Saturday, March 23, 2013

Kept


      The following is a short story I wrote for my fiction class

           He won’t let me go outside.  Every time that front door opens, wooden and painted white, he is always there, blocking my way with his hulking body, looking at me with stern eyes, “No. You know you aren’t allowed out.  It’s not safe out there. “ And so, I spend my days in confinement. 

            He is not a mean or malicious captor.  He provides food regularly, and I am always allowed to wander the house freely.  He even leaves me alone.  For hours I am left to my own devices, but he is careful to lock the doors and ensure no windows are left ajar.  During such stretches, I have become familiar with every nook and cranny the house offers.  I know exactly how many steps it takes to get from the kitchen to the dining room, from the dining room to the bathroom upstairs. I know how long it can take to make these travels, or how quickly I tear through the house—trying to beat my own time.  I know that I can fit in a cupboard underneath the sink but I cannot fit underneath the couch in the living room.  I know every sound the house makes when I am alone: the heater clicking on, the rustle of the paper map just above the heating vent in his room, the drip from the faucet in the tub, the sound of the toilet constantly refilling itself, the gasp it makes when it is full.   I know the couch in the living room the best.  It is old and worn from years of use.  It is blue with indented red stripes.  There are three cushions and three seats, but four or five people could sit comfortably.  The couch has big, puffy armrests that could seat two more.  The two seats on the ends recline when you pull a wooden level sticking out the side of the couch. I often sit on the couch, curled up on a cushion, staring out of the window on a world I am not allowed to partake in.  Gazing longingly at the activity that occurs just beyond my reach.  I know the sounds that each type of car makes when it whizzes by: the deep guttural growl of a truck, the whine of a Prius, the sound of emergency brakes being pulled into positions, or engines being started.  I make eye contact with passersby, but they hardly ever look for long, and when they do, I close my eyes slowly, keeping them closed, and when I open them again—they’re gone. 

He brings home trinkets and treats for me.  As I investigate them, his eyes are alight with amusement and sometimes he plays along.  It’s during these times that I know he cares for me. 

He insists I sleep in his bed.  Before he goes to sleep he always hunts for me throughout the house, calling my name.  When he discovers me, usually on the couch, sometimes crouched near a heating vent, and less often sitting in the middle of the floor, staring distantly into space, he drags me up to his bedroom, closing the door.  Sometimes he leaves the room for a just a moment; to brush his teeth, or fetch a glass of water.  I quietly slip out of the room; make my way back down the stairs to settle in on the couch.  I hear his footsteps traversing the length between the bathroom and the bedroom, a pause, and then I hear him coming down to search. He always finds me.  Sometimes I slip behind the couch and lay there.  He moves the couch, exposing me, and I follow him back up to his bedroom.
I don’t have to get in bed when he does.  But when the light goes out, I can’t turn them back on.  There is a leather chair in his room across from the bed, and sometimes I choose to sit on it, staring at him with hate-filled eyes while he settles in for the night, knowing I cannot leave until the next morning.  Sometimes I fall asleep there on the chair.  More often than not, however, I end up crawling into bed next to him, falling asleep right where he wants me.  It is warmer there.

 Some nights I get restless.  I wake up bored or enraged that I am stuck in this room, in this house.  On these nights I get out of bed.  I make a racket.  I make a mess of his records, or I knock down his books and photographs.  I make noise with anything that is within my reach.  Sometimes I am so very angry with him, I crouch over his clothes that were left carelessly strewn across the floor, and I pee on them. On these nights he wakes up, but he doesn’t say anything.  He gets out of bed, grabs me by the neck and pushes me out of the bedroom.  The door closes and locks behind me.  On these nights I sleep on the couch, and I am cold.
Once during a restless rage, I broke the glass in a photograph’s frame.  It is still there, propped on the bookshelf, broken.
In the morning, the books, records, and photographs are straightened; the clothes in a hamper waiting to be washed.  Even after these episodes, nothing really changes.  He still leaves me for hours and food is still readily available.  He even still pulls me in before he leaves, and kisses my face, tells me that he’ll miss me, and then with a goodbye, he breezes out the door in such an effortless, easy way.  The door laughs at me as the hinges squeak quickly open, then shut, the wooden thunk announcing its finality.  This nonchalant action leaves me with a yearning jealously in my stomach, because I will never be able to use that door with such casual confidence. 

