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The Middle of My Childhood Was an End and a Beginning

At 9 years old, I no longer felt like a child.

By Emily LacyPublished 5 months ago 7 min read
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Image by Sam Williams from Pixabay

TW: Mentions of child sexual abuse.

The Man and the Boy

It had been a rough few years for me when we moved into the little house on the hill.

I had survived family violence, my parent's messy divorce, poverty, and my mother's illness. A fresh start was just what I needed.

I'm 9 years old and I think that maybe things will be better now.

Then the man and his son entered our home and our lives.

Mum and the man have a chat over a cuppa. The boy comes to play with us in my sisters' room. He is the same age as my little sister. 

I think the boy is very strange. His skin is pale white and he is fat. He reminds me of Harry Potter's mean cousin from the book I read before bed each night.

I'm sure my siblings also think the boy is strange but we don't say anything. We are supposed to be nice and welcoming to the boy because his dad will be looking after us so Mum can go to work.

We tell the boy we are playing mums and dads. We have a little shop set up in the corner with paper money and pretend food and the house is in my sisters' wardrobe.

The boy says he plays mums and dads a different way. He says he will be the dad and I will be the mum and tells me that we have to climb into bed together. I don't want to, but I'm supposed to be nice and welcoming.

I climb into bed next to the boy and he pulls up the covers.

I don't like the way the boy plays mums and dads, it makes me feel sick.

The Kid Detectives

When Mum is home the man is nice. He smiles and plays with us and makes us breakfast. Before Mum leaves for work she tells us to be good and to do everything the man says. 

The man is different when mum is at work. His smile is gone and he locks us outside. We aren't allowed to go back in until he calls us in for lunch, not even to go to the toilet or get a drink of water.

We tried to tell Mum that the man is sometimes nice and sometimes mean but the man laughs and twists our words before they reach mum's ears.

It's spring so the weather is warm, but playing outside all the time means that I have to come up with a lot of ideas for games. One of the games I make up is called Kid Detectives. I got the idea from my book called "The Famous Five.'

Our first case as Kid Detectives is to prove to Mum that the man is mean when she isn't home.

One morning I make sure to take a little notebook and a pencil with me when we are locked outside. I write down all the clues we have so far.

The man is nice when mum is here and mean when she is at work.

The man is angry if we come inside.

I tell my siblings we will need much better clues if we are going to crack this case. We find some short sticks to be our magnifying glasses and use them to search for clues. None of us is really sure what a clue is.

I tell my siblings that we will know one when we find one.

The boy doesn't want to play Kid Detectives but he helps us anyway because there isn't much else to do outside.

The Mission

A week later the Kid Detectives are on a dangerous mission - searching the man's ute for clues.

I have the torch so I will be the searcher. My little sister will look after the notebook and my brother will be look out. The boy is too scared to join us and baby sister is having a nap.

My brother nods to tell me it's all clear and with a torch in my pocket I unlatch the tray cover of the man's ute and pull it back just enough for me to climb inside. It's dark and smells horrible. There's a crunching sound under my bare knees and hands as I crawl. I imagine the ute tray is filled with crickets or snails or the bones of kids who made the man angry.

I realise the horrible smell is cigarettes. I know what cigarettes smell like because Nanna used to smoke all the time before she had to buy air in special tanks. I grab the torch from my pocket and turn it on. The ute tray is covered in a thin layer of used cigarettes. I've never seen so many. I gag at the smell and cover my mouth but my hand smells like crunched up cigarettes too and I almost vomit.

The man told mum he doesn't smoke. Mum doesn't like smoking because that's what made Nanna sick.

I know a clue when I find one, so I rush out to tell my siblings. My sister carefully adds the clue to the notebook.

The man hides cigarettes in his ute.

Mums and Dads

A couple of days later Mum tells us she has to stay late at work. She says the man is in charge of giving us dinner and putting us to bed. We need to do everything he says and be nice to the boy.

The man gives us dinner early and puts us to bed when the sun is still out and it's hard to fall asleep. I use my torch to read the second Harry Potter book under the covers until it's dark outside and my eyes are tired. Mum still hasn't come home.

I finally feel myself drifting off when my bedroom door opens. I think it's Mum coming to tuck me in, but it's not.

The man climbs into my bed and under the covers. I keep my eyes closed. I try to breathe evenly like I'm sleeping. 

I'm not sure why, but I think the man wants to play 'mums and dads'. He plays it the same way the boy plays it.

I want to say no, but I don't know if I'm allowed. The man gets very angry when we don't listen to him. Mum said we are supposed to do everything the man says and be good.

I keep my eyes squeezed shut and think of the Famous Five and Harry Potter and climbing the big tree in our backyard. I picture climbing the tree until I'm so high that I can ask the sun if kids can be allergic to the sky.

Hurt is Hurt

When Mum is home I sneak out to the backyard in my bare feet. I'm carrying the notebook and the pencil and the magnifying glasses that are really sticks in my jacket pocket.

The cool night air blows my nightgown and makes me shiver. I kneel down at the base of the tree, feeling twigs crunch under my bare knees like the bones of kids who made the man angry. I dig a deep hole with my hands, the cold dirt jamming under my nails. I drop the magnifying glasses that are really just sticks into the hole.

I think of what I told my siblings. How we would know a clue when we find one.

I know this is a clue the same way I know that hungry is hungry and cold is cold. They just are and no one has to tell you or explain it.

I hurt inside and the pain tells me that this is the clue we were looking for. The final clue needed to crack the case.

But how do I explain to Mum that hungry is hungry and cold is cold and hurt is hurt?

In a slice of moon shining through the branches of the big tree I write the last clue in the notebook.

The man played mums and dads in my bed at night.

I close the notebook and drop it on top of the sticks. I push the dirt back into the hole and pat it down until it's smooth.

I imagine the notebook being swallowed up by slithering roots and the tree rotting from the inside with my terrible secret.

The Kid Detectives cracked their first case, but I don't feel triumphant.

I feel defeated.

CONTENT WARNING
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About the Creator

Emily Lacy

Writer. Reader. Wife. Dog Mama. Lesbian. She/Her.

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Comments (1)

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  • L.C. Schäfer5 months ago

    That was a tough read. You're very brave.

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