This story is by Jacie Crump and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It’s all right. You’ve got this.
I pulled the door beneath the stairs open to reveal a single cardboard box in the middle of the small, makeshift room. After years of moving and storage, the battered exterior had a thick layer of dust coating the top, untouched for nearly a decade.
With a sigh, I lifted the container and walked to where several of its kind sat. But this one, this… one. Dread grasped its icy hands around me, spreading throughout the length of my body. I didn’t want to do this again, but I reasoned that this would be the last time I needed to.
As I sank to the floor, staring at the nondescript box, a small voice in the back of my mind let out a chuckle. Look at you, it chided. A forty-two-year-old woman, afraid of the contents of a single box. Imagine what your husband and children would think if they came to the basement.
My kids would think their mother had lost her mind, but my husband understood. He knew why I would sit on the cold cement floor, wearily eying this box, breathing shallow, teeth tugging against my lower lip.
My hands trembled as I lifted the lid to reveal the source of my dread, the object which held me in the throes of terror for so long.
Just a tiny baby doll is all that lay inside. Her fair skin faded and dirty from an overly loving and exuberant child playing mother to it, auburn hair curling around its head. Her ragged purple dress hung awkwardly on her body, far too big for her, but one I loved simply because Mom made it specifically for her. Unblinking blue eyes stared up at me, with little pink lips in a bow shape, as if ready to give kisses after being stored away for years.
Her name was Sissy, and I adored her… once. I cherished this new gift from my parents that they gave me for my fourth birthday. My family had little money, but my parents saw how my eyes lit up every time we walked by the display with her sitting on top. I remember my father and mother smiling at me as I picked her up and held her close to my chest—the loving hug of a small child.
That’s my only happy memory of her.
Shortly after that, things changed in my home following the birth of my baby brother. My father, an electrician, suffered a massive injury at one of his jobs, disabling him. The pain of the wounds, along with his indigence of my mother now being the sole money maker of the house, caused him to take medicine—a lot. Prescription bottles littered the bathroom, living room, and bedroom. Not long after, other bottles joined them—vodka, whiskey, rum—it didn’t matter.
At first, it was only yelling. Father would scream at Mom about dinner being late or one of us kids about making too much noise. He would curse at my sister about being out late with her friends, though I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to be around, given his temper. When he went on one of his frequent tirades, I would race to my small bedroom and hug Sissy, crying into her hair. She remained there until the first time he hit me.
The memory flooded back, as fresh as though it had just happened, not some thirty-odd years prior. I skipped through the front door from another day of second grade. What made me particularly happy was earning the lead role in our class play, which we would perform in front of the entire school for the end-of-year festivities.
The wind whipped past my hair, giving an extra push to the door, closing it with an especially loud slam. My father, asleep in his recliner, opened his eyes slowly, glaring.
“You brat,” he snarled. “Why can’t you ever keep it down?”
I blinked at him. “I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for the door…”
“Always making excuses, like your sister. You know when I’m sleeping, you keep quiet!”
“But I didn’t know you were asleep! I just got home…”
“Are you talking back to me??”
“No… no!” My breath hitched as I stumbled backward. He rose from the chair, all six-foot-one of towering menace glowering at me. He lurched forward, his fist drawn back. Before I knew what had happened, pain exploded on the side of my face, and I dropped to the ground, tears streaming down my cheeks.
“Go to your room, NOW!” he bellowed. “If I see you again tonight, you’ll get even more of the same!”
I crawled past him and scrambled to my feet, racing to my bedroom as if the devil himself were behind me.
Once the door quietly shut behind me (I didn’t want to incur his wrath again), I launched myself on my bed and cried, partially in pain but mostly in stunned horror about what happened. My father got angry, sure, but he never raised a hand to anyone. To withstand that level of rage was too much for my eight-year-old self to fathom.
I lifted my tear-stained face, my cheek aflame where his fist connected with it, and stared at the mini bookshelf in the corner of my room. Sitting on the top shelf was Sissy, her head resting against the side wall. She watched me with her unseeing eyes, her blank expression doing nothing for my pain, her presence not offering the comfort as in the past. Angered, I stormed over to the shelf, snatched her down, and threw her into the depths of my closet, lost in the pile of clothes and shoes.
It took me years to realize what caused my resentment of Sissy; it was what she represented. My loving father gave her to me, not the monster he became. I wanted more than anything for things to return to how they were, that, one day, he would see me holding her and remember who he was—the unfulfilled wish of a child.
No one ever suspected what happened to me; at least, they never let on that they did. I studied hard in school, always making the honor roll. If I received high enough grades, I could get into a college far, far away and pay for it with various scholarships… which is what I did.
During my junior year, I received a call from my sister that my father had passed away—the final result of his constant drinking and drug use. Once I hung up the phone, I shed no tears for the man who tormented instead of loved and went back to my day. Of course, I attended his funeral, but I firmly declined when asked if I wanted to speak.
Now, as my adult self lifted Sissy from the box, I regarded her with mixed emotions – disdain, sadness, fear, and grief. How different everything should have been when I first got you.
I stared at the doll in my hand and spoke, but not to her. “I don’t forgive you; I can’t. What you did to me, to our family, was inexcusable. No one should suffer from the abuse you caused all those years. But you’re gone, and nothing can change the past. I can’t keep going on like this. So, I’m going to let it go. I will free myself from the undue burden you have had over my life since I was a child. You don’t deserve that; you never did.”
I placed the toy back. As the lid closed and lifeless eyes faded from view, a sense of peace washed over me. The malignant spirit that haunted me for so long vanished into the shadows. It was as if he, too, believed it was time to move on and leave me behind, though, in reality, that had happened years before.
With the past tucked neatly away, I stood, picked up the box, and left the basement. It was time to move forward, and hopefully, Sissy could find a happy home, as she should have always had.
Excellent writing; so gripping!