[content warning: allusions to sexual assault and incest]
The thunder started before the rain did, rumbling as the world became darker and darker. The thick ropes were rough against her back and legs, holding her in, protecting her, as the world faded from sight. She shivered as the first rain drops touched her gently, before they made her cold. Her net swung a little as the wind gusted. She had hung it securely weeks ago while tears blurred her vision, a tense apathy the only sign of her anguish.
She closed her eyes and curled herself up within the thick brown ropes. The rain began, gentle as no human touch ever was, whispering over the echoes of bruises. It was quiet at first. Just a hush, a silence, a question. Black and silver and invisible like the ghosts. The ropes kept them out, but when the world vanished, they were there. It was part of why she had come.
Her cat was the first. The only one who was blameless.
Then her father. Then her mother. Then her boyfriend.
Had she murdered them?
The water gushed down now, drenching her, bathing her, forgiving her. She thought she was crying, but there was so much water running down her face she wasn’t sure. She rubbed her wet arms with her hands, washing them. She rubbed at her bitten fingernails, hoping the blood would be cleaned from under them.
The rain was loud now. Pounding, hissing, roaring, tapping. A constant wave of oblivion, erasing even memories from her ears. Something in her broke free.
Water was life-giving, life-heralding, life-sustaining. But it had also been there through everything, anchoring memories she had no wish to anchor.
The water her father threw at her face, to shut her up. The water he held her head under, to punish her.
A water glass beside her blank-eyed mother. A water bowl hidden under the bed for Ebony.
And the water of blood pooling around her knees as she cradled her sweetheart’s body.
This was her punishment: these ropes, this night, this rain. And it was also her mercy.
There was no colour left, so she began to imagine it. She saw violet and lavender in the glint of the rain. Indigo and sapphire in the swirl of the shadows. Silver and smoke in the lingering dead.
Let’s play a game, her father had said.
I’m almost done, said her boyfriend.
She clawed at her head, pulled at her hair, and flew.
Ebony: a spark of light. She missed him with a shattered heart that loved far too much.
But maybe, if she hadn’t loved him, she would have run. Maybe love had been her real captor.
Thunder rumbled again, but again, no lightning. Nothing to light up the void.
She strained up toward the steady rush of the rain, letting it blind her, letting it erase the truth. The greatest punishment of all was being forced to remember.
She was a murderer, but she pretended she wasn’t. She was mad, but she welcomed the madness. She wanted peace. She wanted freedom. She didn’t know what they were.
Let’s play a game.
Her father’s words, seared into her memory like a brand into her flesh. She didn’t want to remember them. She didn’t want to remember her happiness at his attention, before the door closed and everything became a secret.
She had been forgotten, by all but a cat. A cat who had kept meowing at the door. A cat whose head he had crushed. A cat whose death made her crazy with grief. A cat, who made her pick up the chair and start striking.
A cat, who after everything, was the one thing she wanted back.
Her mother had done nothing. Again and again she had stood to the side. Passive. Watching. Betraying.
A discordant echo of her mother’s lullaby was drowned by water with the rest of her lies.
But she needed lies.
Her mind flickered in despair. Focus on the rain, she told herself. Flowing, dripping, cleaning, rushing. Washing away the truth. The burden of sight. The pain of hope. Devastating grief. And love.
Waking to her boyfriend above her.
I’m almost done.
Then, in reply to whatever she had said.
What do you think girlfriends are for?
Three weeks ago he had died. She would never have turned on him, would never have stopped hoping. She forgave him as no one had ever forgiven her. How could she walk away, when his nightmare was so like hers?
But he had decided for her. He had pointed the gun, and she had redirected it. Nothing else would have freed her.
But she couldn’t be free. Chains were familiar. Without them she was alone with pictographs of fear and rage, heartbreak and shame.
Caught in a cycle, like the rain. Down and up and bashed into thunder. Some nightmares only changed their form.
A gently swaying net, rough fibrous bones that kept her inside. The ropes were stronger than she was, the rain a second wall. Her legs cramped from lack of use, like her voice, like her reason, like her mind.
She could forget why she was here, if she even knew. For companionship in solitude? For comfort in rain? For the safety of a cage?
Her mother had only lasted a week. She had lived off her father, needed him, died without him. Another abandonment. Another loss. Another rainy day.
She was so wet, she felt more like water than substance. Like the ropes that bound her into a pod bound her into one large teardrop. A ripple in a storm. She wanted to wash away. To disappear. Water didn’t draw notice.
But she had.
She gasped. She could barely breathe. Yes, she was crying. Because she had loved them. All of them. Her father, her mother, her boyfriend.
She had held him, the gun next to them on the floor. She had held him, and could only see the beautiful man she had fallen in love with, and not the man he had become.
It was too much. Here, it was easier. Here the water wasn’t a punishment, wasn’t a lie, wasn’t a truth. Here the darkness hid her in its embrace and whispered to her of what love once was. Here she was only a woman in a net, and tomorrow didn’t yet exist. Here, for a ravaged heartbeat of a ravaged heart, she could escape.
So she let go in the sweet waves of rain. She gave herself to the water and the void, gave herself to the glimmering mercury, and hugged herself in the crumbling embrace of a cage.
Frances Koziar is primarily a fiction writer of the contemporary fiction, high fantasy, and young adult genres, though she also publishes poetry and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in 45+ literary magazines, and she is seeking an agent for a diverse NA high fantasy novel. She is a young (disabled) retiree and a social justice advocate, and she lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Website: https://franceskoziar.wixsite.com/author