It was a country house like so many others peppered throughout the Midwest. A dusty road framed the front of the sky-blue house, with a massive cornfield stretching farther than the eye could see.
A white picket fence surrounded the house like the walls of a castle, but this was no castle. Sometimes white picket fences lie.
To the little girl, the fence was more like the jagged teeth of a gap-toothed monster, she imagined the home as the monster´s head, and the cornfield as its body. In her mind, Lily knew her monster. She knew it waited for her after school. It waited to devour her happiness. She hated it here.
A black and white cat clock was mounted on the strawberry wallpaper in the kitchen. It’s the eyes clicking back and clicking back and forth, as if to say, “I know something about time that you don’t. Lily swung her feet to and fro over the kitchen floor, matching the rhythm of the cat clock´s eyes as they tick tocked the minutes of the day away.
She stared off at the strawberry wallpaper, picturing strawberry fields. Nothing is real. She adored the Beatles. She couldn’t pick between John or Paul though. Earlier that day, Becky railed on her at school. In a gasp, Becky hissed, “What do you mean you don’t know which one is your favorite!?”
“Every little girl knows which one is her favorite.” Shaking her head disapprovingly, “Mine is John, he has the dreamiest eyes.”
Becky started wistfully up and off to the left, picturing John´s eyes. Her mouth turned up at the corners, as Becky faded from reality and she became the picturesque caricature of any late 60’s Beatles mania junkie.
“One day,” Becky promised, “I am going to marry him.”
“Everywhere I go, they´ll call me Mrs. Lennon.”
Stupid Becky, Lily thought. She’s always talking about marrying someone. First it was Dick Clark, now it was John Lennon. Tomorrow, it will be Darren from Bewitched.
Lily´s mind faded back to the immediate moment, back inside the monster’s head. Two rooms down from the eyes and about where the monster´s left ear should be, Lily sat in her seat. She was still swinging her feet, occasionally scuffing the linoleum as her bucked school shoes caught purchase. He hated when she did that.
The little Oreo cookie glared and settled her head back down. Her eyes still cracked a little bit, a silver of amber keeping watch over the noisy house guest.
Lily stood to look out the window. A black crow was hopping along the long cylindrical shadow cast by their birdhouse. Her Mom´s birdhouse. Lily´s mom loved that birdhouse. She must have spent all summer building and painting it. She wanted it to look like a miniature version of the adjoining houses to admire her handy work. As birdhouses go, it has become the Sistine Chapel of the small town of Emporia. The neighbors would fawn over it and marvel at how amazing the craftsmanship was.
Sometimes Lily would pretend her Mom moved to the birdhouse after she died. Doing ordinary things like cooking a birdseed omelet for the sparrows, Charlie and Wendy. The three of them chattering on about their day, about who was flying with whom. Then Lily’s mom would scold them, for not eating all of their food. Charlie and Wendy would leave in a hurry. After a while, however, they would always return. Lily’s Mom was infectious. Who could stay away for long?
She continued watching the crow as it hopped along the pole’s shadow. A silent black corridor. Each careful hop the crow was utterly committed to not stepping into the light.
“Why are you so afraid of the light?” Lily pondered. Meanwhile, Roy clacked around in the other room. Some People said he was slow. The kids at school called him retarded. Lily knew her little brother was not retarded. Roy was smart, just in a way that other kids at school didn’t understand. Roy had a way of always knowing what was on your mind. He intuitively knew when she needed a hug. Like he could smell it on you. He might have been able to read your thoughts like those mystic fortune tellers from the traveling circus. Roy, the swami from Emporia, Hug master extraordinaire.
He always knew when you needed a hug, he also knew when to run from Him.
Sean said he was her dad. He claimed it gave him the right to do whatever he wanted with them. He was always threatening to put her and Roy in a box and send the two of them to India, China. He wasn’t her dad, what he was, was a mean drunk that got stuck with them. A no good, dead beat drunk. A mean one too.
Sean had hit Roy before. He said Roy was too stupid to remember getting beat. The summer before, Roy had gotten into some of Sean´s tools. He was playing in the living room with a hammer and nails, banging nails into the floor. He just wanted to be like Sean. just wanted Sean to be proud, he was a carpenter too. Roy thought when Sean saw the nails in the floorboard, he would know Roy could hammer nails just as good as any of the other smart kids. Roy was beaming with pride when Sean came home. His childlike grin plastered on his face as Roy pointed at his masterpiece.
Sean was furious. His face reddened and he pounced. Sean pounded Roy like he was a grown man. Roy curled up in a fetal position, trying to protect himself, while Sean crouched over him raining meaty fists over the blubbering child’s body. Every hit, a new bruise or cut.
“ I thought you would like it Daddy!” Roy sobbed in between blows. His blood began to flow from his curled position on the cedar floor. The blood forming a Jackson Pollock portrait of picket fence pain.
Roy would have died that night if Lily hadn´t jumped in between them. Sean had beat her pretty good too. By the morning, Lily´s left eye had blackened and swollen shut. Her nose, obviously broken. A once soft girl nose had been replaced by a crooked swing. Her nose became a reminder that no one would ever hit her brother again. She told the kids at school that she had fallen off the bunk bed.
The adults would whisper that there were problems in the Gibbona household, but they knew well enough to mind their own business. It was sort of an unspoken rule of small towns. Each man was the king of his own farm. Even the degenerate drunks.
