FUGUE - CHRIS DEAL
Blinking away the remnants of sleep, the little girl felt her bed shaking from the impact of her father slamming the front door shut. His voice carried through the house, slurred from drink, his words heavy with a threat she couldn't understand but sent her moving. Her mother took the same tone with him that she’d use when her young was hurt and scared, soft and conciliatory but her syllables warbled and blended into a sob, then a scream like a wounded animal. The dull sound of an impact stung the little girl as if she had been the one her father struck, and then there were heavy boots rising up the stairs and the girl’s thoughts were a mix of the images and pain of previous violations, but one thought was clear in the chaotic moments between heartbeats: leave.
She went to the window and saw thick summer thunderheads coming from the south. When her father’s steps got to the landing, just outside her door, she pushed open the glass and sat her bare feet on the still warm tin roof of the back porch. The sun had gone into hiding hours earlier, and the air was pregnant with the scent of coming rain. There was a crash as her father kicked open the door to her room and she ran to the lowest point and jumped, curling into a ball as she fell onto the ground. Fireflies of pain danced behind her eyes as she felt something crack in her chest. Her father howled like a beast at the window, gutteral sounds that could have been words or the growls of a predator circling its prey. Her mother was nowhere to be seen.
When the silhouette of her father left the window, when she could hear his boots echoing deeper into the house, the little girl got to her feet and ran over the dew-soaked grass to the thick wood that bordered the property. The soft underbellies of her feet were stabbed again and again by sharp rocks and brier bushes ripped at her nightdress like her father’s callused, greasy hands.
Her chest ached and it was hard for the little girl to breathe, the air like razors in her lungs, but she kept her momentum constant, running deeper into the alien wood than she had ever gone before, not thinking of anything but flight until there came a great roar like that of an angry god and the trees shook, the forest illuminated by the lightning. The rain started to pour from where she had been told heaven was by her grandmother, but she thought nothing of the savior they said was up there, only the cold rain and the woods where she was lost, the monster that was her father.
She found a great tree gnarled with age, the roots dug out and hollowed out by animals. The little girl crawled inside, curling as the pain in her chest and exhaustion took her to sleep, the last thought running across her mind was that she hoped her mother would come find her. The forest beasts kept a silent vigil around her.
The rain stopped and the world was calm as the little girl slept dreamless in the belly of the oak. She didn’t hear the footsteps or the voice calling for her. She didn’t feel the hands picking her up or holding her close. She didn’t see the lights flashing on and off turning the world into still frames, the men with guns or the body on the gurney. She cracked her eyes when the hands passed her to another and the scene filtered to her slowly.
Her mother smiled like she was at a funeral and kissed the child’s forehead, leaving a cold imprint of blood where her lips had been.
BIO: Chris Deal writes from Huntersville, North Carolina. He doesn’t remember how many poems and stories he’s published, but that’s not really important now, is it? His debut collection of short fiction, Cienfuegos, was published by Brown Paper Publishing. Check him out at Chris Deal.
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