Lucinda sat in the grey light spilling through the window. The July heat makes the small hut an oven even as the sun set. She sat on the oiled dirt floor sweating profusely but she wouldn’t drop the mass of yarn she clutched to her chest. Anastasia, Molly’s favourite. Lucinda had sewn the button eyes on countless times and now they stare at her with a curious contempt.
Where is Molly?
What has become of your daughter?
The doll had no lips, just a line of pink thread, yet Lucinda heard the words as if spoken aloud. The condemnation within them brings tears to her eyes.
“She is with her father now.” Lucinda’s voice is thick and her throat works to keep it even. She knows in her heart Robert is dead. She abandoned the foolish notion that he would arrive in the city, somehow unscathed from the wreck. That dream had been left in the frozen depths of winter. Now only a dull ache lived with Lucinda. A cavity had opened within her, one once filled by the love of her whole family. She yielded under the weight of her chronic fatigue, laying down in the dirt and inhaling the road-worn smell of oil and her own tears.
She didn’t know how long she lay staring at the timber beams holding up the roof. Long enough to slip into a doze without fully succumbing to sleep. Long enough for the twilight to dwindle completely. Long enough for her to hear whispers in the wind. The snap of a rotten limb caught beneath a carelessly placed foot.
She heard the soft thuds shortly afterwards. The children throwing eggs silently until one of them build up enough nerve to begin the heckles.
Pelt the witch
Pelt the witch
The final call was sung in chorus by all three boys, emboldened by the leader. Lucinda knew the eggs would bring birds, beatles, and all manner of beasts. She knew cooking in the hot day sun would cause a smell of rot to permeate the house, making her wretch and gag until she either tied a bandit’s mask to her face, or left completely. She knew if she cleaned it up they would come back again. Just as she had cleaned before, they returned, seeming to have a never ending supply of pilfered eggs. Lucinda felt doomed to repeat the same devil’s carousel day and again until her time on earth dwindled like sand in an hour glass. Was she doomed to forever carry the yoke of tragedy?
These thoughts were infiltrated by the sickly sweet sound of the boys’ cruel laughter. It rang in her head like a church bell and seemed to tilt her world ever so slightly. She stumbled over her shoes and, as Lucinda regained herself, she realized she was running out the door in a flurry of screams and hollering from the boys, but also from within her. She felt crazed. Better sense told her the boys would grow bored of this game if she ignored it, but the dead eyes of Anastasia tracked her, imploring her to action, seeming to yearn for the extraction of vengeance in the absence of her master.
You have done nothing. The doll seemed to say and it has lead to the loss of our home. The death of your daughter. How long before your inaction leads to the death of something else?
Lucinda caught up to the lead boy quickly, he had been the only one brave enough to venture close to the cottage. She was on him within steps while his comrades abandoned their post and made for town.
Lucinda caught him by the back of his coat and hauled him into the weed choked dirt. She slapped and scratched, gnashed her teeth and pushed the child when he attempted to rise. The twilight peepers offered their unified cheeps as addition to the sound of her raging torrent.
She heard not his screaming, she ignored his pleas. By the time she registered his tears she already had his throwing hand pinned beneath her boot on the maple stump, the axe she cut cook wood with raised high above her head. Her hands flexed white as if she were trying to strangle the handle. She looked at her soiled home, through the hold in the glass where an errant egg had gone through. She locked eyes with Anastasia, who lay sprawled on the floor gazing at her with damnable impassivity.
Pelt the witch. Pelt the witch. Pelt the witch. The doll goaded.
Lucinda slammed the axe down. Her scream of rage causing a nearby murder of crows to take flight from the bone white limbs of a birch tree.
She didn't remember dropping the axe, nor leaving little Joseph Warden screaming in the dandy lions. She didn’t remember grabbing Anastasia before walking towards town.
Lucinda only remembers the lights. Dozens of them twisting and whirling and crashing into each other. She remembered the horns blaring like a lighthouse warning of danger in the night. Her vision clears long enough to see the hoards of automobiles swerving to miss her. The sound of metal crashing into itself. The same sound of a hull rupturing.
“Unsinkable.” she muttered amongst the chaos. “They told us it was unsinkable.” She looks at Anastasia who dangles from her left hand. “But we know that’s simply untrue. Everything can sink.” She locks eyes with a delivery truck driver through the glass of his windscreen. His eyes search hers in the split seconds before he jerks the wheel and crashes into a fire hydrant, spraying water onto the hot asphalt. Lucinda is unharmed. The lukewarm asphalt sent heat radiating up her arms. The vehicles dodged her as a siren’s screech adds to the chaos.
“Witch.” she breathed to Anastasia
She hears the whistles then. The whistles of the lookouts, blown far too late as ice showered the main deck. Ice on sun chairs, oh how they had laughed at first. Lucinda sees the lookouts rushing across the deck at her, their dark blue uniforms accented by their caps. She’s knocked to the ground then. The dying day’s heat slowly fades as her body lays on the asphalt. The deck hands breathing peppermint and whiskey into her face, pelting her with words that no longer mean anything to Luncinda’s ears. She doesn’t react until one reaches for Anastasia. No one will take her child away from her, Lucinda makes sure they know that. She tastes blood and one man staggers backwards clutching his cheek. The rest of them leave Anastasia alone.
She is carted away then, moving through the darkness of night as she did months ago, they have not given her a life preserver this time. Lucinda waits.
