This story is by B.Storm and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She hurried to turn off her lamp and crawled deeper into the sheets, tucking the blanket up to her chin. She wanted to bury herself, hide and disappear under the heavy quilt, but that would make it harder to listen, and she had to hear. She just had to. She lay there quiet as a mouse, trying to breathe evenly seeing through the dark.
She heard him; he was on his way up the stairs. He murmured and swore. He had been home for a while and had just said goodbye to the nanny, but only after coming on to her. The nanny did not seem to take offence to his advances.
What was it her mother said?, “When he doesn’t drink, he is so charming, isn’t he?“
She didn’t think so; she hated him. She despised him.
There was a time, where he wasn’t part of their lives, back when her mother and father had lived together. Often, she wished herself back to those days, even though her parents fought all the time, always yelling at each other. But it had been better, better than this. Anything was better than this. One day her father had kissed her goodbye and left, and since then she had not seen him, not really. Only from a distance, when he was around her school. But her mother did not want her to talk to her dad, saying her father did not deserve to. “As long as the custody case is undergoing,” her mother had told her. “It is for the best”.
She was not sure what the case was about or what custody even was. She only knew, that her mother had talked about how perfect it was, that he had become part of their lives. Because living in a stable home with two parents was better than one single dad, and that was good for the custody case. She just wanted the case to end, and she just wanted her dad.
Mom was okay, but worked a lot and did not know. She could not tell her, and mom would not know, could not know. She just needed to live with her dad.
Mom always said that it was so fortunate, that he was there now because he could be home when she worked. “And yes, he liked to drink, but then, he did have a bad streak, being fired and injuring his back”. Mom always tried to make excuses for him. It made her feel like her mom found him more important. She just wanted him to go away. Why was she expected to like him, to love him? She had not asked for this, and it was not her choice. As her mother said; “she was just a child, she would not understand grownup decisions. She should be grateful, because this way, they would not live with her father’s yelling. Now life would be easier”.
Yes, easier. Perhaps for mom, but not for dad and not for her.
Definitely not for her.
On the other side of her bedroom wall, she could hear her sister, whimpering; life was not better for her either. Their mother had used the bedrooms as the grand price of moving in with him. “See girls; you are each getting a room, no more sharing, isn’t it just perfect?”
It had been okay, at first.
It could be a pain to share a small room with your little sister, like in the old house. But now she hated the separate bedrooms. Sadly both mom and he did not like it when they slept in one of the rooms.
“You are big girls now, and you both have a bedroom, you know; we spend so much money in decorating and on the beds, so it is a little bit ungrateful not to use them.” Her mother chimed when she caught them in the same bed.
So here they were, on opposite sides of the wall, safe and unsafe.
‘Please Sis, be quiet,’ she thought to herself, and another part of her screamed;’ NO, it is a good thing let her make some noise’. Either way, it was never going to end in a neat, perfect way.
She heard him stop on the stairs, his phone ringing. He answered it.
“Hey yeah, it’s me, what? No, I am just checking on them now. No no, it was a short game, I did not have too much. Damn woman just shut up, will you, I am home aren’t I, looking after your kids, so just back off”. He cursed and muttered something about a drink. He went downstairs again.
A reprieve, however short, was still worth something and the more he drank, the better. Occasionally he would even just forget and go straight to bed.
She tapped the wall with her knuckles, after a few seconds a soft knock was returned. They did not dare to speak, even though the walls were thin enough. But still, it was a comfort.
She was just about to fall asleep when she heard him, climbing the stairs again. This time with a little more shuffle and a lot more noise. He stopped outside her door, but after a lifetime that only lasted two heartbeats, he went on. She knocked on the wall once more, but this time just quiet crying was returned.
On a night like this, she knew that silence would keep her safe. On the nights where her sister wasn’t asleep, not being quiet and not able to keep the horror inside. Her sister couldn’t just close her mind of, lock all emotions up.
Not like she was able to, no she was becoming a master. But the silence came with a price. Often that price was just too much to bear, which made her retreat even more to her mind, learning the quiet game even better, much better than her little Sis.
Her little sister. She had loved her from the day their parents had brought her home from the hospital. It was also very tedious work to be a big sister. Always looking after her, hating when she could not be alone or when her parents seemed to forget about her. Not all the time, but every now and then. Still most of all, she loved her, and it was her duty to look after her, especially since no one else did it.
She kept thinking. Trying to ignore her upset stomach, which was filled with pain and doubt. Was this one of the nights? Was she to be safe or unsafe? She loathed the decision; that it was hers to make.
Right now, she hated him, she hated her mother, even her father and with shame, she admitted to herself, she hated her little sister.
But only one could be safe.
She took a ragged breath, looked into the darkness and turned the lights on, coughed a little and rustled the sheets. There was a pause in the hallway and then the steps retreating. After a few seconds, the door handle was pushed down, he opened the door and stuck his head around it, breaking the privacy of her place. “Oh great, you are awake, it was quiet I thought you were sleeping”.
He entered her room and closed the door behind him.
Much later, she heard a thump on the wall; a tear fell as she returned the little pounding with three small knocks.
‘I love you.’