Flash Fiction Challenge: From Sentence to Story

Standard

Here’s my contribution to this fun challenge, with a big thanks to Robert Niemann for the perfect first sentence.

The Kitten

The kitten died in my hands just after six on that unbearably humid Sunday evening. It seemed fitting that she should have died by my hand, because my spirit died by his. I didn’t mean to do it; really. I was simply lost in the crushing memory of his betrayal. You would think that a child of 10 would be safe in the hands of her grandfather, but no, not safe. Not safe. Not safe.
It was 1971 and had started out like any other visit as I sat with him in the bedroom to which he was mostly confined. Arthritis had curled his hands and tobacco stained fingers into claws that only remotely resembled what had once been the strong hands of a working man. The room smelled of stale booze, cigarettes and old man. I hated it there, but he was my father’s father, and I was expected to visit with him at least once every summer.

It was a Saturday night and we were sitting side by side on the sagging edge of his single bed watching some western show, Gunsmoke or Bonanza or something; I honestly don’t remember. I was wearing my brand new nightgown—red nylon with a strip of white lace across the front and a little bow right in the center. I felt so pretty and so grown up in it. As soon as the theme music started playing he began to touch me, running those ruined claws up and down my arms, over my shoulders and on to my flat, little girl chest, making circles around and around my nipples. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I feverishly tried to think of what to do or what to say to stop him, but nothing would come. When he moved down my stomach and began stroking me between my legs, I almost threw up. Then he struck the final blow when he leaned down and whispered in my ear, “I’ll come and visit you later tonight.”

The rest of the visit passed in a blur; I don’t even know how much longer I was in the room. Did I walk out? I don’t know, I have no memory of it.

When my grandmother finally put me to bed, I was terrified and on the verge of hysteria. As I lay in the dark replaying what had happened and his whispered promise to me, I began to tremble and to cry. At first it was just silent tears rolling slowly down my face, but they soon became an unstoppable, panic-stricken flood. I didn’t know what he would do to me, but I knew it would be bad, and I was so very afraid.

My escalating cries eventually brought my grandmother back into the room. I begged and pleaded to go home to my Grandma Lynn’s house. She fought me on it, but I wouldn’t be dissuaded. She kept asking me over and over again what was wrong, but what was I supposed to say? I had no words to express what had happened to me; no way to tell her what he had said. Eventually she relented and I was driven in angry silence back to the safety of my maternal grandparent’s house, where I hugged my Grandma Lynn for all I was worth, and went straight to bed.

The next evening I sat Indian style in my grandmother’s huge rocking chair on her front porch, feeling the humidity of the impending thunder storm cleave to my skin like the caress of a rubber glove. I clung tightly to my kitten, Dusty, reliving the nightmare of the previous evening. I was lost in the memory of his hands stroking me in places I knew were bad; swimming in a sea of terror and revulsion. I didn’t feel Dusty’s struggles; I didn’t hear her cries. All I could see was the memory of him, and all I could hear was the western theme music overlaid with his promise, “I’ll come and visit you later tonight.” I didn’t feel her neck snap. I never realized she had quit moving. I swear, I didn’t know.

But here we are now. I stand here looking at you, lying in that coffin all dressed up in a suit I know for a fact you never wore. There are a few strands of remaining hair carefully combed across that speckled pate of yours, with makeup on your face and those dreadful, yellowed hands folded neatly across your chest. You look like some kind of horrible doll.

Flowers scent the air but that’s not what I smell. I smell the memory of cigarettes, booze and old man. I smell you. I will always smell you. I have never been able to watch a western on TV or at the movies; I can’t. The sound of horses’ hooves on dirt makes me break out in a cold sweat and I can’t breathe. You may be gone, but you still have the power to rule my life because in my mind I am still 10 years old. I lost myself, my soul, on that humid summer night so long ago.

So when I look at you here, now, I feel nothing; not sadness, not anger, not pity; nothing. You deserve nothing. I do often think of Dusty though; the silky feel of her fur between my fingers and the sound of her contented purring. I think of how much I loved her and how still she felt afterwards. I think about how I wondered where the scratches on my bare legs came from and how broken my heart was. I think back on the loss of my innocence way before I ever should have had to cross that bridge, and all the terrible choices I’ve made in my life as a result of that one single night.

You did that to me grandpa; you stole my childhood. Goodbye. I hope you rot in hell.