She lies on the hard dirt floor, eyes squeezed shut, fists clenched tight as the rotting door slams shut. Her face presses into the ground, but it doesn’t matter. She’s already as filthy as can be, both inside and out. Another stain doesn’t matter. Dirt, blood, spit, and worse have been on her body, each like an ugly tattoo, taunting her and ruthlessly reminding her of the situation. Of her lowness, her debased morality, her very being. She is filth.
It’s not like she means to, but a tear leaks out and splashes on the dusty ground. Then another, and another, and another. The dust turns to mud as she vainly tries to choke back the sobs that must be released. It’s the only way of getting the toxin out of her system. It’s all she knows. It’s all she has. For what else is there but this eternal nightmare that goes on and on? Once she’s done with this life, she will be damned to pay for her sins in the eternal lake of fire that is reserved for only those like her.
She turns around and turns her mud-caked face to stare through the cracks in the ceiling at the stars above. For what seems like the millionth time, she fervently makes a wish to be set free, to be emancipated. A full minute passes as she waits . . . and waits . . . and sees that nothing happens. As always.
There really is no way out. Not for her.
She closes her eyes, opens out her mouth, and lets out a long, silent scream.
It’s been going on for what feels like forever. Yelling for hours. Glass shattering for several minutes. He hides under his bed in the dark, surrounded by an army of stuffed animals, pillows, and bed sheets. They give him some courage. Not much, but a little bit’s better than nothing, right?
It’d probably help to pray, but he doesn’t know many prayers. They don’t go to church much, except for Easter and Christmas at that big stone church. Episopilan or something. They do the lethargy. Or maybe it was the liturgy.
“Now I lay me down to sleep…”
The cursing grows louder, closer. Pots start flying. More glass breaks, going off like those bombs in the action movies at the theater. The little boy hugs his favorite bear closer. He must be brave.
“I pray the Lord my soul to keep…”
The door to his room swings open, and the long, foreboding shadow of the man he must call Daddy stands in the doorway, framed in the light of the hall. Without realizing it, he wets himself. He stops breathing. After cursing again, his father slams the door shut. He is safe.
“And if I die before I wake…”
Will he die? Will his father kill him? He’s said he will, and more than once. What happens when you die? You get all cold and stiff and sometimes other people cry, but then what? Heaven? Nothing? What happens to all the little boys and girls like him?
He starts sobbing. He doesn’t want to die. All he wants is for his parents to be like the others. That’s all. But if he does die…
“…I pray the Lord my soul to take…”
Then he buries his face in his pillow and starts to scream.
As her husband leaves the room, not even bothering to close the door, she sits on the edge of the bed, her head spinning. She stares at the intricate designs in the carpet, but she doesn’t really see them. In fact, she hardly sees anything around her, because her mind is everywhere but here. She’s in her anthropology class in her freshman year, where she first met him. Then she’s at their favorite diner, the one where he asked her to marry him. The wedding, their new life, their togetherness.
All an illusion, all a lie. Shattered into a million ugly shards of broken glass.
A sob catches in her throat. This isn’t the end. They can fix it, get counseling . . . anything. Ten years didn’t get dissolved in ten minutes. It didn’t. This was their marriage, and she’d do whatever it took to get it back together.
That was what she’d been saying for the last several months, and now look where they are. He’s leaving for good, tearing himself away from her and leaving her wounded, stranded, confused.
A failure. That’s what she is. A complete and total failure.
Then she lurches to her feet and runs down the hall, racing past all the photos and mementos of the two of them. It’s still not too late. She can still catch up to him, just watch! Then she’s out on the front porch, but he’s pulling out of the driveway. She yells and bounds down the stairs and into the rain, but he doesn’t stop. Doesn’t look back. Doesn’t care.
And as he drives down the street and turns out of sight, she stands there in the rain, head hanging low. Like a big, ugly stamp, the fact that she’s failed inundates her and seems to sweep her away. All that’s left is her crumpling shell that’s falling forward, screaming, screaming, screaming.
