Five-Year Old Heart

Martha was hiding in her closet. It was past midnight, and she’d woken up to the sound of Doug smashing his beer bottle in the kitchen. She was only five years old, but she already knew that Doug drank too much beer, that it made him nasty, and that every few nights he felt the need to throw his last bottle down hard and hear it crash. The mornings after he did that, Martha’s mother would clean the shards up quickly, quietly, telling Martha to stay in the tiny hall so she wouldn’t get glass shards in her feet.

Martha knew why her mother cleaned up in the morning. It was because one time, when she hadn’t, Doug woke up and saw the glass all over the kitchen floor. That just put him into a new rage. Martha had hidden in the closet then, too. She’d heard her mother whimper, but just barely, because she herself had been crying so hard.

Tonight, though, she was hiding in the closet for a new reason. Her mother was safely in bed, and Doug never did anything to her at night. He used to come home and fall asleep on the couch, sometimes leaving puke on the floor next to him. But lately, Doug had been coming into Martha’s room. She was so scared of him that even though she tried to sound like she was still asleep, her breathing quickened involuntarily, and Doug would then laugh quietly and move closer.

He’d been coming into her room for a few months, but Martha never told her mother what he did. She didn’t really understand it herself, only that it made Doug happy that she was hurting and frightened. She was only five years old, but she knew that if she fought him, he’d turn dangerous. She’d tried fighting, but he’d smacked her. So she knew to stop. To preserve herself.

This was the first night that she’d awoken before Doug got home. She couldn’t tell time yet, but she knew it was late because her mother was asleep and all the lights were off. So she hid in the closet, waiting for Doug to get back. She thought that maybe, if he didn’t find her in bed, he’d just go away.

She wanted him to go away so badly.

She wanted to tell her mother, but she was scared to. She knew instinctively that there was something wrong about what Doug was doing, and felt it was her fault.

She wanted, with all of her five-year old heart and body, for something very bad to happen to Doug. And that want, that intense need for him to be hurt, frightened her almost as much as Doug himself did.

An Excerpt

I have a few different stories that I’m working on. I always seem to have a few stories that I’m working on, and I never seem to continue writing enough of them. This, however, is part of a story I began thinking of a few months ago. I have a general plot laid out and a beginning scene. This, though, is a scene that I thought of in the middle of the night a few weeks ago. It came vividly into my mind and I fell asleep thinking about it. When I woke up in the morning, I wrote it down.

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The first time my mother lied to me, I was sitting at the window-seat in our large sitting room. My governess had caught a bad cold, and she was confined to bed. I didn’t know this at the time, but her confinement was probably more to do with the risk of her infecting me than with any goodwill towards her. Nevertheless, I’m sure she was grateful for the rest, for I was quite a difficult child at the age of five.
I was sitting in the window seat that day while my mother sat by the fireside. She was doing some fine needlework, embroidering a kerchief of my father’s with her own special design; a rose, its petals not yet fully open. She’d given me a cotton kerchief of my own, and a needle and thread as well, and bade me sit by the window quietly and try to embroider something. I had stuck the needle in the cloth a few times, but seeing that I didn’t get any pretty designs, I had given up and started watching the dismal outdoors. It was raining heavily, and every few moments lightning would flash. I would count, then, along with my heartbeats, and see how long it took the thunder to clap loudly after the lightning. My count grew shorter and shorter as I stared, transfixed, at the raging torrent outside.
I knew I was safe on this side of the glass window. I wondered if anyone could be outside in a downpour like that and live.
“Mama,” I said once the count between the lightning and the thunder was only one heartbeat. “Is anyone outside now?”
“No, Miyara, no one is outside,” she said serenely.
“But Mama, what if Pirima wasn’t sick? We would’ve gone out to play in the garden. It was sunny this morning. We would’ve. We would’ve been out there now.”
“No, darling, I’m sure Pirima would have seen the clouds and wouldn’t have taken you outdoors. No one is out there in the rain. Who would be silly enough to wander outside in weather like this?” She didn’t even look up from her sewing as she spoke. Anger flared in my five-year old self. She didn’t understand! I could easily have been out there with my governess in that frightful rain! It would have hurt us!
“But what if I was outside?” I demanded fiercely. I stood up, letting the cloth, needle and thread fall off me and roll to the ground. My hands were balled up in fists, and I could feel my lip beginning to pout in that way that signaled I was going to start crying. My mother gave me a stern look and finally rose. She placed her sewing things on the dainty table beside her chair, and came to me.
“Firstly, Miyara, get off that window-seat this instant. You are a lady, not some bar-maid to go standing on chairs and making a fuss,” her voice was mild, but then, my mother was always at her most mild when she was angry with me. Later in life, I understood it like this – it was as if I were a simpleton and she thought that if she only spoke clearly enough and rationally enough, I would go along with what she said and stop angering her. Mostly it worked. “Second,” she continued once she’d sat me down and settled herself beside me. “You will never need to be outside in a time like this. You are, as I said, a lady. You will always be able to be safe inside, by the fireplace, as is proper. If you’re on a journey, you will be settled comfortably in an inn. I promise you, you will never need to find yourself out in the rain. There,” she patted my hand with satisfaction. “Does that make you feel better?”
It did. It did, then. But that was the first lie my mother told me, for ten years after or so, I found myself outside. In the rain. All alone.