What it takes to survive

I’ve come to love the silence. There are unwelcome disturbances that I cannot avoid, but I hear the warning sounds before they arrive.

Sometimes an engine approaches and I hide, crouched down on the floor until it goes away. Most times though it is the crunch of boots heralding a lost hiker who will disappear more quickly if I offer directions.

The city types act hard done by when they can’t get a signal for their phone. Way out here amongst the tall trees what do they expect? They look shocked when I tell them that I don’t have a land line for them to use, as if I would want to share with them anyway.

I am not as alone as I would wish though. The postman rolls up most days just after ten. He brings the junk mail that I use to light the fire in my stove. I’ve learned to manage with just the one monthly grocery delivery. Jenny laughs when she sees my store room, thinks I’ve lost it out here on my own. It is not me who gets hysterical when we talk.

I got rid of the TV a month after Freddie died. All the stupid people, fatuous shows and bad news that I could do nothing about depressed me. The computer is my chosen link to the outside world. Jenny wanted me to install Skype but why would I do that? Someone might try to call.

The tree that I planted over Freddie’s body is taller than me now. I go out sometimes and stand with my back to it, talk to him and imagine  his arms wrapped around me. Then I catch myself on. He was as likely to show me his fist as affection in the months before his fall.

He blamed me when Caleb died, said a loving mother would have known that her child was sick. He raged at my silence and at the world for robbing him of the one thing he had ever loved. There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t shed a tear for my little angel child.

Freddie changed after that but what could I do? I got through each day, sweeping floors and cooking meals, a punch bag for his verbal assaults. I didn’t realise how much hate I was brewing until it boiled over.

He had just finished replacing the broken shingles on the roof when he fell. I’m grateful that he got the job done. I heard him call out and the sounds of his tools sliding and following him down to the sun baked earth. I looked at his limbs, ragged bones emerging from skin, white muscle visible beneath the blood. I realised then how weak he had always been.

If the spade hadn’t caught my eye in the back of the truck I might have done as was expected, taken him to seek help. I remembered though, years before, watching him use it to cave in the head of a pretty young deer caught live in a claw trap. It felt good to silence his cruel voice.

I dug the hole deep, working into the night. He was heavy, rolled in all akimbo. It didn’t rain for another week so I hosed down the yard and the roots of the young sapling that would feed on him. Nobody came by to ask why I had disturbed the ground.

I told Jenny that he had gone and she wanted me to leave too, but why would I do that when I could be happy here now? Nobody else questioned what I said. This community is chock full of people who want to keep their sordid little secrets.

Jenny asked me once if I had felt any sorrow when our Da was found dead. Hunting accident they said, not knowing that I had been the prey. I use Freddie’s rifle now to keep the local predators at bay, although they threaten me less often as I age.

Solitude suits me. I live off the proceeds of the nefarious dealings that the men who tried to crush me left behind. I may be damaged but this life is the best I have ever known. I look around me, at the men leading their pathetic lives filled with pride and imagined power over their tiny domains. They will never understand that pleasing them has never featured in my dreams, my ambitions, my desires.





4 thoughts on “What it takes to survive

  1. What a wonderful, twisted little story, Jackie! Love your narrator’s voice – how matter-of-fact she is about everything. Fabulous imagery too, especially this bit: “ragged bones emerging from skin, white muscle visible beneath the blood” – made me shudder. Great take on the prompts!

  2. You held me spellbound throughout! The narrator’s voice is consistent and creates such a strong and complex character. I can completely sympathize with her wish to be left alone, cut off, in the silence, especially after all she went through.

  3. Such a calm, consistent, believable, pitiful and scary voice that you succeeded in making feel real here. I think it’s the casual observations that make the story even more unsettling by making it so vividly mundane: “He was heavy, rolled in all akimbo,” for instance, is so matter-of-fact and stark.

  4. I agree that it’s the narrator’s matter-of-fact voice that is so chilling. My favorite line: “It is not me who gets hysterical when we talk.”

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