opening up old wounds I’d long thought I had buried, or perhaps helped me realize several things about myself along the way.

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You ready?

 

Let’s go back to the beginning.

We won’t pour over every little thing, but we are going to journey through the memories that stuck out the most, and hard lessons learned at an early age.

 

Lesson 1: Stay Quiet, Stay Still.

Thankfully, many of us don’t start forming memories until we’re over the age of 3. There’s strong debate on whether we still retain things, or form habits before this age, but for argument’s sake, we’ll stick with what I remember learning.

To backpedal a bit, my own mother came from a cycle of abuse. Her mother abused her. Did it make it right that she did it to me? No. That was her normal, therefore, she continued what she knew.

Throughout the years, there was always a constant in my relationship with my mother. Tension/Anger would build, she would snap, sometimes yell, and then the beating, followed by a complete quiet and calm afterward.

This was usually because I would stay quiet and stay put. It was a mantra I would later learn to say in my head so that the pain would go away.

 

Stay quiet, stay still.  

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You learn this very young. As long as I make myself as small as possible and don’t fight back, it will be over soon.

I learned to read my mother’s triggers. Mostly it was a look when I would ask for something, or if she was in a certain mood, or angry about things in her life. I was the cure-all for her frustration.

Basically, I learned how to read body language and facial expressions very well. My survival depended on it.

My daily world was constantly changing. There was no such thing as normal, routine, etc. because my mother’s moods changed from moment to moment. Yes, she was bipolar, no she was not medicated.

Imagine life with a person who’s mood could swing one way to the next in seconds over the smallest things. Everything overwhelmed her. Now imagine that person had controlling issues and always snapped to anger. It was the first thing they jumped to and it was an uncontrollable rage.

 

Want to know the hardest part about this?

 

Also imagine a parent that would read stories to you at night, occasionally give you back scratches, and spend time and money on your room for you. She threw birthday parties, took us out, you know─ normal things too.

It can all be so confusing, not knowing which parent you would get.

Anyone that grew up with their natural parents and were abused─ wasn’t abused all the time. Don’t get me wrong, it was a daily occurrence and it was horrible, but it wasn’t everything that I remember.

Especially after my mother’s passing.

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You get so conflicted, and wonder─ was it really that bad? Maybe I’m being dramatic.

But you aren’t, and you know it because of the awful things that you wish were false memories, but were very real. You come to mourn what could have been, instead of what was. This is a later chapter we will get into, so for now we’ll put a pin in it and save it for later.

Appearances are everything to an abusive parent, and they will go out of their way to seem like things are fine.

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My mother spent hours perfecting herself before we would go anywhere. Her makeup, her clothing, her hair. We couldn’t leave until she felt she looked perfect, and that I looked perfect. Two perfect girls, with a dream life.

She constantly made strides to appear like everything we weren’t. Which was poor. I knew this was a frustration to her because when I would ask about a toy at the store she would snap and say, “we can’t afford it.”

We most certainly could always afford things for her. Interesting how that works.

 

Lesson 2: Cry Out For Help, I Dare You.

After the years passed, I reached around the age of five (kindergarten) when I realized that other children were not treated this way. I remember meeting other parents and marveling at how sweet and calm they were.

But it didn’t really sink in until I hit seven years old. I’m unsure about what the significance was at this age, or why, but my mother hit a new type of tactic at this stage. I was growing, my hair changing colors from blonde to a sandy brown. My mother, (who had been divorced from my natural father since I was a baby) hated it. She dyed my hair.

She dyed a 7-year-old’s hair because her daughter’s natural hair ‘looked filthy.’ She tweezed my eyebrows, dressed me in the frilliest dresses she could find and finally I could look how she thought I was supposed to look. Her darling dear with blonde curls, and sweet dresses.

I look a lot like my father. I suspect that there was a lot of hate held for me because of this. My mother hated my father. She would later describe that I would give her a look and it would set her off.

You see, all of my beatings were my fault because I was such a difficult child.

Her words would drone on and on about how hard I was to deal with and that she had always done her best. Denial is very strong with anyone, especially parents.

At school, teachers had noticed things about my behavior around kindergarten through first grade but nothing much was done about it. It wasn’t until around second grade that teachers really took notice of the bruises around my neck, and arms. I’m not sure if there was a change in policy, or they were more noticeable but never-the-less, CPS was informed.

There is only so much a school can do about abuse. The child has to have come into school with filthy clothes, bruises, and bags under their eyes for them to actually do anything about it. The parent has to be a repeat offender of dropping off the child late and showing up late. And that has to happen for weeks on end. It may be different now, but I’m speaking about what I experienced.

I learned that I would need to walk to school in order to make it on-time. So much of grade school, I walked in the mornings and walked home many times when my mother would forget to pick me up or was too late.

When all of it sort of came to a head, they notified my mother that a caseworker was going to be assigned to us.

She calmly drove us home. I remember that look─ the horrifying look of calm that was my mother’s face as we drove from the school to our house. It was the second house that my parents had rented. It was on a circle drive near train tracks with a small back yard surrounded by other little box homes like it.

