I huddled deeper into the shadows, pulling my legs tightly beneath me. Footsteps echoed across the wooden porch. I didn’t dare peek around the desk, could only listen. My hands instinctively tugged my skirt down, tight around my legs.
The doorknob rattled.
Oh, please let it be locked.
The door slipped open and the footsteps came into the kitchen. Then the voice, harsh with years of cigarette smoke, “Where are you? You lazy girl! This place is a mess.” Dishes rattled. I cringed, waiting for something to crash to the floor, breaking in a million pieces just like my life that crumbled around me. But for a moment there was only silence.
Where was he? What was he doing? The silence was the worst. Worse than the yellings. Worse than the beatings. Worse, because it meant something worse to come. I could hear breathing, loud and hoarse in my ear.
Then I saw them. Two legs, right in front of the desk. Feet, big and heavy.
“Ms. Ostheim, what are you doing under there?” A head popped into view. A small head. A girl’s head. Smiling.
I gasped in confusion, tugging at my skirt once again. But the hands that clutched my hem were not the pale thin ones of a six-year-old. They were wrinkled with age, blood vessels laying in tangled rows across the back, mingling with the dark age spots. “Wha--”
The girl held out a hand. “Here, I’ll help you up.” She knelt and her blue Dinner Delivered shirt came into view.
I clutched at the offered hand, but even with her help, it took some doing to get me back to my feet.
“Was this what you were looking for?” The girl dived under the desk and immerged holding a dusty book. “Next time wait until I get here and I’ll get it for you, okay?” She patted my shoulder and bustled back to the kitchen, calling over her shoulder, “I’ll just warm your dinner up for you.”
As she puttered around in the kitchen, I clutched that book, wondering how it had fallen under my desk. I ran my fingers along the surface, trailing dust through the gold letters. Holy Bible. I couldn’t recall having a Bible.
The girl popped back around the corner. “Anything else before I go?”
Fear tickled at my chest. “Don’t go. Don’t leave me alone.”
For a moment I was the little girl again, all alone. Only a trail of tears kept me company, a constant presence dripping hot down my cheeks.
“Dad? Where are you?”
Only silence. But no, something shifted in the other room. On the other side of the window. I peeked hopefully through the doorway, but only darkness met me. Darkness and a ragged scraping high on the window pane, as though some monstrous creature were trying to find a way inside. Find a way to me.
I didn’t dare scream. Didn’t dare move. I could only stand like a frozen statue in the middle of the black room.
That’s how Dad would find me when he stumbled home half drunk. Find me there, like a wimp in the middle of the room, scared of him, but scared without him.
A touch on my arm startled me.
“Are you okay, Ms. Ostheim?” The girl was there again, and light streamed into the room.
“Oh.” I stared at the Bible. “I was just thinking. Remembering.” Would the memories ever leave me alone? So ironic, I was scared to be alone, yet never alone, for he was always there, haunting my every move.
The girl was looking at me. Perhaps even understanding, just a little.
“Can I read something to you?” She reached for the Bible and flipped it open. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your face, Lord, I will seek.’ When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.”
She chattered on for a while, but I didn’t hear much of it. Mostly I was wondering how she’d known what to read, how it had fit so well. But more than that, I was wondering how HE’d known what to write. Wondering if it was true, and if He really knew me that well.
After she left, I held that book and looked for the words she’d read. And, for a minute, I forgot to be lonely.
Psalms 27:1a, 8, 10 NKJV
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