I introduce the story with an excerpt from The Wailings - my book in progress. It is a story based on my life which was one of physical and mental abuse. This is the beginning of Chapter 2.
Ani Black crouched under the kitchen table. The tiny hands that covered her ears tried ineffectively to keep out the screams that originated from an upstairs bedroom. She was a small child, yet her sturdy frame belied an inner fragility already obvious in her green eyes. She had fine white-blonde hair that hung poker straight to the middle of her back. Today her mother had tied the sides of her hair up with small barrettes in the shape of silver bows. They refused to stay anchored in the fine hair, which only added to her mother’s exasperation of looking after her four small children.
At age five, Ani was the middle girl of three. Pet was fifteen months her junior and was a contradiction in terms when it came to her name. Tiny boned and dark haired with a smattering of freckles that dusted her cheekbones and crossed the bridge of her nose, her smallness was almost an inadequate covering for the fiery nature that lived within. Although she was the baby of the family, she was already a force to be reckoned with.
Sierra on the other hand was the firstborn and five years Ani’s senior. She was dark like Pet but heavier set, taking more after her mother. She wore her hair in a long single plait down her back. Her mother had taught her the tricky machinations of braiding and Sierra had caught on quickly, revealing a dexterity that showed in almost everything she did. She knew the ins and outs of things that a 10-year old had no right knowing. She had been forging ahead and breaking the “first to do it” ground for as long as Ani could remember. And much like her name, Sierra was like a desert. There were huge expanses in her where nothing grew or stayed for long, with only a small oasis here and there where thorny things hung on for dear life. Sierra was hard to get near and touchy.
Daniel was the brother. Being the only boy made him special from the start. He was 17 months older than Ani. A round face and fair hair made him look almost cherubic. His blue-gray eyes reflected the wonder of what every day offered anew to his eager mind, and he was quick to accept and learn. His quest for knowledge was something he liked to share, and Ani was often his companion along the way. They liked to point out to each other things the other might have missed. Daniel was the thinker, the mediator, and the diplomat. He was the apple of his mother’s eye, his father’s pride, and Ani’s best friend and confidante.
Of the four children, Ani was the fairest.
Her physical appearance was a contradiction of her name. Her parents had thought it amusing to name her Ani after a bird they had seen while honeymooning in the southern States. She had stood silently many times as she listened to her parents describe the American bird.
“Generally black in color, belonging to the cuckoo family.”
Her father always followed this description with the words, “You’re just the little cuckoo bird of the Black family, aren’t you Ani?” Even at the age of five, the litany did not amuse her and she would stare straight ahead while her father tousled her hair and smacked her bottom to send her on her way.
She crouched now like a little bird, hiding under the table in her mother’s bright yellow kitchen while Sierra’s screams echoed throughout the house. The sunlight that warmed the kittens playing on the stoop outside the screen door was a sharp contrast to the chill silence that followed. Ani’s eyes darted to the dark maw of the stairwell that led down to the basement, a place where rats nested in-between the stones that formed the foundation of the old red brick house. From the blackness of the stairwell, her eyes traveled up the wall and rested on the hook set high above their heads. It was empty. Prickles of fear swarmed across her arms and down her back. They all knew what that meant. The Strap! The long thick black piece of leather whose original purpose had been a razor strop used to put a fine edge on a straight razor. Now her father liked to use it to put a fine edge to his punishments.
She had no idea what had brought about Sierra’s punishment. She hadn’t even noticed the wary look on her mother’s face as she had bounded into the kitchen, letting the screen door slam. Her mind had been on the kittens when the first screams erupted and pinned her to the tiled floor. Foolishly, she had fled for cover under the table. Daniel’s face had appeared briefly around the corner of the screen door, and then vanished--he wasn’t taking any chances. Pet was out of sight and Ani realized that she was the only one trapped. The sounds of muffled sobs were faint underneath the roar of her father’s voice.
“I’ve told you before that it’s for your own good, so don’t you dare question me Sierra! Next time I’ll make sure you won’t sit for a month!”
The heavy thud of his footsteps coming down the stairs and entering the hall that led directly to where she hid made Ani almost wet her pants. She knew that for no reason at all he could easily transfer his anger from one child to the next. She held her breath as he suddenly came into view, positive he would discover her and then she’d be in for a strapping too.
He was a big man at just over six feet tall and 220 pounds. His face was a flaming red from his exertions and his blue eyes glared angrily from beneath his dark eyebrows. He had deliberately rolled the sleeves of his work shirt back to his elbows to help facilitate a good swing, and his left hand opened and clenched, opened and clenched. In his right hand swung the black leather strop. He was sweating.
He strode over to the top of the basement stairs and placed ‘The Strap’ on the hook almost tenderly. Then he turned and moved off to his favorite chair where he picked up his newspaper and disappeared behind it. The only sounds heard in the roaring silence that had descended were the rustling of the pages as they turned, and Sierra’s distant muffled sobs.
Her mother sat staring at her clenched hands as they rested on the kitchen table, oblivious of the daughter hiding beneath the yellow arborite. When Ani finally judged it safe to escape, she crept out from under the table and stood looking at her mother with the question she wanted to ask stuck on her tongue. Her mother’s blue eyes stared into another world while she rubbed her reddened hands together as if they were cold. She didn’t even smell the potatoes boiling over on the stove until the shout from the big chair made them both jump.
“Do I have to do everything around here?” seethed the voice from the living room.
Her mother’s eyes were still distant as she turned to the dinner, never seeing the little girl who needed her.
That night Ani lay in her small bed thinking of the day’s events. Nobody spoke of the beating, and Sierra’s pride kept Ani from questioning her. The whole episode had left her nervous. By not knowing what provoked the punishment, she couldn’t make plans to avoid that particular behavior and its results. As the streetlight threw monstrous leaf shadows on the wall beside her bed, she could hear the wind whipping through the trees and smell the coming storm. Sometimes the shadows looked like her father’s huge hands, rising and falling. She shuddered as the first crack of thunder resounded around the room. There were always so many storms in this house, she thought as lightning flashed and she shrank from the images that flared on the wall. The thunder that followed sounded like the crack of ‘The Strap’ from earlier that day. Ani whimpered softly as she slipped lower in her bed, pulling the covers up above her nose. Gradually her eyes closed, her fear finally wearing her out.