Alexander Stafford was a son of a bitch. He recklessly left the proof all over his wife's face. For eight years or so, she had been beaten. When they married, she had no idea she had signed up for this. It didn't matter whether he had been drinking, sleeping or taking a shit. The slightest disruption, sometimes even the smallest sound, would send him into a rage. It started almost immediately after the birth of their daughter. They married because of little Olivia. Apparently, while Karen Stafford found great hope in their newborn child, Alex found every reason for contempt and eventually abuse. He changed the day Olivia was brought home from the hospital. It must of flown over his head that all babies cry, and not always with a reason. When Karen pointed this out, he slapped her hard across the cheek. It left a mark. Slapping turned to punching, punching turned to kicking and they all met somewhere in the middle. He was at his worst when he had been drinking. No matter what happened, no matter how much pain he inflicted, protecting Olivia was Karen's primary concern. She considered herself a human shield, useful in distraction. By her eighth birthday, Olivia seemed relatively unscathed by it all. He had never laid a finger on her, Karen made damn sure of that.
Life was like a prison, not most days, all days. Karen felt trapped, stuck in a cage from which she could not break free. She wasn't allowed to have friends. She wasn't allowed to go outside the house without his permission. She was to do her work, feed the brat and have dinner waiting for him when he got home. Most weekends she cleaned around him, passed out on the floor from the night before. She thanked God that her parents had previously passed on and could not see this. She had not seen her brother Kyle in over five years. She was isolated, brainwashed and brutalized. The time he spent at work was a godsend to her. Alex had insisted on home schooling for Olivia and Karen spent the time between her duties educating the girl. Every evening when he pulled into the driveway, Karen would rush Olivia up the stairs and have her lock her room from the inside. His unpredictability was a force unto itself. Her life had no balance, no stability. From each minute to the other, she never knew. Her daily being was getting from one morning when he left to another. She yearned for a better life, a better existence than all this terror and struggle and insecurity. Regardless, she never felt strong enough to free herself. She believed all the words and was terrified of the repercussions.
She wanted to leave more than anything. His threats were her chains. He would see them both dead before he let them get away. No matter how much time passed, or where she went, he promised that he would find her. She was convinced he meant what he said. For Karen, his greatest threat was that he would take Olivia and disappear or even kill her. She would never hold her again. She would never brush her light blonde hair, not ever. The thought was almost more than she could bear. It crippled her and forced her to remain. There was nothing beyond his grasp. He even controlled all the money. The only time she escaped her prison was on Saturday morning when all three would get groceries at the market a few miles from their home. Every item, every purchase was scrutinized. Olivia walked beside her Mother, holding her hand in silence. The heavy makeup Karen wore, and the scarf around her head, did little to disguise his temperament. She felt ashamed as she followed with her daughter, always at least two steps behind him. He was in control and Karen knew it. In secret, Olivia knew it too. The walls in their home could not protect her from the rampages of her very own monster. She heard every word. She listened at the door of her locked bedroom as he pummelled her Mom over and over again. When he passed out, or headed to some bar to find further means for consumption, Karen would call out for her. With great trepidation, Olivia turned the latch and waited. The water running from the bathroom did not wash away her mother's shame. It did nothing to quell Olivia's growing hate and resentment.
When he wanted, he took her. She had no choice in the matter. He would force her down, anywhere that he cared to, and invade her even further. If she called out, or said no, the beating would turn from rape to a greater brutality. More often than not, she just stayed where she was and let him do his business. It never lasted very long anyway. After the deed, she made sure there would be no other child between the two of them. Ridding herself of any seed he had planted was simply a matter of the right household chemicals and a silent spray. After each cleansing, she would stand in front of the bathroom mirror, categorizing each new bruise, each new stain upon her dignity. Makeup never hid the truth from Olivia. The child knew fully well that her mother was trapped. Olivia knew that she was trapped as well. Every little tear, every silent sob, was simply a smaller part of a bigger nightmare. Day after day it would repeat. Year after year, the bars became stronger and any song that either one wanted to sing fell to silence.
Some birds are not meant to be caged.
For eight years of age, Olivia was nobody's fool. Her father may have never touched her but her mother's abuse was also her abuse. Each violent scene chipped further away at her innocence. She grew up sitting on the floor of her room holding Marmalade, the only dolly she had ever been allowed to play with. With no friends, no schoolmates, Olivia's world revolved around her make believe confidant. Olivia had convinced herself that the porcelain antique understood and would never tell a soul. To the child, this explained the lonely frown painted on her pretty polished face. The doll had been part of Olivia's inheritance when Karen's mother passed away. The money she was left had been squandered long ago. With no pictures allowed in the home as a reminder, with no outside family to confide in, her mother and Marmalade became Olivia's entire existence. The doll's curly yellow hair and orange dress where the only real picture she had known of other people. The dainty shades of pumpkin silk and weave that made her hat and Marmalade's dark black shoes were the only contrast she knew in her life. Everything else always seemed blood stained. For a hundred year old collectible, the replica's condition was near mint. Olivia treated the doll like her mother treated her. She washed it, combed its hair and read it to sleep every night. It was her best friend. It was her only friend, a fellow prisoner in a cage of fear.
