I told you I started writing the sequel to While Sleeping. It’s working title is currently “While Dying.” This is a rough and sad start to the book, but I like it. I guess that makes me a masochist.
When I was a child, I believed in magic. After reading “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, I would check for secret passageways to other worlds behind every closed door. I left no closet, no cabinet, no drawer, unopened. At my parents’ funeral, I even checked the coffins. Every coffin. Every coffin except the ones their icy bodies lay in. I was sure that one of the empty coffins would take me to a world where they weren’t dead. Where they had never gone on a road trip to celebrate their anniversary. As I grew older, and wiser, I would come to wish instead that they had taken me with them. That there had been three coffins instead of two.
By all the important people in my world, it was decided that I should live with my uncle. My mother’s older brother. He didn’t have a wife. Or children. But he had plenty of closets. And cabinets. And drawers.
There I would stand in the kitchen of our trailer, morning light streaming through the grease-thick curtains and plastic windows above the sink, sticking my little arm into the back of the kitchen drawers, imagining that if I could find a secret portal with even just the tip of my fingers, the rest of me would be sucked into a magical place where children were heroes.
That is how I found his pictures. My uncle’s pictures. Of me. Me in the bathtub. Me, asleep in bed, my Rainbow Brite nightgown pulled up to my neck. Me…in various states of undress and age. And childhood pictures of my mom. My aunt. Girls I didn’t know.
I dropped to the floor, the envelope slipping from my grasp, its contents flung around me in some Jackson Pollock painting of an abstract childhood. I sat there, tears and snot falling from my face as I spread out the images in an arc around me. Touching each one with tiny fingers as I chanted, “No, no, no, no,” as if trying to find the right frequency. If only I could find the right frequency of the word, it would reach the ear of a God that could save me. If I said it with the right tone, with the right passion, the right amount of tears, the right…something…then I would be saved. I would finally open the portal. I would be given an awesome superpower, one never seen or heard of before. I would be given a holy weapon. A shield. A protector. A savior.
Instead, I was given my uncle. He came trundling in wearing a white wifebeater tank and tighty whities. They clung to his muscled yet too fat form. He was scratching his scrotum as he stumbled in, mumbling for me to be quiet. Mumbling that he’d had a late night. Mumbling that he’d had too much to drink. Mumbling that he was too old for this shit. And then he saw me. The ten-year-old me. He saw the pictures scattered on the floor. Saw me clutching one to my chest, of my mother as a teenager, brown hair wet in ringlets around her, bikini showing taut nipples, skin glistening with lake water.
I expected him to yell at me. To act astonished. To deny that the pictures belonged to him. Instead, he walked over until he came to stand right in front of me. He grasped my chin in his right hand and raised my face until I was looking at him.
Then he said, “Pull down my underwear. Slowly.”
I ripped my head out of his hand and scrambled back against the aging cabinets, the movement of my small body causing the half-broken door to fall and hang from its one good hinge. The smell of beer and rotting trash wafted out of the small opening, assaulting my senses. I turned away from the stench as my uncle thundered toward me. His fist slammed into the right side of my face and my tiny body crumpled to the floor.
I blacked out. It was probably for the best.
The next day, my uncle bought me all new furnishings for my bedroom. A white poster bed with matching vanity, a bookshelf studded with books by CS Lewis, the starting book of The Baby-Sitters Club series, and a selection of other books from collections such as The Hardy Boys, The Box-car Children, Anne of Green Gables, and a multitude of others.
My bed was adorned with white lacy linens with pale pink roses, with proper baby dolls set against my pillows. My uncle had thrown out my Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcake, and Rainbow Brite, and replaced them with lifelike babies that had “magical” bottles of milk. Gone too were my Care Bears. And my tomboy clothes, replaced with fancy dresses and dainty underwear.
He let me keep the Barbies, half-naked and smiling despite their state of undress. I would come to loathe them. Loathe them for the smooth, plastic place between their legs, where no man could fit a finger, or anything else.
I sat in the corner, stunned and silent, watching as he transformed my room into a little girl’s paradise, and I let myself hope. I let myself believe he was sorry for the pictures. For hitting me. For the things he’d done to me as I slept in his bed all night. This was his apology. His way of making it up to me. Or of keeping my silence. I let myself believe it would never happen again.
And then he set up the video camera.
And I stopped believing in magic.