The little girl sat huddled on the bottom shelf of the cupboard breathing deeply, her body unnaturally cold in the long forgotten hiding place of their old house. The stale air within the wooden cabinet smelt slightly of damp rot and decay and she shivered as her eyes struggled to become accustomed to the feathery darkness of the dank interior. Through the crack in the doors, the dim light within the garage cast elongated shadows atop the cracked and peeling paint. The walls were marred further by the cobwebs that had claimed the corners for their own, their inhabitants smirking ominously from their tangled prisons. Unsettled, she ran her hand along the low shelf above her head, relieved only to find a thick layer of dust left on her fingertips, clinging to them as if eager to stay. In the weak light stealing through the gap in the doors she studied her hand. The grime coating her fingers had changed it, corrupted it somehow. Disgusted, she wiped her fingers clean on the faded blue denim of her shorts, the rough fabric slightly abrasive on the palm of her hand. As the early afternoon dragged on, her hand wandered to the threads fraying at the cut off of her shorts, her fingers unconsciously plucking at the fibres while she sat and waited for her younger sister to find her.
She awoke suddenly a short while later. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been asleep for, but instinctively knew it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes. Peering through the darkness into the interior of the garage, she strained to hear anything that would alert her to a change in her surroundings. At first all she heard was the legato rhythm of her breathing and the smooth, even beating of her heart. As her hearing became more acute however, she realised that her breathing and her heart served only as a cavatina melody, interweaved seamlessly within an assemblage of other noises. She could hear the echo of water gurgling enigmatically within the pipes in the walls, the grim chuckles of the spiders as they continued to spin their twisted traps. Serving as a constant motif throughout the ensemble was the steady hum of the wind as it whistled through the fissure underneath the garage door, softly shrieking its animosity. Her hiding place had become a menacing orchestra of sound, seamlessly conducted, each section performed in harmonic entirety and segueing melancholically into the next. She drew her limbs in closer to her, unsure of the garage concerto.
Aware that her shoulder was jutting painfully into the wood behind her, and that the leg curled protectively underneath her was slowly going to sleep, she wished she had thought of a more comfortable hiding position. The large empty space in front of her where her mother’s car usually rested suddenly looked inviting, sheltered by the hulking black shape of her fathers car nestled quietly beside it. She shifted slightly in an attempt to rid the prickling sensations she recognised as pins and needles from her limbs, the staccato rhythms tingling throughout her body momentarily intensifying as a result. Reflexively she jerked. The resonating thump caused by her elbow making contact with the wall of the cupboard behind her became a careless drumbeat, reverberating disproportionately throughout the carport. She held her breath and waited.
She felt the sound of footsteps before she heard them, barely audible above the sound of the shadows as they splashed upon the cool concrete floor, forming murky pools and puddles of heavy gloom. Out of the corner of her eye, her father’s figure loomed out of the darkness and shuffled slowly into view. Relieved, she expelled her breath slowly; unaware she’d been holding it. It wasn’t her sister. Still, she was reluctant to reveal her presence to her father, afraid that if her sister overheard their low voices her position would be exposed. For the moment, she chose to remain hidden, watching him from where she had concealing herself within the protective embrace of the shadows in the cupboard.
He had his back to her, and from the way in which he stood, with his shoulders slightly stooped, she knew he was holding something. For a long time he stood motionless, a silent statue surrounded only by the weight of his own thoughts. His body seemed to have shrunk slightly overnight, and as he turned toward her, she leaned closer to the entrance of the cupboard to see him better. In the dim light struggling to illuminate the room and its belongings, the walls thrust prematurely into a state of milky twilight, she studied him momentarily. His usually composed features held no hint of his regular equanimity. Instead, his familiar face displayed only a foreign expression of anguish and despair. Disturbed, her eyes drifted downwards to the long, cylindrical object in his hands, and with a certain measure of surprise she registered that it was a gun.
