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by The Farmer's Wife
I remember the day I became a mother as if it were yesterday.
It was the day after my 12th birthday.
I remember the four of us, father, Davy, Margaret and me sitting in the front pew. I remember the cold, hard winter light, the freezing temperatures biting at my ears and the priest’s voice echoing around the otherwise empty church.
I remember sitting on that icy pew, my throat raw from the tears I was too afraid to cry and my ears still ringing from the blow I’d received from father that morning, trying hard not to think about where I was or what was happening to me. I became mesmerised by dust particles in a shaft of sunlight that I imagined were tiny fairies. I watched them dance and swirl, smiling at the imaginary games they were playing as my scuffed best shoes swung backwards and forwards through the air.
Smiling at your mother’s funeral is probably one of the things you go straight to hell for.
I was desperate to think about anything, even giddy fairies dancing in the sunlight, than our mother lying in that box, not laughing or smiling, not secretly waiting at home planning games for us to play when father had gone out. Game playing was a thing of the past now, there had been no games played in our house since the morning she hadn’t woken up.
Mother would often creep into our bed at night “so that we could all wake up together” she said, but I knew there was more to it than that. Those nights that she crept in beside me I had felt her body shaking silently next to me as she cried herself to sleep. I knew that she really came to escape him and his fists. He never hit her where it showed but he was never afraid to hit her hard where it didn’t.
Then one morning five days ago she simply hadn’t woken up. Instead she lay there, cold and stiff, not looking peaceful like they say the dead look, but deeply sad like leaving had been a difficult decision and she didn’t want us to think she had made it lightly. I knew then that father had killed her. Maybe not with a knife or a gun but in a much worse and more frightening way - he’d made her too afraid to wake up.
Since then I had thought of little else but rescue. I harboured secret fantasies of mummy’s sister, whom we had never met, finding out about her dying and coming to take us away to live with her. She would be so kind and loving just like mummy only better. She would take us away from father.
But nobody came.
I remember sitting on that cold, hard pew in the church looking up at the man who had killed my mother and thinking about how much he had hurt her, how often she had cried herself to sleep in our bed and how much she had taken from him to protect us. I remember feeling an equal measure of fear and hate.
I spent the rest of the service praying feverishly to God to send someone to our rescue. I promised everything I could think of - to be good, to get straight A’s, to help Davy with his spelling and Margaret with her math, to never swear or smoke or skip school. I promised everything but it wasn’t enough.
Passing the priest at the door I looked deep into his eyes. Surely he would have heard my prayers; surely God would have told him to help us. But he just smiled, patted me on the head, and told me I needed to be a big girl and take care of my father.
I clenched my jaw so hard to stop the tears that it physically hurt.
Still hand in hand, we trailed miserably up the path and away from the church behind father.
Nobody had come.
I gripped Davy and Margaret’s hands tightly, and through gritted teeth and held back tears promised myself that no matter what happened, I would never let go.
I would protect them.
I would be their mother.