I saw Chuck Wendig’s post today that’s flash fiction challenge. I wasn’t going to participate but then something came into my head and wouldn’t leave me alone. If you are interested in challenges like this and in reading other people’s contributions to this challenge – read them here on Chuck’s blog. Only one little note to anyone reading this – I can’t indent my paragraphs when copying and pasting from Word into this blog. Formatting gets messed up. Just so you know.
The Christmas Closet
It wasn’t the closeness of the dark that bothered him the most. He was used to the walls pushing in at him and he had learned to breathe the hot woolen air without suffocating. The trick was to imagine it was fresh and not get too greedy. What bothered him was his mother’s body propped up in the opposite corner. He only saw her for a moment when the light from the outside room flooded the coats as the old man dragged her in. That was three days ago. At first the smell of iron, thick and rich and sticky, overwhelmed him until he threw up. It got better after that. But now she was beginning to smell different. He tried to remember her smiling. He tried to feel something for her. He closed his mind to the present to remember something good about her: a happy day, a happy hour, he’d take a happy minute if he could find one in his memory.
The anger he’d learned to push into his diaphragm came boiling up – why should he try to remember anything about her at all? She let the old man lock him up, she let him beat her, she let him – she let him – she let him – SHE LET HIM. All he could remember was her face of infinite apathy. He knew the fear that lived carefully sequestered underneath her grey skin but he was still too young to articulate why that made him feel so uncomfortable, as though his skin were made of scabs he must pull off until he was nothing but muscle and bone and then not even that.
It was so quiet out there that when the old man’s favorite Christmas song flared up as loud as their crappy-ass stereo could blast it he felt a moment of relief. It was better to know where the old man was, to know what part of the yearly ritual they were at because it gave him reference points to count down. He knew exactly which songs he’d have to hear before the old man passed out somewhere in the house. Probably on the dull brown plaid couch. It was always the same. He knew how long it would be before the old man woke up to vomit. He couldn’t say how many hours, he knew it by the hunger in his belly, he knew it by how much his bladder hurt because by the time the Christmas songs started the old man was much too drunk to give him food or take him to the bathroom.
“I saw mommy fucking Santa underneath the Christmas tree…” he heard the old man belting out. He would already have the Santa costume on. He would be into the liter of vodka now. He would be past the beer. He would be past pretending he was just having a couple of holiday drinks. It was the same every year.
The growing odor of putrefaction reminded him that it was not the same this year. At least not for mom. It was over for her. He felt a sick stab of jealousy that she no longer had to pretend she was going to leave the bastard. She no longer had to pretend the closet was reasonable punishment for him crying for something they couldn’t afford when he was five years old. That was so long ago and the comfortable lie she kept telling every year, that he didn’t get Christmas because he wanted things and wanting things was a pain in the old man’s ass. She didn’t say it like that. He wished she’d started new lies because he wasn’t stupid like they thought. She no longer had to lie to the neighbors about him going to his grandma’s house for Christmas. He comforted himself imagining how much worse it would be to spend Christmas with the old claw and hammer. The closet was better.
As “The little Dumber Boy” started up he began the usual cataloging of his options. Now mom was dead he didn’t have to feel guilty leaving. Now she was dead he wouldn’t be leaving a chicken in the house of a hungry dog. It was the same every year except that every year he was a little older. He didn’t let himself ask the question burning holes in the dark. He ignored it. He ignored the speaking decay. He ignored the fear gnawing at the patina of apathy he’d learned to wear like his mother. He couldn’t go to the police. He couldn’t go to shelters. He couldn’t go to friends. The old man had found him every single time and everyone always believed the lies he offered eagerly. They wouldn’t have believed the bastard if they could see him in the soiled Santa suit. But no one ever did.
There wasn’t any safe place. It became starkly simple: he would walk out or crawl out or limp out or run the fuck out and he would never stop moving, running, walking.
The smell got too strong. He found something musty to breathe through to stifle the dry heaving. Morning was close. It would never reach the closet with light but that’s when the lock would move. That’s when the door would open and he’d crawl out as he always did. Blind from so much dark, smelling of fear and sweat and sometimes piss. His head was losing control like it always did. It got so he was working so hard not to think, not to feel, not to count that all it would take was one weak match to light his head on fire. His nose started bleeding. It didn’t matter. He let it bleed.
The lock moved. The door swung open. His mom’s body tipped out sideways. The old man nudged it back in with his black Santa boot. “Get out.” He said through a lush belch. “Merry fucking Christmas, son.”