What do you do when the creature you care about the most needs you to help her, but you can’t cry out because not a single soul would listen to you? What would you decide?
“You have to tell me.”
“No!” She screams from the top of her lungs. “I won’t!” And turns away, arms folded.
He drops down on his knees and gently touches her shoulder.
“Please.” He pleads.
The child sulks.
“I don’t want to!”
“Come on, talk to your old dad already.”
Her lip quakes. Tears are beginning to stream down.
“What did he do to you?”
She sobs, first silently, then louder and louder.
He takes her in his arms and holds her, soothes her, singing the low lullaby she liked as a baby. She buries her wet face in his shirt and still she will not speak.
While she is distracted, he takes her arm and holds her hand while looking at the black and bluish spots below her skin.
How could she possibly have gotten all those bruises?
“Fell down.” His wife said. Well, ex-wife. It is hard to believe. She has bumps all over her body. She’d have to have rolled off a cliff to be hurt in so many different places.
He picks her up, she just keeps crying, and takes her to their small kitchen.
He sits her on a chair and makes her some hot coco. That always calmed her down before, whenever she came back from their place all upset. He should have known something must be off with them before. But then it was not this obvious.
He sighs. He will never forget the look on her face when he opened the door. So sad. So unbelievably sad for forty years, let alone a five-year-old. She stood there with her tiny hand in her mother’s, her brave chin tilted down and her limbs drooping as if the force of gravity was too much to bear.
“What’s wrong with her?” He asked Katie.
“Nothing. She just fell. We got a trampoline. She likes it a little too much.”
“Trampoline?” They got her a trampoline? He couldn’t even afford to buy her a new Barbie doll.
“I have to go. Roger’s waiting.”
His little girl walked in, keeping her eyes on the grey carpet. As soon as the door fell shot, she ran straight for her room and locked it. She refused to come out for hours. If he called, she didn’t even answer.
A distinct pang makes him gasp. He burned himself on the stove. And then he always tells her to be careful and not to wander off around fires.
What’s she doing?
He can’t let her notice he’s observing her, that would just set her off again.
“Masey, would you like some coco?”
No response. He puts the steaming cup in front of her. She doesn’t touch it. She doesn’t even bother to look at it.
He waits. She doesn’t move an inch.
He kneels down to look at her. He puts his hands on her shoulders.
“Come on, now, honey. Go ahead. You’re with me now. Everything’s okay.”
He unzips her jacket. She’s been wearing it all day.
“Are you cold?” It doesn’t feel less warm inside to him. And he’s paid his bills this month –they shouldn’t be able to claim his house isn’t suited for children again – so the power and gas can’t have been cut. Did she catch a cold maybe?
The girl lets him remove the garment without any kind of response.
And that’s when he sees them, the marks. Well hidden by her clothes. They are like round patches of discoloured flesh. Cigarette burns. Big ones.
Then he remembers. Roger smokes cigars, really big ones. He smoked them on the day of the custody hearing, after the divorce suit, which of course they won. It was his assertion of victory, of Roger’s triumph over his own little girl, his little Masey. Roger stained her tiny body the same way he had stained his own soul on the days he lost everything.
How could Katie let him do this to her? To their daughter! Their helpless little child...
It was Saturday evening. In less than twenty-four hours they’d come for her, they’d come to take Masey back for another week.
What should he do? Go to the police? How do you file a complaint when you can’t even afford a lawyer to go to court with? That big time CEO would get a whole team of lawyers. Good ones too. Some of his old Harvard buddies that graduated top of their class. They’d be friends with the judge, no doubt.
And then his PA’s will arrange a big charity benefit for battered children with huge press coverage. Try tackling a squad like that. A pack of bloodsucking leaches and bloodhounds, that’s what they are! They’ll dismiss all proof. They might even claim he did all this to his poor sweetheart. They’d show that his prone to violent behaviour. Then point out his unemployment, his unsuitable dilapidated house, the fact that he couldn’t even pay Masey’s tuition or her child support. He’d lose her forever. And Roger would get her. Then there would be nothing left for him to do for his precious Masey.
“Daddy will make the pain go away, okay, Masey?”
He treats her wounds as good as he can. Guess all those First Aid courses finally paid off after all. He couldn’t go to a doctor. They’d call the police right away and take him to jail. After all, no one believes an ex-con.
He probably had it coming for having such a hard time controlling his temper, making so many mistakes. Stupid. Stupid!
She utters a deep hiss.
“I’m sorry, hon, did I hurt you?”
“That’s because it helps.”
They are silent for a while. He puts some cooling ointment on the burns. The skin has gone all reddish. She’ll be scarred for life.
“Daddy? Daddy, I don’t want to go back there! I don’t want to go back with mummy! Please don’t make me go.”
He freezes. What is he to tell her? He doesn’t want to see her go back either, not ever. And then the resolve to protect her takes over, blots out everything else. As long as they were together. As long as he was with her, they’d be fine.
“Don’t worry sweetey, daddy’s going to take care of it. Daddy will make the bad go away.”
She whispers, as if she’s frightened to be heard, “are you going to stop the bad man?”
He’s taken aback by all the pain and fear in her broken voice, then picks her up.
“Yes, honey. I’m going to make it go away. I’m going to make him go away. I’ll take all of it away. I’ll make sure he’ll never hurt you again. I promise. Daddy promises, darling.”
She bursts into tears. Sobbing shakes her tiny body in violent convulsions. He rocks her in his arms and sings to her until the shaking stops. She’s fallen asleep.
He sneaks out of the room and begins to pack both their things.
Going through his drawers, he finds something. His fingers touch the cold metal, close around the object’s grip. Made to be picked up and held. He got it off an old buddy of his, a cellmate, just as a precaution. It was something he’d sworn never to use, not again.
He lays the gun on the bed, next to his half-packed suitcase. It was time to make a decision.