“Say you’re stupid, Celia.”
Saturday afternoon, 27 December 2008
GM: Celia and Ron have dinner at a nice restaurant. Ron cuts her a cashier’s check for cos school. Money already removed from his bank account.
Mom is doing better, without the wage garnishment. But it’s hard not to see that money bringing tears of relief to her eyes.
Or knowing she’ll be able to stop cheating on her “really nice” boyfriend, and putting another man’s penis in her mouth for money.
Not that she had much choice about it yesterday.
Celia: She takes a long, boiling hot shower after she gets home from Paul’s. She lets the water run until her skin is red, until she’s too dehydrated to cry any longer, she wonders if she’ll ever feel clean.
She is never going back to Paul’s house.
She’s learned her lesson.
She will never talk about what happened there.
Ron’s check cleared the account and her mom had paid the rest of her tuition with plenty to spare. She even gets to know Ron decently well at dinner, and she tells him that she wants to drop off some cookies for him if that’s okay with him.
GM: He seems amused, but agrees all the same.
He repeats she’d look good on camera. And that he isn’t her dad.
If his weight is any apparent indication, he’ll enjoy the cookies.
Cos school comes along. College comes along. Celia still has to see her dad at home. All of Mardi Gras break is spent at his house, much to Stephen’s disappointment. It’s still so like walking on eggshells.
Stephen refuses to ever see her dad again “except in a courtroom, maybe.” She tells him they broke up.
He tells her it’s her fault for having cooked such a terrible dinner that one (and only one) night her boyfriend came over.
Celia is now required to cook a meal for him once a week so he can be sure those culinary lessons are “paying off.” He insults and belittles her for having scared off a perfectly good husband.
Isabel is faintly smug. Daddy always loves her cooking.
Celia: Celia tests the waters one evening. She burns a steak. Everything else is perfect.
GM: Her dad forces her to stay up past midnight cooking steak after steak until she gets it exactly right. He watches from behind her the entire time. She can feel his gaze boring into her neck before he yanks the half-done steaks out of the pan, declares what’s wrong with them, and throws the meat into the trash.
She will do it until she gets it right.
“Even stupid can be taught, Celia. It just takes longer.”
Celia: She nods. She repeats that she is stupid. It’s the mantra that she clings to, kept in time to the beat of her heart. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
It’s not the only thing in her mind. Paul’s voice is there too, calling her a whore.
She has to get out.
GM: “You’re easily the stupidest of my children. I don’t have to do this with your sister. She’s going to major in theology. What’s wrong with you, Celia? Why have you turned out so intellectually stunted?”
Celia: Celia blinks back tears.
“I don’t know, Daddy. I’m sorry. I’m trying.”
She turns the flame up, just a smudge. Burns another one.
GM: He grabs it with the tongs and throws it out.
“You’re failing. You’re not trying hard enough. You aren’t just stupid, you’re lazy too.”
“But we are going to stay up all night until you finally get that steak right. If we run out of steaks, which I wouldn’t rule out given your painfully obvious ineptitude and inability to learn from past mistakes, you will remain standing in this kitchen, at the stove, until we have more steaks.”
Celia: She’s tired. She wants to go to bed. She can still hear Isabel’s mocking laughter ringing in her ears.
“Yes, Daddy. I’ll do better.”
She puts another steak in the pan. Lowers the heat. She’s trying this time.
GM: Her dad makes her eat it when she’s done. Then cook a second one for him.
Celia’s mom asks one day if she’d like a steak dinner “to celebrate things lookin’ up.” Maybe a trip to Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
GM: Her mom looks a little surprised by the strength of her objection, then says they “can always do seafood instead.”
The bankruptcy proceedings, meanwhile, move ahead briskly even if they take a while. Celia’s mom owns no real assets of value. She doesn’t lose any property, even if she admits to finding the whole process “a little embarrassing, havin’ to look people in the eye and tell them I’m flat broke.”
Vivian has started preliminary work for the insurance case. They’ll get into that once the bankruptcy proceedings are over.
All that’s left is to go to the cops.
Report what happened.
Go to court for the kids.
Sunday evening, 30 March 2009
Celia: Celia purchases a small camera with her (whore) money. It clips to her, which means she doesn’t need to set up her house for it. Wherever her dad decides to take her will be fine. Disguised as a clip in her hair, it’s almost unnoticeable.
She waits for a planned meeting. Dinner. Shows up a little late, a little flustered. Her face is bare. Except for her eyes. There’s liner on her eyes. And mascara, up close you can see a small clump. And maybe a little bit of something sparkly on her cheek, like she’d gotten most of it off but missed a spot.
She slides into the seat next to Isabel, sparkly side toward her sister. Celia hadn’t had to cook tonight. Small blessings and all that.
GM: Everyone stops eating.
“Celia, what is that on your face?” her dad calmly asks.
Celia: Celia plays stupid. She reaches for a napkin, wipes off her mouth.
“Did I get it?”
GM: There’s a clink as her dad sets down his knife.
“I didn’t tell you to get it. I asked you what it was. Are you not intellectually capable of understanding the question?”
Celia: “I…” she blinks at him. “Daddy, I don’t understand.”
GM: There’s discomfort on the faces of all of her siblings.
Isabel just stares.
“Yes, that fact is obvious.”
“You don’t understand the question.”
“You don’t understand why showing up late to this table is unacceptable.”
“And you don’t understand me.”
“Why do you think I might believe you don’t understand me?”
Celia: “Be… because I’m…”
She can’t say it. She looks down at her plate.
GM: “Say it, Celia. It’s important that your brothers and sisters hear.”
Celia: Stupid. It’s there on the tip of her tongue. But she’s never said it out loud about herself. Just thought it.
She shakes her head. She blinks back the moisture in her eyes. The silence from her siblings is telling.
GM: “Your sister seems to be having a hard time getting it out,” their father says.
“Just when I think she couldn’t possibly be any more stupid, she manages to outdo herself.”
“That’s the part she’s having such a hard time getting out. That she’s stupid.”
“Celia, stand up. You don’t get to sit down with us.”
Celia: Celia lifts her gaze to look around at her siblings. Then she looks at her dad. She hesitates. Doesn’t move.
“That’s not fair.”
GM: Celia’s father suddenly gets up, walks around the table, seizes her by her hair and physically yanks her up from her seat. He kicks it away.
Most of the others study their plates. Isabel doesn’t.
“You don’t decide fair, Celia. I do. Are you too stupid to remember that too?”
Celia: Celia knows better than to fight back against him. But her hands move to his wrist, to pull at his arm and keep the pressure off her scalp.
“You’re hurting me!”
GM: Her dad grabs both her hands in his left hand, forces them down to her waist, and yanks her hair even harder upwards in his right hand. With their height difference, he’s able to pull her hair quite far. Her scalp screams.
“Answer the question, Celia. Are you too stupid to remember that I decide what is fair in this family?”
Celia: He’s bigger than her. Stronger. She’s not twelve years old anymore but she’s still not a match for a former quarterback that maxes out his protein intake. She jerks against him, but doesn’t expect it to go anywhere. Still, she tries. And this time, when the tears come, she doesn’t blink them back.
She wore the water-based mascara for this. The stuff that comes off if you look at it the wrong way. So when she starts crying it starts running, thin black streaks down her face.
“S-stop it, Daddy, please!”
GM: Her dad doesn’t stop. He pulls her hair even harder, actually lifting the balls of her heels off the ground.
“Observe what Celia is doing, everyone,” her father continues. “She still can’t answer the question. She’s crying like a baby about irrelevant things and relying on me to to interpret the subtext of her speech, because she’s too stupid to communicate a coherent answer herself. She needs me to do it for her.”
“The use of language is one of the foremost things that distinguishes humans from animals. The ability to communicate one’s thoughts through language is the mark of an intelligent human being. Celia’s persistent inability to do this marks her as an intellectual inferior. It marks her as stupid. Less generous individuals might even say it marks her as subhuman.”
