First Scar

The shouting had begun. How, she could not remember. What was supposed to be a happy family gathering had degenerated into war. There were two armies of one. No more, no less, but the noise generated by the two may well have been from two squadrons. The battle had so far involved only words. It had not resorted to physical violence. Yet.

A girl of five peered from under the dining room table, her blue eyes glistening with unshed tears. It was happening again, but this one seemed much more serious than the rest. Something monumental was going to happen. She was alone under the table, as the rest of the kids had retreated behind closed doors. Why she was here, she did not know. It didn't matter. She was witnessing something that young eyes should never see. She had drawn her knees to her chest, and tightly wrapped her arms around them. Nothing helped the cold that had seeped into her. She watched the scene before her with unblinking eyes.

A man and a woman were verbally sparring. The man was unshaven, dark stubble spreading across his chin and jaw. He roared so loudly that the girl felt the jarring vibrations in her chest. It scared her. The woman was shorter than the man, although not by much. She was plump, with permed black hair. Her face was red, and glimmering tracks marked her cheeks. A ring of six adults, three men and three women, surrounded them in a semicircle, unmoving. They cast furtive glances at each other, but stood like statues. Soothing words had long become ineffective, and the two in the middle were past listening.

They stood across from each other, screaming with unrestrained fury, brown eyes snapping. Everything they flung at each other was vicious, meant to wound. Old grievances were torn from their graves and became artillery. Injustices, both petty and significant, were yanked to the fore. If the rage emanating from each combatant had not been so palpable, some of the accusations would have been laughable.

The light from several lamps lent the room an orange glow. Plumes of cigarette smoke hung in the air, thick and suffocating. The child's attention drifted to the smoke. She found herself thinking of the cartoons that often had purple smoke hovering over a poker table, with a single light bulb in an otherwise dark room. She longed to be watching a comical show right now, anything but the drama that was her life.

Her mind snapped back to the present when a new voice entered the foray. It bordered on hysteria. She looked up, and her throat constricted painfully.

Metal glinted in the man's upraised hand. Rage contorted his features. "So you want to die? Let me help you to hell!" he yelled. He took a step forward, but was prevented from further progress by three men. He glared at them, but a shrill voice cut off any words he had.

"Yes! Kill me, you bastard! Let's see if you have the balls to follow through with your threat!" The woman threw the reckless challenge at him, causing the three men to look at her in shock. In their surprise, their hold on the armed man loosened.

He lunged at her, the heavy butcher knife racing down with deadly intent. The woman stood there, doing nothing. Her chin was thrust at a defiant angle, her eyes smoldering with naked hatred, despite the tears still coursing down her face.

The child buried her face in her arms, eyes squeezed shut. She heard a clattering of metal on tile. When she opened her eyes again, the woman was on her knees, her back towards the girl. The three women huddled close, a protective circle around the fallen woman.

The man spun on his heels and stalked out the door.

The girl's eyes rested on the gleaming knife. It lay lifelessly on the tiled floor of the adjoining kitchen. It seemed blurry, somehow, but there was no trace of red, and she breathed a sigh of relief. She swung her gaze to the women, and noted with surprise that they too, were out of focus. She blinked and rubbed her eyes with the back of a hand. It came away wet. She stared at it, astonished.

She curled into a ball, feeling the scratchy carpet on her skin. The woman had her sisters to comfort her now, and the women would later have their husbands. She had no one. Her cousins were all in a room nearby, but the distance seemed impossibly large, and they would soon disband to their respective homes. Her brother was still an infant, blissfully ignorant of the night's events. Her mother was a weeping mess on the floor. Her father had stormed out, unlikely to be in any condition to offer his daughter comfort.

He would have been powerless to do so, anyway. She had already seen how destructive he was, threatening to kill his own wife. She had seen the rage in his eyes, and knew that he had been deadly serious. Her opinion of her mother, too, had changed. She had been ready to forfeit life, to abandon her children. She would never see her parents in the same light again. They were the fallen.

Alyssa lost something precious that evening.

Her innocence.