Hoping He’ll Miss Me
I’m lying in the guest bedroom of the Moore’s house, my nine year-old sister Ina’s sticky cheek resting on my shoulder, her breath scalding my already burning cheek, erasing the kiss Willie just planted there. Her arm is lying across my stomach. I gently roll her away from me and onto her back. I need room. The guest bedroom is stuffy and small, but as one of nine children, I’m used to having no space, no privacy. The room is dark, nothing but squares of dim moonlight creeping in through the uncovered window and resting on the wood floor. So dark one wouldn’t even know that almost everything in this room is one shade of blue or another.
It’s nice sleeping here tonight. The Moores are all upstairs. The four kids, including my friend, Katherine, are all in the one bedroom, Mr. and Mrs. Moore in another. I can tell the kids are all sleeping, because the thumps above me have stopped. We got back here close to 10:00 p.m. after the Children’s Day program. Every summer the kids of the Villisca Presbyterian Church sing and recite Bible verses. We don’t go to church, but Daddy let Ina and I go today, calling to us about how pretty our hair was as we disappeared down the road. It tickled me to see Daddy doing something besides working, to see him smiling as he watched my blonde braid bounce along behind me.
At the program, the sky grew black and various lanterns were lit as if the crowd were sprinkled with fireflies. The people, pale and drowned out by the bright lights, looked like spirits in a graveyard: eerie and beautiful.
I saw a man in the crowd who didn’t take his eyes off of me the entire time. A man with a sharp, rat-like face. And I thought maybe I reminded him of someone he knew, a daughter or granddaughter, because every time I looked at him, his long, thin mouth turned up in a peculiar grin.
All I’ve been able to think about since I’ve been laying here is the kiss. I’m 12 and Willie is the first boy I’ve ever liked. His farm is just across the road from the Moore’s and his family walked home with us tonight. When we were parting ways, before anyone turned around to say goodbye, Willie leaned over and pressed his lips gently to my right cheek, as if his lips were only the warm Iowa summer breeze blowing a wisp of hair against my face. They felt soft and a little wet and as my heart started beating faster than I can ever remember, I blushed and smiled like a dingbat.
Tomorrow, Willie wants to walk to the river together. Just me and him. I wonder what his lips might feel like against my own, what it would feel like to hold his hand as we wade our bare feet in the rushing water. Will we have anything to talk about besides our farm chores and barn animals? Will Herman, who is sleeping above me right now, insist on coming along since they are always competing for my attention? Willie acts tough and he’s built tough, but when it’s just me and him, he tries his best to be a gentleman. Tonight, while we were singing at the program, I caught him staring at me, not even moving his mouth. It made my stomach tickle inside.
Herman always makes fun of Willie’s ears because they stick out a little, but I think they look just fine. He has shiny black hair that make his green eyes gleam like cornstalks in the noon sun. Herman is scrawny, as if all the food his ma puts on his plate gets shoved under the table and fed to a ravenous dog.
I stare out the window, watching the clouds cover the moon like a blanket, tucking it in for the night.
I feel my eyes losing focus.
The sky and what’s behind my eyes blend together and I don’t realize I’ve been sleeping until I hear shoes scuffing quietly somewhere above me. Is it morning? It can’t be. It’s still dark, maybe even darker than before, and the animals are still silent. Maybe Mr. Moore needs to use the outhouse, for why would anyone be wearing shoes in the middle of the night?
Just as I close my eyes, I hear the unforgettable sound and pull the sheet up to my eyes. It sounds like an egg being cracked but so very much louder, followed by a short scream, which is interrupted by another egg cracking. The noises grow louder. Whack, whack, whack. It sounds as if the ceiling is caving, as if someone is breaking up a pile of rocks with a sledgehammer.
I don’t know what is going on. I’m shivering, trying not to wake Ina, but now I’m the one pressing my face against hers, wrapping my arm around her small waist. I would think the house was coming apart from a tornado, but the window is dry and the trees outside the window are still, creating ghostly shadows on the floor.
The footsteps are above me now, moving back and forth like sandpaper. This time the cracking sounds are even louder and I think it’s going to wake Ina, because she kind of sighs in her sleep and turns her head on the pillow to face me, but her eyes remain closed.
I wish I were sleeping because I know something isn’t right. I have never heard sounds like this in my life. Am I dreaming? What can these sounds possibly be? Why did somebody scream? Why is nobody else waking up? After a couple more minutes of noise, I hear someone coming down the stairs and I’m praying it is Mr. Moore, praying he needs a drink or a trip to the outhouse.
I don’t need any explanation of the noise, as long as it’s over.
