General Fiction, Short Fiction

Fifteenth Year by Jessica Cull

I had been bleeding one year. Was told that made me a woman, but didn’t feel like one. Felt still small, my baby hair still soft. Light wisps on ice cream skin. Like the fluff of a wolf pup before it turns wiry in the winter, shedding its youth as its softness falls away. Maybe that was my bleeding. Maybe my softness was leaving me, replaced by black-red oozing and inside bruising.

He came with ma. New man in both our lives, though didn’t seem so interested in mine. I didn’t like him from first sight. Too bulky, taking up too much room, making our small home seem smaller still. Didn’t like the gold ring twisted round his thumb, punched with the first letter of his last name. Didn’t like the dead look in his eyes.

But ma was happy, told me there was marriage on the cards. Said that could be good for both of us, help us get away. I didn’t understand. Home was home was home. I’d grown in this soil, birthed from the ground I had rolled around in as a littlun. Skin burnt brown like leather under this same sun. Buried my heart in the floorboards and kept whispers in the attic. My childhood kingdom, much a part of me as my bleached white bones.

Though my body was changing. Like pages of a book you know by heart rearranging, it shifted without my know-how. Became something I couldn’t read. Had to learn from scratch. The bleeding and the growing and the sprouting of thick hair in dark places, turning my body into not my body.

He came over every day and he grew with each visit. I squeezed into the corner, taking up so small a space that I was scared of disappearing. But ma was happy, so I let it all be. Pressed my lips together when could not sleep for their noise and closed my eyes when he raised his hand.

Then there was a ring. Not gold, like his, but silver. It tied around my ma’s finger. Was told it was a symbol of marriage, a getting ready for the next big S T E P. Always said like that, like laying out the letters for us to walk over and find the other side. I did not want to go. My home was my home was my home. Did not want to leave my baby bed and patch of sunshine land, still holding the marks of my feet pressed deep into the mud, dirt pushing up between toes like strange flowers. Did not want to leave behind my good life.

But ma went and so I followed, legs growing longer but still hard to keep up. New walls still not big enough to keep him inside. No space for me no more. No crooks to crawl into or naughty steps to weep on. I was never naughty in this new home. Same actions that before got a stingy slap now got nothing at all. Maybe ma knew too much about how it felt. Knew it felt no good at all.

He came to find me troublesome. Whispered to ma when I was still there, telling her poisons about me that neither of us liked. Would make me cry, baby tears and snotty nose to match. Brought me shame, like a fist to the stomach. Didn’t want to be trouble, didn’t like being a bother. Still small inside, but he said I was too big for the home. Took up too much space. Coming from him, could have made me laugh if it weren’t so sad.

Every day, he told of my bothering him. Told my ma she shouldn’t stand me so much, that I was grown and taking all for granted. Like I had to earn my place as ma’s daughter. I cried behind bedroom door, body sliding down the wall, now long limbs all tangled and knotted. I could hear them through paper bricks, arguing in small voices. Then loud noises. A slap, a thud, a silence. Blood to clean on the carpet. Could hear my bone china body cracking. Crying without noise, scared that one huff, one heart-heavy weep would bring the house to the floor. Too big a load for someone so small. Felt my back begin to break.

Ma didn’t cry much. Less than she would be allowed, living with him. Bruises bloomed and skin frayed at the fibres, but she didn’t water her wounds. Whispered into my ear that if we stayed small he would be no bother. Be like a mouse, she said, and hide in the nooks and crannies, pointing to the place where she thought my heart was. Not knowing mine was beating right next to hers.

But ma’s happiness was no more and I had not felt sun in so long. Every day was pain. Pain of being unwanted, pain of being pushed out. Pain of being the one who doesn’t fit, though I am squeezed so small and so tight. There was a thrashing inside me watching ma with this man who did not love. Whipped my skin bare and licked the wounds with lemons. Sometimes love is the reason you leave. Causes the most unfixable cuts of all. Sort of cuts that slip through the skin and sinew and knock like hammers on the bone.

He got what he wanted. Small mouse could hide no longer so chose to run instead. Bleeding but one year and seven months, torn clean from ma’s womb. Invisible umbilical cord cut with the sharp edge of a gold ring. Now, roaming the land alone, I am changed. Baby hair is all but gone, no more downy fur to coat my skin. Now I am ice. Praying to the sun, weeping to the moon. Hoping beyond hoping that I will find my way home, where home is home is home.

Jessica Cull

Image: – An old gold signet style ring on a plain background

18 thoughts on “Fifteenth Year by Jessica Cull”

  1. Jessica

    The voice never wavers, it remains clear yet unique from start to finish. The well presented MC distinguishes this from pieces based on family distress.


  2. Hi Jessica,
    Great tone, expressive and as Leila said, the voice remains constant.
    Hope you have more for us soon.


    1. Hi Gwen,
      Thank you very much! The style was a little risky so I’m happy you enjoyed it – I love experimenting with different linguistic choices in my short stories. I certainly will!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I believe the term is “hauntingly beautiful” or perhaps “beautifully haunting.” Either way, it is incredibly moving and powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Hearing that you found it moving is a huge compliment; I’m glad the emotions I wanted to portray seem to have come across.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lyrical description against a stark reality….symbolized by the gold ring. One wonders what the mother saw in this evil stepfather in the first place, it sounds like he grew in their lives, into a monster, while they both diminished.

    Liked by 1 person

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