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[I wrote this in June. I meant to edit it to be more coherent before posting it, but that's not going to happen, so I'm posting it as-is.]



I was six, or maybe seven; it was after the library opened, but before I was reading chapter books. I'd checked out a book by Richard Scarry; he drew a world where the town was populated by animals doing people-things: perhaps the postman was a dog dressed in a postman's pants and shirt, the nurse was a cat with a smock and white cap. They had a playset at the library, all the characters and roads and buildings of the town, and I loved them with the greed and longing and desire of a six-year-old, almost as much as I loved books. And this book was enormous; not thick, but maybe 12 by 15 inches, and when you are six, bigger is better, bigger is grown-up.

I sat on my mother's lap while she read it to me. I was old enough to read, had been for years, but I wanted her voice behind my ear, her hand turning the pages; I wanted her there to see things I pointed out in the pictures that I hadn't noticed the first dozen times, so I could share that magic of discovery and feel it again. We sat on "her" side of the couch, under the lamp. My father, as always, sat on the other side of the couch. Often he watched TV as we read, and I was used to tuning out the noise and hearing only my mother. Tonight the TV was probably on, but I couldn't hear it, because my father was drunk, and he was yelling.

He was mainly yelling at my mother. He usually directed everything at her, because when he was drunk, I was invisible. He might threaten to burn down the house "with all of you in it," but he wasn't talking to me; I was just eavesdropping. The words weren't meant for me, because I wasn't there, and if I'd said something, or made a noise — even whimpering — I instinctively knew he would be surprised to see me there and also angry that I was listening in on something not intended for me. So I sat on my mother's lap, not moving, not being seen by him, while she read to me as if his screaming was the everynight drone of the TV. He did not know I was there. She did not know I was there, either; she read the book to my body, as if my mind inside were the same as every other night. She read as if I could hear her, as if I didn't hear my father, or smell his fermented breath, or comprehend his words. She read as she would have if I were looking at the pictures, discovering new things, pointing out those discoveries. The lack of my presence was not important. I knew this. The important thing — the only important thing — was that the stageplay go on, that my body stay in her lap until the back cover closed, without acknowledging the audience of one (my father), even as he climbed on stage and stood screaming at us. Because…

I was too young to know sci-fi, or fantasy, to know of parallel universes or overlapping worlds or ghosts that inhabit the same room as the living without ever being seen — and more importantly, without being able to touch the living. But he was a ghost screaming at my mother, apparently unheard. And I knew that was the magic spell. I was sure that, as long as he didn't think she heard him, he couldn't act. I don't think I knew for sure if she couldn't actually hear him or was just pretending, but I didn't think about it because it didn't matter; what matter was that he -thought- she didn't hear him. As long as he thought she didn't hear him, he couldn't act, couldn't do the things he was threatening. And I needed — from my own, third, universe that was not the same as either of theirs — to both not distract her from her not-awareness, and to not let him see -me- be aware of him. So I was still. My body didn't move, and my mind didn't move, not until the book was closed and my body could exit the stage. I don't remember that part, the closing of the book and my leaving. But I must have done it, and done it well, because he did not burn down the house that night or shoot us in our beds.

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Violet Wilson

October 2016

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