She does not get a bed. No woolen sheets to pull close to her chin warding off nightmares. They place her in a single room. They have given her a donated coat, stark white washed to a soupy grey with her arms pinned to her sides. Leather clasps and catches prevent her from holding Anastasia but they have placed her within sight.
Another man with a clipboard visits her. He speaks paper words that burn to ashes as they leave his mouth. He is in white just like her, but they are not alike. Anastasia whispers that he is not her help, that White Coat and White Star are the same. Lucinda does not engage him, does not give him anything to use against her. She does not care when he describes the Warden boy’s injury. Does not fathom his words like ‘trauma’ and ‘fear’. This young man before her does not know what trauma and fear mean. He has barely learned to shave. He can not speak to her of punishment, confinement, of who the boy’s parents are and what kind of sentence they are pushing for her. None of this matters to Lucinda because she has nothing more to be taken.
But in this she is wrong.
The doctor grows impatient with her silence. He has promised that he will be able to unlock the mysteries of his newest ward. He has told board members that new methods of speech and compassion will win the day with this woman, the one the media has dubbed the Butcher of Oak Patch. Lucinda knows none of this, just as she knows none of his frustration at resorting to old methods in an act of sheer desperation.
They take her heat first. They place a needle in her neck before dragging her and Anastasia to the elevator and descending to the basement. She sees her breath some nights, she fights the shivers. She continues her silence. This is a hell she has become accustomed to. She continues her silent vigil as anger dances with frustration in the doctor’s eyes.
They take her light next. Her cell is in a constant darkness and Lucinda catches herself slipping in and out of a constant doze. Always dreaming of floating in the life boat. Many times she woke with a start because her fingernails have gripped tightly into her own flesh in an expectant grab for the timber of the lifeboat. When the Doctor comes in with his usual questions, those centered on awareness of her actions and remorse of her deeds, Lucinda only turns toward the wall.
They take Anastasia next.
The doctor has been speaking to the police officers who brought The Butcher in. He has heard of her protective grasp on the doll and seen it with his own eyes, the way she hardly takes her eyes off it. The way it must remain within reach.
Another needle, more darkness. When she wakes Anastasia is no longer there. Lucinda writhes against her bondage, her silence broken. Her screams are heard floors above sending the rest of those imprisoned into a spiraling cacophony of lunacy. She makes it to her feet but the needle and her refusal to eat cause the world to swim around her. Her vision blurs and she tumbles into darkness, into the sound of rowing oars gliding through ink black water.
When she awakens the young doctor is in the room with her. Her lights are blazing and the heat brings life into her tired muscles. She has been moved to a sitting position, her back against the cinderblock wall.
A plate of chicken steams in front of the doctor. The familiar smell restores some semblance of humanity to Lucinda, it can be the only reason she finds herself wanting to speak.
“Where is my daughter?” she mutters the words through cracked lips, her voice a crackling whisper in the heat of the cell.
“The doll is safe.” the doctor answers “she is close.” He rises from the single chair he sits in, bringing the plate of food halfway between the both of them.
“I will tell you more. I will tell you everything, we can have conversations all you like. But please eat. Consider this a reward. Same as the heat. Same as the lights. I can make these rewards permanent, and I can take them away. I can take many things away, as you have seen. But if you speak to me, if we share words, I can make the rewards stay.”
“No one will take my daughter from me.” Lucinda states
The young doctor seems to grimace “I am not no one. Eat, please. I will bring the doll back once you have eaten.”
The young doctor leaves. Lucinda feels the ache in her chest where Anastasia would sit. She feels the world swim in and out of focus. Her thoughts are little more than mosquitos buzzing around her head without substance. The smell promises rescue from her scarcity. Reprieve from her desolation. She crawls towards the plate.
Lucinda eats. Then Lucinda waits.
When the young doctor returns he carries a metal box, but on top Anastasia sits. Lucinda feels a flood of relief at the sight of her. The doctor sits down and cranks a handle on the side of the machine. He lifts a mouthpiece on a cord and begins speaking into it. Lucinda cannot be bothered with what he is saying, she is too fixated on the relief that has come from seeing her daughter.
When he has finished speaking, the Doctor brings the box over and places it on the floor between the two of them. He places Anastasia beside it and invites Lucinda to her. She is invigorated by the meal and moves quickly. The young doctor recoils only slightly before settling in and asking how the meal tasted. Lucinda answers while clutching Anastasia to her chest. She shut her eyes, savoring the feeling of holding her daughter in her arms. The doctor continued talking, and from the darkness behind her eyes Lucinda answered his questions.
“Why did you harm Joseph Warden on the night of July 19?” He asked
“Pelt the witch.” Lucinda answered
They continue speaking. The doctor leaves after a few more minutes to ponder her answers.
When she refuses to speak he takes something away. She can withstand everything until they take Anastasia away. Lucinda begins fearing the needle, knowing that its bite means she will not have her daughter when she awakens. She does not trust the doctor. She only speaks to keep her daughter. She speaks because it is her only action, and inaction will lead to death.
The Doctor begins asking about her time on the ship. Then he begins asking about Robert. Lucinda begins to tire of speaking. She once more resorts to silence. The behavior becomes a pattern, the pattern becomes a cycle.
The cycle will continue for decades.
First Lucinda is placed in the dark, then Lucinda waits.