Prologue taken from
“HELP ME! PLEASE HELP ME!”
It is a piteous whimper, lost in the black void of the narrow closet. The weak and eerie sound of her own voice chills her more fiercely than the cold. The thought brings an aberrant amusement. Her own small voice frightens her!
A sound! A creaking sound. Far off. A footfall! Is it?
No. It is not a footfall. It’s just one of the strange noises that comes in the night.
Is it night?
Time is lost. Time is gone from her world like a chunk of youth. The black hole draws her toward an uncertain vortex. She must close her eyes. But, not so tightly. She sees less with her eyes lightly closed. There is better control of her quivering body. With eyes open, the blackness comes alive with trickery.
Some crawling thing moves along her upper arm. That is her perception. She shifts and finds a wooden wall protrusion. A vertical beam. She moves her arm and body in back and forth rushes to accommodate the itch.
Her wrists are painfully numb and raw. The handcuffs seem now natural extensions of her hands.
Her shoulders ache in their sockets. They are taut from the pull of arms bound behind her back.
How long? God! It seems an eternity! A small lifetime she has lived in this palpable darkness. Maybe, it has been two days. The air has no texture or stir. It hangs there, stale and dank.
Her face is flushed with fever. It feels stiff and crusty from the tears running over her abrasive wounds. She squints and contorts. She opens and closes her mouth. There are sharp responses of pain. Her entire body feels leaden and bloated. When she moves there is a burning chaff between her thighs. A complacent soreness pervades. It no longer matters. Nor does the stench from her body’s waste matter.
It is her mind which throttles her. Whisks her off in searing flashes, abates, lingers amid the blackness. A fragile sentry. Both enemy and friend.
It is all happening again! She is next to die. Just like Celia. Was it a year ago? Two? Time, again, is elusive, lost. What does it matter? A year or an hour ago! Sarilee knows she is next. Just like Celia…
Mama had beaten Celia, too. Had gotten so mad she shot her. But the bullet didn’t kill Celia. The fire killed Celia. The bullet lodged in Celia’s back and stayed there for two years. Celia healed with the bullet there in her back. Then, Celia had wanted to leave home.
Was that one year ago?
For some unknown fathoming, Sarilee wants to be precise in her remembering. Somehow, it is important to remember this point.
Yes, it was a year ago. They were living in an apartment near the old trailer court where Mama used to live.
Mama said it was okay for Celia to leave. She was nineteen and old enough to leave. But, first, Mama wanted to remove the bullet from Celia’s back. Then, Celia would be carrying no corroborating evidence inside her…in case she ever wanted to cause trouble.
Celia was two years older than me when Mama did the operation. God! It was gory! Fascinating, too, in a sick sort of way.
Mama used the kitchen floor as the operating table. Just flung down an old soiled blanket and sheet. There were dust and hair specks floating on the sun shafts from the dirty kitchen window. Mama forced whiskey down Celia until she was near passed out. Then the cutting started. God! It was a mess! Some of the bright redness even landed on my arm. It was sticky and smelly. Mama used a shiny little knife. Mama called it a scalpel. Me and Thomas and Willard and Tammie Jo all stood and watched. It was a family affair. No shock. Just mute fascination. Thomas was fifteen Willard was sixteen. Tammie Jo was thirteen. We all stood over Mama and Celia with our mouths hanging open.
Mama kept yelling out ugly words and holding Celia down with her knee, yelling at us to get this and to get that. It all took maybe an hour.
Following the crude surgery Celia became delirious. Her back was a big ugly sore. All infected and softly mushy. Bulging, red and all pussy looking. She cried and screamed something awful. Her face was red and gritty with sweat and tears. She flailed her arms and tried to move. But she couldn’t. Mama tried to slap her quiet. Everybody was irritable and impatient with Celia’s constant fretting. Sleep was elusive. Space cramped.
On the fourth day, Celia’s delirium became too much for Mama.
It was late evening when Mama called Willard and Thomas to the kitchen. Me and Tammie Jo listened and yawned at a safe distance.
“Ceel’s not gonna make it, boys. Done all I can for her. We gotta get her out of her misery.” Mama’s voice was high and tense. Like always. Ran all the words together without pause.
Mama had the boys carry Celia out to the car. Then she did something peculiar. She came back into the apartment and hugged Tammie Jo and slapped me. With her down-turned lips she hissed a high-pitched warning.
“You better start doing more ’round here, girl! Clean this place up by the time I get back.”
Then Mama was gone, her short shuffling strides scraping the kitchen linoleum.
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