I.. well, I don’t play checkers for the game. Holden certainly does, and boy does he play to win. Me? Well, I play for the control. I get to choose where all of the pieces lie, and I can line all of the pretty little kings up on the other side and keep them there. Unmoving. Undying. In my control.
It’s a dreary day outside. “Raining like a bastard,” as Holden always says. We are playing checkers on the porch. Well, Holden is. I’m carefully controlling the perfect disks on the perfect squares of the perfect board. We’ve been here for an hour, chatting, holding hands, and playing when Holden gets this wrinkle in his nose like he’s smelled something bad. I’m about to ask him what is wrong when I hear it.
“JANE! ARE THERE ANY CIGS OUT THERE?”
I stare off into the distance holding in a tear, as Holden whispers, “Aren’t you gonna answer him?”
I struggle to hold back tears.
“JANE! I ASKED IF THERE WERE ANY CIGS OUT THERE!”
“Are you gonna answer?”
Suddenly I’m frozen in a moment, an instant that has replayed tens, hundreds of times in the years since my mother found this man, replaying again, in slow motion. He is standing over me, belt in hand. The sliver of sunlight peeking through the inky black curtains, drawn, sparkles off the silver buckle. My hand is on my shoulder, and it feels wet. I glance down, to see the muted crimson of my blood, on my hand, on my shoulder, on the torn front of my shirt. The worn leather of the whip curls, as his hand comes around, and I hear an unearthly scream, detached, and yet still in my voice. My step-father’s mouth opens.
“For Chrissakes, Jane! Are you ok?”
I’m back on the porch hunched over, tears streaming down my face. Holden is kneeling over me, holding my shoulders, wracked with sobs. A single tear escapes my reddened cheeks and falls, slowly, glistening, shining and hits a square on the board. A red square. A bloodied square.
Holden leads me, well, practically carries me over to the glider, where he sits next to me. He asks again if I am ok, but is only met with an unending flow of tears. I remember all of the movies, the parks, the games, we have played together. I remember looking into his eyes, and feeling a true sense of safety, of control, of home. The hours of holding hands, his broken hand, weak from smashing windows, and my weak hand, broken from years of my step-father. Holden asks once more, but then meets my tears with soft, sweet kisses, on my hands, on my neck, on my cheek. I desperately want his lips on mine, want the soft and careful persistence of his kiss. But he holds back. He can sense my fear. He can sense my pain. And he can sense as I stiffen at the view of my step-father in the window, and the tiny shake of his head.
I am stuck in another moment. My step-father is stands over me once again, now with his hand on my neck, instead of my hand. His clothes have long come off, and I see the drunken fury in his eyes, a rage, insatiable by time. I can feel his rough hand on my throat, stopping the breath from escaping my lungs, keeping down the call for help that will call someone, anyone to my aide. But my real father is long gone. My mother does not care. Holden is nowhere to be found. I am alone. He pushes me back, and as I land on the bed, I feel the soft cushion of fresh sheets upon my bare back.
Holden is holding me once again. He strokes my back in a soothing way, a million miles different from my step-father’s rough grasp. I gasp, suddenly short of breath, and scramble inside to clean up the tears, as well as the blood seeping onto my palms through the cuts my fingernails have left.