“Mom?” I ask, walking towards her. The social worker has left. Mom sits there, bruised and stitched up in the kitchen. The swelling has gone across her face and the black stitches seem to stand out more.
She tries to smile at me. But there are tears in her eyes and I hesitate. Maybe I shouldn’t have left my room.
“Hey,” she sniffles and wipes at her face gingerly. She puts on a brave smile. “Hey how are you?”
I look down at my softie and nod. It was a unicorn, crocheted by my grandmother when she was still alive and I was young.
“Your cousins will be here soon,” Mother tries to sound cheerful. “Would you like to play a game with them?”
I don’t look up. I don’t speak. I think I will go back to my room. Even if they say I should leave it, I don’t want to. I haven’t left the house since … then. Last week, five days ago now, marked a whole different world. A world with father in it.
Tears well in my eyes and I run, flying to my room. I slam the door to my room shut, but even that doesn’t feel safe anymore. I throw myself into bed, burrowing under the blankets with my softie. I hug it to my chest, but can’t stop the tears.
A moment later, I hear the door creaking open. The stifling hot blankets are lifted from my head. I drag them back down in a snatch, enclosing myself in darkness.
I told myself I was safe. But I knew I wasn’t. This house was where it had happened. The burglary, mom’s bruises, and… father’s death. Just last week.
“Hey,” mom sits down on the bed beside me, creaking the mattress. Her hand rests on my shoulder. “I’m so sorry hun.”
I sniffle, but don’t say anything. I don’t feel like saying anything.
“You – want to play a game?” she offers again.
It used to be a thing. Family game night. Mom and dad would take out all these cards, miniatures, boards, and we would play. Friends of Fathers’ would come over. My cousins used to never come. Now they came for me, because they were the only family ‘near my age’. I wouldn’t see my friends. I didn’t want them, anyone, in the house. But I couldn’t say no to family.
“Come on,” Mom pulled at my shoulder a little. “Let’s pick out a game.”
I sat up for her. Because I knew she didn’t need me to make things any harder on her. I was twelve, almost thirteen. I shouldn’t be acting like a child.
So I got out of bed, mom smiling bravely at me.
She was dressed in jeans and a clean shirt. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail. I, however, had hair like dad. It was in cornrows, just like he’d had too. He’d been darker than her, and that’s why the cops had shot him. They’d mistaken him for the burglars who had brutalized mom.
“Hey, hey, honey,” mom was shaking me by the shoulders, crouched before me. “Hey,” she smiled in a wobbly sort of way. “Let’s go pick out a game, okay?”
I nodded, holding my stuffie to my chest. We left my room, me tailing along behind her like a toddler. We held hands like it too, and I tried to straighten out my face. To stop it from wobbling.
The basement was an unfinished thing, dark and dismal but dry. At least it was dry, which father had once told me was important. That way, we could store stuff here. And he had gestured to the games.
There were shelves of tools, shelves of junk, and a shelf of board games. We stopped before them.
“Which one would you like?” mother asks. But she doesn’t move for any. Neither do I.
I don’t want to tell her, but I don’t want any of them. None. Nothing. I wanted nothing.
I must have blacked out again, for suddenly mom is on my other side and saying something. We’re not holding hands anymore.
“Mom?” my voice is feeble. She turns, a horrified and desperate look on her face. “Can we just go back upstairs?” I ask.
I shouldn’t have. Mom is crushed, tears brimming in her eyes. She presses her lips together in that way she has – and she turns away. She’s facing the corner now, where there is nothing.
“Would you like to try something new?” she asks, her shoulders tensing. I hesitate. She steps into the corner. With a lurch, her hands dig at the dirt and rocks there at face level.
“Mom?” I ask, heart rising in my throat. What was she doing? Was she losing it?
But the rocks move. The dust comes down in a cloud, but she is pulling away chunks of rock like her life depends on it. Like we’re trapped in here.
And then, where she was clawing, a hole appears. A mini-cave. In the back of my mind, I think it would be the perfect hiding place.
With a grunt and maybe a sob, mom yanks out a chest. She backs up with it, then turns to me with a smile and tears. “Ta-da!” she says, voice breaking.
I just stare. The chest is deep blue, covered in dust and smudged with dirt. It has metal hinges and clasps and a lock on its front.
Mom sets it down at my feet. “Dad loves collecting things, you know!” shes half laughs, looking down at the box. “He thought – he wanted you to have this. It’s why he was so happy you were a girl. Now- we’ve just got to get this open and-”
I stare as mom scrabbles at the lock, fishing around her neck for a tiny key. In fact, when she draws up her necklace, there are three keys. “This should be it,” she croaks with a sniffle.
She unlocks the very modern looking padlock. In fact, the padlock was so pristine that when I took it I could easily read the brand name on it. It looked brand new, just old model.
With a “A hah!” that was supposed to be cheerful but just sounded desperate, mom popped the chest. It swung open without a creak, and just in that instant before I saw what was in it, I wondered if we really should be doing this.
Dad loved collecting things, yes. They were his ‘preciouses’, he would joke, and they were usually worth a lot. Whatever was in this chest, it probably belonged in a museum and shouldn’t be played with. But then I saw what was in the chest and I forgot about all that.
There was a green cardboard box, the color luscious and deep. There were strange inscriptions across it in gold paint. Mom lifted it up with a desperate laugh. “See? It’s a game!” she said, holding it out to me.
My eyes stayed in the box however, where there were several other boxes with printed anime images on them. Old school anime.
“Those are the VHS that go with it,” mom says happily. “Do you want them too?”
The next chapter can be read Here