by Laura A. Lord ’14
The scream echoed down the hallways. It ripped through the floorboards, scampered up the stairs, and shoved its way under her door. Sliding under the blanket, every drawn out syllable of the scream caressed her bare skin until it reached her ears, where it crawled inside and planted itself for a stay. Cindy popped up out of bed, her eyes wide at the sudden intrusion in her dreams and her muscles stiff and sore. Yesterday had been hell.
She rubbed her tired eyes, smearing the streaks of dirt on her face, before climbing out of the bed. Her bare feet hit the floor and she shivered briefly.
More screams, more noise, more racket filled the room. Cindy’s bare heel stomped at the floor boards. “Oh, I’m coming, I’m coming.” No patience, her family. Not a lick.
Passing the mirror as she walked to the door, Cindy saw her disgruntled appearance multiple times in the broken pieces. I should bathe, she thought, before hearing another chorus of screams. Suppose I don’t have time for that. With a sigh, she grabbed a dress and a ribbon, and quickly threw both on. Tying the ribbon around her knotted hair, she managed to get it back into some sort of messy bun. A cloth dunked in a basin of cold water was all she could manage, scrubbing her face, neck, and arms as she raced down the steps. One landing and the dirt was gone. By the second, her skin was turning a rosy pink. At the third, so was the cloth.
The kitchen was still warm from the embers of last night’s fire. Cindy set about pulling trays down, putting a kettle on, stoking the fire higher, and pouring bowls of oats and fruit. Another scream, this one more high pitched than the last tore through the house. Mother is awake.
Cindy was rushing now. Can’t keep Mother waiting. She quickly filled the cups with hot water, allowing the tea to steep. Then, grabbing the trays, she balanced them in her arms and pushed the kitchen door open with her hip. She climbed one flight of stairs and reached her sisters’ room. Cindy set her mother’s tray down and slipped in with the other two.
From one of the girls came a sobbing sound.
“Don’t get all upset, silly. I’ve got your breakfast right here.” Setting the trays down, Cindy rolled her eyes at the girls. “I’ll be back soon to get you cleaned up for your lessons.”
She made her way to the door as her older sister called out her name. “I have to get this to Mother. You’ll just have to wait.” Turning to close the door, she caught sight of the two girls, lying flat back in their beds and still not touching their food. “Eat up, while it’s hot.”
Closing the door, Cindy grabbed the other tray and ignored the girls’ constant hollering for her to come back.
No time. Mother’s waiting.
Her little knuckles knocked lightly at her mother’s door, before pushing it open. “I’ve brought breakfast, Mother.” Her lips broke apart into a wide smile, as she scooted around the bed and set the tray on the stand beside it. She had to step on her tip-toes to pull the curtain back from her mother’s bed, but finally it was done.
“Cin…” her mother choked out, before Cindy put a finger against her mother’s dry, cracked lips.
“Shhh now. Time to eat, Mother.”
Plopping down on the edge of the bed, she pushed her mother over slightly with her hip, making the bonds pull tightly on her mother’s arm. A small cry escaped the older woman and she turned bloodshot, rheumy eyes on Cindy.
Cindy raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Of course, let me help you, Mother.”
Taking the cup of tea, steam still rising out of it in small grey pillars, Cindy tilted the cup all the way up, spilling the scalding liquid straight onto her mother’s lips, into her mouth, and down her throat. The old woman’s choked screams filled the house as bright red blisters appeared and flakes of flesh peeled off her cheeks. Blood ran from the cracks in her lips and pooled at the corners of her mouth.
“I do hope I got it to you before it got too cold, Mother.”
Cindy put the cup gently back onto the tray as the woman writhed against her bonds; her screaming had turned into a gurgle of barely smothered pain.
Leaning down, Cindy plucked at one of the threads on her mother’s gown. “Oh. I need to fix this stitch. Mother, dear, you must have pulled it loose.” Gripping the edge of the material, she yanked back the sleeve, the stitches ripping free one pop at a time, slowly at first and then steadily faster. Blood shot up, flecking Cindy’s apron, the bed curtains, and her mother’s face. Her mother’s thin skin had made the stitching easy, and it was all the easier really to undo the sewing with such a little tear. The cries continued for a moment, before her mother’s head simply dropped to the side and her eyes rolled up in her head.
Cindy lifted the sleeve from the nightgown and looked down at her mother with soft, gentle eyes.