In a fleeting moment of reminiscence she recalled her parents warning her about playing with guns, told her not to touch them or she would suffer the consequences. The tone of the exchange had been light, detached almost, but beneath their words she had recognised the forced distance of the topic, and an unfamiliar undercurrent of unease. Yet, in the safety of her friend’s homes, hidden from the ubiquitous eyes of her mother and father, she temporarily forgot the carefully chosen words in the promise of a wildly thrilling game. Unmindful to the danger her mother envisaged hidden within the plastic firearms, the afternoons spent chasing each other with toy guns were thrilling, her heart pounding with exhilaration, and the sounds of childish gunfire impersonations echoing vociferously within her ears.
As she watched her father, confusion paused momentarily to tiptoe across her features. Plastic weapons, along with any other personifications of violent brutality and destruction were forbidden in their house, yet her father appeared to have hidden his own toy gun somewhere within the depths of their dwelling. In her silent rage, she wondered briefly if her mother knew. Perhaps her parents crept down to the garage and played with the gun together when they were certain she and her younger sister were engrossed in their own games upstairs. Swarming with the inequity of his deceit, her mind had become an enraged bee, fiercely buzzing in a righteous rage. Clenching her fists, her fingernails biting painfully into her palms, she struggled to quieten the broiling cloud darkening her vision. Bitterly, she forced herself to refocus on her father and his gun.
Nestled delicately within his grasp, his fingers trembling slightly against the barrel, the authoritative presence of the weapon’s chiselled wood and cold metal seemed incongruous. Yet strangely, the battered steel appeared to almost compliment her father’s weathered hands, a disconcerting physical extension of his soul. He handled the gun lovingly, his fingers caressing its form with an almost sickening veneration. As he slowly raised it to his temple the gun appeared to return his affection, the opening of the barrel lightly kissing his skin. He grimaced with thin, bloodless lips, his ashen face and pallid fingers a striking contrast to the sleek black of the metal.
“I’m sorry,” he whimpered. “I’m so sorry!”
She analysed the contours of his face, each line, each freckle, each scar etched completely and wholly into her memory, a picture she could conjure perfectly at will. Yet she heard his whispered words, a broken language of someone she did not know at all. The guarded mask she saw flit momentarily across his face was that of a strangers, and for a moment she found herself afraid.
Unsure, she paused with her hand on the cupboard door, unwilling, for the moment, to push it open. Her father was playing a game she didn’t know the rules to. In her hesitation she observed a solitary tear slide slowly down his cheek, its appearance a bewildering anomaly. She had never seen her father cry before. His finger shuddered tremulously on the trigger and as he squeezed his eyes tightly shut she watched another tear escape, wetly mimicking the first in its cheerless journey. Conscious that he was still muttering something repeatedly under his breath, she held her own as she strained to hear the murmured words. In the silence that followed, a terrifying expression tore across her father’s face. It was in that moment that she knew something was terribly wrong. Without warning, her father’s body jerked erratically, a twisted puppet performing a warped dance and with a horrific explosion which tore through her very core leaving her simultaneously screaming and gasping for breath, she woke up.
Lying between the sweat stained sheets, the echo of the gunshot reverberated within her head, pounding and pulsating, a thundering, threatening wind promising to tear her fragile soul apart. Shaking, she made her way to the bathroom attached to her bedroom. She gazed at her reflection in the mirror. Her olive skin was pale and her eyes, usually bright, seemed dull and distant. She could feel a thin film of sweat coating her body and she felt overwhelmingly sick. “No!” she groaned. “Not the dream again!” She clenched the rim of the sink with both of her fists so hard that her knuckles turned white, before she doubled over and was violently sick into the basin again and again and again. As she sank to the floor sobbing, unwelcome memories flashed before her, refusing to stay long enough for her to hold onto them and focus. She rolled herself into a ball on the bathroom tiles, exhausted and drained, drawing her knees up underneath her chin. The last thing she remembered before slowly sinking into another fitful, disturbed sleep was the reflection of her eyes in the bathroom mirror. She was truly afraid of what she saw hidden in their depths, for it was moments like those that she looked the most like her father.