The cellar is dark, the door is locked and the naked girl sits shivering, slender, goose-bumpy arms embracing her knees. Mundane thoughts push through the fear that he will return and do what? How did I get here? How long have I been here she wonders; time has lost its relevance in the musty dankness of a crazed man’s lair. What is my name? My name is Amy Franklin she reminds herself in defiance, the words silently evaporating before passing her lips; she doesn’t know if he is listening.
Amy reluctantly opens her eyes. As if in a nightmare she strains to see nothing in the impenetrable blackness; pinpricks of fear assault her and she shuts them again, retreating to the almost place of temporary denial, an imagined space of counterfeit calm. With eyes closed her ears are struggling to see and she uses stiff, cold fingers to move her long hair, the only source of warmth, behind her ears. She hears nothing, not even muffled sounds of something; more indeterminate time passes. The tension of waiting beats at her, cramping pressure building until she is shaking, now so tired she must let go and gingerly relaxes her bruised forehead onto her knees, listening, waiting.
Amy retreats from the stale air of her imprisonment to the fresh air and sunshine of two weeks before. Returning home from school she sees her stepfather’s shiny, black ‘60s Cadillac in the driveway; an ugly monster of a car that, even at 17, she wasn’t allowed to drive. Although tempted to wait until he left, she bravely steps into the volatile atmosphere of marriage breakdowns and hate and wonders if she can make it to her room without being noticed. The universe has ignored her wishes, yet again, and her eyes hug the floor as she walks in-between the two combatants, enduring the burdensome weight of their stares as they watch her pass; his loving and apologetic eyes only inflaming her mother’s accusatory scowl. It’s not my fault she screams futilely inside her own head as she slams the bedroom door.
Scratch, scratch, scratch: Amy spasms to consciousness and opens unhelpful eyes, turning her head from side to side, desperate to see. Earthy fumes plug her nostrils and she knows it is not the door, not this time. An unmistakable but feathery touch creepily caresses her ankle and Amy quickly stands, dizziness propelling her off balance so she lands heavily, grazing hands and knees, scaring the rodent away. There is no illumination from sudden burning tears; she grits her teeth and resolutely blinks them into oblivion. Amy’s head throbs and she reluctantly assumes her previous position, dreading any interlopers, rats and humans alike.
She thinks humming her favourite tune will help, but still fears someone is listening, so the tune revolves quietly, weaving around the stabbing skewers inside her head and caressing her terror to sleep. She is comforted enough to disappear into a few days ago when she lay on her faded pink bedspread, an innocent memento of happier times before her cliché of a father left her mother for a younger woman. He was weak and in avoiding her mother, avoided his heartbroken children, the fully comprehending, forgotten bystanders, helplessly riveted, watching the bloody destruction of a marriage and family; both witnesses and victims.
Sharon, Amy’s prematurely wrinkled, pack-a-day mother, stormed into her room in a haze of noxious smoke and venomous intent. Amy, purposefully antagonistic, ignored the dramatic entry and continued to listen to her iPod, eyes shut and foot tapping the beat on the timber baseboard of her childhood bed. It wasn’t until Sharon ripped the earphones away with a violent sweep of her hand that Amy’s blue eyes opened, forced to acknowledge her situation.
Amy rocks back and forth in the darkness, suspended between two nightmarish lives. She steps from one existence to the other, time no longer a barrier between the past and present, her emotions becoming warped then compressed between a tragic duality she did not deserve. The comfort of a remembered pink bedspread beckons her. With no will to refuse she is again staring into her mother’s paranoid eyes.
“I can forgive him, but you…”, Sharon’s hands clench into hardened, yellow-stained balls, it is her eyes that deliver stabbing blame as she positions her face inches from her daughter’s; Amy can smell the smoke on her breath. “All those times I left you alone, you little slut. He is my husband, mine!” Amy looked up at the mother who had tucked her in every night when she was a child, the mother who had kissed her tears away so many times, but now the love was gone, consumed by bitterness and washed down with alcohol. Amy wondered if her earphones still worked as she watched Sharon depart to her clinking stash under the kitchen sink.
Her mother recedes into a painful echo as the girl in the dark lifts her still aching head to see that nothing has changed. Amy wondered how long she had been down here and if anyone missed her; would they look even if they had? Reality was becoming a concept that applied to others, not her. She could imagine she was a disembodied spirit, absorbed and filled by the blackness, floating in peaceful indifference, liberated from the earthly emotions which crushed her. If she defined herself by the love of her parents she would be nothing. This realisation self-pityingly makes her cry.
Geoff has managed to talk Sharon into letting him move back in. He has hated being away from his step-daughter and wife. Things aren’t quite back to normal, the girls still aren’t talking. When Amy’s not at school she is locked in her room, in self-imposed exile, listening to that noise she calls music. Geoff is a perfectionist, his car a shining example, but his family is not so shiny, tarnished by jealousy and addiction. This situation is not to Geoff’s liking and he vows to fix the problem tonight, but first he’ll down a cold ale, relax and think the problem through. He is a perfectionist, things will be perfect.
