Angie played on the floor behind the couch. There was just enough room there for her, her toys and her books. Angie never went anywhere without her books. She had a volume of fairy tales by The Brothers Grimm and a book of fairy tales illustrated by Tasha Tudor herself. She kept a copy of Black Beauty in her unwieldy stack and a hardbound copy of Little House On The Prairie. Angie loved her books.
She also loved her vast set of plastic horses, cowboys and Indians and played with these as she hid behind the couch. A small child with wide brown eyes, long brown hair and pale, delicate skin, Angie rarely spoke. Even while playing, Angie remained silent. She heard the voices inside her head of all the characters. A casual observer, in catching a glimpse of her, would see a solitary child, her hands busy with plastic animals and men, her eyes focused in concentration, and her lips pressed tightly closed as though fearing some secret words, unbidden, might escape them. Sometimes this play became so involved and absorbing, the outside world would drift away and she could pretend she was no longer a little girl, hiding behind a couch. She could be a brave cowboy with a lightning steed and a quick draw.
Angie wanted to be a boy when she grew up for the simple reason that no one ever hurt boys. She was already best friends with a boy. No one saw him but Angie. He was a tall dark Indian and he played with her inside her head. Whenever she was scared, she could curl up inside herself and he would step forward and fight for her. He never told her his name and Angie was too polite to ask. "If he wanted me to know," she reasoned, "he would tell me." Angie was afraid of real boys, but she loved her secret friend with all her heart because, she knew, he would never hurt her.
She played peacefully, stretched out upon the edge of the rug in her hiding place behind the couch. "If no one sees me," she thought, "no one will want me. It’s better if they don’t want you. Wanting you is bad."
A quiet voice interrupted her reverie and Angie went suddenly still, rigid as a corpse. "I am invisible. No one can see me," she whispered inside her head.
The voice came again, with subdued persistence. "Angie, come out now. Time for nap." She held her breath and squeezed her eyes shut. Once more he called, "Angie, are you being naughty?"
She put down her toys and scooted out backwards from behind the couch. The Man stood there, waiting for her. He asked, "Didn’t you hear me the first time?"
"Yes," she said softly, not meeting his eyes with her own.
"Then why did you not obey me and come the first time I called you?"
Angie shrugged, tucked her hair behind her ears and slipped her thumb into her mouth.
"How old are you, child?" The Man asked and she could hear the irritation in his voice.
"Too old to be sucking your thumb. Take it out."
Angie complied, beaten without a struggle. Beaten before the struggle. Beaten long before she understood the struggle at all.
"Come then," he said. "Time for nap." He reached down, took her hand in his, and led her down the hallway to his bedroom.
Her mind emptied itself save for the anguished plea screamed within, "Don’t ask me the questions this time. Please don’t ask me the questions. I’ll be good if you please don’t ask the questions."
He sat on the bed and undressed and Angie sat beside him, removing her shoes and placing them neatly on the floor. Angie was a neat child. The Man had taught her that all good little girls are neat and tidy. He took off his shirt, his undershirt, then his belt, trousers and undershorts. He folded each item in turn before setting it on the chair. Angie put her clothes just as neatly beside his and climbed into the bed.
She closed her eyes as she felt the weight of his body move close to her and, by the time he started kissing her knobby chest, Angie was far far away.
"Angie!" her Indian friend called from inside her head, "come on! Let’s ride horses and play on the rope swing!" Angie laughed and ran with him. She climbed onto the back of his horse, held her friend tightly about his waist and felt the galloping of the hooves beneath her as they rode away.
The pain kept invading and she kept pushing it away. She clung to her friend, clenched her teeth and told him, "It hurts!"
He shook his head and said, "Only for now. It will go away soon."
She cried, "I want to be a cowboy!"
Her friend said, "You have to be a girl, but I will take care of you. You’ll see."
The pain strangled the breath from her throat and Angie bit her lip until it bled. The Man stopped and said, "Don’t you like this, Angie?"
Her mind screamed, "Don’t ask the questions! Please!"
The Man asked again, "Aren’t you my little sweetheart? Don’t you like this?"
Angie shook her head frantically, and he stopped. She felt him ease from her body and she felt him sit up and scoot away from her. She turned her head to look at him and, when he began to cry, she cried, too.
"I’m sorry," she murmured, touching his arm. "I didn’t mean to make you cry. Please don’t cry."
"You don’t love me, Angie. How can I help but cry?"
Angie rose to her knees and embraced him. She said, "I love you! I do! Please don’t cry!"
He wept into his hands, "You hurt me, Angie. You hurt me deeply. All I have ever done is love you and all I ever wanted was for you to love me back."
"I do!" she sobbed, hugging his arm. "Please don’t cry anymore!"
He looked up, his face wet with tears, "Do you?" Angie nodded. He smiled, pressed her gently back to the mattress and kissed her mouth. He said, "I knew you did."
Angie dressed slowly after nap. Her body ached and that awful nap smell clung to her flesh and followed her as she walked down the hall into the kitchen. The Man was there making a snack. When she entered the room, he glanced over his shoulder at her and his eyes were cold.
He said, "You liked that, didn’t you?"
Her heart began to pound and she begged him wordlessly, "Please don’t ask the questions!"
"Didn’t you?" he persisted. Angie nodded, feeling her face grow hot with shame. The Man grunted, looked away and said, "Vulgar little slut you are, Angie. And only nine years gone. Goodness only knows what you will be like when you grow up."
They sat at the kitchen table eating ham sandwiches. Angie drank a glass of milk and thought about riding a horse someday, or being a cowboy. Maybe she would be a policeman when she grew up and she could make everybody feel safe and happy.
The Man said, "When you grow up, you’ll be a nasty little slut like the rest of them, you know."
Angie nodded, took another gulp of milk and another bite of her sandwich. Bread crumbs dusted the front of her shirt and a small band of milk crowned her upper lip.
"Only my love for you is pure, Angie. You remember that."
Angie nodded again. She felt safe now. Nap would not come again until tomorrow and maybe, by then, she could think of some new answers to the questions.
Later, Angie and The Man went grocery shopping. As they entered the store, two Kind Ladies stopped them and talked with The Man. One of the Kind Ladies leaned over and touched Angie’s face. She said to the other Kind Lady, "Would you look at Angela? I declare! Child, you are going to be some beauty when you grow up!"
The other Kind Lady smiled and replied, "She certainly is! Lord have mercy, Miss Angela, but won’t all the boys just want you?"
"Won’t they though?" The first Kind Lady winked at Angie. "When you grow up, they’ll follow you everywhere and you’ll just never be able to get rid of them!
The Kind Ladies laughed merrily and The Man laughed, too.
But Angie did not laugh. Her eyes had gone blank save for some flickering emotion almost hidden within the soft brown depths.
© Camille Moffat 2001
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