Celia’s siblings, except for Isabel, continue to study their plates. David sounds like he’s breathing especially heavily.
“Look up. All of you,” their dad orders.
They look up.
Celia: Celia won’t say it. She won’t. She will not give her father the satisfaction of hearing her say the words out loud. She squirms and cries and tells him she won’t eat with them and that she’s sorry she questioned him. Her words blur together.
GM: Her father ignores her completely. “Let’s recap everything Celia has done tonight, because she seems determined to show us that she is composed solely of id and incapable of considering facts beyond the immediate moment.”
“She’s failed to answer whether she is too stupid to remember that I decide what is fair in this family.”
“She’s failed to stand up from her chair without assistance.”
“She’s failed to answer why she thinks I believe she doesn’t understand me.”
“She’s failed to answer whether she intellectually capable of answering my previous question.”
“That question, of course, being what is on her face.”
“Who would like to tell me what that is?”
“It’s makeup,” volunteers Isabel.
“Very good, Isabel. Clearly Celia’s genetic share of the brains in this family went to you.”
“She’s also shown up late to dinner, which is a serious infraction in its own right and likely related to why she is dressed like a whore.”
“Celia, tell us where you got the makeup from and where you wore it to.”
Her scalp is still screaming.
Celia: Celia is overcome by tears. Even Isabel’s betrayal doesn’t sting as much as the bruising grip her father has on her wrists and hair. She stretches onto the tips of her toes, anything to relieve the pressure.
“I—I—” she sniffs and hiccups, a blubbering mess. “I—there was a—an audition -”
GM: “An audition for what, Celia?” her father asks patiently.
Celia: “At school,” Celia wails. “The—the film department. There’s a m-movie—”
Give my regards to your wife. She remembers. Maybe he will too.
GM: Her dad’s eyes narrow.
“So you didn’t tell me,” he says.
“Go on, Celia. Tell us all about this movie you wanted to audition for.”
He jerks her hair higher.
Celia: Celia can’t think of a lie fast enough. She shrieks when he jerks her around. She gives a vague description of The Dark Knight‘s plot. She says it’s a musical. That she went out for the lead. She wants to perform. Like Mom goes unsaid.
GM: Celia’s father pulls back the chair, sits down, and pulls Celia over his lap. He rips off her skirt and underwear, then brings down his hand.
“Say you’re stupid, Celia.”
Celia: Celia howls. She shakes her head. Says she’s sorry.
“Say you’re stupid, Celia.”
Her father’s hand comes down. Again and again and again.
Celia: She won’t. She won’t say it.
GM: She can’t see her rear like she did Isabel’s. Her ass feels like it’s on fire and getting pounded by a meat tenderizer. She can picture the color of her flesh changing like her sister’s.
“Say you’re stupid, Celia.”
“Say you’re stupid, Celia.”
“Say you’re stupid, Celia.”
GM: Her dad pinches her tongue between his fingers and yanks it so hard Celia almost thinks he’s about to tear it out.
“We’ll punish you separately for your foul language. Right now you need to tell us you’re stupid.”
“Say you’re stupid, Celia.”
She can smell blood.
Celia: She won’t. She won’t say it.
She screams each time his hand comes down on her. Yelps. Shrieks. Her mom is screaming too. Her mom is screaming and Celia is watching from the bottom of the stairs, too young and too stupid to do anything about it. Call the police, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, but they never come, and Celia is too young and too stupid to pull the trigger. Too young and too stupid to put the monster down. Her tears aren’t fake anymore. They’re real, tears and snot streaming down her face. She can taste them. Her throat is raw.
She deserves this. Because she failed. Too young, too stupid. She holds out. Holds out until she can smell the blood. Until the scent of it makes her woozy. Until black spots swim in front of her eyes.
She won’t give him the satisfaction of saying it out loud. Say it and it ends, she knows, but she won’t. She tunnels deep. She pictures the doctor’s face. Feels his hands inside of her. Hears Paul telling her she’s stupid. A whore. His whore. Stupid, stupid, stupid, whore. Blowing him for her own money. Stupid. Cheating on her boyfriend. Stupid.
Taking on her dad.
GM: Celia doesn’t know how long it goes on for. She’s not sure whether she’s lost all feeling in her ass or whether she just can’t perceive anything besides pain. It’s dark out, though. The food on the dinner table looks long since cold. The other Flores children all silently watch with numb eyes, except for Isabel, who finally just starts to look tired.
But her dad isn’t hitting her anymore.
“We’ll continue this tomorrow,” he says. “It’s unfair to your brothers and sisters to make them stay up on a school night.”
Celia: Celia is limp by the end of it. She can’t feel anything, not even the hatred that used to burn so brightly in her heart for him. She doesn’t move, even when he stops. She stays where she is, draped over his lap, her ass bared for everyone to see. Her crying is quiet, body soaked in sweat, face red and hair damp. Blood drips down the backs of her legs, staining her socks and the rug.
Absurdly, she wants him to hug her. Because she’s stupid. Because there’s some little girl inside of her that still wants Daddy’s affection. She’s crying again. She wipes at her eyes and her fingers come away black. She’s afraid to move. Afraid to not move.
She whispers to the ground that she’s sorry. She’s sorry she’s a failure. She’s sorry she’s stupid. Mostly she’s just sorry.
GM: “If you were really sorry, you’d not waste everyone’s time doing this again tomorrow,” her father growls. “We’ll keep doing this, Celia. Every night. Until you show this family you are capable of following directions. Until you tell us you are stupid.”
Her dad pulls her up. Takes her roughly by the hand. Walking didn’t used to be so hard. He pulls her upstairs to her room. All two stories. It feels like the Bataan Death March must have. He removes the blankets, pillows, and sheets from her bed, then the mattress. He chucks them all outside.
He doesn’t say a word. Just closes and locks the door. All of the Flores children have locks on their doors. Just in case.
Celia is left alone.
Celia: “Daddy, please—”
But he closes the door in her face. Her muscles won’t support her, her knees give out, and she is left trembling and bleeding on the floor. He hadn’t even given her back her skirt. She crawls to her dresser and hauls herself up, rummaging through the drawers for a pair of panties. Socks to soak up the blood. She doesn’t even wipe it away. She can’t. She tries to press them against her skin and it’s so painful that she hisses, air rushing between her teeth in one long exhale, and then she’s panting and on her knees again, fist pressed against her mouth to keep from screaming.
Tuesday night, 31 March 2009, AM
Celia: She doesn’t know how long she stays on the floor like that. Minutes. Hours. She’s thirsty. Hungry. In pain. Worse than pain. Agony. It’s white hot, blinding. The glutes connect to everything. Everything. And he has laid hers bare. No aftercare. No soaking in the tub. No salves or creams or Band-Aids. Nothing.
Her head throbs. But she’s not done. Never done. She crawls, on hands and knees, toward the closet, where a boho dress beckons to her. Its bold, yellow sunflowers mock her as she yanks it down from the hanger. She doesn’t even bother removing the shirt underneath, just pulls it on over top, every move an effort. She chose this one because it’s loose. Because it doesn’t cling. Shapeless, she’d called it, and now she’s glad for it.
The scarves are next. She pulls them off their hooks, every single scarf she has, and knots them end to end. Ties them tight. Her fingers shake as she works, but she gets through it. Then she crawls again, this time back toward the window, and ties one end around the leg of her bed frame.
Go, she tells herself. Or you get more in the morning.
But the ground is so far. And her scarves are so thin. What if they break?
Do it, stupid. Do it.
She backs out the window.
GM: But the scarves are so thin.
The ground is so far.
She hits the grass ass-first, at an awkward angle that makes something audibly snap. Tears squeeze from her eyes. She hurts. She hurts so bad.
Daddy will be furious.
Celia: She’s still holding onto it when she hits the ground. The purple, gauzy strip of fabric that she thought would support her. She can’t scream. She can’t. But she’s dazed. Rolls onto her side, curling in on herself as much as she can. It’s not much. Her body refuses to cooperate. She breathes in and out, trying to choke it down. The pain. The nausea.