The footsteps get closer to our closed door and I still try to believe that Mr. Moore is going to the front door and outside to relieve himself.
I see a light under the crack of the door and then suddenly it slowly opens, creaking loudly. I see a dark face that has poked in through the crack. “M-Mr. Moore?” I whisper with a trembling voice.
And then the lantern is hoisted into the room and it’s so incredibly bright that for a moment I can’t see a thing. “No, not Mr. Moore,” the figure says, holding the lantern in front of his face so I can’t make it out, and I can hear the smile in his voice. “Mr. Moore will never utter another goddamn word.” The man lets out a soft laugh and drops the lantern to his side. I gasp. It’s the man with the sharp cheeks and nose, sagging mouth and beady eyes! I can feel every hair on my body rising. My eyes drop down to his clothing, which is covered in red-brown stains, and to his hand, which an axe is dangling from, dripping a puddle of red onto the floor and I know it’s blood. My breaths are so short, I cannot even gather enough air to scream. “P—please…don’t…”
And then I cannot breathe at all.
I open my eyes and remember I’m not at home in the safety of a room full of siblings. I turn my head toward Ina just in time to see the man swing the blunt side of the axe down and demolish her peacefully sleeping face. This is the sound of the egg cracking, but so loud my ear buzzes. And immediately, the face I’ve looked at every day since she was born, has vanished into a cave made of skull and cheekbone. There’s nothing I can even do to stop him, it happens so incredibly fast. My eyes start fluttering again as they are clouded by the blood and matter of the sister I love (loved?) best. I feel like I’m going to get sick or die. I must die. I hope I die. I can’t live with this image, these noises rattling around in my head. But I’m too scared and young.
I hide under the sheets and tears start leaking from my eyes as I gasp for air. The man talks to me as he strikes Ina’s dead face with the sharp edge of the axe. I know it’s that side, because I can hear him prying the axe out of her skull after each strike. “Don’t.” Whack. “You.” Whack. “Dare.” Whack. “Scream.” Whack.
I’m crying loud. “Ina! Ina!” I moan. “No, Ina!” Sobs escape my throat and I’m choking. Suddenly, the man peels the sheet all the way off of me. He puts the handle of the axe between his thin legs and places one hand around my neck so I can’t breathe or talk or scream, his other hand reaching for the bottom hem of my nightgown. I kick my legs as he pulls it up slowly, slowly, slowly up to my bare stomach. And now he can see my underwear and he is grinning and reaching for me and I scoot down on the bed to escape his reach, but he uses the corner of the axe blade to cut my underwear off. Blood from my sister drips off of the axe and onto my thigh as he tosses my underwear somewhere I can’t see. Snot is oozing from my nose as I beg over and over. “Please. No. Please. Just kill me. Please.” He covers my mouth with his bloody hand to shut me up and I can hardly breathe as I taste Ina’s warm blood and his rough hand runs up my inner thigh and shoves fingers into where Daddy says no unmarried woman should ever feel anything. I inhale sharply. It hurts. It’s not tingly. Not anything like what my oldest sister says it will be. The sobs are constantly escaping my mouth now as he leans over toward me.
“You like that don’t you?” he says grinning. His fingers are still jabbing and scraping inside of me and as he leans toward me, his hollow grey eyes staring directly into mine. I shut my eyes as his cold, sloppy mouth covers mine and his teeth dig into my clamped lips and his tongue slithers between them.
Is this what Willie’s kiss would feel like if I’d had the chance? If we could walk to the river in the morning with nobody around to see us, with our feet sinking into the muddy river bottom and our hands clasped together and the morning sun shining down on us and warming our hair. No. His lips would touch mine lightly. They’d be warm and soft and gentle. I wish he would have kissed me tonight, just so I could have known what it felt like.
I bite the man’s slimy tongue, because I already know what’s coming, and he yelps a little.
“You little bimbo,” he says, bringing one hand to his mouth. He reaches for the axe and as he raises it above my head, I scoot down in the bed more and I cover my face with my hands, hoping he’ll miss me…
Mikaela Shea is in her thesis hours of her MFA at Columbia College Chicago and was recently a writer-in-residence at Ragdale Foundation. She has published stories in Midwestern Gothic, Copperfield Review, Waypoints Magazine, Vagina: The Zine, Foliate Oak, Hypertext Magazine, Paragraph Planet, Columbia College’s annual Story Week Reader, as well as a children’s book at the State Historical Society of Iowa. Mikaela is currently writing a novel and is Editor-in-Chief of 3Elements Review. www.mikaelashea.com.