And a short story on Laptoplitmag.com, but the website shut down. Here is that story:
Etzella felt little droplets of snow hit her cinnamon red cheeks before melting down her face like tears. The young girl shivered underneath her rough, red coat that swallowed her in a hooded embrace. She had a mismatched red sock hat with a grey pompom ball at its end covering her scalp and ears under her hood, with blue, holey mittens to help form snow balls and walls of the snow fort she was assembling. Etzella’s little hands tried to pull up her grey, furry boots, but they were too big and, like large wooly socks, kept falling back down around her ankles. As she made the finishing touches, smoothing out the edges of her miniature snow tower, a screech was heard from inside the house 20 feet in front of her. It brought her out of her glistening surroundings and back to reality, reminding her that she had neglected her daily chores at her father and stepmother’s dungeon.
Etzella crunched through the blanket of sugar-like snow up the porch that sank in at every step. She threw open the screen door without a screen, and banged the front door open with her shoulder. Tiny Chihuahuas bounced around her feet, white sinister fangs flashing under their pink, barking lips like miniature wolves. She used her bottom to push the door back into its place, and her ears perked up to hear from which room her stepmother was having a conniption. She heard a room shaking snore and glanced to the green, furry sofa to see her father sleeping in his Hanes boxer briefs. His 300 lb. belly was like a giant slug attached to his body that jiggled while he slept and when he laughed at Will Ferrell movies. The sofa was broken in two seats from too much weight, and the black and brown food stains on the cushions made some of them appear less and less green each day.
The dogs had ceased barking and jumping on Etzella’s legs, and now ran into the kitchen, where another shout rang out. Etzella shivered and began pulling off her cotton barriers before taking tiny steps across white and dark brown layers of puppy poop in the living room. She peeked around the door frame to the kitchen to see her stepmother stirring something on the ancient stove, with angry black smoke swirling around her like a tornado of her own hate.
“Yes ma’am?” Etzella squeaked. The large, intimidating witch of a woman turned and her burning, wide open eyes stared into Eztella’s shaking, tiny blue windows.
“Get in here and clean up this mess!” she screeched, gesturing to the counter on the left side of the kitchen and table on the right. The counter ran the entire length of the wall and was covered in mold and maggots. Three day old beef smell hit Etzella’s nose as a mouse ran out of a bag of bread at the end of the counter closest to her, causing her to jump. Eztella felt a leak springing in her eyes. She had cleaned the house until her 7 year old fingers began to peel many times in the four years her dad had been remarried. She recalled times when she’d tried to put clothes in the dryer, but they were covered in dog feces, so she’d be yelled at for getting messy and not get a bath as punishment. She recalled finding her father’s Playboy behind the furnace in her bedroom, and even taking the bug spray and spraying the corners of every room in an attempt to quell the army of roaches that attacked her while she nightmared in the evening. She had thrown away slugs that were in the bathroom, and scrubbed a knife clean here or there to be able to create food for herself like mayonnaise sandwiches on stale crumby bread.
With each injustice, Etzella felt a sewing pin stab her voodoo doll heart and pierce her piece by piece. She glanced over to the table her stepmother had demanded to be cleaned, and saw a glass of milk that had been sitting there for days and was getting pretty solid. As she gazed, Etzella heard small taps on the linoleum floor beneath her. She slowly glanced down, seeing red drops making nickel sized puddles by her bare, dusty feet. Her eyebrows knitted together and she glanced above her, looking for some sort of leak, when she realized how much pain her hands were in. She took in a sharp gasp of air before unclenching her hands, to see her jagged, bitten fingernails had stabbed into her plump, scarred hands.
Time began to slow and sound began to fade as Etzella’s heartbeat grew to be the loudest sound in the room. She took in a shaky, quick breath before looking right back up at the back of her stepmother’s messy, fat head. She went to speak, but her lips impeded her as her tongue was twirling in her mouth with no direction. Etzella blinked rapidly a few times before straightening her tongue out properly to speak.