Sharon has let Geoff come back. She loves him and can forgive him anything. She hasn’t had a drink for days and while her depression hovers around, teasingly prodding her happy thoughts, she will not let it destroy another relationship, not again. She feels guilty for fighting with Amy I do love her, she is my little girl, however the goodwill does not extend to an apology, not yet. Amy looks like her father, tall and olive skinned, it is hard to look at her and not think of him. Her mind slides backwards through time and adrenalin floods her body as she remembers his betrayal, her freefall into self-loathing for still loving him and stomach churning devastation that he loved another woman. She is spiralling again as her legs transport her to the kitchen sink and her not-so-secret stash. Sharon quietly lifts a bottle to her lips, simultaneously hearing the sound of aluminium crinkling and the hiss as Geoff opens another can of beer. As the intoxicating liquid floods her throat she briefly acknowledges tonight might not be such a good night after all.
Distant sirens pulse through basement walls, the faint whining an unwelcome alarm clock waking Amy from an anaesthetising slumber. The expectation of seeing morning light cheerfully patterning her bedspread is quickly abandoned as the monotonous gloom continues its vigil. Amy hears her famished stomach objecting to its neglect and she is not sure what is worse – the hunger or thirst. Sleep has cleared her headache and she wants to know who brought her here and undressed her, did they do anything else to her – she can’t remember. With almost detached speculation Amy contemplates what would be worse, facing more torment from her captor or dying from thirst. These alarming deliberations have awakened an impulse to survive and for the first time since being here she leaps on the idea of escape.
Exploring carefully on hands and knees she feels her way, palm by palm, to the nearest wall. Cool fingertips skim the rough wall of bricks that are as naked as she. Following the perimeter she reaches the end of the wall within a few metres, turns, follows again, quickly reaches the next corner and continues until she reaches a smooth, slight bump on the wall – a door frame. Faintly trembling hands rise up the frame as she stands and feels for the handle. Could it be as simple as opening the door and walking out, or will he be waiting up there (wherever there is)? She reasons the door is probably locked and holds her breath, trying not to hope for an end to this torment. Amy swallows one last time and between one racing heartbeat and the next, turns the knob.
It’s 10.30 pm and police sergeant Bob Court is sitting in a smoky lounge room facing the distraught mother and stepfather of a missing 17 year old girl. He knows it’s likely she’s run away but they can’t accept it, not yet anyway. Following routine, he orders his officers to search the room in which she was last seen. He remains on a plastic covered lounge, surveying the parents. The mother is a nervous chain smoker, who bites her fingernails between puffs; the step-father has a neat side-part separating both sides of his slickly combed, Brill-cream hair which suits his meticulously clean, white shirt. He rises as the two constables return, one carries a baseball bat. The officers give each other a look and Sergeant Bob Court addresses the mother, “Mind if we take this, it could be evidence.”
Sharon Franklin hugs herself and nods, starting to cry, “That’s her favourite bat, she’s good at sport.” Geoff looks at her and wants to panic but freezes his face in a concerned expression.
“We’ll come back tomorrow, in daylight, and check outside her window. It’s likely if she was abducted they took her out there.” Sharon falls into her husband’s stiff arms and cries, he pats her back in a reluctantly soothing fashion, but his mind is already rushing through what he must do tomorrow.
Geoff hardly sleeps and is dressed at dawn, waiting. The sun’s first beams call Geoff to action and he rushes to the front yard to check out what evidence might have been left behind. He notices faint drag marks leading across the lawn. He rushes inside and grabs the neighbour’s keys; Bruce and Carmen had gone on a five week caravan trip, entrusting the watering of beloved house plants to Geoff and Sharon. As Geoff runs towards their house Sergeant Court arrives in an unmarked car. He turns to his two constables, “You see the mother. I’ll take care of Geoff.” Before exiting the car he speaks into the police radio “This is car twenty eight, I need an ambulance to the Franklin address.” As he jogs towards the neighbouring property he hopes they’re not too late.
Amy turns the handle, grimacing in anticipation as if touching a funnelweb spider. The door doesn’t open. She applies a knuckle whitening grip and tries again. Upstairs Geoff hears the jiggling handle and is drawn to the noise. He steps carefully down the stairs and reaches for the lock, sliding it across and out of its housing. As he turns the handle Sergeant Court appears at the top of the stairs. Both men look at each other, only Geoff shows fear. Court orders, “Go on, open it.” Geoff hesitates in surprise, surprise he hasn’t been arrested or shot, yet. “For God’s sake, open the bloody door.” Concern for the girl’s safety gruffly amplifies the Sergeant’s voice and Geoff, reminded of his task, shoves open the door.
Amy retreated to the far wall after hearing the lock being manipulated. Should she bite, kick, scream, would any of it help? Fear of what was about to happen relegated her nakedness to an afterthought. Her prison yawned open, muted light lifting the darkness away. Amy, squinting, cried when she saw her stepfather standing there. She knew who had beaten her and thrown her like a piece of garbage in a forgotten hole, and it wasn’t him. Geoff removed his shirt placing it gently over his daughter’s head. Sergeant Court calmly watched them embrace, knowing the mother’s fingerprints were on the bat. He reluctantly interrupted their reunion, “Amy, let’s get you to hospital.”
Amy’s eyes protest at the blinding sunshine but her skin devours the warmth. Seeing Sharon, she stops, anger and sadness warring within. A policeman guided Sharon, more than gently, towards the police car. The older woman’s manacled hands twitched for absent cigarettes. Mother and daughter’s eyes met, and as Geoff stood protectively behind Amy, Sharon could only grasp her own truth, not reality. If Sharon could have seen into her husband’s mind she would realise the only love he ever had for Amy was the love of a father for a child. Amy was devastated but she was alive, and what could be better than that?