She struggles to rise. Falters. Feels it grind. Every step is effort. She’s half-hunched. Campus. Phone on campus. It’s the closest place she can think of.
GM: It’s her arm. It feels like ice on the outside with hot embers poured on the inside. She lets it hang limp and numbly shuffles down the private street to the guardhouse. It feels like the longest walk of her life. Every step hurts.
Masked and armed Blackwatch guards stop her at the gate.
“Ma’am… are you all right?” one asks.
Celia: The guards. She hadn’t planned for the guards.
Because you’re stupid. Her father’s voice in her head. She tries to ignore him. Straightens her spine. Lifts her head. Tucks her arm away, the arm she can’t bare to look at. She thinks it’s broken but she isn’t sure. Doesn’t want to look.
“Gentlemen.” She smiles as best she can. They’ve never stopped her before. They don’t have a reason to now. She moves toward the gate.
GM: The men stare at her intently. She can feel their gazes on her back.
But on she walks.
She wonders if they notice she’s barefoot underneath the flowing dress. Shoes would have hurt to get on, but in hindsight, it hurts more to go without. It’s the longest walk of her life until she staggers past the sleeping all-hours desk coordinator at Josephine Louise who’s supposed to be awake, and then into her dorm room. Emily is still awake, hunched over a premed textbook with bags under her eyes.
She looks up as Celia comes in.
Celia: Celia’s knuckles are white. Her breath comes in short, ragged gasps. If only there had been an elevator in the old dorm building. If only there could have been that small mercy. She’s a sight, she’s sure. The dress is soaked with sweat, blood, maybe worse.
“I need… your phone. Please.”
GM: “Uh, sure.” Emily fishes it out. “Your arm looks funny. Is it broken?”
Celia: Celia looks down at her arm.
GM: Celia may appreciate having a premed student for her roommate when Emily looks it over, says, “Yeah, that’s probably broken,” and rigs a towel as an improvised sling. She places it under the arm and then around Celia’s neck. She also grabs a bag of frozen peas from the freezer to press over the injury through the towel. “It’ll reduce swelling. Don’t let it touch your bare skin, though.”
“We need to get you to the ER.”
Celia: “Yes. After.” She dials the number she got from her grandma, after their first meeting. The one she’d made herself memorize, in case of a situation like this.
GM: The phone picks up after several rings.
There’s no greeting.
Just expectant silence.
Celia: "H-hello? Is this… " Had she given him a title? “…Richard Gettis?”
GM: The man’s voice is low, thick, and worn, like an old boxing glove that’s bloodily crunched in more than one nose. It reminds Celia of her father’s voice, but it’s less… blatant. There’s a quiet menace to it instead. An implicit promise that it does not rely on words to intimidate. It’s not a nice voice.
Celia: She takes a breath. This is it. The moment she’s been waiting for. The months she’s spent planning. She musters the steel she has left, wills her voice not to tremble.
“My name is Celia Flores. My grandmother, Payton Underwood, gave me your number. She said to reach out to you about an incident of domestic violence.”
GM: The low voice breathes three words.
Celia: “Maxen Flores. Against me, his daughter. Celia Flores.” She repeats her name, just in case. “Number 3, Audubon Place. This evening.” She gives the time of her arrival at the home. “I am currently at Tulane University. But my arm is broken. I need to see a doctor.”
GM: The line hangs up.
Celia: Celia stares at the phone.
“He hung up,” she says to Emily.
GM: “What a dick.”
“Let’s get you to the ER and maybe call an actual family member.”
She can’t help but feel crushing disappointment.
GM: Tulane’s medical clinic isn’t open at this hour, so they need to go to “a real ER.” Emily calls Celia’s mom, who instantly responds that she’ll be over as soon as she can.
Celia: “Em,” Celia says to her, “I love you. But please don’t call anyone else for me.”
GM: “Okay… as long as you’re getting to the ER, I guess.”
Celia: She tries not to talk. Or sit. Or move. Breathing hurts too, sometimes, after all that screaming. She nods, though.
GM: Emily offers her some painkillers. When she sees where Celia is bleeding, she gives another, “Jesus Christ,” and gets a warm washcloth with some cream.
Celia: Celia doesn’t take anything stronger than Tylenol. She read the trust. She’s not risking it now. Tells Emily to hold off on the doctoring, too.
GM: Emily grimaces, but lifts Celia’s dress to take numerous pictures of her ass.
“There is nothing even remotely sexy about these.”
“I can’t believe your dad did this to you.”
Celia: “You saying you don’t like my ass, Em?” Laughing hurts, though. And it’s not funny.
GM: Celia’s mom must drive like the devil, because she’s at the dorm room in what feels like no time at all. She throws her arms around her daughter, relenting her grip only when she becomes conscious of Celia’s arm, and shepherds her out to the pink beetle. “Maybe lie down in the back, sweetie, face-first, so there isn’t any pressure on your rear.” She has to be dissuaded several times from administering a washcloth and cream. Emily says Celia should lie sideways. “Don’t put pressure on her arm like that.”
Celia: “Wait. I need. Emily.” Celia reaches for her roommate. It’s the phone she needs, really, in case the police guy calls. But the phone comes with a free Emily.
GM: Emily offers to come along as “emotional support” anyway. They need it. Celia’s mom sits in the car’s rear, arms protectively enfolded over her daughter, whose head is laid out across her lap. She cries and presses for details as Emily drives.
But she doesn’t cry that much. She mostly just gets a deathly still and determined look over her face as she tenderly rubs Celia’s back.
“Never again, Celia,” she declares.
“You are not goin’ back to that house. You can move in with me, if you’re dropping out of Tulane. You are not setting foot inside that piece of shit’s house ever again.”
Her mom’s hands are actually shaking with anger. This is the first time in her life she thinks she’s heard the woman swear. Dad never liked foul language.
Emily gets a confused look at the ‘dropping out’ reference, but continues to drive.
Celia: She should have stayed.
It’s the only thought on her mind in the car. That she should have stayed in the house. Should have gotten more evidence. Should have let him smack her around a little more. Because she can’t go back now. He’ll know she got out if she goes back, and she doesn’t think she can climb up to the window anyway. Not on a good day. Definitely not with a broken arm.
She thought that she’d cried herself out but the tears just keep coming. The policeman hung up on her. He hung up. Now she’s broken and bleeding for nothing, and Daddy will get away with it, and he hates her now. She’s not a good daughter. She’s stupid. So stupid.
She wants to go home. Only there’s no home to go back to.
Tuesday night, 31 March 2009, AM
GM: Celia, Emily, and her mom arrive as Ochsner ER. The place looks as miserable as Celia feels. Dozens of miserable people crammed into the waiting room, all nursing their own private worlds of hurt. They talk to the intake nurse. Celia receives an impersonal “urgent but not life-threatening.”
There’s no room to sit, or at least not on the two chairs they need, and no one ones wants to give them up for Celia. They try standing for a bit. But it hurts. So they get down on the floor, Celia lying at that also-painful side angle with her head on her mom’s lap, because she can’t lie on her rear or her face without aggravating either injury.
So they lie there. And they hurt.
They lie there for a while. They hurt for a while. A nurse callously almost steps on Celia’s head before Emily and her mom angrily yell to watch where she’s going.
They lie there some more. They hurt some more.
Emily is sitting too. She looks pale and exhausted now that the initial shock has worn off. Her head keeps dipping forward. Celia’s mom has to jostle her shoulder so she answers her phone when it rings.
“There’s… three of us. Me, Celia, and her mom.”
Emily rubs her forehead.
“You can find us by how we’re… camped out on the floor. We both have black hair. Her mom is blonde.”
Because they’re not the only people on the floor.
Someone in the background loudly sobs for, “Doctor… please… I need a doctor… I need… I need… I need…”
“Shut up!” someone else snaps.
