Allie and Penny

20 minutes – whatever comes up

The rope moved in the wind. The apple tree still naked, branches scratching the sky, held it. She watched empty and uninvited. Allie touched the bubbled window glass with the tips of her fingers. She could feel the cold through the window. She pulled her fingers through the dust on the window sill, ignoring how it collected in the grooves of her skin. Allie looked at the rope again and shivered. Penny called for her from the kitchen. Allie sighed. She made no move to go and see what her sister wanted. She sat on the old wooden chair and leaned against the wall. A few moments later, she heard her sister’s feet pound across the brittle linoleum and hardwood behind her.

“Allie quiet daydreaming. Come and help me take the food to her. I don’t want to go alone.” Penny pouted. Allie rolled her eyes and stared out the window. Penny stamped her foot.

“Allie” she shouted, “Help me” Penny took a menacing step forward. Allie braced herself. Her little sister was a couple of years younger than she was, but Penny was bigger. Penny towered over her older sister and was not afraid to hit her sister. Allie never fought back. If she did, Penny knew that she was stronger and could flatten her sister to the ground without a second thought. She’d done it many times before.

“She will come down for it.” Allie spoke quietly. “We don’t need to take it up to her” Penny snorted and stomped her foot again. Allie turned her head and watched her.

“She told me to bring it to her.” Penny challenged. Allie shook her head.

“Poppa said that she should eat in the kitchen like the rest of us. He said not to take her food. You were right there.” Allie said. She turned back to the window. Penny deflated. She climbed into the chair opposite Allie. Her chubby legs dangled over the edge of the seat and skimmed the floor.

“But the food will be cold by the time she comes down. Why does she want to eat cold food?” Penny asked. Allie looked at her. Tears swelled over her sister’s eye lids like the creek in early spring. Allie felt her heart pinch. Penny didn’t understand why their mother hid in the room on the second floor. Allie knew why. She didn’t know if Penny could understand. No one told her what happened. Penny was still young and was always busy with her dolls. Allie saw her mother leave with the man. She left in the car with him. Poppa was working and didn’t know. Allie had never seen the man before but Momma climbed into the dark blue shiny car and left. He drove away so fast that the gravel stones flew everywhere. One hit Allie in the leg. It stung. Auntie came and looked at the bruise the stone had left and then pulled Allie by the arm back into the farmhouse to have lunch.

They were gone for hours. To Allie, it felt like too long. Something was wrong. She got on to her bike when Auntie was dozing in the summer kitchen and rode down the laneway to the road. The road led to the highway. A couple pulled over in a white truck and asked Allie where she was going. Allie told them. She was honest. She always told the truth. She was going to find her mother. The man took her. The couple asked Allie a lot of questions that she had forgotten.
“Allie, why won’t she come out of the room? She won’t come out. She’s going to be hungry. We have to take her the food.” Penny pleaded. Allie sighed and pushed her hair out of her face. She didn’t want to be the one to tell Penny but she would be. The truth was bitter in the back of her throat. Burning.

“Penny, she has to come out when she is ready. Poppa said she is punishing him for finding her. I heard him talking to her through the keyhole. “ Allie couldn’t look at Penny. She kept talking as she watched out the window. The rope kept swinging in the wind.

“She was trying to runaway. Poppa has given her everything you know. Pretty things. Silver shoes. Jewellery. Dresses. Takes her places. But she ran away. Poppa never yells at her, gives her everything and still she wants to leave. She is hiding until she realizes she needs to be our momma again, Penny. That’s why we can’t bring her up the food. She will come down when she is ready.” Allie was panting, breathless after the words spilled out of her. Penny looked at her with shocked frozen eyes. Allie watched. The truth unfolded itself in Penny’s belly and sent itself through her like little knives. Penny screamed and suddenly struck Allie on the side of the head knocking her down to the floor. Allie did not move on the floor. She lay in a heap and started crying. Penny jumped around her screaming.

“It’s your fault. You had to follow her. You had to try to find her.” She screamed. Penny kicked Allie in the shins as hard as she could. Allie pulled herself into a tight ball to protect her soft belly.

“It’s your fault” Penny screamed over and over. Allie buried her head in her knees, her face mashed between the tear stained polyester and snot. Allie’s throat was on fire. She let out a strangled cry.

