Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Keeping out the Cold.....short story by Annemarie Bogart

The window was shut to keep out the cold. Well, that was what she inferred as she shivered slightly pulling her sweater tighter around her. She closed it too quickly. It rattled slightly as the old peeled away sill was assaulted by the loose glass of the ancient window pane. I knew she just wanted to shield me from the yelling from outside. She always tried to protect me from it, pretending it wasn’t there. But, I knew it was there, and the sad part it as much as she tried, she knew I knew it was there.

Heather was my big sister; she was eight, two years older than me. She always took care of me like a mother would although we had a mother to do that. It was during the times my mother was occupied with Dad that she would become my surrogate. She was strangely mature for her age. She was kind, never selfish. She always let me have whatever I wanted, no questions asked. If she got a toy for Christmas, and I decided I wanted it for myself, then she just let it be- no fighting. Looking back now, it is all kids stuff, and maybe I was the spoiled one. But, I realize now why she never wanted to argue, never wanted to have to have him raise his voice. She almost wanted us to be invisible to him. It was her way of protecting me, again.

Our dad, as mom would say, was always tired. He worked too hard, she would tell us. “Don’t disturb Daddy,” she’d say in a whisper grasping us gently by our sleeves, her eyes pleading with us to obey her. Heather would nod silently in understanding and pull me away to our room. She showed me the mime game where we’d pretend to be something and instead of shouting out the answers we’d write it on paper and hold it up to let the other see your guess. A silent nod or shake of the head would let you know your guess was correct. It seemed when he came home is mostly when we played these silent games.

Sometimes, okay very rarely, Dad would come home in a good mood. He’d laugh and toss me in the air. He’d take us to the park. He’d play catch with Heather and I with the red rubber ball Mom had bought for us one Christmas. Other days, most days he’d come home mad. I was never sure exactly what he was mad about. I heard him say once in awhile that the house was a sty, whatever that was. Other times, he just seemed to be mad at Mom. She would try to get us upstairs. She would have tears in her eyes as she gently would coax us up the stairs. Her finger to her lips hushing us to silence. Heather would always take the hint and grab my hand and lead me away as quickly as she could. . We would hear him throw things, glass shattering on occasion. We would hear Mom crying a lot. Sometimes, if we were lucky, he’d fall asleep after dinner and we wouldn’t have to tip toe around his mood swings. Sometimes, if we were really lucky he wouldn’t come home at all until we were all asleep.

Tonight was not a lucky night. He had come home while we were doing our homework. The table shook when he slammed the back door. Mom got up quickly from the table and whispered to me to finish the math then head upstairs. Heather closed her books quickly and took over the seat that Mom had unoccupied. We heard him call Mom a few names that you never imagine someone calling your mother, especially not your own Dad. We could hear Mom telling him to lower his voice but that only seemed to make him yell louder. Heather grabbed my hand gently and nodded to the stairs. The math homework was never finished.
We bounded silently up the stairs knowing every part of the wooden steps to avoid the creaks. Silence was key in times like this. Heather shut the door firmly behind us; she held her back against the door of our room maybe hoping she could push back all the screaming that invaded our ears. She quickly left her spot at the door and opened the closet. She pulled out the old doll house. She beckoned me over wordlessly with the wave of her delicate hand. I tiptoed to her and knelt down next to her. She opened the old wooden house and silently we began to play.

The doll house occupied hours upon hours of our silent dreams and hopes. Wishes that one day our family may be as perfect as the family we created in those few precious hours in that toy home; a family that didn’t hear shouting. A place where fear didn’t exist. A house where smiles were as constant as those painted on the small wooden figures that we played with. The pretend play always consisted of a mom doing all the things people are programmed to believe mom’s should do- cook, clean, do laundry. The dad would come home from work. They would eat peacefully at dinner sitting happily around a well made table. The happy chatter of the day’s events would unfold for the family to share as they ate a delicious meal. The family would then retire to the sitting room where they would watch television together. The children would sit at mother’s feet while she told them a story. Then father would lift them both and carry them into their beds where mommy would tuck them in and whisper sweet prayers in their ears.

I’m not quite sure why we played this game so often; it was almost like a tease in a way. Letting us know the way it could and maybe should be, but in the end realizing that it is the way it never will be. At the time of playing it seemed fun, but sadness always came over me when the game was complete on realization that this grand world only lives within the walls of that old wooden dollhouse and not in the walls of my own dilapidated home.

Tonight the yelling seemed to spill from downstairs into the driveway. That happened some times. I could hear Mom scream something about calling the police. We had all heard that said before, but it never happened. We heard a loud crash, most likely a flower pot from the side yard. I stood to go look out the window. Heather touched my arm and shook her head vehemently. I sat back down on the floor and hugged my knees close to myself. Heather got up and pulled her sweater tightly around her. “It’s getting cold,” she said as she walked briskly to the window.

