Sunday, June 3, 2018

Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle
By Michael Cannata

            Carol sat alone in the corner of the damp basement playing with the length of string entwined between her fingers. "Cat's Cradle," was her favorite game. It was a game her mother had taught her a long time ago.  The fear wasn't as great during the day when she was playing it waiting for her mother, free to dream about the home she once had.

            She never knew her father. He'd left them both just after she was born. All she knew of him came from the stories her mother had told her. Some of the stories were nice and when she was telling them her mother seemed to wish he would come back someday. But most of them weren't nice at all and the way her mother would curse and cry made Carol almost happy he had gone away.

            Her mother was the center of her world as a child. Unfortunately, she was far from the best thing in her mother's world. Her mother lived for her "medicine" as she called it. Most afternoons, she went with her mother to the place where she got her medicine. Once back home, her mother would go into the bathroom. After a long while her mother would come out and they would play together for hours into the night. It was those special times that she remembered the most that helped make her life bearable.

            Men were always coming to their house during the day. Most of them paid no attention to her while others made her afraid. Others would bring her candy or other treats. She would sit quietly, eating the sweets, while her mother took the men into her room.

            One day her mother went to a different house to meet a man Carol had never seen before. She introduced the man as, "Fred," and told her that he would be babysitting her until she could get back. Carol saw Fred hand her mother an envelope. As they talked in low voices, her mother seemed nervous. She came and hugged Carol closely and promised she would be back soon.

            She cried uncontrollably as her mother kissed her good-bye. She prayed fiercely all day, but Carol's mother never came back. After her mother left and she had eaten all the pizza Fred had given her she knew things were never going to be the same. After dark, just about the time she should have gone to bed, Fred asked Carol if she wanted to play. He took her down some stairs into the damp basement.

            "This is where you'll be staying," he explained. There was only one mattress on the floor. As he started to take off his shirt he smiled in a way that made her start shaking. "Now, let's have some fun, OK? I know a game you're going to like. It's one your mother and I play a lot."  She started to cry and said "No." Fred hit her hard enough that she fell back on the mattress with her mouth bleeding. That was the last time she had ever said no to Fred. After that they played the game almost every night.

            She heard the front door open and close with a loud slam the way it did every night. The heavy footsteps thudded above her as Fred staggered around the house from room to room, doing whatever it was he did before he came down to her.

            Sometimes she could smell the dinner he made for himself. It always made her stomach rumble and her mouth water. Just once she wished he would share the hot, delicious smelling meal with her.

            As she heard him coming down the stairs she knew her playtime was over.  Nighttime was when she had to play Fred's games. She began to cry quietly and wished again for her mom.

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