Jaimie is five. She knows to eat her vegetables and to wash her hands before and after every meal, but she doesn’t know about staying away from Robbie. Robbie is the town’s secret. He lives in the park, lurks around after midnight moons, and chases things he cannot catch. Jaimie is one of those things.
She skips in her front yard, her hair looping around the air as she jumps, little girl hops, barely leaving the ground. He’s watching her, twiddling his thumbs and scratching his scruffy beard. His meds are still bleeding under his tongue. He never swallows.
The rope skips the ground, Jaimie counts to one hundred in Spanish, her plaits bouncing in unison, in sync with each number. In the bushes, Robbie settles. He counts along with her, sharpening his blade, and panting like a hurried devil. He will have his fill. His teeth form into tiny razors, his hands contort and crack as they shift. He is becoming the fire everyone escapes.
Trigger Warning: This short story, fictional work will be semi-graphic in nature regarding pedophilia/familial child rape, death & dying, and choosing to end the life of one’s child. If this is something you think you should not be reading,please, do not continue.
Marci sits at her daughter’s bedside. Tubes, lines, beeps, buzzes, and everything else that disrupts the child’s rest is alive and doing its job. She hangs her head slowly, embracing the trembling hands of her only daughter — peace is nowhere to be found.The room smells of overcooked death and analgesics. Every doctor within their specialty has had their say — they plead with Marci to “pull the cord,” to let her youngest go in peace. A rare form of bone cancer, Ewing sarcoma, is having its final say on their daughter’s life. Marci thinks about the decision, her husband is opposed. She whispers to Cherish, letting her know her pain.
“It’s a decision I never wanted to make. What mother wants to kill her child? What mother can? Your Daddy — heavy in his groveling, begs me night and day not to let you go. But, is this living?Cherish, are you alive in there?”
Cherish turns her head but her eyes remain closed. A small breath of air leaves her chapped lips. She tries to speak, but nothing comes forth. Marci continues. She is praying to her daughter’s trembling hands instead of the God she has known for forty years.She is praying to the monitors, to the adjustable bed, to the sanctity of this very moment between her and her daughter, but not to her God.
“Cherish, sweet baby, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand. Squeeze Mommy’s hand. Just one squeeze and I will know what to do. Just one squeeze, please. Please, baby.”
There is no response.
No hand squeezing, not even a faint understanding of what is being said. Cherish is dwelling in two worlds — caught up between the souls of the ancestors of Marci and the ancestors of her father, Lincoln. They are arguing over the young girl’s soul — who gets to have it when she is gone? Marci continues, the room in its quiet reveal, suddenly becomes noisy. Lincoln walks in with their son Colin. They come bearing flowers and a teddy bear. Cherish stirs in the sterilized bed, twitching her feet, and slowly moving her head.
Something is wrong.
“We stopped at the gift shop for Cherish. Colin picked out the teddy bear. I picked out the flowers. How’s our fighter doing?”
Marci picks up on Cherish’s reaction to Lincoln’s entrance to the room. She is squeezing her hand. A mother knows. A mother always knows when something is wrong. Colin has noticed that his sister is having what seems like a fit — the last functioning conversation without words before… before she dies.
“Mom, what’s going on? Is Cherish trying to live? What is happening!?”
“I don’t know, honey. I think she is trying to tell me something. I think she is trying to say something important.”
Lincoln steps closer, he swipes the bit of hair hanging on his daughter’s forehead to the side. Softly, he leans in and places a kiss on her cold cheek.
“Daddy’s here, baby.”
Cherish’s vital signs spark, then plummet. Her body convulses, the room darkens, and everything not bolted down swirls and hovers about the family for five seconds. She squeezes her mother’s hand again. She squeezes much harder this time. A child dying to get away from a perverted father. A child begging for death to come as an escape.A child, with no words, only the squeeze of her mother’s hand.
“I hear you, baby. I hear you.”
Marci kisses her daughter, looks at Lincoln with undefinable rage, and before he can utter one word, she pulls the bedside monitor’s cord. She pulls every tube, cord, and PICC-line sustaining her daughter’s life. Marci is unsure, but as she looks at Cherish one last time, she thinks she sees her smile.The ancestors fighting over her daughter’s soul appear, not only do they take Cherish—
They come for Lincoln too.
Originally published on February 111, 2018, via Medium.