It was at this time that my brother was nearing the age of two. He was my mother’s joy and she loved him very much. He was my stepfather’s child, which was very special to her. To clarify, I have never held a grudge against my brother for this. We actually get along and he is a great guy. It just was what it was. I was the product of a past she wanted to forget.

What I learned to fear the most from my mother was not screaming. Screaming meant a few slaps, hair pulling, maybe a few whacks with the belt.

Silence, calm─ it was terrifying. It meant something far worse.

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I remember that day, her gently laying my brother in his crib for a nap. She told me in a controlled voice to sit on the couch. She rocked and sang to him, her voice carrying through the thin walls. His room was just behind the living room t.v. so anytime he napped, we had to be quiet.

I remember hearing the love, the gentle coos, the wood from the chair creaking as she rocked in time. I secretly wished that it was me in her arms.

Then it was done, the door closed softly with a click.

I’d hoped that some of her anger had gone away. Maybe a bit of it had.

She sat next to me, wrapped her hand under my chin and tilted my eyes up to meet hers. None of this was done gently, there was clear anger there. White-hot anger beneath her blue-green eyes. She spoke one sentence,

“What did you do?”

Her voice was shaking as she held me in place and began squeezing my jaw into a death grip. She shook it once as she tugged me closer to her face.

My mind raced, I didn’t know how to respond or what I had done wrong. I just knew that my mom had been in the principle’s office. I knew I had to have done something, I just didn’t know what. I knew that my jaw was on fire and the pressure was killing me, but I dare not cry out.

She shook me, hard.

“I said,” she paused between shaking me and this time she gathered a handful of hair and pulled my head back, “what did you do?”

This was different. She didn’t want me to be quiet, it wasn’t going to suit her this time.

I don’t know why I did it, I’m still not sure if it was just instinctual or a form of defiance, but my head pulled away and I tried to run. I remember tears coming, even though I didn’t want them to.

My head went to a different place that day. It was something I think my mind began doing to help ease the distress.  I remember being pulled to the ground and my head screaming from the pain.

The world rang off-key, and it wouldn’t be until later that I realized I had been slapped in the head around my ear. She held my hair the entire time, keeping her voice low as she pulled and pulled dragging me on the floor. My face numbed as the adrenaline coursed through my body and I curled on the floor.

She finally released me after apologies flew from my mouth between crying. I didn’t know what I had done, but I knew that I should apologize. She stood up and told me that if they got into trouble over any of this, I was going to pay.

And if I ever, ever told anyone like that again I would live to regret it.

I wanted to ask what I’d done and what she meant, but I knew better. I had once asked and been hit harder for questioning her.

This is how an abuser works. They use fear to make you stay quiet. Believing that it will only get worse when you try and reach out.

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I hadn’t fully learned my lesson from this experience, or maybe I had grown tired of it when I grew older, but at any rate, this was a precursor to what was to come later.

That was the first time I’d heard her snap this way.

This was when she learned how to be sneakier with her hitting.

 

The CPS (child protective services) worker, like others, came and reviewed our family. My mom smiled, I smiled, we were the perfect family. I never opened up to my teachers again about anything that had happened. You see, my mistake was telling a teacher that my bruises were from my mom.

Lesson number two had been, never trust adults to protect you.

 

This is part I in this series. I will be posting more soon.

Remember to get hugs and love after reading these.

❤ Grey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coral – A Short Story

     I watch from the window as the tall, dark-haired woman walks to her car. She’s dressed smartly for the summer 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 have a sneaking suspicion that there exists a secret witch’s coven dedicated to destroying children’s lives, all of them standing in neat little rows with coral painted feet. I stick my tongue out and make faces at the woman behind her back. Ms. Cathy’s neat little brown bun, like the last of my hope, disappears into the green ford explorer. The wheels crunching over the gravel sounds like rain beating across our thin roof. This time she stayed less than ten minutes. She spoke in that annoying tone that adults do when they think you are pulling one over on them. Most of the women that came out would simply say ‘mind your mother now and be a good girl’. They have never witnessed mama’s wrath or that look in her eye. The look that could melt all the glaciers in Antarctica.

Katherine-Anne- Thomas you get out here right now.”

      I sulk at Mama’s tone, she always sounds like she is screaming at me to come inside. No matter how far I stand from her. I take my time, dragging 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 and peer around the TV stand. Her blonde mane is perfectly groomed, each strand of hair curls to frame her heart-shaped face. Her bangs had been feathered just right to hover over magazine quality blue eyes. The rich seductive curve of her lips is outlined in a fiery red and she is clothed in a silky string top the same color over black slacks. 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-marked at twenty-nine dollars. Not only did she get the boots at a reduced price but also 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 happy jingle, tingle of the bells on either side of him.

    “Katherine, now.” More than her usual yelling spree, it was the calm, collected voice she sometimes 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 I stare up at the fierce, flush face of my mother. I bring my gaze to the floor a millisecond too late and her hand clamps over my cheeks.