“N-N-N-N-NO!” Etzella screamed at the top of her tiny, writhing lungs. Her eyes squinted shut and her fists clenched tight once more. “NO! NO, NO, NO!” she shrieked, wanting someone on Earth to hear her. If her stepmother decided to off her, at least the neighbors could possibly hear and save her from this inescapable castle of disorder. Etzella didn’t feel anything happen to her, and peeled back her eyelids little by little. She suddenly realized her liberating scream was barely above a whisper. She silently wondered if anyone would ever hear her as she walked to the table, removing the glass of milk from it.
That night, Etzella’s father woke from his third nap of the day to see what the witch had prepared. Curls like snakes around her face were in every direction as the woman explained to her husband that the stove was at fault for her burning dinner, so she’d cooked a TV dinner of Salisbury steak. He simply grunted, searching for the remote that had gotten lost in his mountains of skin, as Eztella’s stepmother dragged the TV tray in front of the king of the house. Her father finally found the remote and switched to the Game Show Network as his wife served him the cardboard plate filled with 12 saucy steaks with a fork sticking up out of one in the middle.
Etzella kept glancing at the scene from the kitchen sink where she had just washed the fork her father was now using to feast on minced beef and fat, slathered in watery gravy. She hated Salisbury steak. She was incredibly picky on food. Unfortunately, that meant she often starved. Etzella looked at her red fingers and decided she could stop washing for now, but when she turned from the disease ridden water she was faced with evil.
“You can eat it or starve,” her stepmother spoke simply, pointing to the burned food she had attempted to cook on the stove. She had placed it on a paper plate and set it at the table with a glass of whole milk. Etzella guessed the burned mess had been the bag of frozen fries that she had seen in the freezer and so looked forward to. Now it was a ball of black. She looked back to her stepmother, standing 2 feet in front of her with a blank expression.
“Don’t you roll your eyes at me!” she screeched, her curly snake hair writhing as her face got redder.
“I didn’t…” Etzella began.
“Yes you did! Don’t lie to my face!” she squealed, a dribble of spit flying forth and smacking Etzella’s nose. She didn’t dare wipe it away, however, for fear of it setting the witch off even more. She simply looked down at the ground, waiting for the beast to move on. After a very long few seconds, she stomped away, shaking the stained, dark brown linoleum beneath her feet into the living room. Etzella slowly looked up and glanced to the living room, seeing her father still eating the steaks, eyes never having moved from the television while her stepmother continued her rampage to the bedroom before slamming the cave door. Etzella let out a long, heavy exhale before tiptoeing to the paper plate that had been laid out. She felt tears once again behind her eyes, and sniffled slightly. She couldn’t eat a black ball of burnt fries, and she hadn’t been raised on whole milk… it made her feel sick. Her father always told her if she was thirsty enough, she’d drink it. So they never bought any other kind. Etzella pushed with both hands to scoot out the nearest dining room chair and sat down, the smell of burnt potatoes wafting through her nostrils. She sniffled slightly, and felt a single tear drip down her round face, before looking out in to the living room, hoping her father would see her pain. She hadn’t gotten his attention, though. Eztella looked back at the plate, and sniffled a little louder, more tears coming as her throat closed up tighter. She looked up once more at her dad, but he still wasn’t looking. She knew he’d never see her; not really.
Etzella finally wiped her face and sighed, letting her mental and emotional states calm. She took a deep, solid breath before making a loud squeak as she moved from the table to walk into the poop minefield of the living room. She looked up at her dad who had finished his steaks and her tiny voice broke.
“Daddy?” she said quietly.
“Yeah?” he said, his eyes not leaving Strip Poker on GSN.
