Silence, Stillness by Lisa Nikolidakis

Most Memorable: October 2015 stubble

I never say abuse. Instead, I slide into cliché. It was no picnic, I say. Had a rough childhood, but the texture means nothing to anyone else. Rough: my father’s cracked hands, the sound of them dragged across blankets in search of my curled body, hands full of static and intent. Or the burn of a cheek rough without shave: stubble, the texture of apology.

* * *

In the hall of our high school, Chad* walks up and says, Trade boots with me. It doesn’t occur to me that I can say no; men speak fluent Demand. His weigh nearly eight pounds and are two sizes too big, but they’re wrapped in long zippers and buckles and wearing them feels like bracing for battle. It’s been so long since someone has talked to me that I don’t hear what he says next, his speech muffled by the ocean of blood in my ears.

* * *

On what date do you tell someone that your father once cooked your pet rabbit and fed it to you? That at night you studied the soft curve of your rabbit’s spine, your finger sliding along knots of vertebrae, the next day: empty cage, stew.

* * *

Chad says he’s a poet, and I’m stunned by attention, that anyone would write sonnets for me, for such a stupid girl, a worthless girl, a girl who doesn’t know when to shut her mouth, who looks fat, so fat, and what? Are you gonna cry now? Go ahead, cry, see what that gets you. You think you have it so bad? Hey! Look at me when I’m talking to you. Do you know how lucky you are?

* * *

At sixteen, I know things: how to ride the Metro in Paris. The difference between Buddhism and Daoism, literary fiction and genre. Run an X-ACTO blade along the ridged, dorsal side of an earthworm, peel it back, and you will find no heart. Cigarettes are best smoked behind the auto shop. The guy with the Chevy Cavalier will score me the booze that I drink deep in the elbow of woods behind my house. Sam Goody is the easiest store to steal from. I know where to buy weed, coke, dust, mescaline, mushrooms, acid, and heroin. I can read and write in Greek, but I don’t know that there’s good attention and bad and have no idea who will hurt me and who won’t. After living with my father, everyone else seems safe.

* * *

My father weeps when he points a gun at me, and I watch the tears slip from his chin onto his hand, the one that is curled around the trigger. His plan is to kill me, then my mother, because he’s sure that she’s cheating, and I want to say something to persuade him otherwise, but any sound I make could be the one that ends me, and if I have a chance, silence, stillness, are all that might help. I can’t say how long we’re there in the kitchen, the barrel aimed at my head, but eventually he slumps to bed. Only later when I hear him snore do I tiptoe outside, fall into a plastic chaise. Above me: the bluest sky, cartoon clouds, one stupid cardinal whistling staccato, and it is the schism—the impossible perfection of outside when the inside is so thoroughly rotten—that sets my body down to the bones shaking.

* * *

Chad and I have sex in the glow of a red bulb, a cracked mirror by the bedside, and to avoid Chad’s eyes, I look there at my reflection, sure that it is someone else, some other creature on her back, her lipsticked mouth invisible in the red light, a silent mouthless monster.

* * *

After the divorce, my father plants himself and yells my house, my house, my house, the awful refrain of it, and when the police come, he, too, is a cliché: kicking, screaming, relentless. For nearly a year, the thud of my pulse wakes me in the night, alert as a rabbit, sure that I can hear him at the door, the scrape and jangle of keys that no longer fit the locks.

* * *

Chad says he wants to play a game and I only know how to pacify, to please, so I say yes when he slides my panties off, yes when he blindfolds me. His hands are bony and cold, rough at the joints, but he uses them gently to lower me onto the pillows. When he slides the first thing inside and says guess, I don’t understand the question and then almost immediately I do. I don’t say no or scream or even squeeze tight my thighs. Instead, I let him place object after object inside of me—a marker, the metallic coil of a light bulb, the chilly neck of a beer—and laugh.

* * *

When in my twenties I learn that my father has murdered his girlfriend, her 15-year-old daughter, and killed himself, I come unhinged, my mind loose as a leaf. People say, You’re lucky it wasn’t you, and what I can’t explain to them, no matter how many times I rehearse it, is that in too many ways, it was.

*Name has been changed.

lisa nikolidakisLisa Nikolidakis’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, McSweeney’s Passages North, The Rumpus, [PANK], Hobart, The Greensboro Review, and elsewhere. Her flash fiction won A Room Of Her Own’s Fall 2014 Orlando Prize and appeared in Los Angeles Review, and her essay “Candy” won 1st place in The Briar Cliff Review‘s Annual Contest for nonfiction in 2015. She currently teaches creative writing in the Midwest. Twitter: https://twitter.com/lisanikol

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Es Jot
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