Lily sat there fingering the necklace that her mom had left her before she went to the asylum. It was a small golden turtle with glittering red ruby eyes. Its mouth was gently biting the chain that hung from her neck. On the back, was an inscription. Her mother’s words, “ Oneknown”.
Nobody knew exactly what it meant. Lily´s mom would say it sometimes. They would be at the local market buying bread and milk, when someone would greet her.
“ Hi Claire.”
She would nod her head and tell them, “ Oneknown.” Leaving them to ponder the weight of her words, mouth agape, lives changed forever by the mystery.
Once, Lily´s mom had jumped up in church and bellowed it out for everyone to hear. Arms raised, like she was leading her people out of Egypt, and standing on the pew, her mother professed herself as the Prophetess of the Turtle.
People had asked her what it meant, and she would only smile. It was as if she had unlocked the mysteries of the universe, but there was a catch. She was only allowed to share one world. Oneknown. Lily`s thumbnail softly traced the lettering on the back, following the letters. It helped calm her sometimes. Her habit had started to polish well-worn path across the gold on the back, bringing it to a resilient fingerprint shine.
Sean stopped drinking after the incident with Roy, he promised the children he’d never hit them again. Crocodile promises, that’s what Lyli`s Mom called promises people don’t intend to keep. It had been nine months since Sean promised, but a few weeks ago Sean lost his job at the mill. With too much time on his hand, and blaming the world, Sean fell back in love with corn whiskey. Shady Karl and Jon Jon had a bootleg distillery in the Mayflower’s barn. The three of them would while away the hours of the day, drinking, playing card, and fighting each other. Lily knew Sean was back. For the last couple weeks, he came home staggering and stinking of broken promises.
Lily hoped he would stay out late tonight, but her hopes were dashed as she looked out the kitchen window and saw a dust cloud rising from behind the corn. Dust being kicked up by the tires of Sean’s powder blue Ford pickup truck.
Lily’s stomach tightened as she prepared to see which Sean would come home. She gathered up her schoolbooks and began heading for her room. The car door slammed. A glimpse of Sean through the front window, his red and white plaid shirt was torn and flecked with blood. A half-smoked cigarette hung lazily out of the corner or his mouth. Lily`s whole body electrified with fear. She quickened her steps to get to the safety of her bedroom. For a moment, she envied the sparrows Charlie and Wendy. If they wanted, they could fly away.
She halted in her tracks; Roy was still playing in the living room. Lily´s books tumbled out of her arms in slow motion as she turned to go back for her brother. She felt like she was moving underwater. Her math and grey Social Studies books rattled to the surface of the mustard colored carpet, while Lily watched Sean tumble across the threshold and zero his eyes on Roy. Roy sensed the trouble. He dropped his building blocks. He got up to run.
Sean´s cigarette began to tumble from his sunburned lips, while he muttered something inaudible, his fists balling up. A scared animal, Roy jabbed his feet one way, and then he darted the other. Sean kicked through Roy´s wooden block castle. Wooden blocks sprayed up in the air as Sean lunged out to collar Roy, his fingers catching hold of Roy´s yellow Cheerio shirt. Roy´s name written in bold black letters in beck. “if we didn’t write your name on you, you’d probably forget it all together!” Sean screamed at Roy.
The shirt ripped audibly, as Roy squealed. Lily still found her feet in quicksand as she watched a heavy open-handed blow fall across the back of Roy´s head. The breath escaped her. Roy´s eyes locked with Lily´s for a fraction of a second, before the second blow landed, sending him sprawling to the foot of the stairs. “Don’t you ever run from me boy!”
Lily felt the prism or time loosening its tendrils as she freed herself from slow motion. She grabbed a blue and white oriental style vase off the top of the hall table and bounded down the steps. Raising it high above her head, the mighty warrior´s tomahawk, she brought it crashing down across Sean´s brow. A cumulus cloud of purple flowers scattered in the air with Sean´s blood. He crumpled underneath the impact, falling face down, as up. His hands were tucked limply along his sides like closed car doors a puddle of crimson was spreading from his face and cloning around the purple flowers on the floor. The blood resembling the ocean tide closing in on beach wood. She grabbed Roy by the arm and hauled him toward the front door.
Pulling him down the front walk, she reached the road. Lily pushed him hard in the back and told him to “Run!”.
His watering eyes focused on hers and his quivering lips mouthed the plea, “But.”
“Run now! And don’t ever come back here!” she screamed.
His head dejected, turned down and away from her, turning before his body did. Roy began to run, loping long steps, along the ruts of the path. His hands dangled from his shirt sleeves like a couple of socks with cinder blocks in their tips. His feet carried him from the blue farmhouse, while the corn closed around the yellow speck that was her brother. She knew it would be a long time before she would see Roy again.
From the house, lily heard a crashing sound. Then she saw Sean come running out across the front porch, his hair matted with blood and purple flowers. A single shot moss berg shotgun was cradled on his hands as he gestured cartoonishly.
“You Bitch!” He yelled, “ I’ll kill you!”
Sean drew down on her. The first shot went wide as Lily negotiated her flight. Should she follow Roy up the road? Or should she run through the cornfield? Knowing Roy would need time to get away, Lily can get into the corn. The stalks enveloped around her, blotting out everything but the blue sky.
She ran until her feet hurt. Then Lily ran some more.
By: Paul Thorsteinson