When the beast would show his fangs, Olivia hid the toy under her pillow so she would not hear the commotion. When it was over, she pretended Marmalade would cry in her place, silently, causing no provocation. The only source of true delight Olivia knew was the silence. She had been conditioned to recognize no other way. There was no vacation each year. There was no Halloween or Christmas. Life was a constant rebound, then down into it all over again. There was no peace of mind to be found. Even when he left for the day, the chance of an early return would keep both victims off balance. It was during this time that Olivia and her mother found some sense of reprieve.
Together they would study or bake, clean up and then chat like girlfriends do. The light-hearted banter regarding better days gone by always held great appeal for the sweet eight year old. When her mother was sharing, the child saw glimmers of something she herself had never known. Her mother would tell her every day that there was always hope. Someday, she would promise, they would escape from the dungeon and go stay with her Uncle Kyle in
. Someday, New York City would be nothing but a bad dream, long gone. Someday, everything would be okay. Grand Rapids, Michigan
"When is someday, Mommy?" the child would often ask.
It wasn't some unresolved childhood issue that drove Alexander. He hated his life but he liked his power. He figured that the stupid bitch got herself pregnant and trapped him, so he trapped her. In some sick and twisted justification, he gave her what he thought she had given him. His callous nature only added to the torment. He felt little, if anything at all. Some men are small men. He was not a big man by any means. His average stature and less than impressive physique may have been a reason for his over-compensation, but Alex wasn't the kind of guy who took the time to consider such things. He would tell himself that he never had it so good as the little bastard on the second floor. As far as he was concerned, they both got everything they deserved. They had it coming to them after destroying his future. His dead eyes revealed a dead heart and his conscious actions revealed the very monster Olivia feared the most. If men can be truly evil and if demons really exist, then Alexander Stafford was both and so much more. His broken and battered wife was a testament to that.
Once upon a time, she had loved him. She gave herself to him believing that he loved her too. It was clear that he was not capable of love. Despite adjusting to her circumstances, and learning to survive, Karen stored every word, every action, away in her mind like on a flash drive. She was haunted by her error. In the deepest recesses of her mind and spirit, she hated him more than anyone could hate anything. She would fantasize. One morning she would place poison in his coffee. At dinner, she would approach him from behind and smash his fucking head in with the cast iron skillet he had once used to break her arm. While he slept, she would cover him in gasoline and send him straight to hell with one strike of a match. She knew she could never find these realities. There was really no one to look after Olivia if she went to a different prison. Her brother seemed to not care about family and Alex's kin just encouraged his behaviour. There was no way she would ever let any of them near her daughter. No amount of suffering, no form of abuse, could make her sacrifice Olivia for her own freedom. She also was well aware that something had to give and soon. She already saw the way he looked at her baby. She knew all too well her daughter's fate if they failed to escape him. This conflict was like an endless echo, repeating the truth as if from a screaming Mimi.
Madness was served each night at seven on the dot.
Olivia heard laughter just outside the bedroom window. She noticed it immediately as it was foreign to her ears. Carefully, she lifted the dark brown shade and peeked out into the neighbour's side yard. She had never done anything so disobedient before. It had been made clear to her, there would be no outside. There would be no going outside and there would be no looking outside. This prison was dark and dank with dim lighting. Sunshine filled the room and bounced off Marmalade's polished face. Olivia noticed that her dolly almost looked alive in the brightness. The toy sat in the center of the bed, propped up on the pillows where she always took her place. The almost empty room filtered dust and particles that seemed like dancing fairies to the little girl. For just one moment, Olivia experienced magic. She knew she wanted more. Looking back towards the source of her wonder, she spied a young boy, no older than her. He was playing with some animal, throwing a stick then waiting for its return. She was amazed. She had only ever seen a dog in books before. She wanted to see more. As her mother rested from last night's thrashing, Olivia tiptoed down thirty-five stairs as quiet as a mouse. She knew just where the extra set of keys were to let herself out. In the pantry, behind his stash of beer, liberty jingled as she pulled free the lot. Sneaking over to the kitchen door, she used the key labelled K and found liberation. She stopped. She had left Marmalade on her bed and wasn't sure if she should go outside without her. It only took one more bark for her to forget her faithful friend. Olivia rubbed her eyes and greeted the day. Her emancipation was unattended.
