Zee came in with me when we got back to my place. It was still a mess, but I had the next few days off to clean it up. I reached for a new bottle of vodka and opened the cap.
“The doctor said not to drink, Abigail,” Zee said, standing in the doorway of my kitchen.
I hated when he used my full name, it meant he was really concerned. I filled half a mug. “You want one?” I asked and smiled. He gave me that look. “What? I’m simply being polite!” He started to shake his head. “I promise, just this one.”
He moved towards me, sending my heart into overdrive. It was the way he walked, how his eyes never left mine, how sure his steps were. He took the bottle from my hand and screwed the cap back on before leaning into me and placing it back in the press above us. The whole time, I held my breath, not sure of what to expect. Air filled the gap where he had stood.
“Fine, just this one.” He let out a heavy breath as he continued to watch me. “What happened today? I know you were lying and you don’t have to lie to me.”
I turned away, feeling guilty for lying to Zee. I stayed with my back turned to him, not wanting him to see my face.
“I saw Sam, today, my brother.” I said, feeling the loss rise inside me.
I had never truly dealt with losing my family, but to see Sam after so long made the memories rise to the surface. I stayed silent for a few moments, and Zee didn’t make a sound. I turned to see if he was gone, but he stood only two feet away from me, sympathy and compassion burned in his eyes.
“Did he say anything?” he asked.
I swallowed the lump that was forming in my throat. “He told me to come home.” I downed the vodka, letting it douse the flames that were burning inside me.
Zee’s forehead creased. “Do you want to go?”
I raised the empty mug to my trembling lips to hide my emotions from Zee. I wasn’t good with people seeing me like this. When I swallowed, it was only air as the mug was empty, but it gave me a moment to calm myself.
“I don’t know. I’m really tired. I think I’ll go to bed.” I placed the mug on the table, not meeting his eye and walked past him. He reached out, his arm ever so gently wrapped around my waist. I didn’t look up into his eyes in fear of what might happen. My body responded to him so easily, so I focused on his chest, it heaved under his black T-shirt.
As he spoke, his breath brushed my forehead. “If you need me, I’ll be on the couch no matter what hour.”
I swallowed again, but didn’t look up. “Thanks,” I whispered.
His arm unwound from around me and I left, closing my bedroom door behind me, trying to calm my racing heart.
That night, I dreamt of before.
My mother had been always sad. That’s how I remembered her. I didn’t have one memory or a photo of my mum happy. My memories start from the age of four, people say it’s not possible, but I have them and my mum has been always sick. I remember sitting on the stairs and the doctors talking to my father. I wasn’t sure at the time what they were discussing, but later I learned it was because my mother wasn’t getting better.
Dad had to work, there was no two ways about it so mum took care of us. The first day, my dad was worried when he left me and my brother in my mother’s hands. My brother was only three at the time. And I was five. I stayed in my room and kept my brother with me, playing a tea party with Mr. Bear and Diana, my rag doll. Hunger was one reason for leaving the room. I would pass the sitting room door where my mother sat, staring out of the window. Her brown eyes darted to me, freezing me to the spot. I was afraid to move, but I didn’t know why. I just felt afraid of her. I would make a peanut butter sandwich for myself and some Ready Brek for Sam; I had seen dad make it before so I was careful. It took me a while as I pulled the chair around the kitchen, reaching the presses and the microwave. I turned to go back upstairs, but my mother blocked the door. I stood still, hoping she wouldn’t see me.
She was always so quiet, but on this day, she spoke, “If your dad thinks that I don’t mind you and Sam, he will send you away and you’ll never see us again.”
She knelt down, taking the food from my hands and placing it on the floor. Her face softened, and she hugged me. I didn’t hug her back. She cried, saying she was sorry for everything. She pulled back and handed me my food and returned to her seat in the sitting room. I raced up to Sam. His food was cold, but he ate it. He was quiet for a child, well, I realized later on that three-year-olds are not always as good. We would play up there for the rest of the day until dad got home from work. I would race into his arms and hug him tightly, knowing everything would be okay.
“Did you have fun with your mum, today?” Dad asked.
I thought of what mummy had said to me; I didn’t want to go away from daddy or Sam. So I nodded, smiled and went back to playing with Mr. Bear. This became our routine for the next month.
Memories flashed through my mind, snippets of talking to Sam, playing games, saying goodbye as dad left for work and greeting him when he got home. My mother’s empty eyes, and then the memories stopped, slowing down to another one.
“Sam, I’m going to the toilet, you stay here with Mr. Bear.”
Sam nodded and continued to pour tea for us all. I closed the bedroom door behind me so he would stay in. He was too small to reach the handle. I raced down to the bathroom. The door was open. My mother was lying on the white tile floor. The tiles were red. She looked so white and the knife daddy always told us not to touch lay in her hand. I noticed her arm was cut really bad. I didn’t run to her or cry as I was too afraid of what was standing in the corner of the bathroom.
A dark figure, like a big man, with a cloak over him stared down at my mum. He scared me. My breath came out in small puffs of cold air. I could see the water that dripped from the tap was frozen solid, held in midair. I looked back at the man, frost was starting to grow on his cloak. He wasn’t the bad man that was always around mummy. He was different, but still he felt wrong.
I ran back to Sam and closed the door, pulling him into the corner of the room. It was getting so cold that our breath was visible in front of us. Sam started to cry, but I pulled him beside me while crossing my legs so I wouldn’t pee. But it was so cold, and it took daddy a long time to get home and I didn’t want to go into the bathroom where mummy and the man were.
I could hear my daddy’s scream before he burst into the room, gathering me and Sam in his arms. He was crying. I had never seen daddy cry before.
“I’m sorry, daddy. I wet myself,” I said.
My dress was ruined. I loved this dress. It made me feel like a princess.
“Did you go into the bathroom?” Dad asked, his voice sounded scared, maybe he’d seen the bad man, but then I remembered all the times he said that it wasn’t real, and that I shouldn’t make up stories, so I didn’t say anything about the man. I didn’t want daddy to lock me in my room again.
“Mummy’s hurt, and she was near the toilet I couldn’t go,"
He held me tightly and, at the moment, I thought everything would be okay, but I was so wrong.
I woke up covered in sweat, finding it hard to breathe. A scream clawed at my throat, needing release. My bedroom door opened and Zee burst in, light streaming in behind him.
“Abigail?” He was afraid, well, he could feel my fear. He moved around the bed and sat on the edge. My breathing came to me and I swallowed the scream, pushing my damp hair off my forehead.
“I just had a nightmare,” I said. But inside, I was screaming. I looked at Zee. At that moment, I wanted to let the world rain down on me and forget this cruel place. I no longer wanted to be here. It was too painful.
Zee made me lie back down and pulled the blankets up over me. I didn’t protest as he lay down beside me, stroking my hair.
“You’re safe now. I won’t leave you,” he said
I knew he would never leave, but I was leaving, that was the problem. I didn’t know when or how, I just knew that soon I would be gone. A tear escaped the tight prison I had kept it tightly in and slid down my face. Zee rubbed it away gently with his thumb. I moved closer into his arms. I had never allowed myself to get this close to him, but right now I needed him more than the air that was vital to my lungs. His arms fastened around me. He didn’t move a muscle, but the heat from his body sent me into a dreamless sleep.
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© Copyright Aoife Marie Sheridan