Before he leaves for work, and after he arrives home in the evening, I make a habit of following him around the house.  I am alone so often that his company is preferred to no company at all.  When he begins to cook dinner I can regularly be found in the darkened dining room, looking into the warmth and light of the kitchen, watching him move about from the sink to the counter, to the cupboard and back to the counter from the chair I sit in.  But tonight I perch on the counter facing the back door, staring intently at its fa├žade, fantasizing about what lays beyond it.  I imagine a world I have never been exposed to: trees and rolling fields, creatures of all shapes and sizes, feeling the sun beat down upon me.  The spit of the oil he is cooking with brings me back into reality, and I turn my head slowly to look at him.  He catches my gaze and smiles, tells me how nice I look when I sit so tall. 
After dinner he does one of two things.  He either retires to the office and his computer, or he chooses to read a book in the living room, sitting on the same couch I have already spent hours on that day.  Either way, he has a cup of tea.  Tonight it is the living room, a book, and herbal peppermint.  I sit beside him on the couch, and he wraps his arm around me.  I nod off, and dream of sleeping in a bed of long grass, with the moon smiling down into the night. 
I used to try to escape, when I first realized that the outdoors existed and there was more to life than the living room, dining room and kitchen, stairs, office, bedroom and bathroom.
I would sit by the front door, crouched low, and wait for him to arrive home and open my portal to freedom.  The first time I attempted to leave I actually succeeded in surprising him.  I bolted between his legs and the door jam as soon as the opening was wide enough.  My feet were outside, on solid concrete.  But he is quicker and has better reflexes than I.  He merely leaned down and wrapped his arms around my stomach, lifting me up.  He laughed at my efforts.  I was young and there were no repercussions.  I almost made it.
He never forgot about that first attempt, and every attempt since has been futile.  My most heroic endeavor involved jumping off of the banister of the staircase facing the door, in an effort to go over him, rather than under.  He laughed, amused at my attempt and my antics, my jump ending in half the distance required. 
I gave up trying a few weeks after beginning.  When he comes home he still has a habit of walking with one foot bent sideways, brushing the jam as he enters, barring even my spirit from leaving. 
These attempts must have been years ago, although time gets hazy when you don’t have schedules or plans.  I sleep and eat, wait for him to come home, eat, sleep, and wait for him to leave.  Of course, some of my time is spent hoping she will visit. 

I like her. There is something in the way she looks at me, some communication between us that only we can feel; I know that she cares for me deeply. I also sense that she would care just as deeply for anyone in my situation.
 Whenever she comes into the house, she immediately gathers me into her arms, I breathe in her scent, and I am content.   If she sits down, I am right next to her.  When she moves into another room, I follow her like a lost puppy.  I think it makes him mad to watch me treat her with such relentless adoration. 
Although she visits fairly often, I feel as though it is never enough.  He is happier when she is here.  He laughs more.  Before she arrives, he tidies up, he tells me to “move, or help” and I make myself scarce, afraid of the broom.  I peek my head tentatively around door frames during these cleaning sessions, and if he spots me he will play back—peeking his head around door frames, both of us attempting to sneak up on the other, neither of us succeeding. 
And then she sweeps in, saving him from cleaning any longer.  She kisses him on the lips, and he pulls her into him, and she whispers in his ear.  They laugh, and I wish she would never leave.
 I know that she feels bad for me, because I’ve heard her say it.  She tells him that he should let me go out sometimes and that it would be good for me to see something more than this house.  She tells him it is hard for her to see me cooped up like this day in and day out.  The answer is always the same, “it isn’t safe outside”.

He is going away.  He hasn’t told me, but I can sense these things.  His bags are lined up by the front door, and he is frantically rushing around the house muttering things under his breath, making lists aloud.  I am sitting on the staircase in the entryway, observing the action unfold in front of me.  And suddenly he races down the hallway from the kitchen to the front door, a rush of air in his wake.  He scoops up his bags, flings open the door, and slams it behind him, turning the key in the lock.  He hadn’t even glanced in my direction.
She arrives a few hours later.  I hear her stride up the walk, and when the door opens, I am on the staircase, waiting.  She smiles when she sees me, sitting patiently, as tall as I can make myself.  She tells me what a pretty girl I am and hugs me.  I let her pick me up and take me into the kitchen.  She sets me down, and I settle in on the floor gazing up at her.  She talks in a constant stream while she prepares food for us, and her chatter is delightful, satisfying my ears that are usually filled with silence. 
Later we pad up to his bedroom, where she settles in on the leather chair to watch a movie.  I crawl into her lap where she strokes my head and rubs my back. When the film ends we both stand up and stretch.  She pulls back the sheets and comforter of his bed and climbs in.  I hop up beside her and snuggle in, and I am happy.

In the morning, the sun streams through the window in lines over the bed.  The room heats up and I am too hot to stay under the thick blanket.   I wriggle out of it, sitting on top of the covers.  I survey my surroundings and realize that the door to the bedroom is open, and has been all night. 

