Tag Archives: survival

Returned Unwanted: Short Story of a So-Called Fallen Woman

Crouched behind the boxes, the frightened girl huddles further into herself. She decides her head can’t be seen above the dusty wood. The dank cloying scent of encroaching mildew assaults her nostrils. Obviously, her parents and siblings have not lived here for some time, the house as left behind, as bereft of care and warmth as she. Small fingers and dainty hands grasp tighter around her knees. She has managed to crawl carefully, making no noise as she moved. Despite the tense atmosphere about her, she smiles cautiously at her accomplishment. Somewhere in the small corner of her psyche she notes that her smile has not been instantly slapped from her face. At this realization, she smiles again.

. Her drab colored skirt spills in folds upon the floor, hiding her long nickers and rounded shoes beneath. Painfully slowly, she sucks in musty air to catch her breath. Too slowly. Her head spins dangerously. She has been running for a fortnight.

Each cold fireless night she spent scavenging for table scraps from strangers who pitied her. Some had offered for her to stay the night, and always she refused. She was certain someone would match her to the picture of the missing runaway; it was a risk she could not afford to take. So far, upon each morning, she awoke stiff and shivering, but still a free person.

Free? Was this what freedom would be like, then, days of silent screaming fear? She has no other reference point from which to answer the question. But she knows it is better, much better, than what she left behind.

She had run across the cobbled courtyard and passed through the heavy iron gate, surprisingly left unbolted, unscathed. Hurrying straight for the dormitory had been a mistake, but an understandable one. She can only vaguely recall a life outside the confines of the reformatory, and what she recalls of it, she wishes to forget, just like her family chose to forget her. As much as the girl needed to hide, become invisible forever, part of her longed to be recognized, to have her name kindly spoken. She dared not hope she would be loved. But she did dare one last glance at the place, however repugnant. At least it had once been her shelter. She would not speak of it as home. She has never had a home.

But the dormmates didn’t recognize her. She had spent too many years trapped within the penitentury’s high forbidding walls, a fallen woman who was told she was worthless and deserved the treatment she got, who dared to disagree. Strict rules and barbed words were not good enough for her then, but solid bars.

Those hands which built such high and mighty convent walls blessed the forsaken who entered them within inches of their lives. And yet they have not won, not yet, the girl thinks now to herself. By the blood in her veins, she is still living.

At least, within this meager existence of hunger and terror, she can choose the circumstances of her confinement, she can breathe in the cold morning air, she is allowed to think and to move and run. She can run through her confusion and her grief and her shame and her pain, and exhaust the memories out of her body.
She could…

Thoughts are interrupted. A board creaks above her head. Her heart almost stops beating. She knew her small taste of freedom couldn’t last long. Someone would see her and turn her in. But so soon? Should she try to run?

She almost makes a bolt for the door. She knows doing so will make noise and give away her position, and worse things happen to those caught running than found hiding. With a sense of despair, she chooses to stay. She is weak in body and spirit now, she knows she will be outrun.

The sisters will overturn the whole house until they discover her. Then they will take her back with them in chains. She refuses to think about what might happen after that. She does not know.

Then, with a start, she realizes they must have suspected her destination and were here in waiting for some time. It explains the mess strewn all about her, her hiding place only granted due to unheeded respect for other’s belongings in a frenzied attempt at a search. Why hadn’t she read the signs? It is too late. This time, the betrayer is no one but her self.

To keep alert against her mind’s cries to shut down, she slowly begins counting backward from ten to one. Footsteps sound upon the stairs. She shuts her eyes.

Falling Stars

Stars fall
And fall
I could do nothing
But watch stars fall

Brilliant sparks of soaring light
Lost in a senseless sea of sorrow
Tears cried too late
Then too soon dried

There was no time
To gather the fractured shards of love
Hold them close
Keen their crossing

Run, the shadows
Will snuff out in an inky smoke
The tiny incandescent suns
Smoldering in your harried, haunted eyes

Does the earth over your heads lie cold
Is it not yet satiated
With enough red rain
No time, I slip

Over the black pools
Lying in wait
Like withered, sunken eyes
Acrid reservoirs of unwept tears

Don’t fall…
But silently, filling
Hollows with the horrors of memory
A steady rain

Perhaps tomorrow
The warm sunshine
And the call of the curlew
Will pull me back

From the endless depths
Of yesterday’s neglected grief
But at last, today I weep
And weep for fallen stars

Spilling Over

She eats cereals like there is no tomorrow,
My Grandmother, depressions
Dripping like droplets of milk down her mouth,
Mouthing “more,” when she is not speaking,

Because she never got enough
When still a child, spilled by the fountain of youth onto the sprawling clay,
Needy and not kneaded at the bottom of the Bread Basket,
During the Depression.

She married my grandfather, tall, dark, and disciplined by Want,
Who used his knock-kneed frame as a jungle gym
Especially when the children ran rampant with hunger,
Crying shyly as they were tagged “it.”

My mother warns me to respect grandpa’s habits,
As if God herself deemed his behavior redeemable,
In a last attempt to tempt him with wanting grace.

“Eat your cereal, young lady,” grandma chides. My eyes
Bulge, suspecting yesterday’s meal of frosted minny-wheats
Will be mysteriously displaced into my metal spoon,
Milk draining off the cupped bowl of a concave collection of grain.

The children were always hungry, always crying.
My mother watches me fiercely with a hesitant sympathy plaguing
The whites of her corneas.
I see it sift through her eye like sand and flinch,

She, my mother, the survivor, silently
Witnessing the way I will pay
Tribute to my ancestors.

