The small room
was illuminated only by moonlight that trespassed between the wide slats of the
white plantation shutters. By day the bedroom was cheerful, awash in feminine
shades of the palest pink and green with scalloped white wood furniture and a
small white iron chandelier dangling daintily from the ceiling. Now, after
midnight, it was dark with silvery light pooling just below the large window.
The room’s inhabitant was long asleep, her dark hair fanned out across the
shell-pink pillow, framing her China doll face and roseate lips. She’d been
tired, having endured a long day of anticipation. Right now her peaceful
slumber was interrupted by an abrupt inability to breathe. The resulting
gasping caused her to waken suddenly, panicked.
“Shhh. It’s just me. Stay still.”
voice came out of the darkness. Ali knew it belonged to her aunt’s boyfriend.
He’d told her to call him Uncle Joel but Ali had just met him four days before.
Aunt Lauren and Joel were staying the week with Ali and her mother, visiting
for Ali’s birthday—a surprise to make up for the fact that her father was away.
But why did Joel keep coming into her room? Last night she’d awakened to find
him looming over her with scary eyes. The night before that she bolted up from
a deep sleep, afraid that someone was hiding in the shadowy corner near the
drapes. And now this, tonight.
“Stop! Get off me! I can’t breathe… Maaaaa!”
she screamed, feeling his hands all over her body. He clapped his huge hand
over her mouth mid-scream, roughly grinding her lips into her teeth, abrading
her gums. The taste of salty blood and her inability to draw any breath caused
her to kick her legs wildly in boundless terror. Undeterred, his other hand
yanked down her white cotton underpants covered in tiny blue rosebuds, as she
desperately tried to squirm away, but he had her pinned down. A few inches were
all she managed to travel before he swiftly halted her progress, grabbing her
with both of his meaty hands and dragging her toward him. “Come back here, you
little bitch. I’m not done with you. If you scream again, I’m going to spank
your heinie bloody. Now shut up and be nice to me!”
He tore off her
pajama gown and touched her naked body everywhere, putting fingers into her
private places, licking her with his gross tongue, grunting and breathing
noisily. He got spit all over her skin and it smelled sour. The nauseating odor
rushed saliva into her mouth where it roiled with blood, and she began to choke
as it trickled down her throat. Ali heard him unzip his pants and she didn’t
know why but she was too frantic to wonder. He was in the process of flipping
her over onto her stomach when she again screamed, this time at the top of her
lungs, and then the door flung open so hard it slammed into the wall with a
thunderous bang, leaving a crater in the wall the size of the doorknob.
She’d never heard
her mother sound like she did, the blackest fury barely contained as she
attacked the man with her voice. “Get off my daughter, you disgusting, vile
piece of nothing,” her mother screeched at a bloodcurdling pitch. “I’ll rip
your balls right off and make you eat them.”
Joel stood up.
That’s when Ali saw he was in his boxer shorts, his pants around his knees. He
scurried out of the room like a panicked rat, without a backward glance, as her
mother came forward to embrace her daughter in her arms. The girl was trembling
from head to toe and her nostrils were still filled with the man’s rank odor of
stale beer and old sweat. She didn’t think she’d ever forget it.
“Shh, come sleep in my bed tonight. Everything
will be fine, I promise,” her mother’s voice crooned but Ali had never heard it
so shaky. As she hugged her mother, it was hard for her to tell which one of
them trembled more. “Tomorrow is your birthday and we’re going to have so much
fun. I’m so sorry, Ali. It will all be okay.” She tightly grasped her daughter,
rocking her back and forth, over and over. They sat like that for nearly an
hour. Ali sensed her mother’s uncertainty.
released her grip and Ali scampered into her mother’s room, climbing up into
the big bed. Nothing was as comforting as a mother’s bed and so she managed a
small smile and curled up into a ball. If she made the ball really, really
tight, the shivering stopped. From that night on, it was how she always slept,
in a tight fetal position, impregnable and protected by her hard outer shell.
Tonight, sleep was long in coming and she so wanted to get there so she could
wake up and it would be morning—and not just any morning, but the morning of
her tenth birthday.