This story is by Kylie Hough and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Lena cracked, dropped one egg, then two, as fat spat and leapt from pan to bench. She looked out the window, waiting for the whites to solidify. The path to the house was bathed in moonlight, somewhere nearby a crow cawed. A pool of brown liquid seeped from a fractured flowerpot on the windowsill. Lena remembered the day her mother had brought it home. Ana had pleaded with her to let her sit it on her bedside table, but Mother had refused, placing it where they would all see it from the kitchen window. The zephyrs had scattered sunlight, cast miniature, dancing shadows on their tired faces, scarred hands, and tattered aprons. What Mother had said the flower symbolised Lena couldn’t remember, but she did remember thinking it was good to dream. She wondered about her mother, if her condition had improved, how things might have been different had they left for market on time that day.
Glass hit pavement, shattered. Lena’s heart dropped into her stomach. Limp, a heaviness yanked at her feet, inviting her to slump to the concrete floor she wished would swallow her. A quick, quiet exit into nothingness – nice. Leaking red juice from a hole that opened his stomach, their father stumbled up the path, crimson drops shaping a pattern in the dirt behind him. Lena shivered. The front door slammed. She reached over and above the stovetop; wiry fingers shook, searching in vain for parsley. Ana oblivious, dealt cards to imaginary friends under the old, oak table. Lena turned to get Ana’s attention. Instead she caught her father’s shadow in the hall as he passed the kitchen, waving whiskey above his head, yelling obscenities, dripping vital fluid from his shirt, pants, off the front of steel-capped boots onto polished pine.
She turned back to the stove and the half-drained whiskey bottle hit her hard on the back of the head. The blow forced Lena forward. Desperate hands groped, found the stovetop, flesh sizzled as a fry pan flipped. She turned her head, Ana fuzzy, one face now two, cowered, whimpering under the weight of weathered oak. Lena slumped onto grey cement, the fry pan jumped, boiling lard made blistering bumps, lumps, on thin bruised arms. She lay on her side, eyes wide, resting on Ana.
Lena should have been celebrating with friends at Donatello’s that night. Huey, born the year before her, was turning seventeen. He would have bought her Coca Cola in a cold, glass bottle, served her scorching spaghetti marinara. She would have embraced him, kissed his dimpled face over and over to show her appreciation for such a fine friend. He would have smiled ear-to-ear, blushed brink pink. Instead she was home, cooking the family’s last meal.
“Run Ana,” she said to her little sister, as their father kicked her again and again, steel-caps to porcelain shins, thighs, a sunken stomach.
Lena looked at Ana, a memory surfaced. Chubby, soft, pint-sized fingers reached for hers. You want to help me? Ana had giggled and nodded. Lena had pulled her little sister close and they were home, because home was where they were. Tiny lips puckered, placed wet kisses on each cheek. She had everything she needed in that little girl.
“Get up,” her father spat.
Lena kept eyes on Ana, who hadn’t moved. Ana scratched, sucked on a mosquito bite as tears flooded swollen lids. Lena kept her sister’s gaze. It’s okay little one, she blinked, opened and closed a palm, tilted her head, mouthed the word, Run. But Ana stuck as if bolted to the floor, watched her sister, sucked on her arm, couldn’t move. Lena moaned, grabbed her stomach; the smell of whiskey and hot lard in singed hair sickened her. She gagged, fingered a warm, wet space above her ear, watched as crimson liquid struck cement. Seizing her father’s glance, she grimaced, pulled her knees to her chest.
Thick, red goo gathered on her shoulder, she trembled, salt water etching its way along her pale face. The girls’ father knelt with a thud at her side, swayed left then right, centred himself, reached for a second bottle. He took a swig and cast the bottle over his shoulder. Single malt smashed on a white wall, both girls flinched at contact. He grinned at her, she hissed, he sent a stabbing punch into her ribs. Smack! He waited. She gasped, eyeballed him, fists clenched, thought how she’d like to send him to hell. Then she blacked out – thinking the kitchen looked just like her mother would have liked it after a long shift at work, minus the spattered blood, lard and alcohol.
