A note to readers.
I submitted this piece to a writing competition in 2017. I’ve edited the story and changed a few things and hope you enjoy the revised version. This piece may be triggering to some. If you are triggered by any content found within this story, please seek help from a medical professional or contact an appropriate service in your country.
She drew her jacket around her and clutched the coffee cup closer to her chest. She was glad to be sitting down at last, as the shaking in her legs would have made standing for much longer nearly impossible. Her bruises and scars from a few days ago are starting to fade now, but that was on the outside. Her mind was still numb though, and she knew soon that would change. The nightmares would begin, [the pain, the suffering would] opening mental wounds, much like her physical ones, creating a world she thought she’d never have to visit again. The lady in the chair who she knew was her foster mother across from her was asking her name and why she was found holding the glass like that. Should she tell her, or should she remain a mystery and vanish after drinking her coffee?
“My name is Raven. It’s a long story, and I’m sure you don’t want to hear it.” Raven dropped her head, her long black hair sliding around her face in a tangled curtain. Her lips tilted into a nervous smile and her hands twisted uneasily in her lap. Raven took a sip from her cup, rose from her chair, sat cross-legged on the floor and began absentmindedly patting her dog Jet who lay at her feet. The fur under her hands was soft and silky despite the snares and tangles lying within it. Spots of grey mixed with the black of the coat, and two blue eyes that seemed to be full of intelligence and sadness moved slowly around the room of the foster home, taking in every inch of polished, dust free furniture, ornaments and framed photographs.
Her story reminded her of a ball of wool with the beginning and end hidden somewhere in the tangled mass of fibres. All she had to do was find them. But could she? She knew that searching within the fibres could prematurely open wounds she did not yet want to open, but she did it anyway. Searching deep within herself she continued stroking the dog’s fur, her hands shaking slightly.
“Well, it’s just me in this big old house; I have all the time in the world. I’ve no children to look after but you, and I’m sure after the night you’ve had you won’t be rising early tomorrow. Go ahead.” The woman smiled, stood, walked over to girl and hound, scratched the dog behind the ears, placed a soft hand on Raven’s [jacket covered] arm and joined the pair on the floor, her legs crossing at the ankle. “Start from the beginning.” She said with an encouraging smile.
They named me Raven. Some of them said it was because of my hair, others because of a charm on a bracelet that once hung around my tiny wrist. Regardless of the reason why, Raven was placed on my file and Raven is what I have been known as from the night they found me. I was found on the bench seat of a park, wrapped in a blanket and placed in a cardboard box. The only possessions I was found with are the charm bracelet, which I no longer have, and this pendant I wear around my neck as I tell you this story.
I was taken to an orphanage and placed in the care of three ladies who had been running the place for a few years before I arrived. The 19 other children that shared the place along with me adored the two twins in their sixties with grey curls, twinkling blue eyes and a friendly heir about them. However, there was one lady we all feared. She was a strict looking woman in her late forties with her dull brown grey hair wound tightly in a bun at the base of her neck. She had green eyes that seemed to be looking everywhere at once and dressed in a black dress that fell to her knees without any frills, buttons or patterns and had sleeves that brushed her elbows. Her feet were clad in sensible black shoes with a small chunky heel and a large silver buckle.
Those shoes were the food of children’s nightmares throughout the orphanage, as it was rumoured that she would step on your hands with them if you were caught doing something wrong. I do not think this is true though, as the one time I was called into her office she had a thin wooden stick laid across the top of her desk. I assumed that this was used to punish the children, and not her sensible shoes. Fortunately, I remained somewhat unknown to her, as I was well behaved, and well liked among the other children that I lived with. I said my prayers daily, brushed my teeth and kept my hands and face clean. In time, my raven curls became long locks that I brushed three times a day and washed with care. The other kids used to tease me about it, sometimes pulling at my hair and calling me names as they passed. I took their teasing patiently and never reacted as I was taught to by the mistresses of the home.
At the age of five, I was adopted by a young couple who had brought me a pup with fur as black as my own hair. Their names were Mark and Claire Hopkins, but they told me to call them Mama and Daddy. I was bundled into their car and driven to their big home on the outskirts of the city. I had a bedroom of my own, with a pink frilly bed spread, curtains of pink lace and all the toys I could ask for. In the corner there was a rocking chair. The lady I now called Mama would sit in that chair, tell me stories and brush my hair. She had a gentle touch, and I could sit there all day if she didn’t have chores to attend to.