“I need something to sleep in,” Etzella spoke before shoving her fingernails in her mouth. It was a bad habit she had- chewing her fingernails- that she had learned from her father. The man nodded, scooting the TV tray away from where he sat, scratching between his legs as he attempted a few times before making it out of his broken, couch throne. He waddled through the brown carpet and cautiously opened the bedroom door where his queen was laying on their large bed with stained, messy sheets. He waded through the sea of laundry to the broken dresser to the left of the bed, and pulled open the drawer where he kept his t-shirts. He shook out a 3XL black shirt with a Dale Earnhardt logo and carried it to the living room. He tossed it at Etzella before returning to his mater seat in front of his court jester, cable. Etzella carried the dress of a shirt through the kitchen and into the bathroom.
The bathroom scared her more than any other room of the house. The floor sunk in so she could see under the house. The toilet sank into the floor, and she was always afraid it would fall through as she was going potty. The floor was constantly wet and sometimes carried slugs, and everything was chipping paint and stained brown. With lightning speed, Etzella pulled off her white turtle neck shirt with multi-colored hearts and black, battered jeans. She kept her long hair up in a bun because it basically got in her way. Her parents never paid for a haircut, so it just kept growing. The easiest way for Etzella to keep it clean and to keep it tucked away was to only take it down for baths. Etzella threw on the black shirt from her father and raced from the bathroom carrying her clothes. The shirt hit her ankles and the sleeves hit her forearm. She set the clothes she had been wearing that day with her red hooded jacket before jumping onto the forest green loveseat in the corner of the living room. She looked at her dad who slowly turned to see her lying down and raised an eyebrow. Etzella sighed, giving a slight pout before turning around and facing the back of the couch. She hated facing the back of the couch. It was boring to her and never made her go to sleep, but her father insisted that she didn’t stay up watching his TV.
She mainly hated staring at the blank, forest pattern because she was left with her own thoughts. Her own thoughts made her hate everything around her and it just made life worse when she thought about it. She sighed and quietly picked at a thread in the couch, waiting to hear the rumble of her father’s snore. When that moment came, she could turn and watch Strip Poker too, and forget life like her dad.
Etzella woke the next morning to hear the frantic screams of her stepmother as she raced around the house grabbing the ironing board, laying down one of the king’s collared shirts on it, and running back into her bedroom to find a clean outfit appropriate for church. Etzella yawned and sat up on the couch, watching the show that happened every weekend. The hypocrisy of it made her laugh and cringe at the same time, and she hated that she was a part of the fairy tale they acted out in public. Her stepmother ran out of the bedroom, spinning on her size 12 heels to glare at the little girl swallowed in a battered t-shirt.
“Get ready! We have to leave in 15 minutes whether you’re ready or not! And don’t think I won’t make you wear your pajamas to church. And you’ll be the one who is embarrassed!” she scolded before storming back into the bedroom to try and slip a size 18 purple dress over her size 20 body.
Etzella wanted to scoff, but hesitated in fear of the witch hearing her very thoughts. She ended up simply sighing before running to her actual bedroom and digging through the drawers of her white wicker dresser. She couldn’t sleep in her bedroom though, since her bed was a mattress on springs, and the mattress had a gaping hole in the middle ready to swallow her. Her twin cousins Jason and Jacob had made the hole from jumping all over it when they visited, and with a steak knife they had played with until it got stuck in one of their knees. The unfortunate one was Jacob, who immediately pulled it out. Upon Jason telling him not to pull it out though, Jacob had stuck it back it. Etzella was unfortunately not their when it happened, but got a good laugh when hearing the story from Jason later.
Etzella managed to find a sleeveless black dress that was stretchy and had button straps. She slipped it on and put on black, patent leather shoes that had too many scuffs on them to count before racing out into the living room. Her stepmother was dressed in the purple dress she had been trying to fit into, but had placed a matching purple jacket over it and added black pumps to her feet as she ironed in the middle of the living room. Etzella looked into their bedroom to see her father sitting on the bed in in boxer briefs still, watching a soap opera on the small, bedroom TV set, mouth slightly open as the ceiling fan light glared off his bald head and blond, stubbly facial hair. Etzella stared at him for the millionth time in life, and wished she didn’t have his large blue grey eyes and bulbous nose. She much preferred her mother’s thin lips and mousy brown hair she had inherited, and hoped they were what people noticed first about her, though more and more people told her she looked like her father.
