Fiction Short Story

Fiction Short Story

Cuttings

It was not until the first ray of sunlight beamed into her face that Beth unkinked herself from the corner of her bedroom. She blinked, rubbing the small of her back where it had been wedged against the plastered wall. Her entire body ached and her head throbbed, making her feel like a decrepit old lady instead of the teenager she was. She gazed at her bed, at the stained linens, crumpled and torn. Sometime during the night, she had wrenched herself from the twisted sheets and crawled into her safe, dark space.

The nightmares had begun again.

She is running through the forest, a burlap bag slung over her shoulder. From within the bag, she hears the screeching of cats, the squawking of geese, and an unrecognizable cacophony of guttural roars. Through the burlap, the cats claw her back and the geese peck her shoulders. And worst of all, hissing in her ears, is her mother’s voice shrieking her name over and over again.

Beth shook her head, forcing the nightmare from her mind. Her feather comforter still draped around her shoulders, she listened to the house waking: the creak of floorboards, and the crackle of warming windows. Eventually the house grew quiet. She padded barefoot to the door and cupped her ear against it. For a few glorious moments, she heard nothing but the hushed rush of the sea invading dead air.

Beth unclenched her fingers from the comforter, letting it fall into a pile at her feet. A few feathers escaped a torn seam, and glided across the dusty pinewood floor. She captured an ash gray plume between her toes, and wondered how many geese had been sacrificed to keep her warm.

On tiptoes, she inched to the bathroom, locking the door behind her. She ran bathwater, then stood in front of the full-length mirror that hung on the back of the door. The sight of her blood-drenched nightgown told her that last night had been more than a nightmare. She pulled the gown over her head, felt the pull of cotton tugging dried blood. Inspecting her nude body, her fingers ran over the splotched canvas of her skin from neck to ankle, lingering on each bruise, tracing each welt and scab, reading the history of her fifteen years in a macabre Braille. Her mother’s voice rang in her ears, intoning filthy, hateful words. Then the screams—her mother’s, her own. Again and again, she ran her hands over her body, staring in the mirror until her reflection was hidden by the rising steam.

She slowly lowered herself into the tub. Her arms were last to enter; tears slid down her cheeks as the hot water invaded each razor cut—a ladder of unsupported rungs—that climbed from wrist to elbow. Soon, the water turned the gauzy crimson of a sailor’s warning dawn.

She lay in the tub, tracking each cut with the tip of a finger, remembering when the cutting had begun.

* * *

It had been late spring when Beth found the kitten prowling amongst the garbage cans. When her mother demanded she banish the tiny animal to the woods, Beth hid her in the gardening shed, and fed her bits of chicken fat and prepared powdered milk. She’d named her Sasha, and for three days, had kept her safe. On the fourth morning, Sasha slipped out of the shed, proudly carrying a mouse clenched between her jaws, and deposited her prize on the kitchen linoleum.

Before Beth could reach the kitten, her mother had stomped across the kitchen. “Filthy creature!”

Sasha hissed, paws flailing.

Her mother bent down, reached for Sasha, then screamed as tiny daggers hit their mark. Three thin red lines appeared on the top of her hand. She jumped back and cursed, then brought her foot back.

“No!” Beth screamed. It did no good.

The toe of her mother’s scuffed brown boot connected with the kitten’s stomach. Sasha yowled in mid-air, yowled again as she slammed against the closed oven door, then fell to the floor, silent. Blood oozed from her ears.

Beth cowered in the corner, whimpering, hands tight against her middle, preparing for the blow she knew was coming.

“Didn’t I tell you to get rid of it? Didn’t I tell you?” Once again, the brown boot rushed through the air, this time catching Beth in the ribs.

Beth bit her lip, tried hard to be silent, but a mewl escaped from between her clenched teeth.

Her mother crouched down before Beth, eyes bright with demented glee. She brushed the hair from Beth’s eyes. “What’s the matter? Is my big girl crying? Is my big girl scared?” A laugh, then a bitter scowl broke her face. She yanked Beth’s hair, pulled her to her feet, then shoved her down next to Sasha’s broken body. Reaching into the pantry, she grabbed a handful of rags and a burlap bag, dropping them in Beth’s lap. Now clean up that mess.”

* * *

Beth opened her eyes, shaking the horrid memories from her mind. She did not know how long she had been soaking in the tub, but the water had turned cold. Her eyes fell on the single razor blade that glinted on the bathtub rim. She picked up the blade, and threw it in the trashcan. She’d never again cut herself. Not anymore.

Beth slipped into a worn pair of jeans, topped with an old sweatshirt and jacket. She smirked as she laced up the scuffed pair of dark brown boots. Slowly she made her way to the gardening shed, autumn leaves crunching beneath her feet.

Two hours later, she left the shed, her mother’s muffled shrieks still resounding in her head. In one hand, Beth carried a shovel, in the other, a burlap bag. There were more bags in the shed, but they would have to wait.

Beth hurried through the forest, oblivious to the brilliant reds and yellows of the trees’ dying leaves. A mile or so, and she would bury her burden—far away from the clover field where Sasha rested in her stone-covered grave. Soon, she thought, soon, she would no longer hear the sound of her mother’s voice. With each step, the voice grew increasingly faint. Beth jostled the bag, imagining the burlap scraping the evil, twisted lips from her mother’s face.

She heard the rumble of thunder in the distance, and smiled as thick raindrops began to fall. Before long, she would be dancing on her mother’s grave, reveling in the cleansing rain.

About the Author
Renee Holland Davidson lives in Southern California with her husband, Mark, and their two mischievous mutts, Josie and Kinsey. Her fiction has appeared in T-Zero, flashquake, Espresso Fiction, and various other online and print publications. Renee’s flash memoir, Nothing At All, was published in Chicken Soup for the Shopper’s Soul.