… and the nightmare starts again. The doors are tightly shut, the heavy curtains closed. Outside a sliver of moonlight struggles to cut a swathe through the broiling mass of black cloud. The dark branches of the oak tree in the garden, groan beneath the weight of acorns and the wind whistles across the open, barren paddock beyond.
In the distance dogs bark, the cattle are silent, huddled together on their knees keeping the patches of grass dry for the morning, sleeping as the milk fills their udders awaiting the blessed release once the sun breaks free from her shackles to herald in the dawn of a new day.
The child lies still, barely breathing, waiting for the rumble, the safety of deep snores from across the hallway. The wait seems interminable, her legs cramp, she wants to roll over, curl up, tuck the blankets beneath her chin and sleep. But still, there are other sounds, those she dare not think deeply about. Soft muffled cries, the sound of flesh striking flesh, moans muffled by pillows followed by sharp exhalations of breath and the inevitable crash of something heavy falling to the floor.
She closes her eyes, claps her hands around her ears and curls into a ball. She doesn’t want to hear it anymore.
Mistake. Instantaneously, she knows and fear freezes her where she lies. The door swings open, footsteps cover the space to the bed in a mere moment. Breath, heavy and reeking of alcoholic fumes fans her face. She tries to keep her own breath even. “Pretend to be asleep, pretend to be asleep.” she repeats in silence to herself. She feels the obscene warmth of his breath close to her and involuntarily closes her eyes even tighter. Her tiny heart beating, like a bird frantically trying to escape it’s cage. To no avail. She senses he knows she is awake. A tear of fear, squeezes it’s betrayal from beneath an eyelid, its traitorous trail highlighted by the yellow glow of the open door.
The safe cocoon of her covers unceremoniously removed, in a flash, forced to her stomach, bare buttocks exposed, and she bites down on her knuckles as the leather strap rises and falls, rises and falls, cutting through soft exposed flesh. Punishment for hearing. Punishment for moving. For daring to roll over without first asking permission. Explanations of cramp fall on deaf ears. The punishment continues. She accepts in silence. She knows the drill. He throws the covers back and leaves her. This time, she dare not move, aware of his presence outside her door, of the eye peering to the keyhole, watching, waiting, ready to punish her disobedience once more.
As the morning sun brightens the room, she knows she is safe for a while. He will be at work. It will just be them and mummy for a few brief, safe hours. She makes mummy a coffee. But mummy has gone. She has left a note. She has gone to hospital again.
The child knows it will be for weeks on end. And that those weeks, will be never ending nights for her. She has no more tears left to cry, wakes the youngsters and readies them for school.