Calvary Acres

She was never sure if what she remembered was what really happened, or if the memory of what happened thickened over time, like a sharply-spiced roux, into History Enhanced.

The recipe was simple: Sift the facts and blend with a little girl’s nightmares, then steep for several years. On each anniversary, add a tablespoon of grief and stir. Try not to think about it. Wait until the middle of a sleepless night, then taste, swallow, vomit and remember.

On the twentieth of April, around three-thirty in the morning, an unhappy father gently picked up his sleeping daughter from her bed and carried her into the sewing room. He lay her on the love-seat beside the Singer, but she was awake by now and asked him what was happening. In a soft whisper that smelled faintly of cigarettes and peppermint he told her to close her eyes and go back to sleep. On leaving the room, he took the lattice-backed chair with him, the chair her mother sat in when working on a new dress, or a new set of drapes, or a set of tea-towels for a neighbor’s daughter’s wedding shower. He closed the sewing-room door and propped the chair against it, tucking it firmly under the doorknob to prevent his daughter from leaving. He then tip-toed down the stairs and out to the toolshed, where he took the hammer from its hook on the wall. Its outline remained, marked clearly in red ink so that anyone would know where to replace the tool when he was done using it. From another hook he took a skein of rope.

Awake and curious, she arose from the love-seat and tried to open the door. Upon realizing that she was shut inside, she called out for her father, softly at first. Her second cry was louder, and perhaps that was what woke her mother. The unhappy father was back in the house by now, and already climbing the stairs when he saw the sharp-tongued mother emerge from the bedroom, only half-awake. He bounded up the steps and struck the woman in the left temple with the blunt end of the hammer-head. The woman cried out as she fell, and hearing this the girl in the sewing room dropped to her knees to peer through the keyhole. This was her perspective of all that followed.

The unhappy father struck his wife five more times, shouting the word “enough” with each blow. The spoiled little brother toddled out of the room he shared with his sister and began to wail when he saw the blood. The father caught the boy in the throat with the claw-end of the hammer then pulled high, hooking the child under the chin and lifting him inches off the floor before dropping him again and ripping the hammer-head loose. The spoiled little brother fell out of view at this point; all she could see was the dark fountain spouting then diminishing in seconds while her father turned back to his wife and pounded and pounded until he grew exhausted. When he was done he stood for a moment catching his breath. He dropped the hammer and she heard the dull thump of it hitting the carpet. He then uncoiled the rope and tied it around the railing at the top of the stairs. Once it was fastened securely, he took the short end and looped it into a noose. He took his time fashioning this, tying it and retying it until he was satisfied with the result. “Daddy?” she called and he answered, “I’ll be right with you, honey.” He sounded as he always did, cheery and patient as if he were looking forward to spending a few minutes with his favorite child. He slipped the noose around his neck and stepped over the railing, holding onto the baluster to prevent himself from falling too soon. When he was ready he released his grip, and she saw the rope snap tight.

Once the sun rose she thought to open the window and step out onto the back-porch roof, then clamber down the morning glory trellis and walk down the lane barefoot, a long, chilly half-a-mile to the nearest neighbor, whose daughter was getting married the following week.