As a child Sophia could remember the pretty dresses and colorful parasols as the glimmering water reflected the intricate shapes and shades of the sunset. Every Sunday people flocked this part of the river to relax or gather friends, be with family, or frolic about to find destiny. This myriad of sights and purpose was one of the things Sophia wanted to transport back to while sitting in this damp, cold basement floor.
The air was stale as she heaved heavily, rags and pail in hand. Many times she'd wish she was somewhere else, at the stables, against the sweat and filth of the horses or even in the arid fields that was just hopeless to plough. Anywhere but here.
It wasn't always this way. Long ago, she never had to do this and this alone. Looking back at all those years wasted, with all this time, ever so sluggish in passing, one recalls in detail mistakes and poor choices, and the wretchedness of a past that even your own mother would not care to see you.
But why wonder, when you knew the answer.
Far from the hustle and bustle of the city, her father built a lovely home with sprawling lawns in the midst of a field that seemed to stretch endlessly into the horizon before meeting a small patch of bushes and trees on all sides. This house had a covered porch out front where a wooden rocker and bench greeted anyone who went past the dahlias and daisies on the tiny pots beside the steps going up the house.
This very spot quickly became Sophia's favourite. She knew instantly that she would spend endless hours reading books on poetry, mystery, romance, fantasy, worlds unknown, worlds she dreamed of one day exploring. And read she did for she loved these imagined realities bundled in a thousand pages at a time. She loved this more than playing or making friends with the neighbours who lived at least several miles from their house. She doesn't even bother with people in school or the advances from boys. The real world did not mean much to her.
Her father told her once that the world belonged to those who read--words of a wise man. He was only twenty four when he acquired his first million after investing a small inheritance in the railway systems being built in the Midwest. He travelled a lot, sometimes not coming home for months. She adored him like a sunflower would open itself to soak up all the sun could give. He never ran out of stories to tell about the Midwest, the railway systems that moved along for miles and miles. Her image of him could be considered almost perfect except for when he and her mother argued a lot. Sometimes screaming their guts out at each other, forgetting a child was nearby trying to block the sound. They never did seem to like each other.
One night, as she was about to sleep, she heard her mother scream. It could have been a shriek of uncertain pain and it was loud enough to be clear, even if her room was at the far end of the house. The sound seemed to have come from the den. Curious and alarmed, she got up and ran to the sound of her mother crying. And then, there it was; a sight she will never forget.
Sophia's mother was drenched in her father's blood. Knife in hand. He was strewn on the floor with his eyes open staring into nothing as if shocked and surprised to meet his end. Her mother knelt by his body, quivering but motionless. Words escaped either one of them.
As if by instinct, the girl quickly removed her mother from the room and made her sit on the front porch, her own favourite spot. Taking the weapon, she raced back to the den. Pacing back and forth for a moment, she thought of how to best make it all be okay. Her mother could go to jail. With no father, and an imprisoned mother, that didn't quite seem logical.
Just then, it all just seemed like a rush of scenes before her. Like an unimaginable energy coming over her, she began to see a whole show of her doing these things.
Her father being wrapped in the carpet where he laid, dragged to the back door, pushed over into an old well that dried out. Everything seemed to have jumped out off the pages of a book on suspense. Her frail teenage hands could barely believe what it was able to do--her mind not believing what her own mother was able to do.
The rest of the night, until the wee hours of the morning, Sophia scrubbed his father's blood off of the floor, the steps, and even off of her mother's shoes. And that's when she noticed it. Her mother had small feet. But she remembered somehow that a set of footprints much bigger than her mother's were on the floor. It could be her father's own footprints all over his spilled blood, she thought. Shrugging it off, she guided her to her own bed, helped her out of her blooded clothes and into a fresh night dress. Her mother always moves gracefully with painstaking care. Like a ballerina walking to one end of the stage.
She could see the breathtaking silhouette of the woman under the sheer dress. She wondered how this angel-like creature could have done such a thing. But deep within she knew silence was what they both needed as the sun slowly crawled up the hills, she lay down and quickly fell asleep. Sophia on the other hand, took a spot on a corner and breathed. The silence was deafening now. Before long, her body submitted to exhaustion and she dozed off.
Sophia woke up to the sound of her mother's voice inviting her to a late breakfast of pancakes, bacon, fruit, and other nice things. Groggily she got up and walked to the nook. Looking around, she wondered if everything that happened was just a dream. But somehow, the absence of her father convinced her consciousness that something terrible did happen the night before. But then again, he could just be on one of his long trips.
No word was spoken about that night. Not that day, not the next, nor the days and months that followed. Her mother has always been withdrawn so she did not find that strange at all. Perhaps she loved her silence as much as she loved staring out the window as if waiting for something...someone.
Her mind raced with all the possible explanations of what really happened last night. Maybe it was logic that she's not panicking, not going crazy about it. Shouldn't she consider moving out of that house and fleeing off elsewhere? But where? She may know much of the world through her books, but she never took it on like normal people do.
Her father being an orphan, with not many friends that they knew of, perhaps made it "easier" for them to move on with life. No one came to look for him, no one asked for him. What was he really like, aside from the father that she knew, for no person to miss?
Months passed and her usually aloof and silent mother started going to town more often than she should. It was usually for supplies around the house, food, and the bizarre but occasional purchase of a dress for herself and for her daughter. At first, it didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary but after a while, she was in town more than she'd spend her time staring blankly at nothing. By then, Sophia, at eighteen, finally decided she was old enough to run after her doubts and suspicions.