Three hours. That’s how long he’s been staring at the cheap bottle of booze in his hand. One hundred and eighty minutes of torture.
Not for the first time, he raises the bottle over his head and prepares to hurl it at the alley wall a few feet away. But, just as each time, he brings the bottle down, his hand shaking, vision swimming . . . and thinks that one more bottle won’t hurt.
Except that’s what he’s been saying for only God knows how many years. He’s been in and out of AA, church groups, and even his family.
All too vividly, he sees his wife with her radiant smile and long, slender fingers that used to fit perfectly with his. His daughter, who loved him more than anything else, who said she always would.
Now she can’t stand the sight of him. He sickens her. That’s what she’d said, when he’d stopped at her high school a few years ago. At first she denied that she knew him, but then she started screaming and cursing at him to go away and never come back.
So he did.
Again, he raises the bottle and looks at the amber liquid. What does it matter? To continue living in this hell, or to finally enter oblivion? They say alcohol didn’t solve anything, but he’ll use it to fix him up for good. He’ll show them.
By the time he’s done, a comfortable, warm feeling is spreading through his body, and he slumps over, hardly aware of his surroundings. But then, like a beam of sun breaking through the clouds, his family returns again. And he realizes that he’s stepped even further away from ever returning back. Ever.
You’ve failed, an ugly voice whispers in his head, echoing in the recesses of his brain over and over. You’ve failed. Failed. Failed.
The wino claps his hands over his ears and starts scratching at his head in a frenzy, trying to rid himself of the voice that won’t go away. Failure. Failed. Failure. Failed.
He begins to scream.
She anxiously tugs at her flimsy miniskirt that doesn’t quite reach her mid-thigh while chewing on her lower lip. Her swollen stomach roils as she approaches the church, feeling every bit like the hypocritical pariah she knows she is. She’s never believed in God, so why is she coming here? Maybe because her family’s disowned her, she’s been kicked out of college, and her douche of a boyfriend dumped her last night, the fact that she’s nine months pregnant notwithstanding. For goodness’s sake, why didn’t she abort the little creep forever ago? Oh yeah, because she thought that this would help him love her more . . . or something.
So now that there’s nowhere else to go, she might as well return to the esoteric God of her childhood. Her heart drums a wild tattoo, and she’s sweating like a marathon runner as she crosses the street and steps onto the sidewalk. From inside, strains of organ music float outwards, accompanied by scores of voices singing in unison. She glances down at herself once more and again bites her lip. There’s nothing else she can do, because she hasn’t been able to shower in two days or get a fresh change of clothes, but that won’t matter. Right?
Two women walk up the sidewalk, talking in affected, ostentatious voices. They’re decked in long, flowery dresses and Sunday hats, but when they turn to look at her and immediately notice no ring on her finger, distaste flickers across their faces. Before they’re even inside, she can hear one of them comment about her audacity for daring to come to a place of worship like that.
Crushed, she slides down on the cracked sidewalk, not bothering to fix her skirt. Not caring about anything. She puts her face in her hands and starts to sob silently, certain that things can’t get any worse.
And then, she feels a strange sensation below her stomach, and she’s suddenly discharging liquid. Her heart rate shoots up immediately, and her breathing comes out in short, quick pants. She’s going into labor. Right here, right now.
And because she doesn’t know what else to do, she opens her mouth and silently begins to scream.
Somewhere in the universe is a great, rolling valley that stretches on for miles and miles, completely devoid of all human life.
In that place, if someone were to go walking there, he’d eventually know what raw anguish and misery was like. They’d acutely become aware of this thing called pain as the tortured screams of the destitute and lost and the hurt and the suffering echoed on and on in their head like a looping record. And, most likely, instead of helping, they’d turn away and run as fast as they could, ready to put as much physical and emotional distance from the pain as possible.
Their voices go unheard. Their needs go unmet. Their lives remain empty.
They are the ones who need rescuing. They are the ones who need saving. But how many are willing to enter headfirst into the dark valley of pain and bring the lost out into light?
But until someone does, they will keep screaming, borne on by the ceaseless waves of their pain and suffering.
Less than three,