This story is by Camille Simonds and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sometimes life sucks. You just gotta deal with it. At least, that’s what I’ve been told all my life.
The room is empty except for me, a bed, and an iron toilet bolted to the wall. Oh, and a tiny window set high in the wall that taunts me with a glimpse of the outside world. Not that there is anything to see out of it except for the adjacent building.
Noticing a rip in my rough green jumpsuit, I idly start to unravel the thread. There’s nothing better to do.
Anything to keep me from thinking too much.
Sometimes I wonder if I should have done it, if one wrong makes another right. Then I think of the marks. The finger marks, marks that spoke of hands much larger than mine. Then I am back on the river bank, saying goodbye as policemen with drawn guns cautiously surround me like I’m a dangerous criminal.
I’m not a criminal. He deserved punishment for what he did to her. To me. To us.
My mindless pacing is interrupted by the arrival of one of the guards. His name is Fred. He looks as unimaginative and boring as his name. But I’m an isolated prisoner, for now, so the arrival of anyone, however boring they might be, is an interesting occurrence that must be taken advantage of.
“How’s the world today, handsome?” I’m leaning on the door and speaking in the sultry, silky voice that I reserve for men, the inferior sex.
“Here’s your food,” he says, sliding the bland conglomeration into my cell.
“Man does not live by bread alone…” I reply, contemptuously pushing the food back at him.
“Are you going to eat this or not?” he asks impatiently, gesturing at the rejected food.
“When am I going to be let out of here?” I ignore his question to buy interaction time.
He shrugs. “Probably never,” he says with evident satisfaction. “You’re psycho.”
I glare at him. “I’m not psycho, I’m just smarter than most people.” I pause, strangely desperate to extend this meager conversation. “I’m not hungry.”
“Suit yourself,” he says, walking away.
I slump down on my bed. I’ve never been one to feel much emotion, but this isolation is wearing on my nerves. I think about my family; my father dead, my mother…I have no idea where she is now.
Not that she would come see me.
To her, I was always a problem, an extra mouth to feed, a person to disagree with and cause trouble. But she was better than my father. Dad was just cold. A frozen chunk of carved ice whose only emotion was anger, a mood that became more frequent as he got older, especially after my mom left us for another man. A man who promised the world but gave her nothing.
Our family is just a family of losers. Maybe it would be better if we were all eliminated.
My mom will wind up dead sooner than later, if she isn’t already. That leaves me. An unwanted outcast.
It’s morning again. The sounds of a prison awakening surround me. Another day filled with boredom. Another day to block painful memories from my mind. In an earlier time, I would be eating waffles right now, great big disgusting things that had to be doused in syrup to be deemed edible. My mother would complain about something, my father would grunt some unintelligible nothing, and I would spit on the floor to gain their attention. They would pass me the syrup and continue the fight. There was a rhythm, a clockwork to our days. That was before Mom moved out and Dad needed my company.
I run my hands over the sleeves on my jumpsuit, thinking. A rip here, a knot there… an ending to this nightmare called life. I glance at the window above me, and I’m transported to another time…
“I’m pregnant.” My voice is distant, disembodied. Mom begins yelling at me as she realizes I am serious. My dad stares at me, his face white. I’m impassive, not caring. This is life; these things happen. You just ride them out. Mom is home to pick me up for a rare visit, but leaves without me, declaring that if I don’t abort it, she’ll never lift a finger to help me. I don’t know why she cares-it’s not like her reputation is at stake. That was burned a long time ago.
The months pass, and baby Hope makes her painful entrance. She is a warm golden color with wisps of silky black hair. Her lips are perfectly formed and stained a deep red color. She looks like a fairytale painting. As I feed her and rock her to sleep, something forms inside me. It is so strong that it hurts. I think this is the first time I have loved something.
I wake up. Something is wrong. Morning sunlight spills across the room, staining everything a warm yellow hue. She should have awakened me by now. I leap out of bed and hurry to the little cradle a few feet away. Time seems to slow as I realize she isn’t breathing. A terrible fear clutches my heart; I lay her on the bed and pump her tiny chest, interspersing this action with slight breaths of air. I collapse on the floor as I realize my efforts are futile.
My darling Hope is gone, and with her, my heart.
We bury her by the river in a tiny coffin that my father made. I stare at the red dirt, unseeing.
The pain is unbearable at first, a blinding, searing heat that makes it hard to breathe; but then I slowly lose all feeling. And I never feel again.
I stand on the bed and look out the window, trying to force these thoughts out of my head.
I saw the marks on her neck. I knew what they were. But I had to grieve, and let her father pretend to grieve as well. Her father. My Father.
I rip my sleeves off. Tie them together.
I remember the slightly bluish line around her tiny neck. Finger marks, marks that spoke of hands much larger than mine.
I run the joined sleeves through the bars on the window, then loop them around my neck. I briefly wonder if it will hurt.
I remember tying him to the bed and sitting on top of him. Not an unfamiliar pose, but this time was different. I remember reaching my fingers around his neck, slowly tightening them as he struggled beneath me. I remember him choking to death beneath my fingers, made iron by willpower. I remember feeling nothing as I looked into his eyes for the last time, eyes that were losing their focus. I remember sitting by her grave for hours until the police came. I remember telling her why I killed our father.
Her death is avenged, but I have nothing left.
I tighten the last knot. Who will find me? Will it be Fred? He probably won’t care. Closing my eyes, I jump, letting the makeshift rope complete my sentence.
Sometimes life sucks.
But I’m not gonna deal with it.