She stood statue-still, looking down on the freshly turned dirt. Everyone else had left and a light rain was starting to fall. She wrapped herself in her own arms and allowed a twist of a smile. Jesus, this was something out of a bad movie. If she listened carefully, there was probably imploring grieving music playing in the background somewhere.
For years, decades really, she had waited for this moment. She’d dreamed of it. Planned for it. What would she do when he was finally in the ground? She would spit on his grave, of course. Maybe piss on it. She’d raise a drink to his soul burning in hell. She’d dance and leave her footprints on the coffin. She’d rage and scream at him, saying all the things she never had the courage to say when he was breathing.
And here she stood, statue-still, looking down on the freshly turned dirt. She was alone. No one would stop her from doing everything she had fantasized about.
She couldn’t move.
Nothing she did now would matter. If she’d found the nerve to pick up the phone, just once, and tell him what he’d done to her. If she’d bought the damned plane ticket and looked him in the eye while she laid out her nightmares for him to drown in as she did every night. If, if, if. What good would it do to say it now to soil and the satin and wood prison that held him?
Tears filled her eyes and dragged her back through the years to a concrete room painted concrete gray. It was not a welcoming place, but it was her last salvation if she would only close her fingers around the hand held out to her. He’d tried so hard, that nice man in the official uniform. The patches on his arms and the badge on his chest promised to save her. They promised her a life away from the hurt and shame and confusion. The proof in his hands was damning but not quite enough. He needed her to say the words. He’d been begging her all summer long to talk to him. She might have, if they hadn’t sent her home at the end of each meeting.
Home with one who didn’t wear a badge and hadn’t promised anything. Home, where she was too stupid to function and too worthless to live.
In the cemetery, she flinched. Memories shouldn’t have this kind of hold. All the self-help books talked about taking your power back but it was all too easy to get tangled in the bear trap of the past. Truth or not, she’d learned to believe him. And because she believed him, she let him touch her. Be quiet now. There’s nothing to cry about. He loved her and he was trying to teach her. Stop crying, damn it, or he’d give her something to cry about.
And then he did.
She scrubbed her fists over her eyes, grinding away the tears. The grave came back into view and with it, some semblance of balance. Would the dreams stop now? She’d sacrificed a great deal to be here. To watch them cover him in foot after foot of heavy dirt. She hadn’t told anyone where she was going because she didn’t want their sympathy. Time off from work with no explanation. Friends worried that she suddenly had to go out of town. A baffled fiancée who only said, “I’ll be here when you get back.” Even if she’d managed to stammer out her reasons, they wouldn’t understand. How could they? They loved her and when you love someone, you’re there for them in these trying times. The books told her that as well. But she didn’t want the hugs and understanding. She didn’t want the shared rage. She didn’t even want the paid time off. It would all imply that he meant something to her.
The rain had become a downpour, soaking her to the bone. She was wet and cold and clammy all the way through. The mound of soil in front of her was turning to mud and slithering down. She stumbled back, not wanting it to touch her. A burst of superstition convinced her it was tainted. Her black boots slipped and she threw an arm out to catch herself. A strong hand gripped her, steadying. She looked up to offer thanks and nearly swooned in terror.
He smiled down at her. He was taller than she remembered. Taller than he should be. Hell, he should be in the ground. She shook her head in wild denial and pulled on her arm, feet sliding again on the uncertain ground. His grip only tightened.
“Miss me, babygirl?”
She tried to speak. Her mouth opened and closed. Opened and closed. Her gaze darted around, frantic for a visual touchstone to break her from this hallucination.
She was back in their old kitchen, his fingers twisting her arm as he waved a fork in her face and screamed about the speck of a water mark marring a tine. She was lazy and useless and he was going to teach her a lesson. Again.
Her boot slid. He hauled her against him and wrapped an arm around her waist. She could feel him, firm and warm as he hugged her close. She could smell his cheap aftershave and the pipe he smoked most nights.
The top of the stairs now, cringing as he beckoned her to his room. For a nap. Just a nap, he promised. But it was never just a nap and while he was asking and not demanding, she knew the price of denial.
Rain ran down her back, chilling her skin. He brushed a kiss across her forehead and gripped a breast, too tight, too cruel. “You’ve grown up, babygirl. What do you say? One more time?” His hips ground against her and she could feel his excitement.
Dragging out the wrestling mats. She’d done something wrong and now she had to roll around with him, pretending he was giving her a chance to fight for herself. He’d laid out the black bra and panties on her bed. She had better lingerie than any of her friends. When she dressed and went to face him, he told her to take off the bra.
He was turning her, pushing her back against a thick tree. The branches offered some cover from the rain, but no protection from him.
A thousand dollars held out before her. No? Two thousand, then. Two thousand to wrestle him fully naked. There were things he could teach her, he said. Things every young girl should know going to their wedding night and why let some fumble-fingered boy try and guide her? She’d looked at the money and actually considered it. Two thousand dollars at age sixteen. Surely she could run away on that. He would wear her down eventually and when he did, this offer would be gone. She told him no and endured two weeks of constant abuse for her sin.
His hand groped at her coat, trying to open the buttons and move the fabric out of his way. He seemed even taller, looming over her.
No choice this time. No cash. No question. Just taking and taking and taking. Later, she would paint a different picture of her first time. For too many years, she would believe it herself.
The coat parted and he groped. One hand gripped her throat and lifted her off the ground, choking her as he reached between her legs. She kicked, but her flails went through him, his flesh turning to smoke where she assaulted him. Steel where he held her.
She stood over him as he slept on the couch. The gun lived in a leather holster, hanging from his bed’s headboard. Now it lived in her hand. She held it to his head, all too ready to pull the trigger and end this. He didn’t so much as stir. She could do this. He deserved it, didn’t he? Thoughts of more police and arrests and jail clogged her mind and froze her finger. She stood there in a cold sweat, desperate to destroy him. But no matter how hard she tried, her hand wouldn’t obey her. She didn’t pull the trigger. She couldn’t do this after all.
He had her. He was stripping her and she couldn’t fight him. Again and again, he had proven that she couldn’t win. She lost every battle with him until she finally learned to stop trying. Only when he had fully broken her, when she had nothing left to lose, when she was on the verge of opening her wrists one sobbing summer night did she find the courage to run. By then, she’d been eighteen and in college and he couldn’t legally stop her. But he’d never left her. Over the years, he whispered of her worthlessness. He was waiting at every failure. He invaded her dreams until she, who had not attended church in years, stumbled to a pew to pray for his death. Only then would she be truly free.
She didn’t pull the trigger.
Or so she thought.
She didn’t pull the trigger.
The world began to fade into shadow and darkness. It licked at the edges of her vision. Air was becoming a precious thing, leaking from her and refusing to return. She batted at the arm holding her up, only to encounter more smoke. Long lashes slid down, too tired to care anymore. The child within stood in the concrete room. She went home and endured. She cried. She begged.
She pulled the trigger.
He vanished in a puff of acrid soot, filling her lungs and blinding her. When she stopped coughing, she was once more alone. The clouds parted, allowing a shred of sunlight to creep through. Her throat hurt and her clothes were a mess, but he was gone. She rose from muddy knees to stand once more over the grave. One last glance at the headstone and she turned her back on it, a whisper of derision trailing behind her as she made her way home.
“Beloved Father, my ass.”