Riptide, Part 5

(Missed the start? It’s right here!)

Riptide.jpgMother was gone again. She did that sometimes. Tossed a box of jerky, a gallon jug of water, and a bible with certain passages bookmarked and covered in highlighter and with notes written in the margins.

She was to fast, eat only what was necessary, drink as little as possible, and brand those passages into her brain. Usually, they dealt with harlots and hellfire; Mother wasn’t a big believer in the New Testament. Leviticus was a favorite chapter, often used as a rationale for a beating or other punishment.

Rachel enjoyed those times. Not because of the studying, and certainly not for the extreme punishments that would be levied at her when Mother inevitably returned, but because they gave her a period of peace. She would ration out the jerky and water, not because Mother wanted her to, but because she was smart enough to know that she’d starve or dehydrate herself into a coma. The irony of dying of thirst when she was less than a quarter mile from the ocean and in the middle of a pine rainforest wasn’t lost on her.

She would ignore the Bible; she knew well enough what was in there and what lessons Mother wanted her to learn. Instead, she would draw, pulling up the floorboards in the corner where she’d managed to hide a few broken pencils and a battered art pad. They were relics of Celia’s, brought up to the window by a pulley system she’d rigged when she was younger. Before her sister started buying into Mother’s hysterics and shunned all contact with her.

The art pad’s first handful of pages were done with child’s crayon drawings, bright yellow suns and squiggly shapes that could only be described as people with a mother’s kindness and a toddler’s imagination. Rachel sometimes found herself wanting to cry when looking at them, because there were only two such people in the drawings; she was absent in all of them. Other times she was less touched by it. She was an outsider here and knew it.

Her own drawings were small, economical. Frequently four or five on a page, on both sides. She knew she had to make the artbook last. Even so, she was nearing the end. She wasn’t sure what she’d do when she hit that final page. Probably enter a final descent into madness. She’d asked Bertie to smuggle her in a fresh pad, but Bertie said it was something she couldn’t do. At least, not yet.

Her drawings had started simple, aping her sister’s, but with a natural talent the younger girl lacked. After a time, once she realized Mother was not going to give her the love she craved, they turned inward, self-portraits and fantastic creatures. Once Bertie had come, they were frequently sketches of the older girl, though some pages featured more disturbing imagery; Mother with her eyes gouged out, Celia drowning in the ocean, the birch rod leaning against a tree, blood dripping from the end, with a lifeless lump beside it.

Rachel knew drawings like that were exactly what Mother thought was inside her all the time, were the reason for the beatings and her captivity, but sometimes they bubbled up anyway, pouring out of her in a frenzied trance that left her panting and exhausted when they were finished.

Inevitably Mother would return, the sketch pad would go back under the floorboards, and Rachel would forget about it for a little while. It wasn’t safe when Mother was home, as she might pick any moment to come thundering up the stairs. Being caught with it would lead to punishments Rachel wasn’t able to imagine, the worst of which being the loss of the pad and pencils.

Today was different, though. Normally, she was alone when she drew. But today, Bertie was watching. She was hunkered down, staring as though hypnotized as Rachel’s fingers spilled out a series of lines and streaks that were resolving themselves into an image of Rachel standing above her Mother, the switch in one hand and the bible in the other; it was taking up the full page, one of the rare times she had done so. Though she didn’t know it, Rachel was smiling, her tongue tucked into the corner of her mouth.

Bertie spoke as Rachel put the final stroke.

“Maybe instead of drawing it,” she said, before pausing.

Rachel glanced up at her friend, raising her brows. When there seemed to be nothing more, she punched one fist into her thigh.

“What?” she demanded.

Bertie smiled, tapping her chin with one lacquered nail.

“Well. Maybe you should just do it, instead.”

The idea hung in the air for a full minute as Rachel considered the idea, both shock and simmering rage fighting for command of her body.

“Maybe I should,” she whispered after that moment. “Maybe I should.”

(The story continues here!)

KA Spiral no signature

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