Startled awake, the girl sat up in bed…the dream fading now. She was in her bedroom, and she was alone. Sighing, she dropped back to her pillow, pulling the sheet and blanket with her. The pillow felt wet…she touched her cheeks. She must have been crying. Then she thought of him - the man that had been in her room last night.
At first, he stood next to her bed where she had to look up at him; at his sweat-stained, gray shirt and pants; his dark, matted hair; the perspiration that dripped down his face…a mannequin’s face, she had thought, glaring down with brown, unmoving eyes. And his scent…a breeze from an open window had curled around him, and carried his smell to her, a mixture of sulfur and iron smoke. Then he had said something…what was it? Something like…like, “I put in a hard day’s work at the factory, get home tired and aching…but because I care, I’ll correct you when you need it.”
When it was over, she had huddled in her bed, her legs pulled up to her chest and wrapped in her arms, crying and rocking. And the stinging!…she was lost in it.
Now, in the early morning hours before sunrise, she tried to forget the night. She looked up from her pillow for the photograph of her brother, her father, and herself, but couldn’t see it. Sitting up, she found that it lay flat on the bedside table, as if haphazardly placed. She leaned over, picked it up, and set it upright. Lying on her side, she stared at the photo, looking long and deep into the faces of her brother and her father. She thought of when it was made, three years ago, when they were in the mall. It was Dad’s idea, just walk in the studio, have it taken. They were being silly, pushing up against one another, making faces for the camera. It was so much fun. Now, it seems so long ago…and Dad is far away.
Drifting in memories, she desperately fought the weariness that came over her now. Unable to hold on, she let herself go and fell into a deep sleep, her right arm dropping behind her… behind her to rest against long, red tracks that striped her in a helter-skelter patchwork from her buttocks to her knees.
_ _ _ _ _
“Hurry now,” her mother called from downstairs. “Breakfast is almost ready.”
With one last look in the mirror, Susan made sure her hair was properly brushed and her barrettes, one on each side, firmly in place. Pulling at the blue ribbon beneath her collar, she tightened the bow. The collar was pressed flat and she hoped it would keep the ribbon in place, at least until afternoon. Unbuckling her belt, she pulled it tighter one more notch, pinching her stomach. That’ll keep my shirttail in, she thought, then checking her shoelaces, she was ready.
Susan was tall and thin for fifteen…and with legs and arms that seemed to be fighting her all the time she was always bumping into things. Desks at school, door jambs and corners everywhere bruised her thighs and elbows. Her dark red hair went to her shoulders in a natural wave, her cream-like skin was flawless, and her face one could never forget: large, full lips; fine, prominent cheekbones; and big, blue eyes under long, dark eyelashes.
Grabbing her Bible and study guide, a pencil with the eraser nearly chewed away, sweater and mittens, she walked to the top of the stairs. The rubbing of her jeans on the back of her legs made her flinch. Still, she hurried.
There it was again, the emptiness.