Quickly, I qualify my breakfast, a hurried gulp
Of saturated solution and swallow,
Exhaling elatedly after the enormous effort.

Two years ago, Grandfather wouldn’t insist on such a crude
Relapse into recalling such remembrances of long-ago,
But senescence seems to detain his decency behind bars,
And as the meal ends with many brothey bowls untouched,

He lifts them up sacredly from his table and gently pours
The contents of each eager-lipped, glossy dish
Into a fountain overflowing, that drips back into the carton of milk;
The same ritual he performed yesterday.

Tomorrow, I’ll leave the furrowed house
Where the roof thatches sink concavely toward the floor,
Where water, after accumulating in the troughs made
By the derivative of the roof’s normal triangular shape,
Eventually cascades into a freak rainstorm off the eves.

In the evening, brother and sister would play in puddles;
You could see the whites of their eyes reflect off the water
As they buried cold toes in dusty sand.

And if you were filled with the sustenance of sparse fortune,
You might offer them milk, and watch their mouths gape open
Like dry caves, accepting the first spray of waterfall.
Then they would save some for the family jar
To relive that white dream whenever they needed.

It was raining when the younger finally slipped out of sight,
Over him mounded grains of earth, and the grey-sky tears falling.
And at dawn, mother crept their barefoot, hardly believing,
There, dew dripped in silence, and there was one who longed no more.

*This poem is based on a story told to me by a family friend.

For The Sighted Child Who Never Woke Up

Last night I rocked you in my arms,
To the rhythm of the question which I ask with every heartbeat, why?

Did I think silence would answer me,
When I wondered aloud whether it was my fault?

Into the darkness you fell and could not rise,
Covered by a blanket of night without stars,

So do I run after you like a spark,
Or leave you behind without a word?

Crawling under the curtain between worlds,
Passed the water drip of time,

As if I could find within myself, still breathing,
You buried within the hollow hills of grieving.

Unable to defend your small fragile body,
You cry out for shelter, you almost died crying.

I am unable to notice the hands that reach out,
Convinced that, as before, my tears will banish me.

The infant with your perfect eyes and hands,
How can I conceive of you as my beginning?

If I was stronger, perhaps I could recover your memory,
But like an island, uncoordinated, that has lost it’s place within its map,

I wandered off into the mist, directionless,
And lost myself beneath the waves.

What am I doing here,
Convinced I don’t deserve the sunrise I won’t see?

How will I love, accept, and mend
The imperfect pieces left to me?

Again I will water the seeds of our growing,
Despite my anger, in knowing it is most likely too late.

Because I tried to heal
But merely broke apart, revealing

Sleepless dreams I tried to hide,
Someone else’s hope, so long ago denied.

Before giving into my unknowing
Of where, and if at all, I’ll stand,

I return your bright six-month-old smile
That has not yet known the cruelties of the world.

Faced with what I could have, ought to have been,
Our eyes lock and then

I let go, the girl who lived,
In relief, great tides, wash over me.

And so I shout a reckless challenge to the wind,
From a place that has no name, what might become of me I just don’t care,

I stare into the face of death until it blinks,
And I know now we do not die, there is nothing left to fear

For the sight child who never woke up,
I return for who I was, ever safely keep you near.

And now, once more in sunlight, though we did not travel far,
Dear child open your eyes, awaken to all you are.

The Hunger Years

I remember your thin and hollow faces,
And the eyes that stared unfocussed from them,
And how you tried laughing but only cried.

I remember how you buried children in tiny indentations in the rocks,
Because all the furrows on your land
Were already lined with bodies,
Planted as lovingly as seeds.

I remember the trees’ sorrow when you were beneath them, not around them,
I remember the gravely paper-thin hands
That kept moving, long after no one was growing old.

I remember the sand that fell through fingers like displaced tears,
As you held tenuously onto life,
Grasping at earth and sky.

There were loud time gongs everywhere:
Church bells that rang out through empty spaces,
Tolling death through thickly crowded silences.

The living had no use for words,
Merely kept each other close,
Haunting their own hearths that had gone vacant, cold.

I remember that what kept breathing was the water and the stones.
Conversations hushed, so as to not wake the dead.
Conversations hushed, as to not exhaust the living.

I remember how a day felt like a lifetime,
How you won more time over and over,
I remember when freedom lost it’s meaning,
I remember how existence became an agony.

And yet you still moved, and you would die trying,
And the end would find you scrambling
For that one thing that might sustain you.

I remember how you starved for life,
While so many others hungered for greed.
And how they envied you, secretly,
Those whose souls mirrored your emaciated bodies.

I remember how you stood on your feet for hours
In the streets gaunt and raw,
Tattered clothing, stomachs distended and hollow,

A smolder of the light that lived inside you.
And when time ran out, how you dissipated on the wind,
Joining with the many whispering voices.

I remember the rhythmic throbbing of leaving,
Ebbing and flowing like waves crashing
Over the sands pale white with their grieving

I remember the colors of sadness atop the flagpoles.
I remember the shape of dreams as they hovered on horizons,
Like the ghostly hulls of ships in the fog:
The last withering hope to be taken to a new world.

Unsure of where I stand,
Disconnected, but one and the same,
How long would it take to be counted among everyone?
How long would it take to count everyone?

Living takes time, it’s opposite does not,
And I realize we are as fragile as snowflakes.
Lost in what has been and what might be,

I remember as time stands still.
I was not there.