Celia: Celia doesn’t say much. Nothing, really. She lets Emily and her mom pick her fights for her, pick her seats for her, yell at the nurse for her. She just lays there, like the failure that she is, nursing her hurts. Letting them strip her raw inside.
She stirs, finally, when the phone rings. When Emily describes them. She doesn’t move more than her head, turning it slightly to find Emily’s face.
“Whotha—?” Her tongue sticks to the roof of her mouth.
GM: “Uh…” Emily says dully. “Some… said he was a detective.”
A woman a little ways off is bursting into tears, screaming she could’ve just gotten some over the counter pain meds instead of waiting here six hours “to get the same fucking ones and stuck with a giant fucking bill!” Staff tersely threaten to call security.
Celia: “Gettis?” Celia asks. She tries to ignore the screaming in the background. She wants those pain meds if that person doesn’t. Everything hurts. It’s getting worse. Or better. She can’t tell.
GM: “Uh…” Emily repeats. “Maybe?”
“I’m just glad it’s someone,” Celia’s mom murmurs, stroking her daughter’s hair. “Just hang in there, sweetie…”
Celia: It can’t just be someone, though. Grandmother had given her a contact. Someone she said wasn’t afraid of her father. Someone who would actually do something. Because, no matter what her mom said, the police didn’t come that night. They’d heard Flores and stayed away.
And Mom had almost died for it.
“Here?” she asks Emily.
GM: “Uh…” Emily dully repeats a third time, but doesn’t have any answer.
“Emily, are you getting enough sleep?” Celia’s mom asks.
Her roommate considers, then just shakes her head.
“Well, I don’t have any blankets and pillow handy, but you can lie against me if you want to catch some z’s. I’ll answer your phone if anybody calls again.”
Emily doesn’t even answer. She just slumps against Celia’s mom and closes her eyes.
Celia: Celia watches Emily’s face. Waits until her breathing is slow. Deep and even. Then looks toward her mom. Or tries to—her eyes kind of roll in that direction, since she can’t really turn her whole body.
“Emily’s—good person. Wants t’be doctor. Studying… kinse… kines…logy.” Celia shrugs the good shoulder. Her head hurts. She thinks she might have gotten the word right. “Tol’ you ’bout her, ’fore. ’Member? Leg.”
GM: Her mom nods. “I do, sweetie. You know I couldn’t really afford to pay her then, but maybe now, with the bankruptcy.”
Celia: “No.” Celia shakes her head. The movement hurts. She doesn’t know why everything hurts. Is that better, or worse? “Me. She works… too much. Fail out. Bad. Gotta stay in.”
GM: “That’s… screwed up a bankruptcy… gives you more money,” Emily grogs.
Celia: “Emmy. Shhh. Sleep.” Celia nudges her with her knee. That hurts, too. Glutes. She winces. “You have school.”
GM: “Yes, the whole thing is about as screwy as a soup sandwich,” her mom answers with a smile that makes some attempt at levity. “But Celia’s right. You just catch some z’s, now.”
Emily doesn’t say anything more.
Someone else is yelling about getting his discharge papers. “I’ve been waiting an hour! A doctor already saw me! I don’t wanna get billed for this too!”
There’s another terse threat to call security.
Celia: The anxiety kicks in again as people start yelling. How long has she been here? Does Daddy know she’s gone yet? Did he open the door to talk to her and find her scarves out the window? Did the guards tell him? Her breathing quickens. She wants to get out of here. She should go back. Sneak in. If the police don’t come… why did I trust them? They’ve never done the right thing. She called. She called and they didn’t come. Not then, not now, and now time is ticking away and she’s stuck in the hospital and if she goes back she can just pretend she didn’t try to escape, she can… she can… she can tell him what he wants to hear. That she’s stupid. Because she is. That she thought this would work. So stupid.
“Time?” she asks her mom.
GM: Her mom checks her watch. “Hoo boy. Way late for a school n-”
The pair are interrupted, however, by the arrival of a short but stockily-built man with a square jaw line and, gray eyes, and a full but well-maintained mustache. He wears a gray trench coat over muted slacks with a white shirt and loose-dangling black tie. A cigarette looks like it should belong dangling from his lips.
“Ms. Flores?” he asks, looking between Celia and Emily.
Celia: Celia looks up. The response is automatic. She clears her throat.
“Yes,” she says. “Celia Flores. Detec…tive?” she asks haltingly, unsure of the title.
GM: “Detective Lebeaux,” says the man with a flashed crescent badge.
“Your dad’s been arrested. We had some questions for you.”
Celia: Holy. Shit. Dad’s been arrested. Already. Celia can’t even believe what he just said. Her mouth opens. She closes it, then nods, then opens it again to speak.
GM: Celia’s mom’s mouth falls open too, seemingly equally disbelieving.
“Some of these are going to seem obvious,” continues the detective, “but I’d like to have everything on record. I’m going to record this too, with your permission.”
Celia: “Yes, sir,” Celia says, more firmly this time.
“Here?” She looks around.
GM: “Might as well move you forward in line.” The detective, Pete, offers a rather flat smile. “Somehow I think we’ll have time.”
He starts the interview, first, by allowing Celia to describe the incident and any other information she feels relevant, without being interrupted. Celia is encouraged to explain their perspective on the events and given the time needed to fully share her experience, while the detective records the whole thing for later reference.
After that, he asks questions:
Who called the police?
Can she tell him why she called the police for help?
Is she hurt? (“I did say these might seem obvious.”)
Is she feeling any soreness, tenderness, or pain anywhere on her body (visible or covered areas)?
It looks like someone hit her; can she tell him what happened?
Has she been struck, hit, or injured in some other way?
Where on her body was she hit?
Who hit her?
What did her father hit her with?
How was she hit? Was an object or weapon used (e.g. a shoe, a knife, a gun, a telephone, a fist)?
Was she hit with an open or closed hand?
Has her father ever hit or hurt her before?
How many times was she hit?
Was anything broken or damaged (i.e. phone ripped out of the wall)?
Was anything thrown directly at her or near her?
Is she pregnant?
He also asks a more open-ended series of questions after that:
What did she feel was going to happen?
Can she describe how her father was acting? What was said to her?
What did her father do or say to make her feel afraid?
Were any threats made against her? Against her children or other family members? What were these threats?’
What are her fears or concerns now that her father has been arrested? Were any statements or threats made to her by her father when she sought assistance?
Celia: Celia tells him. She speaks slowly. Cautiously, pausing once or twice for water. Her throat is sore from screaming, after all. She leans against the table in the room they’re in rather than sitting, since her bottom is still raw.
She starts with the incident. Arriving late to dinner, but only by moments. The makeup on her face. Being hauled out of her chair by her dad, his hands in her hair, so hard she thought her scalp was going to come out. Yelled at in front of her siblings. Bent over his knee. Stripped of her skirt and panties. Spanked. Told she’s stupid. Over and over again. Yanking her tongue out of her mouth so she couldn’t tell him what he wanted to get it to stop. Hitting her until she bled. Until she couldn’t feel anything anymore. Promising to do it again tomorrow, then dragging her up the stairs. Hauling everything out of her room and locking her inside.
She tells him that she called the police. She went out her window because she was afraid that her dad would go even further. Because she saw what he did to her mom and she didn’t want to be next. So she went out the window, broke her arm, walked barefoot back to campus. She tells him about the other time, when she was twelve. The time he hit her sister similarly, until she bled too. The time she walked in on him trying to kill her mom. Throwing her down the stairs. Slamming her face into the floor. Going at her with a hacksaw. The blood, and here she has to pause to press a hand to her mouth to keep herself from vomiting. It doesn’t help. She doubles over, spews bile into the trash. She wipes her mouth and keeps going.
The verbal abuse. Calling her stupid. Useless. The rules. She’s afraid of him. Even arrested, she’s afraid, and she doesn’t have to fake the way her breath hitches, or the way tears roll down her cheeks, or the way she stammers. She’s afraid he’s going to come after her. Go after her mom. Go after her siblings. She’s afraid of retribution.