As I said earlier, it was shut to keep the cold out. Not the cold of the night air, for it was September and the air had not yet taken on that brisk chill that it does in the later months. No, this cold was from the heart itself. A cold between two people that would never be the loving parents we dreamt about as we moved those wooden people from room to room in the doll house. This cold was worse because it couldn’t be eased by a blanket or a coat. This cold permanently scarred two small children.

The closing of that window did very little to lessen the cold that vibrated through the window pains with vibrations of yelling. Heather meant well by trying to block out the voices. No child should have to hear them, but we did. I don’t mean to lament on this for I realize there are some much more worse off than we were. Some kids get beaten, some starved. Dad never touched us, not a hand, but we always lay in fear of him. I guess we were always more concerned that his wrath would turn from Mom to us. She protected us so that never happened. We had seen him hit her on two occasions.
The first time was Christmas Eve; I was three. Heather and I were hiding watching all the presents being laid out under the tree by Mom. We were so excited. Then he came home. He was infuriated at the amount of gifts we had under the tree. Is that what I slave for all day, he screamed. She begged him not to wake up the children. “Please, don’t do this tonight,” she said her voice hushed but strained with weariness and emotion.
“I’m the bad guy, right?” he yelled stumbling forward a bit. He caught himself on the coffee table before falling over. He laughed sarcastically in a strange way that sent shivers up my spine from all the way up the stairs. He slapped her hard across the face with the back of his hand. She fell across the room landing on the presents at the foot of the tree. “You mind me, woman,” he said in a more hushed voice and stumbled back out of the room. I heard the door slam and the car peel quickly away from our gravel driveway. We tiptoed quietly back to our room and cried ourselves to sleep.

The second occasion was Halloween, the next year. I was a ghost, Heather a witch. Mom was busy getting dinner ready while we divvied up our candy into two pots. We were testing the different candies and were very impressed with our loot. Mom told us to wash up and sit at the table for Dad would be home soon. He arrived while we were in the bathroom. We could tell when we saw him that he was in one of those moods; the ones that made you want to avoid him. The food was on the table, so there was no escape. We sat down tentatively at the table evading his eyes.
“What? You don’t even say hello to your father anymore?” he boomed as his fist strikes the table. The plates clang slightly.
“Our little Trick-or-Treaters are probably just tired,” Mom offered trying to diffuse the situation.
“I’m talking to my kids, I don’t need you answering for them,” he snarled, his breath smelling strongly of the same aroma that covers his room on mornings he doesn’t get up for work. It’s usually on the nights he doesn’t get home until after we are asleep. This smell was never a good sign; it always meant trouble was to follow.
“Tom, just leave them be,” she said ever so gently, but to him it must have sounded like curse words by the way he reacted. He pushed him chair back throwing his plate of food against the wall as he does.
“Don’t you ever tell me what to do, woman,” he screamed, the memory still able to send goose bumps up my arm. He always addressed her as “woman” during these times; not by her name, Julia, or Momma, as he did occasionally when he was in one of his rare good moods. It was as if he had distanced himself so far from us that we were no longer names, just woman and kids.
The arguing persisted and Heather grabbed my arm. There was no way to escape, he was too close. He approached my mother menacingly and I could see her instinctively backing away. He pushed her hard into the china cabinet. Her shoulder shattered the middle pane. She rolled away seemingly okay, but when she turned to us we could see blood starting to soak the floral blue print of her house dress. The sight of blood was all it took for us to start crying. He seemed surprised by it, too. He cursed himself and walked out of the house, slamming the door as he did.

He told us the next morning that something like that would never happen again. He swore he wasn’t going to drink anymore. I was confused by this, because I thought people needed to drink to survive. I figured maybe he’d just be thirsty, but be able to deal with it. He cried apologizing over and over to Mom and to us. We honestly thought that maybe, just maybe, we could finally be like the family in the dollhouse. That the slice Mom took on her shoulder was a small sacrifice for such a life change.

Well, Dad’s good behavior seemed to wean off about three months later. I think he went to a party that men have before one of their friends get married. A batcher party, I think that is what mom called it. That never made any sense to me, what’s a batcher? Anyhow, I guess we have learned to live around him more than with him. We do our best to avoid him, afraid of what disposition he may be in. We go upstairs when he gets home, making sure all our chores are done before that time. We are silent at meal time afraid of what we say may cause an outburst. We shut the windows of ourselves to keep out the cold just as Heather does with our bedroom window. We have spent our young lives trying to keep out the cold. Our Mom has done everything she can to try to make everything seem normal. Sadly, the cold lives with us, and as every day goes by it creeps into our soul, though we try our best to keep it out.

The End

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