It was strangely hot for a night so early in July. The summer would be hell. I would have liked to light a cigarette but the closet was tiny, airless, and so filled with boxes and toys that it took some effort just to clear a place to sit. I could hear the boom of fireworks down the street. They were exploding in a frenzy now. It was the climax. The show would soon be done and the kids would scramble home flushed with excitement, baby sitter in tow, ready for sleep and dreams.
My mind began to wander.
I was wearing cotton briefs and matching sleeveless undershirt. I wore my rubber boots to keep the sea salt off my feet. I had my mother's scarf around my head, the silky black awash with crimson roses . My sword was from the wooden block on the counter by the fridge. It wasnt really long enough to be a sword. But I was small. And it was sharp. And it cut the air with a satisfying swoosh. I held an arm behind my back; my right since I’m a lefty.
Parry. Parry. Dodge. An upward cut to knock away the scoundrel’s sword—left foot forward: lunge, and jab.
Twirling the blade before me, I ran through the kitchen door. In the dining room I jammed a toe against the leg of a chair and danced to the living room clutching my foot in one hand and sword in the other.
Startled by the activity, Football jumped from his perch on the sofa and fled up the stairs. I let go of my foot and hobbled after the rogue shrieking Blackbeard’s war cry and waving the sword over my head with terrible menace. The cat took refuge under my mother's bed and I was forced to do battle from my knees. It was hard to maneuver in such a narrow space, and the creature raked a painful track across my wrist before I could take a proper chop. Then it tore from the room and vanished.
It was a flesh wound. But the blood trickled down my arm at a steady pace and landed on the bed. I pressed the wound against the sheets and it left a mark like a stamp. I dropped the sword and stamped my mark on sheets and pillows, and on the wall in streaks and swirls. Then I retrieved my weapon. There was treasure out there, for the taking.
With my free hand dimly shading my eyes from the Equatorial Sun I gazed into the distance, then charged into the hallway. I stomped down the stairs. Then stopped. Rooster was at the door—undisturbed, indifferent, snoring where he usually snored in the afternoon before my mother came home and roused him for his walk. He was old and arthritic and no longer bothered to growl at strangers coming to the door. His eyes were cloudy and useless but his hearing was sharp so I had to use a technique employed by the Deadly Ninja.
I crept along the crests of shallow waves where joists kept floor from sinking to the cellar, patiently, patiently picking step after step, soundlessly, toward the slumbering beast. The action called for a downward thrust—two-handed—like a priest before his victim at the altar: down, then down again, between the ribs. It is the heart that must be killed; the heart that must be stopped.
Rooster’s head jerked up with a stunned whistle and a scatter of saliva. His life sprayed the room like Tahiti Treat from a can that someone had shaken. He twitched about as much as he usually did at night, when he dreamt this future. He died with the meaty thud of his head falling to the floor.
I stood there, open-mouthed. The knife slid from my grasp. I turned and ran to the closet near the kitchen and in a darkness filled with images masturbated compulsively.
The neighbors heard the screams and called the police. My mother was on her knees in front of the closet: paralyzed, screaming—gasping for breath and screaming. The police were quick to arrive. But even so my mother’s voice had taken on a terrible broken quality, and by the time they found her on the floor the screams were indistinguishable from the gasps.
She had seen the bloody path that led from dog to closet door, but her legs gave out before she could reach the handle.
She knew—she always said she knew—that she had committed a terrible sin: that one moment of weakness, when my impudent screams had become so intolerable that she locked me in the closet. Not locked: the door had no lock—she shut me in the closet, as a lesson. My mother’s mother used that lesson. And she knew it was a crime. I wasnt in the dark for thirty seconds, but my mother was aghast, ashamed. She had become the monster.
The door flew open and I was pulled into a damp and frantic embrace.
Imsorryimsorryimsorryimsorry. Ohgodimsorryimsososososorry. Ohgodohgod. Mybabyohmybabybaby. Boohoohoohoohoo.
I wanted to go back into the closet, but she held me tight. And it was a long long while before I could wiggle free. I couldn’t go back to the closet. I couldn’t leave her sight.
I did as I pleased: ate what I wanted, watched what I wanted to watch on tv; I slept till I chose to get out of bed, then waved at classmates as they returned from school in the afternoon. But my mother would fly into a panic if I tried to go inside the closet. At first I thought to goad her into sending me there again, but she had grown inured to all my antics. So I pretended the door wasnt there, and so did she. I never saw her open it again.
Eventually I returned to school—just to avoid her gaze. And she returned to work.
But when she slept I’d tiptoe down the stairs on ninja feet and sit alone in the strangeness of a close and airless room. The dark was filled with dancing color and the stink of footwear. Hanging fabrics brushed against my face and arms. Mysterious boxes echoed to the tap of probing fingers. Eventually I learned to strip down bare while waiting for my mother’s sleeping growl. I’d enter naked, feel the shoes and tennis rackets underfoot, the coldness of the floor spread to my buttocks. An old fur coat was shedding from a hook; canvas coveralls dangled from a ladder; a silky nylon windbreaker waited for the ocean breeze: dangerous animals and restless ghosts, ships and sails, and treasure for the taking. I was shaken by the sound of my first orgasm and nearly woke my mother when I stumbled drunkenly into bed.
The sky was blue and filled with urgent whispers. The teacher spoke in foreign tongues and scribbled mysterious ciphers across the blackboard. I hopped the fence at recess and with dreams of plunder wandered home. The key was hidden in a hollow rock: a secret in a public place. I was careful to put the secret back when I was done. Rooster was asleep on the floor. My mother’s scarf had fallen from the coat rack and fluttered onto the rainy day boots beside the door. I struggled free of my school clothes and kicked them in the corner. I grabbed the scarf and boots and hobbled like a peg-legged pirate to the kitchen for a glass of milk.
The police finally kicked the door in. They didn’t know about the hollow rock. Someone must have tripped over Rooster on the way in or maybe slipped on the blood because I heard a crash followed by a voice saying ‘you all right?’. They found my mother on the kitchen floor. She was covered in Rooster’s blood and wheezing almost voicelessly. There was some back-and-forth on the walkie-talkies and then the closet door was wrenched open.
I was lying on my back absorbing the cool floor through my skin, scratching absently at my chest and belly where the drying blood and semen made me itch. At first they thought the blood was mine, that I had been attacked. They asked me if I’d been attacked and I showed them the scratch on my wrist. They asked me what was going on. So I pointed to the wheezing, swaying, broken woman on the floor and said she locked me in the closet.
I didn’t know they’d send me away. I didn’t know the sorts of places I’d be forced to spend my childhood. Otherwise I wouldn’t have pointed to my mother. But she was guilty; in her own heart she was guilty. And as I stood there pointing all she could do was bury her face in her hands and voicelessly mouth the words ‘I’m sorry’.
They took her away. And they took me away. But they let her return while they considered what to do. She missed her court date and they came with a warrant. They found her hanging in the closet by a pair of canvass coveralls. There was a note, but it had fallen to the floor and was only later discovered by someone from the cleaning crew. It said: ‘I am the monster’.
The last of the fireworks had petered out and I could hear excited voices scampering along the sidewalk, stopping to retrieve their secrets from a hollow rock. If I turned my head I could see the bed through the louvers. They wouldn’t take long to brush their teeth and climb into their pajamas. I waited, open-mouthed, slick with sweat, the darkness already filled with color.