I stayed with them for five beautiful, happy years before tragedy befell the family and my life was changed forever. In those five years, I was encouraged to learn piano, ride horses and play tennis. I was popular at school, liked by all and leader of my girl guides group. Mark and Claire did not have any more children, or bring them home from orphanages, but that never changed how happy I was with the two of them. We three went on camping trips, picnics and holidays. Mark and Claire would attend every concert, tennis match or presentation I had at school, and despite the differences in our appearance I really felt like their little girl.
My pup Jet] grew with me, and we were the best of friends. I decided to call her Jet, as that was the only word, apart from Raven, that could be used to describe her glossy coat. She would be waiting for me when I got home from school, sprawled out on my bed, tail wagging and teeth chomping down on a squeaky bone much to the fake annoyance of my mama and me. She came with us on trips away and sat under the table at our feet when we ate as a family. When Mama and Daddy weren’t looking, I would sneak her scraps of food from off my plate. She had a bed of her own in the corner of my room, but chose to sleep at the foot of mine, or curled against my side with her head on her paws each night instead.
I thought the happiness would last, but sadly I was mistaken. It was a Friday afternoon, and Daddy was taking Mama and I away camping for the weekend. They had signed me out of school early, so we could get to the campsite before dark. We would be driving in two cars, Daddy in his blue ute with the tent and camp stove packed in the trailer, Mama and I in her shiny silver car with Jet, the bedding and food supplies. We had been driving for an hour. Mama and I were singing along to the radio, she was holding my hand across the centre console, and driving with the other. Jet had her head hanging out the window, and her tail was wagging fast enough to make me dizzy just looking at it. We had stopped at a set of traffic lights and were preparing for the light to go green when something hard smacked into the door on Mum’s side of the car. We rolled, the feeling like that of being on a twisting roller coaster. The sound of metal grinding filled my ears, and glass peppered my soft skin. “Mama! Mama!” I screamed. As a loud explosion was heard and flames filled the car. Everything went black.
A month later, I awoke in a hospital bed with tubes and wires creating a road map across my body. Something thick and heavy was pressed around my head, making it impossible for me to sit up or make a move. Tears fell freely down my cheeks, but needles connecting tubes to my hand made it impossible for me to wipe them away. My other arm was wrapped in a cast, and it felt like one of my legs was in the same condition. I flicked my eyes to my left and saw my Daddy sitting in a chair with his eyes closed as if he was either sleeping or praying.
I asked the first question that came to mind.
“Where’s Mama?” I watched as Daddy’s eyes flew open and he came rushing to my bedside. His face was pale and creased with lines that showed his tiredness. His eyes were full of sadness and a tinge of hatred, but still I wanted to reach out and give him a hug. His clothes were wrinkled and stained with what looked like coffee, although that did not bother me in the slightest. Here was my Daddy, safe and sound, alive in one piece and standing by my bedside, his hand holding mine in a vice grip.
“Daddy?” I asked again, my voice cracking at the end of the question. “Your mother has gone to be with God. They couldn’t stop her from going.” He turned from the room, and went in search of a doctor, or nurse to examine me now that I was awake. After being examined, I asked to see Jet and was told she was at home, being looked after by my Aunt Rose. She had survived the crash too, with only a few scratches.
I spent a few more weeks in hospital before going home to my pretty pink bedroom with Daddy. After resting at home for a few more days, it was expected by my father that I return to school. So, I did, but I didn’t smile when the other students said hello, and I didn’t raise my hand in class to answer questions anymore. I missed my Mama and cried for her in my sleep at night as nightmares of the crash haunted me. I missed the way she made my lunch in the morning and sung along to the radio as she drove me to school, much like she had been on that fateful Friday afternoon. I missed the way she would brush my hair and tie my plait with a pink bow. She wouldn’t do that anymore. It made me sad.
It was decided by my Daddy and his sister that a nanny would be hired to take care of me and the house while Daddy was at work. I was nervous about the thought of someone new taking care of me, as I often relived memories of the strict mistress of the orphanage. So, on a bright, sunny Tuesday morning, my Daddy and Aunt Rose conducted interviews to find the perfect nanny. They chose a woman in her forties from Scotland. The woman, who told me to call her Martha had a daughter who was my age. Both had brown hair, green eyes and smiles worthy of being on posters in my Daddy’s dental offices.
