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Full and Upright Position


Caroline had just joined the typing pool where we sat at our desks from nine to five like good little robots hooked up to dictaphone headsets.  We never saw the men whose voices we listened to all day and they never saw us.   

Although we had known each other barely a week, Caroline told me her stepfather, Albert, started molesting her when she was six.  We had  just ordered lunch that noon time and were giddy telling each other stupid jokes. I don’t think she would have told me her story if I hadn’t started telling her the one about the four girls and the four cots.  She immediately told me to stop.  She actually held up her hand like a traffic cop and then began telling me about this one particular time. 

She said he would always start off sweetly.  “Ca ro line, come into the bedroom.”  

Albert was a big man, she said, who smiled a lot and sang French Canadian songs for her when he was sober. He tapped his feet as he sang and when he was finished singing and tapping she would hug him and call him sweetie pie. 

That morning when he called she did not move.  She lay on her cot outside the bedroom door as still as a picture in one of her books.  She wished her mother was home.  “Ca ro line, come into the bedroom and afterwards I’ll take you to Coney Island.”  

But they didn’t go to Coney Island last time.  Once he promised to take her to the zoo, but they never went there either.  Now she just lay there wondering what would happen next.  She felt pins and needles throughout her body.  

He scared Caroline when he came home drunk.  When the yelling got louder and the bad words started between her mother and Albert, she knew she would fall asleep crying.  Like the time he smashed his fist into the kitchen window.  He told her later he broke the window because he was very angry at her mother for nagging him about his drinking.  He said he hit the window because he would never hit her mother. He loved her too much.  Caroline wondered if Albert ever loved her.  

If he really loved her why when he was drunk did he call her a dirty Jew. She didn’t know exactly what those words meant, but they hurt and made her cry.  Caroline remembered standing in the middle of the kitchen crying and yelling at him that her mother was Jewish too as if that would change things.  “Oh, no,” he would say, “no, no, only you’re Jewish with your big Jewish nose.”  

She knew If she didn’t go into the bedroom,  he would start again.  “Caroline, Caroline,” his voice was still sweet. “Please come in here.”  

She made up her mind. She would not go into the bedroom no matter how many times he called.  She would stay on the cot forever.  

There was a long silence.  She thought If she didn’t go into the bedroom now after all his calling maybe he’d stop bothering her.  If he’d leave her alone, she would get out of bed and play with her new paper dolls.  

But soon she heard the bed springs twang as Albert pulled himself up out of bed.  She looked up.  There he was standing in the doorway like the giant `who lived in the beanstalk.  The giant was wearing only his white shorts.  He always wore his shorts around  the apartment, even when her mother was home.   

Caroline said she tried all the time not to look at the dark opening in the front of his underwear, but her eyes always went back to it even though she knew it hid something scary. She said it looked like a hiding place where nothing ever came out, but where she knew something bad was inside.  When she was in the bedroom with him she would close her eyes and never look between his legs.  

Still standing in the doorway and now smiling, he softly said, “You know it’s our special secret.” 

She still didn’t move.  There was no mother, there was no apartment, there was no now.  It took him only two steps to reach the cot. Then with one outstretched hand he raised up the head of the cot while with his other hand he lifted the foot side until the cot with Caroline inside was in the full and upright position.

 

Barbara Carlson

 
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