BLACK AND WHITE
The little girl’s frightened screams echoed everywhere. She wanted to go out to play. Her aunt and uncle barely looked at her anymore. It was all a horrible dream …they had locked her away. She’d never forget the tight cords they had bound her with, cutting into her skin…
Ethan Pierce opened the window and took a deep breath. It was a beautiful crisp morning. As normal as things could ever be. The night before, he’d taken Ruth out to dinner and they’d had a great time together after ages. Sure, she thought he was a workaholic, but after yesterday she had to have thought otherwise. He was a dentist, and off lately he’d been busier than usual. Ethan sighed happily.
He turned. Ruth was sitting up on the bed, feeling about her ankle. She had a strange look on her face. “Ethan. Get rid of these.” She said, still smiling in that same strange way. Ethan looked at her ankles. There was nothing there. He walked toward the bed and sat on its edge, placing his hand on Ruth’s ankle. “What’s happening? Does it hurt?”
For a fleeting moment, he thought he saw something cross her face. But then she was relaxing again. She pushed his hand away playfully and laughed. “Of course it doesn’t hurt. So, Mr. I’ve-no-idea-what-a- workaholic-is, what’s the plan today?”
Ethan grinned. “I’m fixing breakfast.”
Ruth put on a horrified look. “No way! You’re a disaster! You can’t cook.”
He threw back his head and laughed.
They had a great morning and Ethan soon left for work. Ruth sat back leafing through a magazine. The T.V. was switched on, and she glanced callously at it now and then, sipping a cup of tea.
She listened to the key sliding into the hole. They were coming back! Maybe they were sorry. Then everything would be okay. Maybe they’d buy her a new doll! She remembered how her china doll’s perfect face had been shattered. She’d never forget how that had hurt her.
Ruth was staring at something in the magazine. It was a piece on abused children.
There was a little boy who’d been repeatedly beaten by his baby sitter.
Somewhere in her head, she could hear the phone ringing shrilly. She took no notice.
There was something about a girl who’d been mistreated by her neighbor.
Maybe Ethan was ringing to ask if things were fine. Why would they not be fine?
There was a landlord who’d threatened to kill a tenant’s children because he failed to pay rents.
The ringing turned into screams in her head.
Her uncle slapped her. She was shocked and angry. He said she was too expensive to look after.
The door creaked open and her aunt stood in the doorway, her face half obscured by the dark. She bent down and slid a small tray towards her. The little girl crawled eagerly toward the tray and began eating. The food tasted horrible…a stench hung about the bread…
Ruth stared hard at the glossy page. Stale food. They’d given her stale food.
She scanned the pages. At the end of it, something caught her eye. She was breathing very hard now.
‘If you hear strange noises from next door, or notice a change in your child’s behavior, please contact us immediately. At any hour, do not hesitate to place a call in the toll free child help line number. Are you a child in distress? Get help. Now.’
God, it hurts so much…nobody can hear me crying. Who will I ask for help?
She dialed the child help line number and listened eagerly. “Hello?”
Ethan was examining an infected molar when the phone call was put through to him.
“Hello, Ethan Pierce. Who’s calling?”
“Boston Police, sir.”
He was taken aback. “Oh. What can I do for you?”
When he reached the hospital, an officer explained to him that a hysteric woman had contacted child help line and given an address somewhere in Canton. When the police reached the address, they found that nobody had lived there for years. So they traced the phone call, and it took them to Ethan’s house. They took the door down, and found Ruth cowering under the dining table, nearly faint with fear.
Ethan listened in shocked silence as the officer finished speaking, expecting him to react. When he said nothing, he was taken to Ruth, who was being examined. The psychiatrist smiled calmly when Ethan entered the room, and instantly he felt himself relax. Instead of talking to Ethan, the doctor was already speaking to the seemingly unconscious Ruth. “What’s your name, dear?”
“Logan. Ruth Logan.”
“How old are you Ruth?”
Ethan felt a chill go down his spine as he listened to a little girl speak through his wife.
“Are you hurt, Ruth?” The doctor continued.
“Yes. Yes, it hurts.”
“Can you tell me what happened?”
Ruth described how her mother had moved out when she was little, and when her father passed away, his cousin’s family had taken her in. How they had begun to resent her and found her a financial burden as she grew up, and how they began mistreating her. How she was beaten, and locked up. How she was offered stale food. How they’d broken her beautiful china doll, how they’d trampled all over her childhood. How they’d blacked out all the color in her little world.
“Ruth. Do you know who I am?” The psychiatrist finally asked her after listening patiently. She replied that she didn’t.
“I am a doctor, Ruth. I’ll make your pain go away. Will you let me?”
“Okay. I think I like you.”
“I’m glad you do. Now you can go to sleep. When you wake up, there will be no pain anymore.”
“Doctor? Will you- can you fix my doll? I- I really like her.”
Hot tears slithered down Ethan’s face. Even the psychiatrist was hesitant. “When you wake up, everything will be fixed.”
Ruth was lying on the bed. She looked very different to Ethan, but the doctors wanted to make sure they’d done their best. Once again, she was seemingly asleep.
“Can you tell me your name, dear?” The psychiatrist asked her.
“How old are you?”
“I’m twenty five.”
“How do you feel, Ruth?”
“Good. I’m fine.”
“Do you think you were sick?”
“Maybe. I- I think so.”
“Okay Ruth.” He paused, choosing his words carefully. “Do you remember a doll you had, which you really liked?”
Everyone waited anxiously for Ruth’s answer.
“Yes.” Ethan could almost feel his heart sinking. He felt everybody in the room stiffening.
The doctor took a deep breath. “Do you remember what happened to her?”
“Yes. She was destroyed by my relative. We had a spot of trouble.”
“Is that all?” The doctor was almost incredulous.
“Yes. That’s all.”
The doctors and nurses smiled at Ethan. Somebody showed a thumbs-up sign. He went down on his knees before them, sobbing in relief.
“Hurry up, Ethan! We have to get something nice for Megan’s little girl.” A couple of months later, Ruth and Ethan were entering a store to buy a gift for their neighbor’s daughter, who was having a birthday party.
There were so many toys, teddy bears and dolls. Ruth was already looking at a box of finger puppets when Ethan came up behind her. She put the box down, and slowly reached towards something on the shop window. Ethan followed her gaze to the picture perfect face of a pretty china doll. He froze, and looked at her, forgetting to breathe.
“Nice doll,” she said, smiling and withdrawing her hand. Then she moved on. Ethan sighed in relief. “Yeah. Pretty.”