Written and copyright © 2011-2013 by Thomas N. Bulkowski. All rights reserved.
This is one of those stories that makes my eyes tear up each time I read it. It's based on an actual event that happened to me, but it has been fictionalized and expanded. This is packed
with symbolism. You may want to read it again...and again to discover what lies beneath.
Written: April 2011
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
That Which Cannot Be Said
Mark pulled his train set from under the bed, plugged in the transformer, and started connecting the tracks into an oval. As he pushed two pieces together,
he grunted, clenched his teeth, and squinted. His arms vibrated with the effort. His hair was a blond railroad signal swinging down and obscuring his view.
He looked at the two tracks and thought for a moment, stood them up -- end to end -- and then pushed down, leaning his weight on them.
The bottom track skidded away. The top piece slammed down onto the oak floor, gouging a scratch two inches long.
He gasped. His eyes shot to the bedroom door, unblinking, breath frozen, ears pitched for sound, any sound, like the sound of approaching footsteps and another
spanking -- or worse.
He ignored the ticking of the wall clock, ignored his heartbeat pounding away, and listened beyond the hum of the train transformer. His hands were seismographs
searching the floor for vibrations setup by parents coming to punish him.
He swallowed without swallowing; his mouth was dry. He sat there hoping that his dad wouldn't come check up on him, that Dad would let him live another day, another minute.
He hoped for a miracle.
One second went by.
He exhaled, slowly at first and then panting like a dog on a summer's day. He fluffed his flannel shirt opened and closed, reached up with the back of his sleeve, and
wiped the sweat from his brow. He gulped down the remaining half of his water bottle, knowing that it wouldn't be long before he'd have to pee.
He stretched three feet across the floor and grabbed hold of the train track. It caught on the transformer's wires. He yanked.
A spark flashed like yellow lightening and sounded like thunder hushed by rain bands. He glanced at the door, but knew the sound wouldn't be loud enough to hurt him. He
sat up straight, wondering, unaware of the cut to his finger. Pain never bothered him much, but his high threshold infuriated Dad; despite severe beatings, Mark wouldn't cry.
He slid across the floor, paddling, and stopped beside the transformer, feet crossed, eyes smiling. He rubbed the wires together, heard the moan of the transformer
as it gave birth to power, and watched yellow fireworks.
The door to his room burst open, bounced off the stop, and then slammed back into his father. He slapped it open with one hand, and then glared at it as if daring the
door to challenge him again.
Dad's gaze searched the room and found his son sitting on the floor. Their eyes didn't just meet. They connected. Messages passed, messages of anger, messages that
said his son hadn't yet learned his lesson.
Mark's eyes widened into two frightened marbles of blue. His hands started trembling, turning his body into quivering Jell-O. He dare not breathe. His blond hair
swung down, coming to his defense, acting as camouflage.
He hoped that if he remained still this nightmare would end, that it was just a dream from which he would soon awaken. Instead, a wet spot appeared on his pants and grew
The two wires he held touched each other and sparked with nervous energy, touched again and sparked, the hushed thunder once miles away sounding closer now, a
clapping detonation so crisp that it smashed off the walls of the tiny bedroom, joining his own mumbled squeaks of stress.
Dad's eyes squeezed into two slits of jagged ice. His jaw clenched. His hands became fists, covering scars caused by his own father. The left eye twitched when he was
not just angry, but furious. It twitched now.
He reached for his belt.
Mark jumped up.
The belt's clasp wouldn't release.
Mark shot past.
"Get back here!" Anger spiked. Dad grabbed the power cord, yanked it from the wall, and gave chase.
# # #
Mark lay face down on the bed, eyes shut, the sun beaming through the window and warming him like an iron to clothes, wondering not if, but how his life would
change in the coming minutes.
When Susan discovered his secret, would she laugh at him as Jennifer had? Would she find him too hideous to love as Mary had? Both women wounded him in a way that hurt
far more than the memory of his past, and yet he sensed that Susan was different, that she would understand and accept him. But the fear remained. Would she find a third way of rejecting him?
He wanted to be held, held by his father who beat him, held by the mother that allowed it to happen, and held by Susan -- held and understood. But how can I tell her?
