Iris cried into her pillow, which smelled of the ocean and Grandma Glady’s lavender oil. She tried to pretend it soothed the burning welts on her back, buttocks, and upper legs. She’d tried to stand still, to not move, so that all the blows would land where they were aimed – but the pain and fear got too much, and she’d tried to run, but Howard had chased her, pinned her into a corner, and lashed out, all the while panting the way the men had –
She wasn’t going to think about that. It was done.
But a part of her wished she was back in her nest. Even when Mama cried, Iris knew to stay still and silent; no one ever knew she was there, and she was safe even if Mama was not; and that was the way of their life, and always had been. Iris had known that all she needed to do was be still and silent, and she would come to no harm.
But everything had changed in the moment Mama told her to come out and meet Howard, who would be her new father.
Howard, who watched her like she was some tender morsel here only for his pleasure.
Howard, whose voice was loud and hard, whose face turned red when he yelled at her, pressed in too close to hers, so that there was no way to escape, with his spittle flying into her own face, cold and disgusting.
Howard, whose big hands could lash out at any moment, with or without warning, for anything she did, or any other reason, even when it had nothing at all to do with her. Ever since Mama died, he seemed to be after her, every time there was anything at all to use for a reason.
Now, tears and pain set her heart to a faster beat, pounding out, “Run-a-WAY! Run-a-WAY!”
Howard was gone, now, though – and Iris, the welts stiffening and oozing where the green switch had torn her skin – knew that there would be more, unless she did something. There was no one else to do it; it must be her, and it must be now – now, while Howard wasn’t here to stop her or hurt her.
She couldn’t undo Grandma Gladys getting sick, or Mama dying, but, maybe, she could do something about Howard.
If she was brave…brave enough.
Was she brave enough to stay here, where Howard could whip her again- or worse?
She almost cried out when she rose, the wounds throbbing. But that might wake Grandma Gladys, or the nurse who stayed with her. So Iris bit her lip hard, tasting more blood – more blood, because of Howard! – and hobbled as quietly as she could to her window. The bungalow was all on one level. It hurt to fold herself through, but not as much as those lashes had; and not as much as she thought he would hurt her, sooner or later, if she stayed here, timid and afraid.
No – if she was going to get away, and save herself, she was going to have to be braver than she’d ever been.
Iris took a deep breath, and slipped into the shadows and around the corner of the house.
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