Tyler Newman was a small child but he was a delight to behold. Rufus, his sidekick, was an English Cocker Spaniel. She had learned that from her studies. As she
peered around the back corner of the house, the boy saw her and waved hello. Rufus ran over and tried to jump on her. She wrenched back quickly. Olivia didn't know what to make of him but she was thrilled with her adventure. She forgot all about the creature who soon would be home. The devil always shows when you least expect it. The standard blue 2012 Dodge Ram that Alexander drove was all thanks to providence and one very dead mother-in-law. The child didn't need all that money. He was early when he pulled into the driveway and saw Olivia outside her cage. He calmly parked the truck, got out of the vehicle and politely told her to come inside for supper. Olivia was now frozen from fear. Suddenly, Karen sprung open the kitchen door and beckoned the child to come in. Olivia moved like a spitfire just before the crash. The good mother then locked the door when they both got inside. They stood trembling, Olivia pressed against her Mommy's legs and Mommy pushed against the door. Through the kitchen, down the hall, the door opened with little fury. It was locked in the same quiet manner. He stood fuming.
"Come here, you little shit," was all he had to say.
Karen reacted as if she had planned her response a million times. In fact, it was closer to two million and then some. She whispered in Olivia's ear to make a dash for the stairs when the coast became clear. The child would be out of his range if she made it. She pushed Olivia behind her and reached out for the butcher's block on the counter beside the door. Without hesitation, she pulled the largest chef's knife from its place and pointed it in his direction. He rushed down the hallway, fists ready to confront her. Karen readied herself for the coming storm. When Olivia felt her mother tense up, she rushed from behind and yelled at her approaching father. He almost leapt to make contact with the frail and deserving insolent. The child fell hard against the back wall of the kitchen and curled up in a silent ball of shattered safety. Karen screamed and flew towards him in an ultimate act of defiance. She threw her arm in the air and plunged ten inches of stainless steel directly at his face. He grabbed her arm in mid-thrust and the knife fell to the linoleum floor. He kicked it far away from the both of them. Karen saw murder in his eyes. He grabbed her by the throat and started to pummel about her head and face. She dropped to the ground and looked for Olivia.
"Run," she uttered.
Olivia watched as the only man she had ever known, literally punched the shit out of her mother. With every moment of the beating, she waited for the sign. When her mother fell and spoke to her through all that blood and pain, Olivia didn't hesitate for a second. Karen knew what she needed to do and grabbed hold of the monster's leg and then bit clean through to under the skin. What little soul he did have began to flow from the gushing wound. She spit him out but she underestimated his anger. With one forceful motion, he raised his fist and laid Karen straight across the temple. Her broken body knew silence on that red splattered floor. The distraction had been enough. Olivia scampered up the stairs and slammed her door shut tight. He had never been able to break through before. She grabbed Marmalade from her resting spot and shoved her under the pillows just like every other time the beast would roar. Alexander Stafford crossed the last line he had left to cross and headed for the staircase. At the bottom, he unzipped his fly with almost unimaginable intentions. He knew the time had come to quit playing games. It wasn't madness that propelled him up those first few steps. He knew very well what he was about to do. He held his injured leg with one hand and the banister with another and made his way towards the top.
Three steps from the landing found his injured leg tripping. He didn't even notice the porcelain doll laid out across its width. The toy's head crunched and shattered under his weight. Then and there his weight shifted. He tried to grab a better hold on the hand rail but both feet flew out from under him. He tumbled down almost thirty-five stairs. When he finally landed face up at the bottom, you could hear a loud snap like a twig in the wind. Alexander may have never really ever used his head, but fate and a little girl's keepsake had. His neck broke in all the best places and his legs flipped over him, cementing themselves like some damaged contortionist. His feet rested ever so slightly at each side of his face. The old oak door creaked open, ever so carefully. Olivia peered into the hallway and wondered to herself if the silence was real. She ran back to the bed and got her dolly. With Marmalade in one hand and the doorknob in the other, she listened for any sound at all. Inch by inch, she made her way to the top of the stairs. There was no indication of anything that might tell the tale. There were no signs of struggle and nothing on the stairs. As she clutched to Marmalade, all that Olivia could see was the lifeless body of a monster, limp and quite lovely, laying in a pool of dead.
"Fucker!" was all she had to say.
Olivia stood with her mother taking one last look at the prison. The 'sold' sash across the 'for sale' sign was freedom and cold hard cash. The monster's truck was sold the week before. At her feet rested Marmalade, prim and proper just the way she had always been. Olivia picked up her dolly, squeezed her tight and walked to the waiting car with her mother. Trevor and Rufus bid them both goodbye. Karen's brother Kyle closed the door behind them. There was silence in the black Lexus until the engine turned over and all three drove away. No one turned around to watch as the horror faded. No one except Marmalade. The toy was held over Olivia's shoulder and seemed to peer out the rear window. A smile was now painted on her face. As the car rounded the bend at the end of the street, a small crack appeared in the doll's forehead.