I am sitting silently on the couch, looking out into the world when she comes down from the bedroom.  I turn my head towards the noise.  She yawns and grins while she walks towards me.  She pats me on the head and tells me good morning.  She makes her way into the kitchen, and I hear the sink turn on, and the beep of the microwave.  I hear her move from the kitchen to the dining room, where she sets down her mug and plunks into a chair.  I hear the rustle of a paper being opened.  Sunlight is spilling through the window, warming my face.  

In the late afternoon, the sun has traveled across the sky, warming the house from the outside in, and is beginning to retire for the evening. Through the windows I can see children throwing a ball to each other in the last few rays of light.  Couples walk dogs past the window, and a Dalmatian catches my eye.  He barks in a friendly hello, and his owners shush him and pull him along. 
She walks to the couch with a steaming cup of tea in her hand.  She prods me to ensure she has my attention, and then she walks purposefully to the front door.  She opens it and steps out onto the concrete.  She walks further out into the front yard, and sits down on the steps.  She has a book in her hands.  She has left the front door open.

 I stand up and stretch.  I sit back down.  I consider my options.  I stand back up and walk towards the door.  I crouch near the entrance to the outdoors, smelling the air of the outside lazily swap places with the stale air that has been trapped inside all day.  I inch out on the concrete.  She turns around and smiles at me.  She nods and makes reassuring noises.  I inch farther out. 
The sun warms my body in a way that I have never experienced.  The smells of the outside bombard my senses, and for a moment, I am consumed in fragrance. The sights I have never seen through the window seem to stretch on into eternity, and the motion of a world I don’t know overwhelms me.  I bound out into the open and gasp, my eyes widening to take in every sight.  I drink in the air around me and turn in circles, marveling at the universe around me.  I run through the grass in front of the window I have been trapped behind, making faces at the imaginary ghost of me, watching.  I spy a bug floating through the air and jump up to catch it.  The bug buzzes away, and I chase after it down the walk.  I encounter my first tree, and attempt to climb it.  I fail.  I run down the sidewalk and try to act like I know how this works.  I have observed the various animals and people stroll down the concrete walk so many times, I think I look like a natural and I don’t care if I don’t.  I smell everything.  Every plant and rock and tree I reach, I smell.  There is nothing like this in the house, and I can’t get enough.  I am far away from the house now, and I turn around.  She is watching me intently from the sidewalk, and I can sense her nervousness.  I turn back around and continue on my journey of freedom.

It starts to get cold after the sun sets, and I don’t see anyone else outside alone.  I have rushed through this new terrain at such a rapid pace, I don’t remember the path I took to arrive where I am.  Cars quickly whizz by and I wonder what the word “unsafe” truly means.  I wander farther down the sidewalk, the thrill of being free fading as my hunger begins to build.  I find a field of long grass, next to a road that is much busier with cars than the one in front of his house, and I nestle down, hopefully unseen from the road.  I try to sleep.

I jolt awake to screeching brakes and cars slamming into one another.  The high sounds of sirens can be heard in the distance, and I lay back down.  It is frighteningly cold, and everything that was so new, and exciting earlier presses down on me in a sinister, unfamiliar way.  The darkness looms around me, and I hear the grass behind me stir.  I jerk away from the noise, and bound forward into the street.  I am met with oncoming headlights, blaring horns, and squealing tires.  I freeze in panic and fear.  The horns continue and the headlights flash over and over.  I gain control and race away from the noise.  As my eyes readjust to the shadows of the walk, I make out a thick hedge of bushes.  I traverse their length until I find an opening big enough for me to slip in, and instantly the world quiets.  I make my way deftly between the branches until I found an alcove deep enough in the hedge to feel safe.  I crouch in the moist earth.  After hours enclosed in the hedge, my pulse slows, and I am able to pursue sleep once again. 
  In the morning, I awaken to a faint sound reaching my ears.  It is my name.  Over and over again, but in a tone I have never heard my name spoken in before.  It’s panic.  She is calling me to her.  I jump up, and make my way out of the bush.  I move towards the sound.  When it becomes clear what direction it is coming from, I run.  When she spots me she lets out a sob of relief.  She bends down, picks me up, and bawls into my back.  She clutches me tightly and tells me how worried she was, and how bad I was for running away.  We walk back to his house together, relieved.

In the morning, she leaves.  That evening, after hours of solitude, he returns. He pats me on the head, and pulls me towards him, kissing me on the face.  He tells me how much he missed me.  We walk to the kitchen together, and he prepares our food.  After dinner, he sits in the living room reading a book and drinking a cup of tea.  I sit on the couch, looking out the window.