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ONE | TIME | JORDAN

The room swims in pitch black. The walls stretch infinitely far away. The clock stares at her like an evil eye, like the tong of a pitchfork. She hates Time. She hates her Father. She hates this dining room with its invisible, undeniable torture.

 

“You. Will sit here,” her dad spits into the air between them and she sees tiny daggers zig-zag their way from his heart straight into her own, “until you tell me what time it is on this clock.”

 

His eyes are stones. His mouth is a thin edge that loves to cut things. His towering body is a giant striding through fields of tiny, inconsequential people.

 

She looks at her mom who has become invisible, shrunk to the size of an atom. Who shivers with fear. Who will not protect her. Not ever.

 

“WHAT TIME IS IT?” Her little girl body jolts and her eyes water with tears. She is very, very tired. She knows it is far past her bedtime. She looks to where her Mom used to be before she went invisible and hopes she will swoop in the way moms are supposed to and scoop her up, shoot a very necessary arrow of anger at her husband who is being more like an ice storm than a human being and take her daughter up to bed.

 

But that would unleash a maelstrom into the house and they would find dangerous shards of anger in their beds, all over the kitchen table, littering the floors, and this would be much worse, so the little girl agrees to be good and take the brunt of it.

 

But her tired, little body cannot hold up long enough and she bursts into tears.

 

“Oh good grief.” (Her father is very religious, so he does not swear or use the Lord’s name in vain.) “Oh good grief,” he repeats. His little girl is being so ridiculous.

 

“The big hand is where? The little hand is where? You are smarter than this. You are very smart. We’ve been here for hours and you are NOT LEAVING until you tell me the time.”

 

Even though he’s shrouded in deep darkness somewhere in front of her, she can hear him waiting for her answer. She can see him rocking back and forth, back and forth on his heels, thumbs hooked onto his black, leather belt, which, miraculously — truly it is a pure and perfect and blessed miracle — he hasn’t unfurled fwip fwip fwip and then folded in half and then slapped across her bottom over and over, for this is just the kind of infraction, the kind of disobedience, that usually merits it.

 

She better think of an answer quick.

 

She shifts slightly, trying to get comfortable in the darkness where she senses something is about to go very wrong with her heart.

 

“Um….” she trembles, hoping this will strike the delicate balance her tiny tuning fork of a body is always striving to strike with her terribly and arbitrarily angry Father: that it will buy her some time by showing him she is taking this seriously, she is taking him seriously and is in no way mocking him, and also that he won’t catch on to her stalling and become even angrier and then explode all the invisible bombs planted throughout the minefield that is their home.

 

The edge of the heavy, brown table cuts into the back of her knees and suddenly she feels as if,—though she can’t quite reach the understanding with her mind—this very scene is playing itself out somewhere alongside or perhaps just slightly before everything happens to her, though how that could be she can’t imagine. But whatever it is, it’s as if she’s met each moment before she experiences it.

 

It is quite late, she thinks, though it doesn’t seem like something a terrified little girl of six would think.

 

“Ed?” her mom whispers from her invisibility and her fear. “It is quite late…and they are Roman numerals…and she is only six….”—

 

“What do you know?” Jordan’s dad spits, and she can see tiny daggers of rage headed straight for her mother’s heart also. This makes her even sadder. And then it makes her angry. Do not contradict me, she whispers under her breath.

 

“What did you say?” Her father growls at her and then turns to her mother. “DO NOT contradict me. You know better.”

 

There is a flame that is beginning to burn her heart. It is her own flame. It is a flame of strange and impossible knowing. A flame that feels like a blade of truth and she knows it will slice open her life and many hearts if she wields it. It is a blade that is always on fire, and it will be both her savior and her destroyer. It will be her blessing and her curse and it will rain down onto her golden head drops of pure, red blood exactly like the ones she sees every Sunday on the stained-glass window behind her Dad when he preaches. When he raises up the body and the blood of Jesus.

 

Exactly like that blood. Just like it.

 

She knows this all in an instant, just as she knows what is coming next.

 

This is how she knows about the slap.

 

Her father’s huge, meaty hand meets her skin and tears spring to her eyes and obediently roll down one red and one white cheek.

 

“How DARE you!” she yells, except they aren’t her words and she claps her hands to her mouth and shakes her head furiously to show her father she didn’t mean it and to ward off another slap and then catches sight of her mother who has crawled out from the nothing, mouth open, looking at her daughter with a strange fear.

 

“Did you just talk BACK to me?”

 

“Ed. Please Ed.”

 

She finds that if she turns her eyes to stone, she forgets what comes next, which feels much more cowardly and much scarier but also safer even though she gets hurt more often. It is more unsafe to be such a strange seer than it is to get hit once in a while.

 

This is how the children forget they are God. She hears a kind, ageless voice inside her and also all around her closer than the air and somehow everywhere all at once.

 

“She can’t be allowed to talk back like that.”

 

“Edplease.”

 

Her tears are starting to sting or her skin is or they both are meeting each other in a strange and tender sorrow. She needs to get down off the table. Her legs are going numb and she feels faint and a bit sick and it’s one of those moments she will have many times where everything makes a terrible kind of nonsense.

 

“Please, Ed. Let me take her to bed.”

 

And just before she topples from the table someone sweeps her up.

 

The floor boards creak and her mother cries silently and lifts her higher and higher around the spiral staircase and with each step she is risen into an awful truth and so for protection her body gradually disappears and in its place shines a single, steel blade.

 

For years after, she will become nothing but a curl and a whisper carried away like this into the night.