She answers his questions as best she can. All of them. She’s not pregnant. She’s just afraid. Terrified. Stupid.
“I d-don’t know w-what he’s—he’s going to d-do to me now.” Her entire body trembles. She’s exhausted. She hurts. She doesn’t think it’s enough.
GM: The group eventually gets a room of their own after they wait in “line” for a while. The nurse starts to say something, but Pete just flashes his badge and says it’s all fine. “This place is better for an interview anyway. Quiet.”
Emily makes groggy noises at being woken up, but stays awake once she sees a detective is here, and through the entire riveting, horrific story. She listens, aghast, and confirms the bits she saw with Celia arriving barefoot at their dorm (she’s now wearing a borrowed pair of Emily’s shoes) with a broken arm and bloody ass. She volunteers the photos on her phone.
The story is less new to Celia’s mom, who cries and hugs her daughter close like someone might swoop in at any moment and take her away. She doesn’t once let go. But she looks angry, too, and even ashamed as she hears the full story in all its grisly, bloody, terrifying details. She tearfully repeats “you are never setting foot inside that house again!” like it’s a mantra while squeezing Celia.
The detective asks to see Emily’s photos. He also asks if he can see Celia’s bottom “where your dad hit you.” He asks if it’s fine whether he takes pictures too.
Celia: Celia just nods. She lifts up her dress for him with the uninjured arm. Lets him take all the photos that he wants. She looks at the ground, unable to meet any of their eyes. She doesn’t want to see the judgment.
GM: Celia’s mom gently but firmly presses her arm back down and slowly lifts the dress for her. Actually seeing the injuries with her own eyes brings on a new wave of tears. “Oh, Celia, baby… it’s not your fault… it’s not… it’s not…” she sobs, cradling her daughter’s head.
Celia: It is, though. Celia did this to herself. She lets her mother hold her, but she knows the truth: she’s a bad daughter. She did this.
Pete quietly makes note of everything. “You two will both want to get a temporary restraining order. While he’s still sitting in a cell. You can get them from pretty much any judge.”
“Didn’t you say your grandma was a judge?” asks Emily.
“Sounds like just the person to call,” nods the detective.
He also asks Celia’s mom about the earlier incident her daughter described. “I want him to get charged with that,” she says. “I want to report it, a formal report. My lawyer said because it hasn’t been six years ago, that he can still be charged. Is that right?”
Pete nods. “He can be, ma’am. Statute of limitations is six years, and this happened…?”
He starts up another recording. They go through the same question-and-answer routine that he did with Celia.
Celia’s mom answers everything. Her eyes are numb at reliving the ordeal, at recounting the worst night of her life. The night after which she could no longer dance. Seeing her daughter in the state she is seems to give Diana strength, though, and she soldiers through what feels like an hours-long interview.
The detective asks Celia questions too. He says that having corroborating witnesses helps a lot, with domestic violence cases. They’re lucky to have had witnesses for both.
“I also want custody of my kids back,” says Celia’s mom. “My other kids. Where… where are they? What’s happened to them?”
“They’ve been picked up by CPS, ma’am. They’re safe.”
Celia: They’re going to lie.
She knows it. She knows it like she knew that the scarves would break. They’ll lie. And it’s Isabel’s name on the police call that night. Because Celia lied then.
“What happens next?” she asks.
GM: “I want custody of them. But I don’t… I don’t have room,” Celia’s mom admits lamely. “What can I do?”
Pete looks between the two.
“Maxen is in jail. He’ll be there for one to three days before his arraignment. Likely sooner than later.”
“It’ll be up to the DA what he’s charged with, if anything. And if he is, up to the judge if he gets released on bail. That’s why I said you should seek a temporary restraining order, in the event he gets out soon.”
“Physical abuse is a pretty hard ‘no’ when it comes to retaining custody of kids though. You’ve both got a lot of evidence. I’d say you have good odds of getting your kids back, ma’am.”
Celia’s mom gives a little sob.
“I don’t have room for them, in my apartment.”
“I heard you, ma’am,” says Pete. “Is there someone else you could stay with?”
Celia: “Grandmother,” Celia says quietly. “She has room. She might be…” Celia looks at her mom, brows raised. Surely Payton wouldn’t turn her daughter away, no matter how strained the relationship.
GM: “There… do you have any programs or anything?” her mom asks.
Pete looks between them. “There are shelters-”
GM: “No,” her mom says quickly to the detective. “I’ll pay for some hotel rooms. Should’ve just thought of that. I wasn’t thinking.”
“You’re under a lot of stress, ma’am,” Pete offers.
“I’d offer, but I don’t really know anyone with room,” Emily offers lamely.
Celia: “I need to go back to the house. I… left something there.” It’s a bit of a question, her attention once more on the detective. “Is that… does that violate a… law or something?”
GM: Celia’s mom instantly grips her close and tight.
Celia: “He’s not there, Momma. He’s in jail. I’ll be fine.”
GM: Her mom’s grip does not relax. “But when will he get out.”
Pete looks at Celia. “Did you live there, ma’am? It sounded like you were spending time at your dad’s place, but also had a college dorm.”
Celia: “Yes. I live at home with him, and also on campus during the school year. The university has strict rules. He tried to waive them, first semester. But… the people in charge… they made him make me go.”
GM: “Hmm. It sounds like you’re essentially a guest in house right now then, and it is illegal to enter any structure owned by another person without their authorization. So you could go in and take something. But if your dad doesn’t like that, he could file a police report for trespass. So I’d say it’s really a question of if you think he’d be all right with it.”
Pete’s eyes look somewhat doubtful.
Celia: Celia’s jaw clenches. She doesn’t even need to think about that. Of course her dad wouldn’t be all right with it.
“My license has that address,” she protests. “Doesn’t that… count for anything?”
GM: “I’m afraid not, ma’am. Once you turn 18 you’re essentially a guest in his house, legally speaking.”
Celia: “…what if it’s evidence? For the… for the abuse?”
GM: “We’ll ask a judge for a search warrant to collect it.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything to that. She just nods. She doesn’t know what to do about it now. She doesn’t want to hand over the clip. It’s her only proof. But if she doesn’t do it now, does that mean she’s in more trouble for not giving it up?
Stupid. She doesn’t know the rules. Her arm throbs, her head with it. Her back is one giant button of radiating pain.
GM: Pete thinks. “Ah, wait.”
“So, the law here can be a little blurry. But adult kids who live at home fall under something called ‘tenants at will.’ Who are essentially people that live with you without a formal lease.”
Celia: None of this means anything to Celia, but she nods along, hopeful.
GM: “Your dad can kick you out for any reason he feels like. But he has to tell you he’s kicked you out.”
Celia: There it is.
“He didn’t,” Celia says again, “he didn’t.”
He’d even locked her in.
GM: “Okay. Then at least for now, you still have the right to go back there and retrieve any things that belong to you. But they have to belong to you.”
Celia: Celia nods. “Yes, sir.”
GM: Her mom’s grip re-tightens. “Celia, you don’t need to go back there.”
Celia: “He’s in jail, Mom. I will be fine. I just need two things and then I’ll be out and go back to campus.”
GM: “Sweetie, you should be in bed!”
“And… I’d like it if you stayed with us, at the hotel. It’s just… it’s been so long since we’ve all seen each other… Pete, can’t you just pick it up from the house, with a search warrant?”
The detective nods. “We could do that, still. Doesn’t matter if your ex is home or not then.”
Celia: “After my mom left,” Celia says to the detective, completely ignoring her mom, “my dad threw out everything that belonged to her. Everything. I’d like to collect my things before they end up in the trash. Since I don’t see us coming back from this.”
GM: “They’re your things. It’s your right to move them out.”
“You can’t let her go back!” Celia’s mom protests.
Celia: “So Mom, if you could please call the doctor and ask him to cast my arm or whatever, and you get the kids, and I’ll have Emily take me to the house to get my stuff, and then I’ll meet you at the hotel. Okay?”
