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Back You are here: Home Stories March 2011: The Ides Persephone Smiled
Monday, 28 February 2011 23:33

Persephone Smiled

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Tracy Riordan was twelve years old when she died. Her father had seen to that. All that was left now was a hollow shell that went through the motions of being alive. There was no texture or context to anything. People didn’t seem real; a mindless string of compassionate, well-meaning nobodies who could never understand what she was feeling. Shadows on the wall, that’s what people were to her now. Where the hell had all this compassion been when he was doing it to her?

She remembered being removed from the house on a Thursday It was early morning, before school; early enough that she could still hear the sound of doves cooing from the trees in the back yard. The sun was just getting warm enough to burn the dew off of the grass along the path that led to the police car, and all the neighbors had come out to see her off. They were staring, pointing and whispering, like she was walking the red carpet at the Video Music Awards wearing a meat bikini. The other kids on the block were pointing as well, leaning out from behind their mothers, looking confused, but trying not to giggle at the freak show being paraded by. Most of them didn’t even know her name. But, they all knew what he did to her.

The officer put Tracy in the back of her patrol car next to a social worker, and a small bag containing her clothes. The only thing she took with her from that house was a picture of her mother, which she clutched tightly against her chest; everything else he could keep. She didn’t want anything he bought her; the sight of it made her sick. Toys, trinkets and fluffy pink crap all bought and paid for with her innocence. Cancer took her mother, her father and his crack pipe took everything else.

They dragged him out next, her daddy. He was in handcuffs and one of the policemen had split his lip trying to get him to stop fighting. When Tracy saw him her eyes grew as big as bicycle tires. The blood between his teeth and the swelling made him appear even more of a monster. She recoiled instantly into herself and up the back of the seat, pressing herself as tightly as she could into the fold beneath the seat belt. The social worker tried to reassure her that he couldn’t hurt her anymore. She gently took Tracy’s hand, but that only made things worse. Tracy didn’t hear a word the woman said. All she could hear was him whispering in her ear, telling her what a sweet girl she was. She could still smell his rancid breath and taste the chemicals on his tongue. Her body trembled violently and her bladder released all over the back seat of the patrol car.

When he got out he was going to make good on his threats, he was going to hurt her again and then he was going to kill her. Tracy began to hyperventilate when his eyes met hers. Mercifully, she passed out before doing herself any real harm.

When all was said and done he was sent to prison for the standard repertoire of charges that someone faces when they rape a child. It was his first offense. He got ten years.

________________________

“What do you want to talk about today, Tracy?” Agnes Whitley, the latest in a long line of ‘happy helpers’ asked with a soft smile that Tracy read as condescending.

Tracy shrugged.

“Well, we don’t have to talk about anything if you don’t want to. There are art supplies in the closet. We could make something if you like.”

Tracy Shrugged.

Agnes sighed. She was very good at what she did. But there were cases, like Tracy, that kept her up nights trying to find a way to break through the wall. She’d been working with the girl for six months now and in that time the child said maybe six words. There were dozens of traumatized children living at Essex House, but Tracy was by far the most difficult case Agnes had ever encountered in her sixteen years as a therapist.

The girl had completely withdrawn; she didn’t speak to anyone on staff unless she had to and never interacted with the other children. Most days she would sit by herself, do her schoolwork in silence and return to her room the moment meals were finished. Her nightmares were terrible, and required nightly doses of medication to keep her from tearing at the skin on her wrists.

This wasn’t in any of the reports, but Agnes would sometimes see her staring at her reflection in the mirror. It was one of the few times that Agnes could remember seeing any animation in the girl’s face, and that at least was something. Maybe that was it, her way in. It was unconventional, but nothing conventional seemed to be working. Agnes pulled a small mirror from her pocketbook and sat next to Tracey on the big green sofa under the window.

“I’d like to play a game.” She said, careful not to brush Tracy as she moved closer. “You hold my mirror, and tell me what you see in the reflection.”

“This is dumb.” Tracy replied flatly. She took the mirror, exhaled sharply and rolled her eyes. “I see me.”

“Ok, pretend for a moment she isn’t you. Pretend she is someone new who you’re just meeting for the first time. What would you say to her?”

“You look sad.”

I’m not sad, I’m pissed off. What the fuck are we sitting here for; this stupid cow doesn’t know shit. Inside her head, her own voice echoed off the walls of her skull. A voice so strong and self assured she almost didn’t recognize it as her own. The voice felt like hers, but in her mind it sounded as if it came from somewhere outside of her.

Tracy’s eyes shot up and she looked at Agnes, who obviously hadn’t heard a thing. Agnes nodded, and gently indicated Tracy’s reflection. “Talk to her.”