“Is that what you’re wearing?” the queen of the house scoffed, causing Etzella to spin around and look up at the beast in surprise.
“I-I-It was clean,” she mumbled, stumbling over her words while being stared down. Her stepmother sighed and finished the button up white shirt that she had been ironing, before carrying it into the bedroom and yelling at her husband to get dressed this instant. He nodded simply, putting on the shirt with little trouble, and pulling on some black slacks to finally conceal his under garments. He tied up the package with a shiny black belt that strained under the weight on the 400 pound man’s belly. Her father put on his scruffy black shoes before following his wife as she pushed open the front door, demanding everyone follow her to go worship Jesus. Etzella quickly grabbed her jacket and wrapped it around her form as snowy wind hit her face outside. She dashed to the family, silver station wagon, jumping in the back seat as her father got into the driver’s seat and her step mother filled the passenger side. As they pulled out of the gravel drive and drove the few miles to their Baptist shrine, the witch never stopped talking of how wonderful she was to put up with everyone in the world, who were much more difficult than her.
As Etzella walked into her Sunday school class, she saw pressed winter dresses, Hounds tooth patterns, wool stockings, and itchy, beautiful lace sleeves to match velvet golden dresses. Etzella sheepishly clung to her jacket, double checking her bun as her wide blue eyes identified an empty seat away from everyone else. Her black shoes clicked the marble looking floor as she pulled out the blue squeaky chair and plopped into it. She stared down at the shiny, white table… so much cleaner than she could ever get the wooden table at her home, and listened to those around her. The girls were speaking of their latest beanie babies their mother had bought them and what color their nails had been painted. The boys were arguing over which power ranger was better, before moving on to ninja turtles. Etzella bit her lip, thinking more and more about how much she wanted in on those conversations, when she felt a foreboding shadow fall across her from behind. She slowly looked up, seeing a window across from her, and saw the reflection of a boy standing behind her smiling. He had a messy type of bowl cut, dirty blonde hair, and big green eyes. His shirt was heavy and horizontally striped navy and white. It looked heavy and expensive, despite his disheveled look. Etzella slowly turned in her chair, swinging her legs to the side but keeping her hands in her lap. Her big blue eyes met the little boy’s green ones before her eyebrows began to knit together slightly.
“What are you smiling for?” she mumbled, not understanding why this boy hadn’t moved yet. It was making her more and more uncomfortable to have someone actually notice her presence for once. He shrugged his tiny shoulders, swallowed in the heavy knit sweater and never stopped looking at her.
“Cause I like your hair?” he spoke, sounding like he was asking a question. “My mommy does her hair like that,” he said, still smiling as he pointed to Etzella’s bun resting near her neck. She slowly reached up her hand to touch her bun before using both of her tiny hands to undo the round bundle, letting her 4 feet of hair sweep around her. The boy’s eyes lit up as he looked at it all over. “Cool…” he spoke, dragging out the ‘o’s in ‘cool’ as he examined her locks. Etzella felt her cheeks begin to burn and she slapped her palms against them in shyness. The boy looked at her when he heard the slap, confused for a moment before he saw her hands cradling her cheeks.
“I like your face,” Etzella mumbled, quickly looking down at the floor, her face growing hotter by the second. Just then, the Sunday school teacher rapped her ruler to the shiny table, calling everyone to sit. As everyone ran to the multi-colored seats and squeaking on tiles replaced chattering, Etzella turned back to sit how she was supposed to before looking back down at the table. She slowly brought her fingers away from her cheeks as her curtain of hair surrounding her protected her from embarrassment, and tilted her head to peek around it. As she did, she saw the back of a little blond head sitting next to her with a warm, pink neck.