By Gab Halasz
Squeak, clunk. Squeak, clunk. The sound was a balm to her. Like scratching a maddening itch. Squeak, clunk. She had heard it every day for six months, could never figure it out. A cane on a wooden floor? A fan on its last legs? A call for help? She had believed all her theories—for a time.
The air was redolent with honeysuckle. Bees moved from flower to flower, their fat yellow bodies covered in pollen. Anna-lee had heard bees were endangered, which according to the experts, meant humans were as well. Cicadas buzzed, their electric songs winding down as evening settled in. Neighbourhood children screamed in delight as they jumped over a sprinkler next door.
Anna-lee heard the wick, wick, wick of the water hitting an aluminum door.
“Evening,” said a man dressed in bright pink shorts and one of those white tees that people called a wife-beater.
Anna-lee hated the way he to tipped a non-existent hat to her, and hated him with a black fury for wearing that shirt. She pretended he didn’t exist. She was good at pretending. His smile faltered, and he kept on walking. And that’s all that mattered. His white socks were stained green with grass clippings and the back of his flabby white legs were covered in red cross-hatch marks.
My mother gets marks like that from her lawn chair.
She rocked back and forth on the Adirondack chair. Squeak, clunk—squeak, clunk. “I know what you are now,” she whispered. One side wobbled, a screw needed tightening. She took another sip of her tart lemonade. Ice cubes clinked as she tipped the glass back. She sucked on each one, getting every single drop. There was a pleasant buzz in her head and her arms felt heavy and languid.
Chattering birds flitted amongst the branches of the beautiful magnolia trees that grew along the property border. The grass in the yard was maybe a foot high and tangled with yellow and orange daisies. This lawn needs doing. Squeak, clunk.
Three more delicious bottles of lemonade awaited her in the fridge. She told herself that she would have a peek inside the cardboard pizza box next to them. Normally she wouldn’t eat someone else’s leftovers, but her hunger was returning with a vengeance, and she’d left normal behind months ago.
Two teenaged girls shuffled by, their faces slack, their eyes riveted to their cells, neither looked up when she waved. Down the street, the man in the wife-beater had stopped to talk to an elderly lady walking a dog. Anna-lee’s hand twitched, her gaze flicked to the bloody cleaver that leaned against a planter. She swirled the ice in her glass, watching water droplets drip off its sweating sides.
Another drink and whatever was in the box. Come to think of it, she was famished.
Anna-lee had to shove the door hard to get back inside the house. A heavy leg, attached to an even heavier body, blocked the way. She stepped over it, being careful to avoid the growing puddle of blood. Here, the drone of flies was like a vibration in her head. They were ever so busy. And they aren’t even bees. A giggle escaped her.
“Oh what luck—Hawaiian. My favourite. And six pieces left.” Her stomach growled. She took the flat box labeled Bruno’s Pizza and two bottles of lemonade and made her way back out to the porch. Her limp was getting worse, she’d have to see a doctor. But not now.
Now, she would sit and eat and drink as much as she wanted.
Anna-lee lurched to her feet and moved away from the porch in a limping skip jump.
Leaning against the tallest magnolia, she vomited into the tall grass. Some of the sick spattered up her bare legs. They weren’t the only spatters on them. Her insides were jittery and she wiped her mouth with the back of a bare arm. It hurt where the manacle had left open sores. When Anna-lee bent to throw up again, she spied a plump bumble bee turning in circles on the ground. It brought tears to her eyes; there wasn’t anything she could do for the poor little thing.
His screams were the thing she remembered. That and the look he gave her when he gasped his last breath. It had taken four agonizing months to loosen the bolts that held the chain to the floor. Now the street lights began to flicker on up and down the avenue. One faulty transformer sounded exactly like a cicada. Anna-lee limped back to the porch and dropped into the rocker with a sigh.
The baby-doll pajamas she wore had given up being pink weeks ago. They were crusty down there. Her mind shied away from that thought. Her legs were covered in bruises ranging from dark purple to fading green and yellow.
The air smelled nice out here. It was warm. Not like the cold dank basement. A fragrance she couldn’t quite place drifted by in the evening breeze. She breathed deep. He’d sat out here, smoking and talking. She’d heard him. Heard him laughing, heard him rocking, although she never did figure out what he had been doing. What was that squeak, clunk?
“You okay, honey?”
Anna-lee jumped. The elderly lady and her dog were standing on the sidewalk, both tilting their heads, both watching her.
“You don’t look so good.”
Anna-lee’s hands began to tremble and, like magic, a sudden torrent of tears ran down her cheeks. The rope burns at the corners of her mouth stung. “Do-o you know what that flo-wer is?” Her voice shook. “The one that smm-ells so good.”
“Evening Primrose.” The lady tied the grey terrier to the gate and took two hesitant steps toward the porch.
“My knee hurts where he kicked me,” Anna-lee said. “I couldn’t help the bee.”
“Do you want I should call the police?”
Gab Halasz is the only girl in a family of five children. Even as a small child she had always been more interested in space ships and magic wands than frilly collars and tea parties. These days, when not outside tending her guinea fowl and chickens, you will find her scribbling stories where women can be heroes too.