Hollow Death in the Lying Cold Coal

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A not-so-happy story of one of my earliest memories. Names changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

Submitted: August 04, 2015

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Submitted: August 04, 2015



The year was 1983, a harsh winter in Ohio. In the yard at the home of Carl’s mother.  Carl was my mom’s boyfriend- the latest in a long line of alcoholics and druggies. 


I have no idea how cold it was.  Kids never know how cold it is.  They only know that it's very cold.  It was very cold.  My brother and I were in the yard loading coal into the back of Carl's pick-up truck from the pile where it had been delivered.  Coal has a smell to it.  Not burning coal- that has a smell too, but the smell of cold coal is somehow chilling.  Like a threat, or maybe a promise.... or perhaps a lie.  Coal- cold coal- smells like a lie.  And there I was, "bundled" in a hooded jacket and one of those puffy vests that isn't down but looks like it would be.  I had gloves on but somewhere along the way my hands had frozen anyway.  The snot frozen around my red nose smelled of the lie of cold coal, and my fingers lied about the cold, their numbness failing to tell me they stopped working.  I didn't feel it then because kids don't think these things, but I was lost between abandonment and slavery.


Anyway like I said it was cold.  It was very cold.  Too cold for Carl to watch us from outside near the coal pile- or even from the cab of his truck.  He was inside drinking something hot.  I could see it steaming even inside where it was nice and warm.  I remember thinking it was hot chocolate but as an adult I realize it was more likely coffee.  I was not an adult then, though, and I thought it was hot chocolate.  I wanted a drink- wanted to feel something warm.  I remember how Carl turned his back to me when he saw I was looking at his warm drink.  He laughed about something and continued talking to whoever was inside.  I kept picking up coal pieces and tossing them into his truck.  I was a short kid so I could not see the bed of the truck- I looked up at the tailgate and the sides and had to sort of lob the coal pieces over.  My brother was taller, and I knew he would tell me when it was full enough that we could stop.  Carl didn't want it full enough that any would fall out when he drove us home. 


I was not a very strong child, and I was very, very cold.  My hands were numb and my arms were following.  My coal chunks going over the side into the truck got less and less clearance as my strength waned.  I paused a moment to brush the snot off of my face, and my gaze wandered back to the house.  I think I saw my mother inside, but then I caught Carl's stare.  He knew I had stopped and he knew the truck was not full.  Terror ran down my spine.  I turned to grab the biggest coal block at hand to show how hard I was working and assure him that I had only paused- not actually stopped.  I lobbed the block of cold coal as high as I could.  I could smell its lie as it left my frozen fingers to betray me.  My arms were weary and my aim poor, and the deceitful block did not make it over the truck's tailgate.  Though it happened in an instant I can still see the rusty red truck's left rear, the chipped chrome outline of the signal light housing, and the red plastic cover of the brake light.  I can see the large black block of cold lies smash into that red, frozen plastic.  I can see the plastic shattering into a handful of rough shards to fall away as the coal falls to the ground at my feet.  I see the busted bulb inside the housing.  And I see Carl's face.  The look on his face, redder than the tail light, and full of more lies than all the cold coal on Earth.  I saw his face and I knew the answer.  I turned, so very slowly, no matter how much I willed myself to be fast, and I placed one foot before me at a time, trying so hard to run.  I don't know how far I got.  I couldn't see.  I think tears were streaming in my eyes.  The shove from behind sent me to the ground hard.  I didn't feel my hands catch me.  I don't know if they did.  I rolled onto my back to look up and all I saw and all I heard and all I knew was Carl.  He was on me and his face was red and his eyes were wild and he shouted something but I don't know the words.  Somewhere inside me a voice was screaming "Mommy! Mommy!" but it never connected with my lips- or if it did I never heard it get out.  The first punch to my face I saw coming and I think I remember feeling it.  I don't know if I tried to protect myself with my hands or not.  I don't know how many it took before I stopped seeing or feeling anything.  I try to think back and remember if my brother was still there, if I got up, or if I ever said anything.  I try so hard to remember more of how it actually happened but I can't get there. 


Whenever I came to,  I was laying face down in the snow.  I don't remember feeling anything at all then.  I remember a taste.  Iron and salt.  And lies.  The cold lies of cold coal.  My nose was wrong.  I know now it was broken again but at the time I only knew it was wrong.  Maybe I could see it or it just smelled wrong.  The lies were in my nose.  And the salt and iron.  I don't know if I got up.  I don't know if I even moved.  I remember the taste and the sound of breathing and I was terrified that whatever had happened to me was not over.  I know I prayed to die.  I lose the memory after that.  I don't know how I got home.  I don't know who straightened my nose out.  I don't know who bandaged my face or put me in my bed.  I remember waking up to incredible pain.  More in my hands than anything else.  My fingers were on fire.  My face felt too big.  I know now it must have been swollen up, but all I knew then is that it felt huge and I could feel something pulling at my skin- either the bandages or the cuts they covered I'm not sure which.  I knew I was not dead.  And I was sorry. 


This is one of the most painful memories of my life.  I stopped hoping this day.  I stopped caring and I stopped loving.  This day carved out a hole where my soul was and filled it with hate and fear and pain and the cold of coal lies and the taste of iron and salt.  I cannot think of it now without crying and wishing for death all over again.  I can't think of it without wanting to disappear.  And I cannot stop myself from thinking of it. 


But the bloody beating I took is not the worst of it.  Carl did a great deal of damage, to be sure, but it was not those work-glove clad hands or the black coal that murdered me.  Sometime after I was awake and knew where I was, my mother was in the hallway outside my room.  She was smoking something that smelled like sweet wet fresh-cut grass.  I was in pain and it hurt to talk at all and the smell wafted into my nose and mixed with the smell of burning coal and the taste of cold coal and the nightmare came to me.  I called out "Mommy.  Mommy, Carl hit me."


As her back turned she said "ask me if I care".  I died inside.  Every time I see my mother, who has never spoken of this day and whom I have never asked about it again, I can only think of one thing.  I may have been better off dead in his hands than hollow in hers.

© Copyright 2018 Makwiesel. All rights reserved.

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