GM: “I can’t stop her, ma’am,” the detective replies.
Celia: “Because my arm really, really hurts, Momma.”
GM: “Yeah. She can walk,” says Emily. “I could drive her there. Help her carry her things out. If that’s… legal?”
“Since Celia is a tenant, she can invite guests to the property,” Pete answers. “Though obviously, if her dad kicks her out, and any guests he tells to leave don’t leave, that makes them trespassers.”
“So we’re good to help her pack her things?” Emily asks.
Celia: “But since he didn’t,” Celia says, “it’s a moot point, and he’s in jail, so could someone please get a doctor so I can go.”
GM: “The doctors tend to take their sweet time at ERs,” says Pete. “Usually nothing you can do to hurry things up.”
Celia: “Then… I’m leaving. You can… wrap it? What needs to be done to it?” To Emily.
GM: “Sweetie, you need to get that properly set!” her mom objects.
Emily nods. “Yeah. You need to wait for a real doctor to take a look at that.”
“I can’t stop you from leaving either, but your mom and friend are right,” says Pete. “That’s a bad idea to just leave without getting a broken bone properly treated.”
Celia: They’re right. If it sets wrong she’ll be… like her mom. Her eyes flick towards her mom’s leg. It didn’t set wrong and it’s still almost useless.
She nods, jaw tight. She’ll wait. She’ll wait, and then hurry on to the house to get what she needs, and then turn the clip over to Detective Pete.
“Do you have a card?” she asks him. “Emily, get some sleep while you can. I don’t know how long we’ll be here, and… you have school tomorrow.”
GM: Detective Pete produces a card.
“I’m too awake now, honestly,” says Emily.
“Might help when I leave,” says the detective. “You’ve all given me a lot to go on.”
“Wait. How can I pick up my kids?” asks Celia’s mom.
“So, you want to go to CPS.” He gives her the address.
“Okay,” Diana says. She draws her lips into a thin line not altogether unlike her mother’s. “If you’re going back to that house, sweetie, I’m coming with you. Just… just in case.”
“We’ll get you treated here with the doctor, go pick up your things, drop them off at your dorm, because the car’s gonna need the room, then pick up your siblings and check into the hotel. Okay?”
“Didn’t you want to call your grandma about a restraining order?” says Emily.
“Yes, that too,” notes Celia’s mom. “And, ah, fudge, we’re gonna need a bigger car. The Beetle only has room for four. Is there a rental place even open at this hour…”
“Maybe your grandma could help there too?” Emily asks.
“She… isn’t really an option, hon,” Celia’s mother answers.
“And, actually, maybe there’s another judge we should see about that restraining order.”
Celia: Celia checks the time. Is it too late to call Grandmother?
GM: It’s around 3 AM.
Celia: “Mom.” Celia says the word as firmly as she can. “Get the kids. They shouldn’t have to sit in CPS because of Dad. Get a hotel room. You are a trespasser if you set foot on the property. Dad will press charges. And then that looks bad. I’m not. Emily isn’t. Okay?”
“And for God’s sake call your mother, make up with her.”
Celia thinks she can get away with it, on account of the pain.
GM: Her mother’s lips just press into a thinner line.
Celia: “Grandmother makes that face, too,” Celia points out.
GM: Emily has to stifle a tired giggle.
Celia isn’t sure she’s ever seen her mom glare. It looks more like the woman is trying to figure out how to do so than actually giving a proper glare.
Celia: Celia bites her lower lip. It keeps her from laughing.
GM: “Uh, little work on the angry face-” Emily points out, then chokes on a few more giggles.
“It’s probably better you don’t risk it, ma’am, so far as setting foot on your ex-husband’s property,” says Pete. “Law can be a bit blurry there too. And your ex can make trouble even if it’s not the law.”
Celia’s mom gives a half-exasperated sigh, though whether at the law, Emily, or her daughter is unclear. “Well, we only have one car between us. We can’t do all these things at once.”
“We could send you with a patrol car if you’d like, ma’am, to pick up your kids,” says Pete. “The back seats are uncomfortable as hell, but they have room.”
Celia: “Or we take a cab,” Celia offers. Whatever works. Whatever gets her mom’s half-hearted glaring face out of there. Not that she doesn’t love her mom. But she also just… wants a moment without the woman hovering.
GM: “Oh, would you?” Diana’s lip quavers with gratitude. “That would just be such a blessing. I know we could take cabs, but we’d have to take two, and I don’t want to leave them alone, and I’d just feel so safe to have some police nearby…”
“It’s not a problem, ma’am.”
Celia: Perfect. Celia beams at them. She shows a little too much teeth. Pain and all. Bit more of a grimace, really, but she’s trying. Maybe Pete can flash his badge at a doctor on the way out. Get some quicker action. Painkillers. Something to take the edge off.
GM: “Why are the back seats uncomfortable?” asks Emily.
“Stain-proof,” answers Pete. “People in the backs of cop cars might be vomiting, bleeding, spitting, pissing, god knows what else. So they’re plastic. Easier to clean. I arrested one person who took a dump in the back, once.”
“What?” Emily asks incredulously, half-laughing.
“It was even less fun than it sounds,” the detective answers, his voice deadpan.
Celia: Celia wrinkles her nose. “I know a girl who had a client do that. Left it for her when she came back in after he left. Right on the table.”
GM: “Wow,” says Emily. “Who… who does something like that?”
Celia’s mom looks mortified at the very idea.
Celia: “Same type of people to do it in the back of a police car.” Celia shrugs. It jostles her arm. She winces, then glances at the clock again.
GM: Still the dead of night.
Detective Pete says he’s going to take his leave. He doesn’t know how long it’ll be before the doctor arrives or how long Celia’s treatment is going to take, and in any case, his part here is done. He gives out his card to the other people who didn’t get it if they want it.
Celia’s mom looks briefly torn between whether to stay by her daughter’s side or go pick up her other kids. She relents when Emily says she’s going to be here with Celia, so “she isn’t going to have to be alone.” Plus Celia isn’t on her mom’s insurance plan, so it’s not like they need her for the paperwork. Her part here is also done. She agrees, if somewhat reluctantly, to leave with Detective Pete in his car.
“I love you, sweetie,” she exclaims, squeezing Celia into the tightest hug she can without disturbing her daughter’s arm. “I love you so, so much. You’re so brave and so smart. He is not going to hurt you again—not ever again.”
Celia: “I love you too, Momma.” Celia hugs her mother close. As close as she can, given the situation, and tucks her face against her mom’s shoulder. As soon as she starts to leave she doesn’t want to let go. She’s afraid of how the kids will react to seeing her after so long. Afraid of what Isabel will say or do. Afraid of going back to that house, that if she doesn’t hand over the clip now she’s violating all sorts of rules.
Smart, her mother said. No one has ever called her smart before. She tries it on. It’s like a pair of pants that don’t fit quite right, squeezing and bunching in all the wrong places, so tight she can barely breathe. Smart doesn’t make it past her thighs. She can’t button it. Can’t bend. There’s no room to move. It’s all wrong. She peels it off, discards it. Back onto the dressing room floor. Back with all the other words she’ll never be: Innocent. Beautiful. Courageous. Honest.
Stupid, lying, whore. Only it’s not her dad’s voice in her head this time. It’s hers.
GM: Celia’s mom cradles her close at the assurance-seeking contact and just holds her for a while. But eventually mother and daughter have to go their separate ways. Celia is left alone in the room with Emily.
“She seemed nice. It’s crazy how different your parents are,” her roommate remarks.
Celia: “He used to be nice,” Celia remembers a different time. Before the pony. Her fault, too, for wanting it. “I keep wondering why my sister and I are so different. It’s because of her. I had more time with her. Isabel just has Daddy. Dad.”
GM: Emily looks… maybe not dubious, but something in between that and surprised. “What happened?”
Celia: “With my parents? Or why is he mean?”
She realizes, belatedly, that Emily had already heard the story about the attack.