The clock struck twelve. Cuckoo! Once, twice, three times. Lena coughed, grimaced at searing pain. She opened her eyes, turned her head toward the wooden table. Ana was fast asleep. She sighed, swallowed hard. Everything hurt. He was gone, but wouldn’t be far.
“This ends tonight,” she told a listless Ana.
Lena sat up, a cluster of broken, brown glass surrounding her, and pulled herself to standing. Slowly, slowly. She cringed, eyes closed to block the pain. Pausing, she breathed deeply into her stomach, held it and released warm air into darkness. She stumbled toward her parents’ bedroom, one leg dragging limp behind her.
The faint smell of mothballs filled the room, the last hint of her mother’s presence. She breathed deeply, approached the bed, saw a man – stinking, snoring, wasted – she no longer recognised. She walked around to where her mother used to sleep, lifted a pillow, put it to her face. She inhaled, watched the rise and fall of his lungs – up, down, down, up.
“Ana was three years old,” she said to him, “two pairs of little feet stuck to wooden floorboards, we were half-in, half-out of the bedroom door where you almost killed Mother. I was in my new paisley dress, Ana in a white, cloth nappy and yellow spotted singlet.”
He opened and closed his mouth. Nostrils flared, eyelids fluttered, but he was someplace else.
“You yelled using words we didn’t know. She tried to get away but you forced her into a corner. You lunged, we watched. I gripped the door panel; you clenched your fists, sweat dripping from your brow. You slammed her into the sky-blue wall at her back; she crashed to the floor. She gasped, grabbed her stomach, the big balloon that was supposed to be our brother, cried out. She begged you to stop. But you didn’t. You kicked her again, and again.”
He coughed, raised a hand above his head, rubbed his nose. Nothing.
“Ana hid behind me, pushed her face into the back of my legs, her little body shaking. I watched, glued to the wood under my feet. You towered over Mother, spewed poison, terrified her. Then she saw us, frozen in the doorway, gore streaming from between her legs, drenching her favourite nightie, inside out. My brother was born dead the next day, Mother sent to a locked ward the same week. I haven’t called you Daddy since.”
He coughed, sputtered, mumbled something. It sounded like, “Good for nothin’ bitch, just like yah mutha.”
Lena’s hands went above her head and the pillow came down. She placed it over his face, pressed it firmly, held it down, and quivered as bloodied hands and arms flailed. He thrashed. She watched him groan, writhe, sweat booze, his life draining away in front of her.
“I hate you,” Lena said, her face calm, covered in a layer of sweat.
Hand in hand the sisters dallied below a hot sun by turquoise water. Lena’s hips swayed from side to side, as she hummed her mother’s favourite tune. A gull squawked, damp yellow grains squelched between white toes; squished in floral bathing suits, lay concealed in wet hair pushed behind damp ears. Lena stopped, and waved to the dunes where their mother lay on a flannel towel. Mother removed her sunglasses, squinted, smiled and waved. Lena tightened her grip on Ana’s warm, freckled hand, looked to the sky, and closed her eyes. She breathed in, breathed out, and sighed, a faraway smile on quiet lips. She remembered the new pot on the windowsill, filled to overflowing with zephyrs, positioned so the three of them would see it from the kitchen window while they cooked, laughed, lived.
Lena blinked, shuddered, dry-retched, as his movements slowed. He stopped fighting; she stepped back.
“Lena I’m scared,” said Ana from behind her.
As white as rain lilies, Lena turned to face her sister. Trembling she turned back to her father, wordless.
Ana walked to her sister’s side, held Lena at the waist, pushed a tear soaked face into the small of her sister’s back. Lena lifted little hands from her waist, stepped toward the bed, removed the pillow from her father’s face. Her hands shook, vacant eyes stared skyward, liquid clumps staining lime green linen.
The girls embraced, the cause of their pain lying soundless in a puddle of urine and blood.