Agnes stood up, and walked to her desk. She knew Tracy had a lot of rage pent up inside of her. She was hoping that this might be a way to help her let it out. Agnes firmly believed in talking to oneself. Sometimes, she felt, you have to learn to relate to yourself before you can relate to others.

She watched Tracy talk to her reflection for close to half an hour, sometimes arguing, sometimes frightened, sometimes just appearing to sit and listen. Toward the end Tracy nodded at her reflection and said something so quietly Agnes couldn’t make it out. Agnes made notes, but said nothing. This was the first sign of progress Tracy made since her arrival and she was not about to interfere.

When the session ended, Tracy appeared lighter somehow, less burdened; it was almost as if she had reached some sort of resolution with herself. Before she left the office, she put the mirror on Agnes’ desk, looked her directly in the eyes and said, “Thank you.” Agnes could not help but be encouraged.

That night Tracy stared at her reflection in the small mirror over the sink in the bathroom. The medication they gave her to make her sleep was just starting to kick in, but she forced her eyes to stay open.

“Did you do it?” She asked her reflection, but no response came.

She stared a while longer, about to give up when her reflection changed and the girl inside smiled. “It’s done. You can sleep now.”

Tracey almost choked as the girl in the mirror came to life before her. Except for the eyes, she was identical to Tracy in every way. But her eyes were larger, like mirrors themselves; reflecting the fury that Tracy felt but could never express without being labeled a nutcase. Deep black bottomless pools surrounded by red, angry but in no way malevolent. Justified.

“He won’t be getting out of prison?” Tracy swallowed hard.

“No.” A cockeyed grin appeared on her reflection’s face.

“What did you do?”

“I took care of it.”

“How?”

“Don’t worry; he won’t hurt anyone ever again.”

“How? How did you do it? You’re just a reflection in a mirror. I don’t understand.”

“You don’t need to. All you need to do now is get some rest. You’re safe. He won’t get out of prison, he will never touch you again, and if you ever need me I am always here. All you have to do is call.”

“Call who? I don’t understand.”

“Call me.”

“What’s your name?”

“It’s Tracy silly, just like you. Now go to sleep. You’ll see. In the morning everything will be better. I promise.”

Her reflection blurred for a moment then changed. Tracy stared for a while longer, waiting, but nothing else happened. She was terrified, but exhilarated at the same time. Could this be real? Was it finally over? She felt like a crazy person, standing in the bathroom talking to a mirror. Maybe she was just going nuts. Maybe what her father did to her had blown her mind. Maybe she was going to spend the rest of her life in a loony bin talking to her own reflection. Maybe.

Tracy hardly slept at all. Adrenalin and anxiety pushed the medication right out of her system. She was too excited to do anything but stare at the ceiling. The mirror told her that everything would be ok, but she didn’t dare hope it was true. She was out of bed, dressed and downstairs in the common room half an hour before the rest of the center was even awake.

Tracy got downstairs just in time to see two men in suits approach the director’s office. It was six in the morning, and no visitors came before ten unless something was really wrong. Slowly, she tiptoed down the hallway, past the night nurse and crept around the corner to listen. The door was closed, so she pressed her ear against it, straining to hear what was being said.

Douglas Riordan died in agony. Apparently, the detective told Doctor Bob, even criminals don’t like people who mess with little kids. His death had been a torturous one. Some inmate did to him what he had done to Tracy. Riordan bled to death, slowly from internal wounds caused by the broken handle of a mop. He was found face down in the toilet stall, and died that night.

“Too good for him if you ask me.” The detective said as the door to Doctor Bob’s office opened.

Tracy darted back down the hallway, stooping to avoid being seen by the night nurse. She hopped up on the couch and tucked her head in a cushion just as Doctor Bob and the two detectives came down the hall.

“Tracy.” Doctor Bob said in a quiet even tone that usually got on her nerves, but today sounded like music. “We have some news. I need to talk to you.”

Tracy sat up, calm and confident for the first time since her mother passed away. “It’s ok Doctor Bob. I heard you talking. Daddy’s dead.”

“I’m sorry Tracy; this must be very confusing for you. We’ll call Agnes in early and try to help you sort through this, ok?”

Tracy shrugged, and hopped up off the sofa. “Tell Agnes to bring her mirror. I need to say thank you.”

Doctor Bob stared at her dumbfounded. For the first time since she arrived at the center, Tracy Riordan smiled.




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Beth Maloney

Beth Maloney lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with her husband and children. She is currently working on her MS in Behavioral Analysis at St. Joseph's University. Her first novel, Brotherly Love, is due to be completed this year.

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