The International Writers Magazine
:Dreamscapes Fiction

In the Dark
Lauren Almey

She is in the dark, in the kitchen, at the sink. Her hands are in hot water. She plunges shredded tights in and out of bubbles that reek of tea-tree and peppermint.

Her outline is hazy through the shadows but I know she has her back to me. Her knees are squeezed hard together, so hard that her whole body is shivering with the effort, and with the cold, and with the denial.
Her feet are bare in the dark. Her toes are pointing inwards, one set on top of the other, clutching at thin skin. Long, gawky, hairless legs pressed together. She is in the dark as she washes tattered tights in steaming water. The bubbles plop and pop, blissfully unaware, bubbles that stink of tea-tree and peppermint.

This is the image that lingers on. It pushes down on my shoulders and swings on my neck when I wake, as I eat, when I work, when I close my eyes. It blocks the others out, so that this is my only memory of it, this picture-ghost is all that remains.
Sometimes I still smell peppermint, and see bubbles silently caressing panes of glass, only to disappear in vulgar spurts.

She is in the dark, and that has taken the sun from me.

Diana steeled herself, and looked up. Her father stood in the doorway. Years ago, he would stand there and loom over her, almost filling the frame with his absurd shoulders and thick waist and intimidation. His colossal green eyes would be fixed upon her as his black hair would flap in a perpetually cold breeze. He would have smiled an incredible smile down at his awestruck daughter and she would have filled with pride.
This day, her father stood shrivelled, reduced, at the top of the steps which led into the house Diana had grown up in. He had lost stones in weight, an un-ironed shirt hanging off his figure, haggard skin draping from cheekbones. He was wizened and vacant. Diana was stunned to feel her heart cracking like rocks from a chasm.

She watched as her father’s eyes went red and filled with tears. He kept repeating her name quietly. She knew he didn’t know what else to do.
"I’m not sure why I’m here," She told him, and he nodded, "I don’t know why I felt compelled to visit you, I know I swore to myself that I wouldn’t again…I don’t care if you’re miserable, or broke, or if no-one speaks to you from one day to the next. I don’t care if you’re lonely or afraid…"
Her father stood silent, accepting, unsurprised, a shattered shell.
"I want to make sure that you are." Diana told him. He kept nodding at her.

She must have been terrified. Fear heightened because she was old enough to understand what he was going to do, just old enough to be able to conceive it. Time can be so cruel. She was my age, and I knew, I understood from the minute I walked in.
I think that must have been the worst part, as it dawned on her slowly, like some twisted sunrise. That second of awful realisation just before it began. Knowing the intention, seeing the capability, acknowledging the certainty…

Her blood must have frozen. Her limbs must have crystallised and her eyelids must have pushed themselves so far back that her eyeballs must have almost rolled out of her skull. This is unstoppable, she must have had to admit to herself, I am so completely out of control, so helpless, so utterly devoid of power in all and every sense.

I spend my adulthood trying to tap into some sense of that kind of terror, as if it is has been my duty ever since to feel it after her. Now that my conscience has fully formed, and he isn’t shaping my morals, and he isn’t crafting my concepts of right and wrong, I can be punished. I can and will pay for what happened to her, in equal measure to his penance. His crime is my crime. His suffering is my suffering. Together we will imprison ourselves in her fear.

Her father hadn’t altered the house at all since the last time she had been there. As she followed him into the large living-room, she kept her eyes on the drab floor. He shuffled when he moved now instead of taking the ludicrous, testosterone strides he always had done when chasing after his daughter in the back garden or walking into the working men’s club or leaving the house for the site early every morning of Diana’s childhood. He went to his deflated, worn armchair and was camouflaged against it.
Diana positioned herself purposefully in front of him, in the room’s centre, so that she could look down at him enough to satisfy herself. Although he looked small and meek, he looked into her eyes as long as she looked into his.
"You kept the house the same, like I said." She commented, careful not to sound grateful in any way.
"It seems right to keep it how it was then." He concurred in a tight, passive voice. Diana remembered how he used to boom.
"And do you still work at the site every day, full-time?"
"Yes, I keep the same shifts, there’s not much call for people to change around much."
"The pay-rise wasn’t much this time around, but takes care of all the bills, and lets me keep this place alright."

Diana allowed herself to glance around, noting the empty cabinets and dusty television and unused mantelpiece. No signs of pleasure, even of living. She was appeased.
Her father cleared his throat with some effort, rasping and moving liquid in a nauseating fashion, and then asked, "How are you, Diana?"
She felt his stare eating away at the dry skin of her cheek and in order to deflect it she met his gaze. "Living in Preston still. My car barely made the journey down here."
"Living alone?"
"Yes alone." She snapped back as if he had insulted her, "And yes, at the same job with the same people. I daresay our routines are not that dissimilar Dad." He felt the venom in that final syllable and visibly winced, his daughter an ice-berg bearing down on him, determined to see him flounder. She folded her arms.
"Did you go to your mother’s grave?"
"It was the first thing I did when I got into town. Those flowers, they were yours?"
"No, I er…I don’t tend to get down there as often as I used to when you were younger…You know your mother had a lot of friends in this town, whenever I do go there’s always some beautiful blooms left by somebody who loved her."
"Somebody who loved her." Diana repeated quietly, in a sarcastic hiss. She had her arms folded, and was clutching at the flabby flesh of her arms as if it were a line to a boat, keeping her at the surface of an ocean.

Her father’s wife was someone she had never known, this man as a husband was a person she could never have any memories of. She knew him only as her sole parent, her one guardian, her only keeper. In him, she had invested all the things that small girls invest into their parents, all her love, all her pure, innocent trust. He had been a god.

And she had kept the faith even after she had opened the kitchen door, after the screams and panic and redressing, after he had marched his daughter into the hall and had a good long chat to her about other people’s privacy and her being too young to understand grown-up things, after he had gone upstairs to shower and Diana had then watched her pick herself up off the kitchen floor and start filling the sink with water to wash her mutilated white tights. Because he’d explained. Because he had told Diana he was sorry but he hadn’t hurt her friend. Look, she’s fine, she can go back to playing outside in a minute, and that if anyone found out it would get her poor daddy into lots of trouble with all kinds of people and Diana didn’t want that did she? There’s a good girl. There’s a good, stupid, trusting, unfathomably loyal little girl.

"Ingrid! Ingrid! I can see you!"
"Diana, you’re supposed to sneak up on her and tag her, not yell out from where you were counting!"
"Ingrid I can see you, that’s the worst hiding place ever!"
"Oh, I always leave my coat sticking out…stupid…"
"Girls you really aren’t very good at this game are you!?"
Booming laughter.
"I don’t want to play anymore."
"Oh Ingrid please I like it, I promise I’ll count for longer next time?"
"No, I don’t want to anymore."
"Dad, tell her, please, she can’t stop the game!"
Booming laughter.
"Yes I can, we can play something else tomorrow Diana."
"Dad! She’s just being a bad loser!"
"I’m tired!"
Close to tears.
"Now, now girls, don’t fall out. Why don’t I fix Ingrid some orange juice or something, and then I’ll help her hide in the house somewhere and then the game’ll be really good, a real challenge for you Diana don’t you think?"
"Yeahhhhh, I’m thirsty!"
"Shall I count to fifty million this time Daddy?"
Booming laughter.
"Yeah, you keep counting sweetie. Come on, Ingrid."
"You’ll never find me Dianaaaaaaaaa!"
Tea-tree and peppermint bubbles. Hiding her shamed face. Hiding what he had done. Haunting my dreams.
© Lauren Almey March 2006

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