She needed fresh air, so she fashioned a tiny hole of sorts in the sheet covering her tiny head. It had to be getting close to daylight. She strained her ears for the slightest sound of birdsong, but couldn't hear anything. The air was fresher, but still hot. Sweat trickled from every pore in her five year old body, but she was too scared to throw the covers off.
Chancing to peek into the darkness of her tiny bedroom, all she could see was blackness, and out of the blackness, strange shapes seemed to form and then dissipate, reform and dissolve magically before her eyes. She didn't think they were real, but she wasn't sure. You could never be sure.
From the open door, she saw that a light was on in the kitchen. Her mother was up, and she relaxed a little. Her body attuned to the slightest noise, she waited to see if her mother was on guard, or had just gotten up for a glass of water.
"I know you're out there, you goddamn son of a bitch!" Oh, God, he was back! Her mother had heard him, too! She had wanted to call out to her, but the coal train was making its nightly run, and she truly was the coward her mother said she was, for she was afraid to make a sound. Lest the man outside would hear her. Come for her and rape and kill her like her mother said. She didn't know what rape meant, but she did know what killing meant. Her mother said that rape was worse than death, which conjured unimaginable horrors in her mind.
"If it comes down to being raped or dying, well, its best you were to die." her mother had told her time and again. "You'll be ruined. And no man will want you." She didn't understand about being ruined, but her mother's tone told her it was bad. Like being in hell bad. The only men she knew of, besides uncles, (which she had finally stopped hiding from) was her daddy, and Marcie's daddy, Danny Lacy. She couldn't imagine what he would want her for, as she wasn't big enough to do much work. But, she didn't want to be ruined. She hadn't even started school.
She heard her mother load the shotgun, saying, "You think I won't shoot through that door, you got another think coming you bastard. I'll kill you. Don't think I won't."
Suddenly, her mother was in her room, leaning over her, shotgun cradled in one arm, looking through the curtains out the window. Her mother cocked her head to one side, then quickly ran toward the back of the house. Now her heart was beating so fast, the sound of it made her eardrums hurt.
Why would someone want to hurt us? She wished her father was home. The man outside was never around when her father was home. His presence scared him away. But, even then, mother would sometimes hear his footsteps and daddy would put on him shoes and go outside, and her terror was so great then, she thought she would die from it. He always came back, saying, "I didn't see a damn thing! It's you! It's always you! We can sell this place and move to Frametown, you know we can!" Then she could fall asleep while they argued, knowing if they argued the man wasn't outside.
Now, her sister was up. "I think he's out by the cellar steps, Mommy. What are we going to do?" Her mother raised her voice, making sure the man would hear, "Why, if he tries to come in this house, we'll kill 'em. I hold my hand afore God, he'll have to come through me to get to you girls. You motherfucking sonofabitch. Come on, try me, try me."
Curled in her bed, the little girl tried to block her mother's voice. In the morning they would take down the bottles that lined the window sills, move the furniture away from the doors, and she would run outside, run as far from the house as she was allowed. In the daytime, it was safe. Nothing could catch her when she ran. But every so often, she knew, while she played, she would stop, and look around. Scanning the tall weeds that grew about the property. Feeling unseen eyes crawl over her skin.
Covered in sweat, listening to the words her mother shouted, nighttime words, forbidden in daylight, she waited for the first song of the birds, the first faint light to chase away the shadows in her room, waiting for the sounds of morning,