The nanny and her daughter took up residence in the guest house in the garden, with the three of us becoming something like friends. I would talk to Martha while she washed and folded the laundry, cooked meals or tidied the house. Her daughter Trina and I would play and do our homework together at the dining table, with her mother watching over us. After dinner we would sit around her feet while she knitted and told us stories of Scotland before she came to work in [‘Australia.
Sometimes she would brush my hair, her soft hands working out the tangles in the hair that now hung half way down my back. One morning she tried to sit in the rocking chair, but I told her to go away, Mama sits there. She chose to sit on my bed instead and began scratching Jet behind the ears. She told me tales of her dog she had as a child, a yellow Labrador she called Maximus, which made me laugh until I smiled, the tears that had sprung to my eyes at the mention of my mother drying as laughter bubbled forth from my lips. Life at school returned to normal, and I became my bright, happy self again. I still missed my Mama though, and probably would for the rest of my life. [At least that’s what I thought.
Over the next eight years, I grew up and out. My once skinny body developed into the figure of a young woman, with curves, and breasts. I was thankful that I had Martha to explain the changes of my body to me, especially the first time the bleeding happened. She took me to the supermarket, showed me what products to buy and once home, showed me how to use them. I started thinking of Martha’s daughter Trina in new and scary ways. I would often catch myself staring at her dreamily and enjoying the tingling sensations that would rock my body from the core.
I didn’t see much of my Daddy, and I was glad of that for when I did, he was drunk, and would hit me until I bled, yell at me for surviving the crash, and taking his wife from him. He would call me the devil child and send me to my room where I would lay on my bed sobbing for hours, until I either had no more tears to cry, or I would fall asleep. The first few times this happened, Martha would come in with tissues, antiseptic creams and Bandaids to clean and cover my cuts and scratches. Trina would creep in behind her, awe and fear in her eyes and her hands shaking to sit on my bed, her hand seeking mine as her mother worked to soothe and patch me up.
Martha eventually stopped doing this though, as my father took to yelling at her, his voice loud and fists clenched. He took to locking her out of the house before he would yell at me, sometimes unaware that Trina lay hidden under the folds of my ruffled pink bedding. The beatings, drunken rambling and sexual curiosity have been a constant in my life since I was twelve, gradually growing more frequent as the years progressed. Daddy, who I began calling Mark worked fewer hours at his dentistry practice and started spending more time in bars drinking. He started smoking cigarettes and has even smoked marijuana a few times. Martha would complete her duties while Trina and I were at school and leave during the afternoons, leaving Trina and I to explore our feelings of curiosity toward each other.
My father soon began hurting Trina too, leaving her shy and withdrawn most of the time. One afternoon I walked into my bathroom to see Trina standing over the white vanity. Her shirt sleeves were raised, and thin red lines marred her pale freckle dotted skin. Seeing my reflection in the mirror she turned and yelled, her booted foot flashing out to kick the door closed in my face. Feeling sad and confused, I retreated to the safety and comfort of my pink room and hurled myself on my bed with my thoughts racing and heart heavy with concern for the one I grew to love. We didn’t talk much over the next few days, when we did it was stilted and awkward. I did not know how long she had been causing herself pain, but I silently vowed to find the answers and make her happy again.
After a particularly bad night where Mark left my lip bleeding and a nasty bruise around my eye, Trina and I began spending more time together again. We switched between sleeping in her bed and mine, making it nearly impossible for the father I once loved but now loathed to find us. Jet grew bad-tempered, snarling and growling at anyone that wasn’t Martha, Trina or me. She would move around the house, tail dropped, ears lifted, and head held ready to move to protect. On a rainy night, while Mark and Martha were out, Mark drinking and Martha on a date, Trina and I took the opportunity of having a free house to watch a movie on the large screen tv out in the lounge.
While we watched the film adaptation of Steven King’s ‘Misery,’ Trina revealed her secrets to me. She told me of what my father had done to her, and how it had made her feel. She told me that she loved me, and that she would protect me as much as she could, while also protecting herself and her mother. As the nurse Annie demanded Paul burn his book, Trina leant in and placed her lips against mine and we kissed. Her mouth tasted of popcorn and candy, and her lips were soft against mine. I lifted my hand, brushed my fingers along her cheek and finally rested it in her hair, my nails combing gently through the long golden-brown locks.
“Well! Look what we have here! My little angel and her devil!” My father stood behind us, his words slurring into an almost unintelligible mumble. Gasping, I broke away from Trina, my heart jolting into an unsteady gallop.
“If you’re the angel, she’s the devil, I guess this makes me God!” He exclaimed gleefully, as he stumbled around the leather sofa.