“I was eight. Wanted a pony for my birthday. There were five kids and not a lot of money. Of course I didn’t get one. I was a kid, though, so I didn’t know any better. Open presents and there’s no pony. Then this guy I’ve never seen before shows up. Has a pony with him. Says he knew it was my birthday and all girls want a pony. It causes a fight with my grandparents and my dad. After that my dad decides to run for office, Mom said the stress got to him, he got mean.”
Celia takes a breath. Reaches for the cup of water someone had provided.
“Maybe my wish went awry, though. Magic and all that.”
She makes a face, like she doesn’t believe. But sometimes she wonders.
GM: Emily shakes her head. “This is way more than just stress getting to someone.”
“Stress gets to me and I don’t try to kill people or cut off their legs.”
Celia: “Isabel used to think there was a monster under her bed,” Celia says slowly. “Sometimes I think maybe she was right, and it got him.” But she forces a smile, because that’s just silly. Right?
GM: “Maybe,” says Emily. “Or maybe he was just always a piece of shit.”
Celia: “Maybe,” Celia acknowledges.
GM: She abruptly adds, “I forgot to tell your mom I liked her cookies.”
Celia: “Tell her next time you see her. She wants you to work with her leg.”
GM: “Oh.” Emily seems to take a moment to process that. With Pete and Celia’s mom gone, she’s already leaning against the wall with half-lidded eyes. “I’m not… licensed for anything. I’m not even a med student yet.”
Celia: “Practice for med school,” Celia tells her.
GM: “I’m jealous of you,” she suddenly says. “Your dad’s horrible, beyond horrible, but seeing you and your mom come together for your siblings… I don’t have a family. I have nobody and I have a giant test tomorrow I’m gonna fail and nobody cares if I become a doctor or not, and maybe it was all just a stupid idea.”
She looks like she’s about to cry.
“I wish I had a mom like yours.”
Celia: “That’s… Emily, you know that’s not true, right? I care about you. I care if you become a doctor. I see you working so hard every night and that’s why… that’s why I wanted you to work with my mom, so maybe you would be able to leave one of your jobs and then you wouldn’t be so tired all the time so you could focus on school.”
Celia moves across the room towards her. Pulls her in tight.
GM: Emily sinks into Celia’s hug and just cries for a while into her shoulder.
“I shouldn’t be… falling apart like this,” she sniffs, wiping her eyes. “You have enough shit going on with your… your psycho dad from hell.”
Celia: “And you’ve got a huge test tomorrow. Emmy. Go get some sleep. Set five alarms. You need to be there for that. Or… I dunno we can see if we can get a doctor’s note for you. But you absolutely do not get to feel bad for also having your own stuff going on. Like yeah, my dad is crazy. That doesn’t mean the world ended. Okay? You’ve got stuff too.”
GM: “It’s an… 8 AM class,” Emily says dully. “By the time I’m home and asleep, then have to get up… sleeping’ll just make me more tired. It’s better if I stay awake, keep the adrenaline going.”
“But… maybe, with the doctor’s note. I guess we can ask the one who sees you.”
“And that’s really nice, with your mom. I’ll… I’ll see what I can do. I can’t quit, but maybe tell them to put me down for fewer shifts…”
Celia: “She’d probably be happy to have you over, you know. In summer and stuff. If you don’t want to go home. Or we could get a place together.”
“But I’m not gonna let you fail, Em. Know that.”
GM: “I don’t… have a family, like I said. I don’t have a home. I was hunting for a place with month-to-month lease, for the summer, since staying in the dorms is crazy expensive.” Emily pauses. “Getting a place with you sounds awesome, but… money’s really tight. You don’t think it’d be weird, to have me over when she’s figuring out everything with your siblings?”
She then adds anyway, “I’d still pay rent and help with things, if you don’t think it’d be.”
Celia: Oh. Celia had thought the “I don’t have a family” expression was an exaggeration. Like she hated them, or it was as bad as her own.
“I think it’s gonna be crazy. In a good way. But we’ve got time to figure it out, and once this dies down Mom and I will find a bigger place, and then it’s gonna be awesome. And everyone is gonna be happy.”
Except Isabel. Unless things don’t work out. And Daddy gets off. And no one believes Celia.
Where the fuck is the doctor?
GM: “Oh. Yeah. I bet your mom is gonna want to have you around, anyway,” Emily says. “To help out. Five kids is a lot, on top of being a teacher, and if she hasn’t seen them in a while.”
Celia: Celia eyes the clock. What time do courts open? 8 AM? Maybe he’s already called a lawyer and gotten off. Maybe they can’t hold him for anything, and he’s waiting at the house for her with a hacksaw.
She should get a gun.
“Hasn’t seen them in five years,” Celia tells Emily. “Since that night. It’ll… be interesting. And fun. Maybe. Hey, do doctors always take this long?”
GM: “Yeah,” her roommate answers. “That’s ERs for you. We’re just lucky to be spending this long in a room instead of outside.”
Celia: “This is insane. I’m about to raid these cabinets and tell you to fix me up.”
GM: “Well, that’s hospitals,” Emily says. “I can’t recommend enough just not getting sick.”
Celia: “Everything hurts.” Her voice is a whine. She’d powered through long enough, and now her mom and the detective are gone and she’s in pain and nobody is doing anything about it. Why is nobody doing anything about it? She still needs to go to the house. She still needs to call Grandma. She still needs to… what? Wasn’t there something else?
She wants to lay down. To have Emily wake her when the doctor comes in. But that’s not fair to the girl who is also dead on her feet. And she can’t lay down anyway, not on that hard table, not on her back. She leans against Emily instead. Puts her head on her shoulder.
“You’re gonna be a better doctor than them.”
GM: Emily squeezes Celia’s shoulder in assurance, and as if to make up for her next words. “To be honest, I can’t fix it. Just… do a good job when a patient finally gets to see me.” She gives a smile that’s an odd melange of humorous and humorless. “A lot of practicing medicine is really just telling patients ‘suck it up, princess.’”
“But I’m sorry it hurts.”
“It’s just insane your dad locks you in your room at almost 20.”
Celia: Celia’s answering laugh is empty of humor.
“I keep thinking, what made him this way? His parents are… normal. I mean, the relationship is strained, but normal. And he’s just… like that. It’s… yeah. Insane.”
GM: “Maybe his parents are fucked up too. You don’t really know how people treat each other behind closed doors unless you’re behind with them.”
Celia: “Makes more sense than the ‘pressures of running for office.’”
GM: “Well, who knows why he’s that way. You just want him out of your lives.”
Eventually, the pair gets to see the doctor. The graveyard shift man perfunctorily touches Celia’s arm to test what hurts. It hurts. He moves her joint. That hurts too. She gets an x-ray done. The doctor applies a proper splint to her arm in place of the improvised towel, along with a backslab to allow room for swelling while still immobilizing the fracture. He says to come back in 5 to 7 days so she can get a cast applied, after swelling goes down. If Celia complains, she’s told to just be thankful she doesn’t have a compound fracture or need surgery.
Celia: Celia says she needs a note to be excused from class the next day, since she spent all evening in the ER. Two of them, since she couldn’t have gotten here without Emily.
GM: The doctor looks like he can’t be assed, but Celia and Emily both press and insist all throughout her examination and treatment until the man gives in. When he finally signs the slips, it’s seemingly done more to get the pair to shut up than out of any genuine concern for their well-being.
Emily’s shoulders slump with relief.
Celia is not given pain meds. They have to obtain those separately (which Emily warns will be at a significant markup: they should just buy them over the counter from a drugstore). They wait in line for an hour before getting their discharge papers and talking with the receptionist about insurance. She is curt and snippish when Celia can’t immediately fill everything out.
In the background, dozens more people, cry, wheeze, or moan in their own private worlds of pain. There’s a particularly loud baby bawling its head off that just won’t shut up.
Celia: Celia adds doctors to the list of people that she fucking hates.
