Amanda watched the slow rise and fall of Lucy’s chest. Lucy’s small body shook with every inhale, and she whimpered with every exhale. She tucked her head further under the blankets, squeezing her eyes shut.
“When will they stop?” Lucy’s voice was as soft as cotton, as thin as lace.
Amanda tore her gaze away from her little sister. She could not tell this lie to her face. “Soon,” she said.
Aggressive noises travelled through the house. Screaming and crashes seeped through the walls. Profanities were flung around rooms, accusations were spit into corners. The floorboards shook, the ceiling swayed. Lucy had appeared in Amanda’s doorway as soon as it started. Amanda sat up in bed and told her to come in, and to shut the door behind her. Lucy did as she was told, her small legs carrying her swiftly to Amanda’s bed.
Amanda couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she could hear how they were saying it. They were downstairs. The shouts weren’t coming from right below them, so they must’ve been in the kitchen. She heard Dad’s voice, aggressive, booming like a clap of thunder. She heard Mom’s voice, softer, begging for him to stop.
“I miss Mommy and Daddy,” Lucy whispered.
Amanda looked at her, cowering under the blankets, eyes still closed. “They’re still here,” she said, stroking Lucy’s hair.
A shrill scream erupted from below. Lucy jumped. A deeper yell reverberated, followed by a loud thump. She inched closer to Amanda. “No, they’re not,” Lucy said.
Five years separated Amanda and Lucy. At ten years old, Amanda had become Lucy’s shield against the turmoil invading their family. A year ago, everything was fine. Lucy and Amanda had a mom and a dad that loved them and loved each other. But then something changed, something that was too hard for two little girls to understand.
Amanda watched a tear escape from Lucy’s closed eye, marking a trail down her cheek. Her lips trembled. Amanda reached under the blankets, grasping for Lucy’s tiny hand. Lucy gripped her sister’s hand with more force than Amanda had ever thought her capable of.
Amanda pulled Lucy’s trembling body closer. Lucy burrowed into Amanda’s chest. Broken murmurs escaped from her lips and desperate tears escaped from her eyes. Amanda squeezed her gently, wanting to absorb her fears and erase her cries. She wanted to carry the weight of both of their sadness.
The shouts seemed to get louder, leaking through the walls, creeping through the crack under the door. Amanda didn’t even know what they were fighting about anymore. Lucy directed her sobs into the soft flannel of her sister’s pajamas.
“Try to think of something else,” Amanda whispered, brightening her voice.
Lucy shivered against her side. “Like what?” Her meek voice escaped from the covers.
Amanda tried to think of something, anything that would distract Lucy. She bit her lip, sifting through family memories. She realized how hard it was to push away the bad to remember the good.
She stroked Lucy’s head, and said the first happy thing she could remember. “How about that time we all went to Grammy’s house and got snowed in for the night? Do you remember that?”
Amanda felt Lucy tremble. “No,” she said.
“You were probably too young to remember,” Amanda said. “Want me to tell you about it?”
Lucy’s small hand stroked Amanda’s palm. “Yes, please,” she whispered.
“Okay. You were three and I was eight. Mommy and Daddy brought us to Grammy’s house the day after Christmas. We opened presents and drank hot chocolate and even built a fort out of Grammy’s couch cushions.” Amanda smiled in the dark, seeing the memory unfold in her mind. “We were supposed to go home after dinner, but it snowed so much that Grammy couldn’t even open her front door! So Mommy said it would be better for us to stay there for the night. Grammy turned the couch into a bed for Mommy and Daddy. She told you and me to sleep in her guest room. But it was big and lonely in there, so we ran out in the middle of the night and got into Mommy and Daddy’s bed. They didn’t mind.” Amanda felt a tear roll down her cheek. “They made room for us and we fell asleep between them.”
Silence filled the room. Tense, muffled conversation persisted downstairs. Amanda tore herself from the memory and kissed Lucy’s head.
“Grammy gave you Smiley that Christmas, remember?”
“Oh yeah,” Lucy’s tiny voice wisped into the air. “Smiley is a good bear. He keeps me safe.”
Amanda chuckled. “Where is Smiley tonight?”
Lucy paused. “I left him in my bed.” Her voice quivered. She squeezed Amanda’s hand tighter.
Amanda leaned down towards Lucy’s ear. “It’s okay. I’ll keep you safe tonight.”
They heard a loud bang, a scream, and then nothing. The silence felt worse than the noise.
Suddenly, Amanda didn’t feel sad anymore. She felt angry. She was angry at them for acting like this. She was angry at them for not being happy anymore. She was angry at them for being selfish and leaving her and Lucy in the dark at night, trying to block out their fights, holding each other under the covers.
“I’m scared,” Lucy whimpered.
Amanda closed her eyes. She could not tell this truth to Lucy’s face. “Me too.”
This story effectively builds suspense by limiting the reader’s view of the conflict between the parents to what the two daughters see and hear. The contrast between the happy memory of a visit to their grandmother’s house and the fight taking place between the parents builds tension to create an emotionally moving narrative.
This was an entry in the 2015/16 Writing & Photo Contest.