“God likes what he saw. God wishes you continue!” He slurred again, alcohol-soaked breath blowing into my face and making my throat catch in disgust and my eyes water.
“God,” gasped Trina from behind me. “Yes Sweetie, you got it right!” Mark crooned, stepping closer to the two of us. As small tears began falling down my cheeks, I balled my left hand into a fist, my right hand lifting an empty bottom-heavy glass from the coffee table.
“Come any closer dearest father, I dare you,” I spat through gritted teeth as my hand tightened around the glass. Putting my other hand out behind me I felt for Trina’s hand. The hand she placed in mine was shaking slightly, and a thin sheen of sweat coated it. Squeezing Trina’s hand in reassurance I took a step back from the man I had once considered my father, his alcohol infused breath making my stomach flip uneasily. Trina squeezed back, which I took as a sign that she was ok. Lifting the hand with the glass in it I prepared to swing it forward, my breath slowing in focus as I did. It would be easy. Aim, lift, release. That’s what I thought anyway.
“Raven! Don’t!” Martha shouted from behind us, causing me to drop the glass which shattered on the floor at my feet. Gasping, I dropped Trina’s hand and whirled to face Martha, who stood in the doorway, the light from the hall casting a dim glow on the tense scene spread out across the usually tidy lounge area.
“That’s not a good idea. Come into the kitchen girls.” Martha said, her voice now calm and soothing. Numbly I moved past Mark, reaching out to pull a quietly sobbing Trina behind me. Through tracks of steadily flowing tears I made my way to the kitchen where I dropped tiredly into a chair at the table. I sat numbly as Martha guided a stunned Trina to the chair opposite me and reached for the phone.
The next few hours passed by in a blur. The police and Child Services were called, A temporary foster home was organized for me and statements were taken from all involved as my father was led away in handcuffs. Trina was led away by a distressed looking Martha to the guest house, tears flowing freely down her cheeks. I was sent to pack clothes, treasures and school supplies into a suitcase. Jet’s food bag and bowls for food and water were placed in a large plastic bag near the front door, and the lights and electronics in the house were shut off, leaving the area dim and unwelcoming. I was led to the car by my social worker, a guy in his mid-thirties with a brightly coloured mullet.
Raven stood and stretched, her muscles aching after sitting for so long. She took a seat in the arm chair she had sat in when she first arrived, the towel she’d used to dry her hair was hanging messily over the arm. Brushing her hand along the threads of the towel, she wondered how so much hair could become wet as quickly as hers had. She hadn’t been out in the rain for that long, only long enough to run from the car to the shelter of the porch where she stood shaking, waiting for the front door to be opened.
Glancing at the woman [called Elaine] still sitting on the floor, she dropped her shoulders, her teeth pulling at her bottom lip as her eyes filled with tears for what might as well have been the hundredth time that evening.
“I believe you know the rest, is there a need to say much more?” Her voice was little more than a whisper now, her throat sore from speaking for a long period of time. Raven tugged at her pendant, more of an anxiety reliever than a nervous habit.
The woman [before her] called Elaine sighed as she placed her pen and paper on the small table by her elbow and rose to sit in the chair opposite Raven. Changing her mind, she stood again and commenced pacing around the room, coming to stand before Raven. She leant forward and put her arms around the sobbing girl.
“No. You’ve covered everything. What you’ve done here tonight takes a lot of courage, and I’m proud of you for that. This is your home now, I hope in time you will come to know this,” she said, her own eyes filling with tears for the first time that evening. “You are strong, I know you can get through this. You did what so many others out there like you should do, but don’t often have the courage to. Night or day, I am here to listen, to comfort and to support. You are strong, you are brave, and you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.” A look of sorrow crossed the woman’s eyes as she finished speaking. Giving Raven an encouraging smile, she straightened, glanced at her watch and stooped to scratch Jet behind the ears.
“Now child, it’s late. Perhaps sleep is in order,” the woman said. Nodding, Raven crept off to the room which was to be hers, thoughts of home and the night’s events filling her mind. Something [the lady who had told her to call her Elaine] said stuck in Raven’s mind, replaying like a broken record. She is brave, courageous, strong, and she, Raven Hopkins, had finally found a place to call home.
I know that this has been a long read and I thank you for sticking through until the end. If you like what you’ve read, please do leave a little comment and share Raven’s story with your friends. If you would like to support what I do, Buying me a coffee is one of the ways you can.