As soon as they have the note she tugs Emily out of there, never mind the fact that the asshole didn’t look at her ass, or give her anything for that, or tell her how to care for it, and—
“Goddamnit will someone shut that kid up,” she growls to her roommate on their way out. Thank God she did not go through with her insane plan to get knocked up to escape her dad. She’d kill herself if she had to listen to that all day.
Emily slaps her head. “Ah, shit. We didn’t do anything for your ass.”
Celia: “Don’t care.”
GM: “We could go back.”
Celia: “You can rub it for me or something, we are not going back in.”
GM: Emily starts to say something.
Then she says, “Honestly… that’s probably the right call.”
Tuesday night, 31 March 2009, AM
GM: The pair get some pain meds and medical supplies at a pharmacy. They stop in the public restroom. Emily re-washes Celia’s ass with more soap, warm water, and antibiotic cream, then applies some bandages. “That’s really just about all there is to do, besides monitor it and see if it gets worse. If it does… ER.”
They drive back to Celia’s now-former house in Audubon.
The armed and masked Blackwatch guards stop them at the gated community’s entry checkpoint.
“No ID, no entrance.”
If Celia can’t produce one, the mercenary in charge insinuates he’ll let them in. For a bribe. Or a blowjob.
Celia: Celia’s ID is in her purse. Which is on the floor of the dining room at her house. She tries to explain this and isn’t surprised that the guards don’t care. But she has her school ID, which she thinks might be enough, since it has her last name on it. And she points out that they just saw her leave a few hours ago.
GM: “It doesn’t matter we saw you. No ID, no entrance,” the guard growls.
Bribe. Blowjob. Or leave.
Celia: Celia asks, politely, if she can get out of the car. Explain the situation. Privately. There’s a promise there.
GM: He takes her money, now that much less for her literally bankrupt mom and four siblings.
“Go on in.”
She gets back in and has Emily drive them up to her house. Her now-former house.
Celia: Celia tells Emily to stay in the car. Lock the doors. If she sees anyone but Celia, to get the fuck out of there.
“If I’m not out in… ten minutes, leave. Okay?” Because she has a sinking feeling in her gut that Daddy is in there. Waiting for her. And Emily doesn’t need to see that, or be exposed to it, or be caught in his crosshairs.
GM: Emily shakes her head. “I’ll go with you. You only have one arm, remember?”
Celia: “I only need one arm. Stay in the car.”
GM: “I’m your guest. The cop said that’s legal.”
Celia: “It’s also legal to stand your ground and shoot intruders.”
GM: “But I’m not an intruder until he says I can’t be here. Or kicks you out.”
Celia: “You think that’s going to stop him?”
GM: “Maybe not, but he’ll be in even bigger trouble that way.”
“And hey, I’ll get another exam extension.”
Celia: “He wouldn’t shoot to maim. He’d kill you. And then take his time with me. You think I want that on my conscience?”
GM: “…is this really worth whatever you want to get? I mean, the cop took a ton of evidence.”
The house looms before the two, silent and oh so tall.
Suddenly she’s not sure. It made sense in the hospital. There’s probably a better way. The laptop in her dorm room. But she’ll only be in there for two minutes. Just to grab her purse. In and out.
But she doesn’t need it. Her wallet is in the dorm. She can get a new license. She has the clip, still tucked securely in her hair. No one noticed it.
She looks for sign of movement in the house. Lights. Anything. If she sees it, she’ll leave. Go back to the dorm. Take it from there.
GM: The house is dark.
Celia: There’s no one in there. Daddy is in jail. And monsters aren’t real.
“Ten minutes,” she tells Emily. She leans over to hug the girl. As she pulls away she pulls the clip out of her hair, dropping it into the cup holder.
She gets out of the car and walks toward the house.
GM: Her feet creek up the old steps. She remembers she doesn’t have a key. The door swings open at her touch.
Celia: The police forgot to lock it. But that probably isn’t true. She knows it. Like she knows why she’s here. Why she’s really here, even though safety is back at the dorm.
Monsters aren’t real. Monsters aren’t real. Monsters aren’t real.
Her feet take her inside. She doesn’t close the door behind her. She’s stupid, but she’s not dumb. Dining room. Just get the purse. In and out.
“In and out,” she whispers. She takes a step away from the door, into the cavernous foyer. Then another. The dining room isn’t far. She wonders if their meal is still set out. If Daddy let the others finish. If there’s blood on the ground.
GM: But monsters are real. Celia knows better. She’s lived with one for most of her life. In the plain sight of day.
But monsters are most at home in the dark. That’s when it happened with her mom, after all. At night. In the dark. Horrible things always happen in the dark.
And the house before her is so very dark.
Her footsteps are like an elephant’s tread to her ears: painfully loud and obvious. The monsters must surely hear.
Yet none come out. Perhaps there none. Perhaps they simply wait. There are so many places for them to hide. Every nook and cranny, every concealing shadow, seems as if it might play home to those childish fears her adult mind knows are all-too real.
She sees the dining table through the moonlight. The food is gone. The blood is gone. All is as it should be. She can hear the words from almost six years ago.
It’s all in your head, sweetie. It’s all just in your head.
Thump-thump goes her heart.
Celia: Maybe, she thinks, it’s not here. Maybe the thing that has been haunting her dreams for years is nothing more than a figment of a childish imagination.
But she jumps at every creak of the floor. Every cut of wind. Every everything that says something is wrong. She wants to stop when she sees the dining room. The clean table. The chair where her father sat and pulled her over his knee. But she takes a step, then another, looking for her discarded clothing. Looking for her purse. Once she finds it, she can go.
GM: It’s there.
Still on the ground.
Waiting right for her.
Celia: She reaches for it. Looks inside, checking to make sure that her phone and ID are still there.
GM: It’s there.
It’s all there.
She scoops the purse up.
That’s when the hand clamps over her mouth.
Celia: Every single muscle in her body freezes. She doesn’t breathe. She thinks her heart might have stopped for a moment. Then she feels it hammering against her ribcage, so hard it hurts. So hard she can hear it. That’s all she can hear, that and the blood rushing through her ears, because she doesn’t make a sound.
GM: The darkness draws her up into itself. Holds her tight. It’s strong. Mercilessly strong. She couldn’t fight it. She could never fight it.
A heavy voice breathes into her ear.
“Lawyers. Courts. Won’t stop him.”
Celia: Her eyes close. Liquid leaks from the corners of them, hot trails down her cheeks. She knew. She’d known the whole time.
It’s an echo of last time. Caught by the darkness. The monster holding her fast. She can’t even think about getting away. Her mouth fails her, words no sooner coming to mind than fleeing once more before she can get ahold of them.
GM: The darkness lifts her hand. Presses something into it.
The heavy voice sounds again.
Celia: Then the thing in her hand. She knows what it is, she doesn’t have to look at it to remember the weight in her hand. Like six years ago. Exactly the same. Giving back what was taken then.
She makes a tiny motion. A single nod. Even as everything tenses.
GM: The grip around Celia suddenly releases.
There is no sound.
There is no motion.
There is simply the darkness.
Then just her. Alone again.
Celia: As soon as he lets her go she crumples. Her knees hit the ground, the breath flees from her lungs. The house is silent around her but she can finally breathe again, and she sucks it down, as much as she can. Her heart won’t stop racing.
She’s alone. She’s alone, but the gift he gave her is still in her hand. Heavy. Cold. It’s real, like the last time, just given instead of taken. A token of esteem? Something to remember him by? What if she had turned it on him?
She couldn’t. She knows that. He had her. Trapped. Helpless. Like a child. Only this time he didn’t take her back to bed. This time he pressed a gun into her hands.
Her breathing evens out. She stares down at it. He’s right. It’s the only way. She tucks it into her purse.
The house is emptier without him. Silent. Still. Dead. She doesn’t think he’s watching as she rises to her feet. As she moves toward the door. Even so, she pauses, casting one final look over her shoulder into the nightmare that ruled her life for so long.
She closes the door.