I sat up with a groan when the fighting became so loud it roused me from a deep sleep. What had I been dreaming about again? I’d had the same dream for weeks now and although I tried to write down my dream as soon as I awoke, the dreams always slipped away from me. A brief picture of the most gorgeous faces I had ever seen flashed through my mind and then quickly disappeared. Waking up every morning after such beautiful dreams had begun to feel like my heart was breaking every day. Strange.
Mr. and Mrs. Anderson were always screaming at one another. I guess it was better than when they screamed at me, but their words nonetheless pounded into my head giving me headaches and wishing I didn’t have such good hearing. I crept softly from the army cot I used for a bed, to the bucket of water in the corner of the room. I needed to use the bathroom, but I didn’t want them to know I was up. That would only make the screaming get worse. As I washed my face I glanced at the dusty, cracked piece of glass I had found in one of the attic chests. I looked pale. I guess that was to be expected when I hadn’t been allowed out in the sun for months.
When the neighbor boy had seen me through a crack in the fence, and Mr. Anderson had caught him trying to talk to me while I was helping with the gardening, that was all it took to get me restricted to my attic room for what felt like the hundredth time. The only outside breeze I had felt in months came from the small round window on the far wall. It was too high for me to properly see out of it, but I had figured out how to wrench it open with a broken broom handle and now at least I could get some airflow in my room. The rest of the room was dusty and dim, filled with old trunks and forgotten, broken things. I felt that at this point I belonged here. For I too was a forgotten and broken thing.
A sharp crash from down below startled me from my musings and I accidently sent my water basin flying to the ground. There was a sudden silence from down below and then I heard steady footsteps start to ascend the stairs to my room. I shuddered. I didn’t know who was worse. Mrs. Anderson with her cruel comments, her cursing, and her fists, or Mr. Anderson with his leering looks and his hands that lingered too long along my body. When I attempted to push him away, Mr. Anderson’s attempts at sensual strokes were replaced by the crack of his palm or fist against my face. They both considered themselves very religious and were convinced that the so-called “feelings” I seemed to invoke in every male (and sometimes female) that I came into contact with meant that I had come from the devil. They felt that it was their duty to drive the devil out of me whether it was by their words or their fists. When the “feelings” supposedly spread to Mr. Anderson, and he claimed that I must have cursed him because he couldn’t get rid of them, Mrs. Anderson decided that I needed to be locked in the attic for extended periods of time. I had been up here off and on since I was 14.
I couldn’t remember my parents, but assumed I had them at one point. I could remember a feeling of being loved, a feeling that my life had once been more than loneliness and broken dreams. I remember getting to go to school with other children who laughed with me, instead of at me. I could remember affection and warmth. I had once even had friends. I had once been happy. Something had happened to my memory and although I could remember that feeling of being loved, my only clear memories began when the tall, thin, beak nosed woman, Ms. Rankis, had picked me up from school, and told me that I needed to go with her. I had spent the next seven years in and out of foster homes until finally arriving with the Andersons. It had been a long 4 years since then. I came back to reality when the wooden door to the attic crashed open. It was Mrs. Anderson.
Amelia Anderson was a miserable looking woman. She was about an inch taller than me (I think I am around 5’8), but outweighed me by what seemed like at least two hundred pounds. Her forehead glistened with sweat from having to come up the stairs, and her frizzing, graying, black hair was pulled back half-hazardly into a messy mound on top of her head. She was still in her nightgown, a shapeless grey sack that showed too much of her abundant cleavage. I suppose she wore such things to attempt to feel sexier, but it was a grotesque sight to me.
“Feeling lazy this morning, are you?”, she griped at me.
That was one of her common complaints against me, that I was lazy. I wasn’t sure what exactly I was supposed to be doing that would make me not lazy since I was only allowed out of the attic room to use the restroom and bathe, but obviously I couldn’t say that to her.
She yanked my arm forward and pushed me down the first set of stairs. I hurried into the outdated, faded, blue wallpapered bathroom to use the restroom and brush my teeth. I knew I only had 5 minutes to get ready for the day before she would be back in to haul me up to the attic. I peered into the mirror above the sink as I washed my hands. I would do anything to get rid of the picture staring back at me. I didn’t know if I was pretty or not, I just knew that something about me inspired bad things to always happen.