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 ignited her anger further. I wisely remained

silent and locked my gaze on the pearly glow of her coral nail polish. Each toe was dug firm into

the ground, straining to break free of their wooden captor. I became mesmerized by the gleam,

the unending sea of peachy-red and I tried to imagine what the color would feel like wrapped

around my arms. Maybe it would comfort and warm me, sprinkle cinnamon and peach kisses

across my face like grandma. Grandma’s kisses were always the best, proud and solidly planted

on my forehead. But grandma was dead, long dead from cancer that had spread throughout her

chest and stomach. There was no sense in wishing for her now. Logan’s preoccupied giggles

peppered through seconds before I felt the repeated pounding of numbing blows. He must have

lost interest and began playing with his toys.

My body lay as still as a statue until I heard her slowly pad toward the baby.

Cracking my eyes a tiny slit, I watched as she bent down and picked Logan up from his bouncy

swing. His eyes scanned the room and then looked down at me. He made an uncertain gurgle,

patting mama’s face and pointing to me. Laughing she nuzzled him to her face and walked into

the kitchen. I heard him say shi-shi as mama gently lowered him into his high chair.

Now, now” I heard mama coo, “sissy is taking a nap and it’s time for your lunch. How

about sweet peas for my sweetie?”

I counted the grooves in the wood. I looked as

far away as my eyes could without opening further. This was a way for me to gauge time, once I was able to count them ten times it was okay to get up and go to my room. On the tenth pass, I heard the key enter the front door and quickly stood up, dusting my arms and legs. Mechanically, I walked to the front door and smiled as my stepfather came in. He had dark rings under his chocolate colored eyes and his normal neat crop of black hair was tousled and unkempt. He smelled of sweat and metal, no doubt from his long night shift. I knew it was almost time for his nap before he had 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 knows about mom’s beatings but he cleverly avoids the topic. Mom once confronted him and asked him to use the belt on me, but he said it wasn’t his place and she snatched the belt away tearing it across my legs and back.

James,” Mama says, her cheeks glowing like the color of her toes. His deep laugh rumbles through 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 lunch because when I return to the living room my stepdad is flicking through channels on the TV and eating a sandwich. My stomach grumbles in protest as I step into the kitchen. I look down at the off-white tile and marveled again at the perfection of Mama’s handy work. The toes seem to be getting brighter as the day passed, shining like the surface of the sun in the afternoon light. I silently wonder if I hack them into tiny pieces what I would find. I began to seriously believe it was her natural toenail color. Grabbing a patch of my hair she twists until I am down on one knee whimpering. I hate giving in, hate it so much I bite down on my tongue and fight not to scream. I stare blankly at Mama’s blouse, careful to not cry or show anger.

You listen well you little brat. I want you to do the dishes” she yanks harder until I am sure my whole left side of hair would rip off. “Logan’s father and I are going to sleep, understand?” I nod my head, gritting my teeth through 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 back into the stove. I drop to a fetal position on the floor and stare forward. She slowly walks toward me, each reddish-pink nail on her pristine feet slowly coming into focus. I can feel her staring down at me, watching every micro-expression on my face. I stare again, blankly, giving nothing away. 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. That would get her, if I just dent the floor enough she would trip and maybe put a chip in her flawless toes. 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 about me. 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 has tricked me all along. It has to be fooling Mama too.

Tears wet my face for the first time in two years as I rinse each pan, bowl, and plate,

placing them into the dishwasher. It is our newest appliance, one that has eaten up most of my Stepdad’s savings. 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, dusting the floor like newly fallen snow. I freeze, my hands clamping over my mouth. I draw a shaky breath, my eyes glued to the doorway.

The mountainous roar that follows confirms my worst fear. There is a flurry of movement, all yellow, red and black. Cool, clammy hands wrap around my neck and squeeze. “You-did- that-on- purpose, you little bitch.” I try in vain to speak to her. I try to tell Mama that it was the nails, the vile color she painted on them from the little glass tube was controlling her mind. Instead, the only thing I manage is a puff of air and a squeak as I slowly lose feeling in my legs. I claw at her vice-like grip sinking to the floor. My eyes lock with her tempests of blue. But somehow they look purple now, with ribbons of red snaking through. The coral has won, they have tinged her eyes. I must look like a stranger in our home and she is trying to protect all of us.

Maybe I am in my room, playing with the Barbie she gave me for my fifth birthday. It is probably just a dream and I will wake any moment to my other life. My real life. My lungs are about to burst, I can feel the coral sinking into them through my windpipe from Mama’s fingertips. My vision fades as I hear a soft voice calling to me in the distance. I smile at the calm, beautiful woman that reaches out to me. There she is, my real mother. I can see her in our backyard, looking at me with a profound sense of love. Tears spill down my cheeks as I call to her. From the distance, I hear my stepfather yell. A smile forms on my lips, my vision darkening but still present enough to make out what is in front of me.

I have finally done it; put a chip in the perfect peachy color. Just beneath Mama’s feet a rich, vivid red spills onto the floor. I grin as I feel the warmth of the color wrapping my body and drawing me close. It weeps softly, rocking me to sleep.

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