Diana-Petra Chircu participates in the “Short prose” section of the International Literary Creation Competition, 4th edition, from Bucharest, Romania. Diana-Petra is 11 years old and she is a student at Theoretical High School “Ion Barbu” Bucharest. We thank her for her participation and wish her success.
I can hear him I can hear him but no one else can. I can hear his ragged breaths as if he’s right next to me, breathing in my ear, as if he’s telling me a secret. I can hear his raspy laughs, him licking his lips, all of it. Yet, they can’t. Andrea can’t hear him. Mom can’t hear him. Dad can’t hear him. But he’s there. I know because I can hear him. He comes into my room at night when I’m asleep and runs his fingers, his rough and calloused fingers, through my hair. But I don’t speak. I don’t move. I don’t blink. I’m scared. What will he do if he knows I know? How will he react? Will he continue or will he flip out? Will he hurt me? I don’t want to know. So I stay quiet. I let him touch me, hear him croak out a laugh, then leave. Mom can’t know. Dad can’t know. Andrea can’t know. Neither of them can. That is how I live life, with this shameful secret. Everyday it eats away at me, but I can’t bring myself to let go. Afterall, if I told them there’s no telling how they’ll react. Would they be disgusted? Scared? Angry? Who knows. I frankly don’t care. I already know they won’t believe me. How could they? A random man has been watching their little Sydney sleep. Impossible. They’d have heard him. Mom is a light sleeper, she’d have heard him. Dad works late into the night, he’d have heard him. Andrea seldom stays up late playing video games, she’d have heard him. But they didn’t so I must be lying. I’m always lying. For example, that one time in year 0 when I broke that vase, that other time in year 4 when I lied about using my mom’s makeup kit. I’ve lied before so naturally I’m lying again. Which is why, now, I put my brown hair into a low ponytail. I am once again greeted by the sight of a tired girl with black bags big enough to put a month's worth of groceries in under her eyes, which are bloodshot. It’s been this way for more than a month, surprisingly or not, I’m not sure. The days started blurring together. I would tell you when, but I don’t remember. I blink, after hearing the sound of a plate smashing. The sound is coming from downstairs Before I can realize anything else I hear my sister shout an apology from downstairs as well. Immediately, I relax. I mean, I could literally list all the things she’s broken, the plates, cups and vases but it would take a day. I slowly take a step into the hallway. In the corner of my vision, I see the closet being tightly shut as usual but I hear a quiet breath and I walk downstairs, quickening my pace. Dad got woken up in a way he hates, so obviously I don’t want to be here to witness his wrath or the man’s. But that’s secondary ( mostly). When I get downstairs, I see Andrea quickly sweeping up shards of a broken plate before throwing them in the garbage of our cream kitchen, the only other things not cream are the handles of the various cupboards and the granite countertops on which I see a cutting board surrounded by some fruits that I recognize as: pomegranate, some oranges, a peach and some small apple slices. Opening the fridge door, I grab the milk, which is a little emptier than last time. Did he..? Don’t think that, Sydney. Don’t. Closing the fridge, I open the cabinet next to it and grab my cereal which is being held in the old box of our kitchen weighing scale. As I open the top cabinet, I hear fruits being cut behind me, Andrea must’ve resumed her breakfast. I also grab a kettle and pour some milk into it, not too much, not too little, just enough. Afterwards, I put it on the stove, turning it on to 68 degrees celsius. Once I do that, I go upstairs and pick out a plain orange shirt and skinny jeans to wear to school and put them on, once I know my bedroom door is locked and closed. I don’t want him looking. Whilst I’m doing that, I hear the theme song of one of Andrea’s favorite shows start playing. She finished breakfast before me. Part of me doesn’t think I should be surprised at that given that she’s always been faster than me. When I’m done, the loud pop music is still creeping its way up the stairs and into my bedroom, blasting my eardrums. Reluctantly, I pass by that closet. A part of me, scared he’s going to reach his hand out, his wrinkly hand, and drag me into the closet covering my mouth, so I can’t scream. Then, keep me there and sneak me out at midnight or hurt me or kill me. I push away the bad thoughts and dart across the closet to downstairs, where I sit on the barstools while my sister is singing along to the insufferable pop song that is that theme song in my family’s living room that looks identical to the kitchen. I don’t care however. I eat fast, so fast in fact that some of the milk gets on the countertop, disrupting the perfect granite. I put a paper towel over it, hoping it covers it enough. As I head to the door, I realize I’ve forgotten my backpack. I want to cry but also laugh. So laugh-cry, I guess? But instead I let out a breathless chuckle. As I head back upstairs, I walk slowly, almost like I expect to remember that I somehow left my bag downstairs. But no, reality isn’t that nice. Instead I walk upstairs and grab my bag. As I head downstairs, I feel something- no someone, touching my arm. I recognize those hands, those rough, calloused, wrinkly hands. He’s touching me. He’s touching me. HE’S TOUCHING ME I ran downstairs like I’ve never run before. Once I’m out the front door, I almost fall to my knees out of relief. I escaped. At least today.