Photo taken by and provided by Ronnie Bullets – 9/6/10
She bit at the skin under her filthy fingernails until they oozed. Her hair was a basket filled with sticks and dried leaves as the onset of winter threatened before her. The sun was still warm here, the ground cool but comfortable. Her blood tasted refreshing, even one drop at a time.
Scrape, pull, bite, pick, more flesh pushed aside. She knew it was going to make every touch she would have in the near future deliciously painful. She couldn’t stop. It was keeping her still, hiding at the base of some god, or war hero or politician from an era where they wore sandals and carried scepters and didn’t seem to know how to tailor their clothes. Her breathing shallow, bite, pull, tear. If she kept her movements just about her face, her body wouldn’t give her away. The rustle of the leaves beneath her rubber soles wouldn’t betray her as long as she focused on her fingertips.
Pain spiked through her arm and into her brain where the memories of last night hid. Already an army of street sweepers were finding a closet to ferret them away to, a super secret room to permanently lock away the screaming and the fear and the awful. Comfort settled in the knowing that in no time at all she would not remember where the tear in her shirt had come from, a twig, a rusted nail. It would soon be just another mishap she could not account for. She would soon be unable to understand why her body was covered in black paint, that it had burned as it splashed back at her.
But at this moment she knew.
She recalled every detail. Hurry, she thought, hurry, up there. If the memories didn’t disappear soon she would have to sleep outside, burying herself under leaves and dirt as she had done only a few times before when it took too long to clear her mind.
And they moved closer to her corner of the graveyard, their many footsteps and heavy breathing cut off by the occasional, “We’re going to find you” and “Come out” “We won’t hurt you”. Her teeth gripped enough skin for her to peel back three layers. Her delight and pain were enough to seal the door closed. The lock was firmly in place. She admired the raw flesh of her index finger. She pointed up to the tree and to the bearded fellow above her with accusation. See what you’ve done? And the face of the snotty nosed ugly Tommy Helfinger popped his head around the statue who would no longer protect her after her accusation.
Tommy’s yellow teeth jutted out of his upper lip battling over top of one another offsetting the bright speckle of his freckled face. The tops of his hands were black from something she vaguely recognized as paint and it made her giggle.
“You’re dirty Tommy Twisted Teeth” she said as she jumped up and ran away from him. The others were broken up throughout the graveyard looking for her. She dodged and darted around on her untied canvas sneakers. She should have tied them she thought as a stick grabbed hold and went along for the ride. Beth Gillberger was standing in front of her all mean and ugly, her face flattened by a frying pan when she was still in her mother’s womb. She screamed in a blood curdling act “What happened to your face??” and then laughed hysterically as she turned and ran back towards Tommy.
The kick that brought her down was from Bo, as it always was. He would grab her hair and slam her blond head into a gravestone until she stopped fighting while the others watched. Bo apologized to them as he always did, his eyes hollow and sad. There had been a time where he would say something to make them feel better, but it was futile now. He glanced at John’s broken arm as he dragged his sister home holding a clump of the beautiful mess that was her hair. Victoria still wore an eyepatch from the last attack, Gregor a scar across his cheek.
Bo hung his head in shame. He should drop her from the St Hill Bridge. She would never survive the churning water below as the rains had just filled it to overflowing. And he looked down at her face, the beautiful round face of what looked like innocence. He couldn’t. He couldn’t bear to hurt her. And so he dragged on as the children watched in silence, standing as a numbed crowd in the arched iron entrance leading away from the cemetery.
There was a calm amongst them, a quiet resolve that they had finally learned how to handle this, together, as a team. They would no longer ask for help from the adults who always, no matter how many witnesses, would inevitably blame them, saying it was somehow their fault they had broken a bone, cut their flesh and bruised their bodies. They felt their bond growing, strengthening. A strange and quiet appreciation for the little blonde haired monster came over them as they watched her tiny sneakers bump over the cracks in the sidewalk, their sidewalk.
And Bo glanced back at the children when he reached the steps of their home. Tommy waved first, then Bridgette, then Victoria and Bobby and Brian. They smiled and waved to Bo. They wanted him know it was all right, that it wasn’t his fault and that they were no longer afraid of her, because they had each other. They had each other, and they had him.