“I know.” Allie said. “I know”


20 minutes free fall – whatever comes up

“Millicent” David shouted up the stairs. “We have to go now. I can’t be late to catch this flight”. He straightened his tie and looked at his watched. He sighed. His luggage was piled precariously in the hallway. He double checked his pockets. He had his papers, his passport, his iPod, gum and wallet. David quickly ran through the list in his mind. When he was certain he had not forgotten anything, he yelled again for his sister to come downstairs.

“Millicent. Goddammit get your ass down here, we’ve got to go!” he yelled. He stomped across the hardwood floor and looked in the den. He was just about the shout again when Millicent came down the old winding staircase. She was calm and unhurried.

“finally” David said, heaving a sigh of relief that could have been mistaken for mockery. Millicent said nothing. She walked passed him and opened the front door. David quickly gathered up his bags and headed outside into the street. He piled everything in the backseat of the car. Millicent folded herself into the driver’s seat. She did not look at David when he piled into the seat beside her.

“We have an hour to get there. I have to check in and then go through security. I hope that there isn’t much traffic.” David said. He looked at his watch again.

“I am sure it will be fine” he said. He watched the streetlights go by through the window. It had started to rain. The light bounced through the raindrops on the windshield.

“Put on the wipers. I can’t see.” David said testily. He didn’t wait for Millicent to turn them on. He flicked the lever himself and the wipers leaped into action, clearing the glass of the offending waterdrops.

“Watch it, you’re driving too close to that car. What if he suddenly braked? I’d miss my flight, that’s what” David said. He started to chew on the finger nail of his index finger. The skin around the nail was already raw and torn. Millicent did not say a word. She drove in silence. David become more and more anxious with every block.

“Aren’t you going to say something? I am going to be leaving on a plane in an hour and 45 minutes. I don’t know when i am going to see you again. Are you angry with me?” David craned his head to look at his sister. She didn’t turn to meet his eyes.

“I’m not angry David.” she said quietly. The traffic light turned red. Millicent slowed the car down to a stop. David looked at his watch. He pressed his hands together and then held them in his lap.

“You seem angry.” He said. The light turned green. Millicent moved the car forward with the traffic.

the chair

20 minutes. free fall, whatever comes up

“Are you comfortable?” she asked. She walked around the chair that I was strapped into, checking the restraints and her clipboard alternately. I felt the soft leather and cold stainless steel sensors under my palms.

“No” I said. I wasn’t comfortable. The chair was not the problem. The chair never was. I was anticipating what was coming next. My skin ached already. Dr. Newman’s assistant smiled at me. It wasn’t a real smile. I knew that it wasn’t. Her eyes were blue and dead. She moved the muscles around her mouth – trained automatic response. She looked down at the clipboard again and began reading from the page. I wondered why she never memorized the speech. It was the same one every time.

“Do you understand the purpose of this session?” she stated.

“Yes” I said.

“We are studying the relationship between the individual and pattern recognition and how that relates to pain and/ or discomfort, both psychological and physical” she continued. I nodded. I didn’t want to watch her. She certainly wasn’t watching me. She could barely look away from her script. I stared instead at the blank white screen that was hanging from the ceiling behind her. I have been here before many times. The screen would leap to life in the next five minutes. They weren’t kidding about the pain. Discomfort was a welcome relief when it came during the session. I wondered if they took into account the level of tolerance I was building up with each session. I didn’t mention it. Probably they had already considered that possibility. Probably it was the desired result. I let the girl continue. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. On the other side of the room the monitors and machines were buzzing and chirping at each other in anticipation.

“You have ingested no food, alcohol, drugs or liquids 72 hours prior to this session?” she asked. Her voice was strained. Usually she had a pinched voice but today it was more than usual. I wanted to interrupt her and ask why she was so anxious but I didn’t.

“No.” I said. My stomach roared, as though to reinforce my answer. I missed food.

“The results of this session and any previous sessions are held in complete confidence.” She kept speaking. The obligatory disclaimers about injury and death. I stopped to listen. The words would make no difference in the end. She snapped the top of the clipboard and walked to the door behind me. I stared at the screen. I could hear her talking behind the glass door. Seconds later her tinny voice came over the intercom.

“We’re ready to begin.” She said. I didn’t respond. I felt the first pinpricks of sweat under my scalp. They were ready. One of the machines began to whir and click. I squeezed the arm of the chair when it began.

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