Mrs. Anderson had tried to chop my long blonde hair off before, but I had always strangely woken up the next morning with it back to its original length. She had also burned my arms and chest with a lighter, which although horrendously painful, never actually left a lasting mark. At first her inability to permanently maim me had inspired her to beat me to within an inch of my life out of anger, but eventually she saw my “ability” as a way for her to do whatever she wanted to me without fearing anyone would find out.
The Andersons were careful not to draw blood with their abuse however. My medical records listed that I had a mild case of hemophilia. I suppose it was before they had seen my records, or maybe they were just testing to see if it was true, but Mrs. Anderson had stabbed me in the arm in a fit of rage one of my first weeks with them. I had fainted right away, more from the shock of the stab wound than the blood loss, so I wasn’t sure how bad it had actually gotten. All I know was that I woke up on my cot in the attic, my arm wrapped in bandages. The Andersons never spoke of the incident, but they did from that time on make sure to never make me bleed again.
I suppose I should have been dead from at least a hundred of the things they had put me through, but somehow my body healed itself and I had held on. This didn’t fill me with relief however. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t wish I was dead. I had long ago given up on the hope that a white knight, or anyone for that matter, would arrive to save me from my torment.
The bathroom door was thrown open just then. I guess my five minutes were up. I was once again yanked upstairs to the attic. I waited for what was sure to be another onslaught of pain but she surprised me when she sat down on a chest by the door with a huff.
“The Reverend Darby is stopping by for lunch today with his wife,” she said.
I didn’t know where she was going with this.
“Unfortunately, this means that you will have to come down for lunch as well. Reverend Darby has specifically asked that you attend,” she snarled.
I was surprised at this. The Andersons kept questions about their “foster child” to a minimum by telling people that I had severe developmental disabilities, and couldn’t be let out of the house. They used me as a way to garner praise and sympathy from their cohorts who were so amazed that the Andersons were so selfless in helping out such a troubled youth.
I had been with them since I was 13, and I could count the number of times I had been taken somewhere on both hands. While dining with the minister who inspired such fervent religious ferocity in Mr. and Mrs. Anderson should have filled me with dread, I couldn’t help but feel elated at the thought of getting to go downstairs and maybe see out the window. It was spring now, I’m sure the gardens around the house would be blooming. Mrs. Anderson was known around town for her immaculate gardens. She used to have me help her before the neighbor boy incident, and getting the chance to bask in the flowers around me had always energized my spirits. Now she hired someone to help her since I wasn’t allowed into the yard.
“They are coming at 12:00 sharp. Make sure you are dressed appropriately. If anything goes wrong I’ll beat you so badly that not even the devil will be able to heal you for days this time,” she added with a nasty grin. With that, she waddled out the door, slamming it behind her. I heard the sharp click of the lock before her footsteps sounded down the stairs again.
I glanced at the rickety, scratched table next to my army cot. I had an old clock on the table that saved me from going mad. At least I could count down the hours before I could finally go to sleep and dream everyday. It was 10:30, I had an hour and a half before she would be back. I shook off the temptation to go back to sleep. I needed to get ready and do some of my homework for the week. Although I wasn’t allowed to go to a traditional school, the Andersons had at least kept up with my studies by enrolling me in a stay at home program that was paid for by the state. I had tested out of high school over a year earlier, at 16, and now had started college classes. The work was dull, but at least gave me something to do to pass the time. I walked to my closet, again quietly (at this point it was habit), and looked at the offerings.
There were three shapeless dresses hanging neatly up. All three covered everything from my neck to my ankles, and looked like something a polygamist woman would wear. I had snuck a magazine upstairs that I had grabbed from the trash the last time I had been downstairs and I knew that these dresses were definitely not any type of style that I would have wanted to be seen in if I ever got to go outside again. But Mrs. Anderson insisted I wear them. She thought it would help distract from “the devil” inside of me apparently.
I grabbed a blue checkered printed one, and slipped it on. It hung loosely on my body with the exception of my chest. Although I hadn’t seen much to compare for a long time, I believed that I had larger than average breasts. At least Mr. Anderson’s wandering gaze always seemed to focus on them, and they looked somewhat larger than the ones I saw on the models in the magazines I poached from Mrs. Anderson’s castoffs. I smoothed the front of the dress down and went to sit on my cot and start my homework. My stomach grumbled. In the excitement of the Reverend’s visit, Mrs. Anderson had evidently decided I didn’t need to eat breakfast. Lunch couldn’t come soon enough.