After months of struggling to find the right words, they took flight and escaped him now, leaving his soul alone, his heart torn, and his mind paralyzed. Yet her voice was a
songbird serenading, asking him to come out and play. He turned to listen.
"Winter itch, huh?" Susan set the bottle of lotion on the nightstand. How can he have winter itch in the middle of the summer? Her chestnut brown hair filtered the sun,
but the rays made her face glow like an angel beneath a golden halo. She glanced over at him. "Take off your shirt."
His muscles tensed, and he turned his head away from her, toward the wall, hiding not only his face, but his heart. His palms sweated and his fingers trembled.
For months, he dreaded this moment.
Her eyebrows shot up. Is he ignoring me? Maybe he didn't hear me. "It'll be easier if you take off your shirt."
His left hand crumpled the bedspread as if the pain had started already, but it was fear and fear alone. His mind started shutting down, vision tunneling, hearing
muffled, all trying to protect him from the emotional time bomb ticking away.
Susan waited, her hand on the bottle, ready to squeeze out lotion, toe tapping the floor, ticking off the seconds. She was a patient woman, but sometimes he pushed
her buttons, testing to see if she had the patience to endure for the long haul. "Alright. So you want to play rough." She grabbed his shirttail with both hands and yanked it toward
his head, exposing his back and his fear.
She gasped. Her hands shot to her mouth.
She fell back a step and stumbled against the nightstand, the lotion bottle crashed to the floor and rested near a scratch two inches long. He always wears a
t-shirt -- even to bed. In the months since we met, not once have I seen him with his shirt off. This is his way of saying that which cannot be said.
She wanted to go to him and explore the ridges on his back, but couldn't move. She wanted to hold him in her arms and let her words caress him, but couldn't speak.
Instead, her own nightmare began playing in her mind, a terror so dark that light couldn't penetrate.
Her fingers began trembling and her hands began shaking as if fighting with someone for possession of her soul, and yet her struggle ran deeper than that. Her ulcer
burned with stress caused by a secret untold for decades.
She closed her eyes and sought refuge in a fortress built as a child, a place where even her stepfather couldn't go. But now the refuge held no warmth and gave no comfort.
She opened her eyes. Mark hadn't moved. She let her gaze flow over his back, saw the ridges and colors stained there that time hadn't erased. What she saw gave her
the courage to share that which cannot be said. He deserves to know. It's time I told him the truth.
She reached for her foot. Removing her socks was something she did each day, and yet this hour, this minute, right now, it ignited memories of what her stepfather did.
A tear splashed against her ankle, and she wiped it away without thinking. Then another hit and another. She removed the sock as if it were a curtain thrown aside,
allowing sunlight into her life for the first time, exposing not her foot, but her heart.
She glanced up at Mark. He lay on his side, facing her, watching, wondering.
She wiped her eyes and gave a brief smile as if to say, "It's not you. It's me." She sniffled, and then looked down again. Her chestnut brown hair cascaded off her
shoulders and hid her face, forming a protective cocoon into which she fled.
The shadows playing across her face reminded her of the nights spent with her stepfather.
Her fists clenched.
She exhaled a cleansing breath, shook out her fists, and removed the other sock.
She sat on the nightstand and tucked her knees underneath her chin, wrapped her arms around them in a fetal position, rocking slightly forward and backward, hair
covering her face, hiding the tears that gathered.
She held her breath.
She slid her feet onto the bed.
She put them directly in front of him.
She felt his fingers tracing letters on the bottom of one foot and then the other, exploring like a feather carried on the wind to new destinations of caring and sharing.
She parted her hair, her puppy dog brown eyes peering into his, searching for understanding, searching for compassion, searching for a sign that he understood that
which cannot be said.
Her lips quivered and she didn't know if she could speak. She whispered, "My stepfather branded me with his initials."
She held out her arms. Tears gushed. "Hold me."
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-- Thomas Bulkowski
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Written and copyright © 2011-2013 by Thomas N. Bulkowski. All rights reserved. Ah, my wife. She's like an angel. Always up in the air, harping about something. -- W. C. Fields