One day, she decided she'd finally investigate. As her mother started getting ready to leave, she too, hurriedly dressed and began to walk after her mother. She followed her into a small cafe in one of the desolate parts of town. By foot, it was a long way. Sitting beside her was a man whose back was against the window where she peeked through. Her mother gave this man a light peck on the cheek as he reached for her hand. It was easy to figure out that this was the reason for the regular trips to town. Just then, the man turned his head and looked out the window as if feeling the set of eyes spying on them. Finally getting a look at this man her mother has been crazy about, Sophia was struck with sudden awe when she discovered that the man was strikingly handsome, with a dark wavy hair, and with a build of admirable proportions. You could see from the way he carried himself, that he was educated, well mannered, and perhaps, wealthy.
Resigning to the idea that her mother has found someone new, she quietly left the cafe and walked back to the house. Along the way, she was boggled by the image of that man and her mother. She never quite seemed like the type who would fall so quickly. Nevertheless, she knew deep down, that something will change.
This man eventually became Sophia's stepfather.
He was a lawyer from another state, born into old money. Not much was said about his past. People talked about how his family visited the town a few years ago, and decided to settle there. Some say, their ancestors were originally from the area and they just decided to return. No one knew the real story.
Her mother's new husband was a very attractive man. He was younger than his forty something of a wife. With that head of hair, and a handsomely chiselled jaw, green eyes that seemed to bore into one's soul, it was easy to see how this man was an object of many girls' desires. She was sure, that she wasn't the only one who wondered why he chose to marry a plain widow.
Sophia rarely talked to him. She'd see him at dinner, and sometimes at breakfast when he doesn't have to leave early for work. They'd exchange uneasy glances every now and then but never had the chance to talk beyond of the "Hi.", "Hello." or "Please pass me the salt.". Although she secretly enjoyed studying his mysterious stepfather--how he gingerly pours coffee into his cup that carefully touched his lip in every sip. That beautiful mouth, Sophia thought. Then he'd look at her for a second, often startling the girl, then looking away just as quick.
She wondered if he had any idea of the mysteries hovered over the shadows of this house.
Sophia has grown to be a beautiful lady. She was awkward, like most women in their teens, but she possessed the grace of her mother and the blond locks of her father. She was intelligent, stunning and tall. But she never paid any attention to men or to entertained suitors. Her only idea of romance are those written in books--of dashing knights and brave young men who slayed dragons, sailed across seas, saved princesses in distress. In the real world, she found it hard to fall for men. Men outside those magical pages were brute, rude, and unforgiving. No one seemed to impress her enough, attract her enough, except one.
Sophia didn't know that her stepfather was also strangely drawn to her, he'd watch her move about the house and curl up in a corner with her books. And god, did he love her for her books. He was amazed at how much she loved to read and yet look so beautiful as she gets absorbed into her thoughts, in the fantasies that consumed her stories. From the corner of his eyes, he'd watch her take slow spoonfuls of cereal, and carefully cut her slices of fruit. There was this gentleness in her that made her completely irresistible.
Once, the door to the bathroom was left ajar. He could hear her humming softly as her naked porcelain skin glistened in the morning sun that seeped through the small windows. She was exquisite to behold.
Just then, she stood up and reached for a towel, he saw the slender and delicate curves of her body. It was like studying a beautiful painting that absorbed your mind's folds and knots; deeply drawing you think, understand and more importantly, touch this magnificent being. As she stood there, wrapping her body with those lucky fibers of cotton, not knowing that someone was feeling the heat from his groin rise up his body, something beyond attraction stirred.
One afternoon, Sophia was home deeply absorbed in a book. She didn't even notice the car pull up the gravel path. Her mother was in town and she was alone. The front door opened and she looked up to see him standing by her bedroom door.
She looked. He stared.
There was no time to waste. He walked hurriedly towards her, pushing himself against her body in an urgency he never felt before. For a moment he wanted to hesitate, and maybe hear her scream in protest or feel a kick in his belly, or a slap... but nothing. Instead, he felt her small fingers pull him close as his lips reached into her soft and warm welcoming mouth.
She wasn't surprised, it was as if she expected this to happen. There was not an ounce of guilt from either of them as passions collided and this unspoken attraction was finally consummated. They couldn't count how many times they hungrily ravaged each other. If they didn't need to catch their breath, they would not stop. But they lay down exhausted, staring at the ceiling. Hands intertwined.
Not knowing what to think or do, they cuddled in a warm embrace that felt so familiar but so new. They felt each other's burning bodies, hearts pounding inside their chests. It was joy beyond describing. It was joy that felt so true but so short.
She was standing by the open door.
She saw her grab a lamp and smash it against the wall. She held the broken pieces not minding that they cut her hand through and through. Her stepfather's throat was bleeding profusely. It wasn't stopping. The cut sprayed lines all over the white walls. She could hear her mother crying; laughing. Sophia blacked out.
She could feel a sharp pain on her side. Slowly she touched it. Her hands felt warm. Wet. There were people walking around. Their heavy footsteps woke her up.
A slice of glass was in her hand. How did it get there? That warm feeling was her own blood oozing out of her palm as if the glass was pushed into her hands. She could barely move. She tried to get up and make better sense of what was happening but she couldn't. And she was out again.
Sophia woke up in a prison cell hours later. They said she had killed two people. Shewas a murderer, they said. Each time she wanted to say something her mouth went dry. It was painful to talk.. Silence seemed so easy. Her thoughts and memory were clouded now. She succumbed to how it turned out. Guilt led her to think that she deserved to be where she was. Everything that happened was like that book she read. It all seemed unreal. It's still unreal. Then nothing.
With a groan, she woke up with her father arriving to bring her more books and tell her stories about the railway systems of the Midwest.