By Evalyn Siggelko
The University of Kentucky
…She sat alone on the cold wooden staircase, peering below at her father. He was rocking steadily back and forth in a worn recliner. He wasn’t much different than the recliner itself—battered, aged, and relentless. The dated red fabric covering the chair hung loosely, close to the floor and was frequently knocked by passersby’s. The staples must have been ripped out in the back during one of the family tiffs. Alice wasn’t sure; she rarely went past the bottom stair. The arms were blistered with a constellation of deep cigarette burns and heavy with bodily impressions. It sat at a permanent slant only more exaggerated when the hefty grump fell into it. He sat upon it as if it were his thrown, and ruled as if it were his kingdom. Of course, absent the grace one would normally attach to this scene.
Alice could see smoke slowly starting to rise from one of the arms now: he must have fallen unconscious again. Alice could never be sure though. It was never safe. The freshly opened bottle of whiskey, mostly empty, dangled from his immobile hand just above the floor. Her mother must have felt generous tonight supplying such a large bottle.
“Perhaps it was an anniversary of some sort,” Alice thought.
But no matter the size, he still managed to gulp down most of the dark liquid. Alice’s mother was nowhere to be seen. This wasn’t unusual. She often worked late shifts at her second job to support the filthy habit. Alice didn’t understand why. But it wasn’t her age that hid her from the truth, it was her older sister. Her sister constantly dreamt up a twisted reality through which to attain some comfortable life for herself and her little sister, like a blanket of protection. The reality came to life through stories of wonder and promise, but usually was decimated by the grimacing howl of her father. Her sister, scared too, must have been hidden somewhere else in the house. Alice would have to make the journey alone.
Alice systematically placed her left foot onto the next stair below. She had learned to cut out the bottom toe portion of her socks to give her more grip in her dissent. Alice lifted her bottom up, using both hands to hold her steady. So far so good. She carefully made her way down three more steps until she was abruptly stopped by a carefully moving shadow. Fearful of the shadow’s inception, Alice’s body became frozen upon the steps. Her breathing came to an abrupt halt. Her lips were tightly pursed. Her still, blue eyes widened. The familiar jingle of her cat’s collar suddenly became distinct, and Alice was able to exhale with a sense of relaxation and ease.
The cat’s similar constant worry was apparent itself: the left side of his body was entirely nude from vigorous plucking and over-bathing. The orange in his eyes grew smaller as he stared at Alice from below. It was as if she was looking into the depths of his soul—almost completely black. He had his right paw lifted up off the ground. He had had severe nerve damage in that paw, Alice just didn’t know how or when it occurred. She wanted to assume it was from surgery to remove his front claws, but Alice knew it was probably from a different, unwanted scenario. The cat was skittish. He always wore a full tail and embarked on a sprint at the slightest sudden movement.
The cat ran suddenly up to the second floor.
“Strange…” Alice thought.
At that moment the realization that something must have frightened the cat hit her. The panic ensued once again. Her small, delicate hands gripped the edge of the stairs tightly. She was shaking and her fingers were losing grip from furious perspiration. Alice felt a splinter being lodged into her right thumb, but knew she couldn’t cry out in any pain. She would have to wait, wonder.
The bottle of whiskey clanked on the dusty wooden floor below, rolled slowly across the room, and came to a stop at the edge of the stone fireplace. Her father threw down the foot recliner at the sudden recognition of the smoke smoldering the fabric of the chair.
“The smoke must have gotten in his nose in one of his bear-like snorts,” Alice assumed.
He jumped to his feet violently in panic. After flagrantly beating a torn pillow upon the burning section to distinguish the fire, Alice’s father rose to an erect position and scratched his almost completely bald head. The flickering fan, turned on high, shook above; the metal chain annoyingly clanked on ever blade as it passed. The small amount of hair he did have stood in the constant waft of air as if a little devilish horn. At least that’s what Alice always imagined it to be. He was dirty. His disproportionate gut hung below his thin white undershirt painted with stains. He looked around curiously and then rubbed both hands against his cut-off shorts to clean whatever crumbs resided on his glove-like weapons.
Alice knew what was about to happen. Her father was going to tear through the house slurring smutty declarations of aggressive behavior and endless threats. If he found her sitting on the stairs disobeying his orders in his dismal kingdom, she would be done for.
Alice flew backwards up the stairs, not realizing the noises that she would send echoing down the staircase and into the kitchen where her father now stood looking for another bottle of Jack. Now enticed by unknown company, her father ejected himself out of the kitchen and into a mad dash upwards beyond the first flight of stairs and into the dark hallway.
He slowed his pace.
He progressed down the hallway, one step at a time, clinching his yellow-stained teeth together in a crooked smile. An unwavering laugh flowed down the hallway, his excitement only too noticeable. Alice sat quivering in her drab room. She found a small space under her white-brushed dresser to duck under in the hopes of remaining unseen. Grasping to the back leg of the furniture, Alice patiently waited for what she already knew was inevitable.
Her father had to know she was the one on the stairs. Her sister was much more inclined to follow the rules. She was, in a way, less capable of dealing with the pain. Her days of crying helplessly to her father were gone. She had given up trying to escape the solitude of her room, unlike Alice.
Alice’s father was now in front of the door. She could see his bare feet in front of the crack of space between the door and the floor, the bottom of which was torn up from daily slamming. Alice hoped he would run his foot into it and cut himself. She could hear his heavy foul laughter and smell his pungent and unforgettable odor.
The silver doorknob turned slowly counterclockwise, and the door creaked ever-so-slightly in its opening. Her father shuffled into the room. He staggered slowly against the wall, too incoherent to switch on a light. He dangled his arm out in front of him with little control to guide him throughout the room. He slammed into a lamp, which at first he thought his daughter, and growled at it with a distinct low pitch.
Alice curled her head into her lap, holding her legs tightly together with both arms.
Her father continued around the room. He felt the soft fur of a plush bear upon his leg as he neared Alice’s closet. In the moment he must have thought that it was Alice as well, for he immediately ripped its head off in a jerking motion releasing stuffing into the room all at once. The cloud of stuffing turned to almost an opaque cloud as it engulfed the area around him. The large particles began sticking to his sweaty body one at a time. His frustration grew.
Alice closed her eyes desperately wanting to dream of the reality her sister imagined. She was looking for her escape…
Filed under: Short Stories, Summer 2011, Alice, Evalyn Siggelko, exerpt, University of Kentucky