Tuesday, April 6, 2010
A Story A Week: Punished
Sara didn’t notice the marks until she was in the shower. She winced when the hot water hit them.
She flung open the shower door and crossed to the mirror, rivulets of water running onto the white tile. That’s when she first saw them: long tentacles streaking her back from shoulder to shoulder.
His voice floated in from the kitchen. “What?”
“Come here – quick!”
He came slowly, carrying his coffee mug in one hand, the newspaper tucked under his arm. He raised his eyebrows at the scratches. “What’d you do?” Reaching out a tentative finger, he tried to touch the mark.
“Ouch! Don’t touch! It stings.”
“How’d you get those?” he asked.
Sara shrugged as she pulled her towel off the rack. “I don’t know. I just woke up this way.”
Her mind had been sorting through the possibilities. They didn’t have pets or children. Marsden cut his fingernails severely short. It was one of his peculiarities. There was no way his stubby fingers could have inflicted this much damage.
“Looks like someone laid into you with a whip.” He smiled slowly, teasingly. “You didn’t go anywhere last night after I fell asleep, did you?”
Sara wasn’t in the mood to kid around. She finished gingerly drying her body and slid into her bathrobe. It annoyed her that her back was still damp: the way the robe stuck to her skin, fibers clinging to the raw places on her skin. She picked up a comb and jerked it through her wet hair. “Don’t be an idiot. Of course I didn’t.”
Sara sighed. “Maybe I did it to myself. Got itchy in the night.” She inspected her nails -- short, perfectly filed. She clutched them in fists before Marsden had a chance to notice her hands were shaking. Thankfully he wasn’t the observant type.
He laughed. “Yeah right. You can’t even reach those places on your back. Let me see you try!”
“No,” she said. Everything to Marsden was a game, a competition. “I’m sorry I bothered you. Go back to your – whatever you were doing.”
“Breakfast,” he said. “No, but this is interesting. Let me know if you come up with an explanation.”
“I will,” she said, pushing him out the door and shutting it after him. She glanced at herself in the mirror. The noise of the bathroom fan hummed in her ears. Leaning against the counter, she pressed her hands against the cold tile. She needed the support; her legs were trembling.
The dream. It had to be the dream.
But that was impossible.
She could still see that woman’s face, eyes like two cinders, face pocked like a potato. She’d been holding a whip.
What had she said?
Sara closed her eyes, scarcely daring to remember. “For the sins you didn’t commit.” Her voice rattled, rickety with old age. “All those opportunities to do wrong and so many times you chose right.”
Sara remembered crying out in her dream, “Then why do you persecute me?”
“Because I own you,” the old woman hissed. “All your good works – all that effort – for nothing! Punishable only by death.”
Sara sat down abruptly on the closed toilet seat. The rough fleece fabric of her robe shifted on her back. The lashes burned like fire.