Everyone knows you can’t force a man to come back if he doesn’t want to. But coercion, enticement, and allure can work wonders.
Of course, none of this was Erika’s intent. She was an eleven-year-old girl still silently reeling over the departure of her father for a younger, prettier version of her vessel—the woman who gave birth to, and raised, her and her younger sister, Elena.
About two days after the packed bags, begging, and arguing, Erika was sitting on the front porch with her sister. She attempted play, pushed to feign joy, but she couldn’t get Elena out of her funk. But Erika was old enough to understand that once he was gone, he was gone. There was nothing else to be done. So why wallow? Why fret? Why not get on with things?
Erika was using the mobile television to play one of her favorite movies about a man fighting to find his kidnapped son. Erika laid back on the black silk, goose down quilt, on top of a day bed, her sister beside her. A drone the size of a dollar bill projected the film onto the ceiling. Erika commanded the drone to turn up the volume as the sound of their vessel in the kitchen chopping shallots became increasingly distracting.
Erika giggled and squeezed her sister as the puppy that opened the movie came on screen. Erika made sure Elena noticed her being okay, laughing, enjoying spending time with them. Erika wanted her happiness to be contagious. Somehow, then, it would be real.
She felt Elena’s sniffling slow and her whining calm. Elena’s face inched away from Erika’s hairless armpit and towards the ceiling as the boy found the puppy and decided to bring it home in an attempt to keep it as his own. The meek laughter that sounded from her sister when the boy had to stop at some park sprinklers to try to get some of the puppy urine off of his shirt comforted Erika.
Erika could feel the tension in her sister’s body easing away as the film went on, only to return with a vengeance when the boy finally got home and confronted his father about the puppy.
Even though the father was kind, thoughtful, honest, and pleasant in his interaction with his son, her sister couldn’t stand to be reminded of what they’d lost. She began crying again. Erika felt her frustration rising and left her in the day bed to rot in her sadness.
“You big baby!” She yelled at the melancholy strain surrounding the house.
Erika went back into the house and upstairs, passing pictures of herself and her sister at even younger ages. An eight-foot-tall portrait of her father was painted directly onto the slate wall at the top of the stairs, dominating the hallway. Erika paused to glare at the portrait with clenched fists. Her father was by all accounts a handsome man. Hair always freshly twisted, neat. His face, in the portrait, carried a light that only creative license could inject. In person, her father rarely smiled or laughed. Not that he seemed depressed or particularly sad, simply…uninterested. The portrait showed him in a tailored midnight blue suit, the color complementing his café au lait skin. His hazel eyes were not (maybe could not be) painted to show the intense judgment and power that emanated from the real things.
Erika blinked her stinging eyes and walked to the master bedroom. Before her stood a piece, ten feet long, molded into a semi-circle, glistening in the light of the crystal and white gold chandelier in the center of the room, and adorned with five mirrored panels. This was her vessel’s personal makeover studio. Erika had snuck peeks at her vessel making her face throughout her early childhood and the transformations she witnessed seemed nothing short of magic. Years fell away, fatigue disappeared, anger softened into angelic peacefulness.
As she grew older—as was her vessel’s duty—Erika got lessons from her on how to dress, speak, and craft her face to entice, seduce, and maintain the attention of a potential master. Erika was fascinated about the fact that she could create happiness and tranquility with dusts, creams, and stains.
She stepped up to the center of the bow of koa wood trimmed with ebony, allowed her eyes to glide over the various boxes, baskets, cups, and trays of oils, powders, fragrances, conditioners, and paints.
In her peripheral vision she saw a sparkle. Looking up at the last mirror on the right, she saw her father’s watch hanging on the corner of the frame. With hands and digits made entirely of black diamonds, the watch had been his most prized possession. This was the utmost confirmation that he would never return. If he had left something so important to him behind for so long, he meant to stay away.
Erika pulled on one of the crystal knobs on the top drawer and withdrew some of the brushes and pencils. She used cleanser pads to clear her skin, allowing it to dry before she got to work changing her face. When she finished, she pulled a short, pleated, black skirt and long-sleeved, gunmetal blouse from the closet. She peeled off her white-lily-print sundress and put her vessel’s garments on.
She was surprised that she had developed enough at eleven that the skirt stayed up and the blouse didn’t hang off of her, but hugged her swelling chest. She pressed a button below the center mirror and it moved forward and tilted down so that she could see her entire body and not just her head and torso.
This was the first time she saw herself in her own styling. The first time she realized that, as she grew older, finding someone willing to purchase her was going to be the least of her worries. The thickness of her thighs and flare of her hips told the story of a body that would draw masters for miles. She would have her pick. A tiny, mournful smile touched her lips as she observed herself. Erika, the grown up.
After a few more seconds of twisting, turning, and modeling for herself in the mirror, she had worked up some laughter. Heartfelt laughter, not the kind she used to try to coax her sister and her vessel into being happy again. She set aside her notions of proper behavior and let the mirth tumble freely, raucously from her throat. There was a touch of joy that she felt in the hope that, once she had a master, her beauty would be enough to make them stay with her no matter what. No cheating, no abandonment, no sadness.
Short of breath, she finally walked back up to the dresser and used the control panel to put the center mirror back in place. As she reached for makeup remover, she felt a presence behind her and realized that her father had entered the room. He must have snuck in through the rear door since her sister wasn’t trailing him and her vessel had not screamed curses.
For a moment, Erika was overwhelmed with happiness and she smiled broadly. The one person she thought she might never see again was back. She thought her hopes had been realized and that he had seen the error of his ways and returned to the family. He had come to make them all whole again. He had come to make peace.
But the way he was looking at her in the mirror disturbed her. His normally cold demeanor was mixed with something electric. Dangerous even. He looked at Erika from head to toe from behind and then at her reflection in the mirror.
“Those are your vessel’s things you have on.” His voice was deep and monotone, as though he were bored. Erika now knew, based on his body language and the words he chose to speak at that moment, that he was preparing to discipline her for using her vessel’s things without permission. Tears burned her sinuses again as she realized he had probably only come back for the watch.
“I’m sorry, Daddy. I didn’t mean any harm. Please don’t hit me. I’m taking it off.” Erika tried her best to hold back her tears as she reached for the makeup remover, hoping to move quickly enough that he would let her go without punishment.
But he was faster.
Erika’s father took two quick, long strides and was by her side, grabbing her wrist. He forced her hand down onto the dresser and signaled for her to put her other hand on the dresser as well. Crying had always made her beatings worse—her father noting that she was trying to manipulate him and therefore deserved more punishment—but she couldn’t hold the tears back any more, especially as he grabbed the watch off of the mirror and put it on his wrist.
Erika understood that this may be one of the last times she ever saw her father as he goes on to live a new life with his cuter, more youthful, childless purchase. She hated that this was how she was going to spend this time with him—being hit, feeling sorry, having made her father angry. Erika felt worthless and ashamed. If she had followed the rules of the house, this wouldn’t be happening.
Erika’s father stood behind her and pulled down her skirt and panties and then she heard him taking off his belt. She made fists with her hands, but kept them on the dresser, per protocol. She braced herself for the lashes to come, letting her tears flow freely, but silently.
The first lash came like a wave of anguish that spread across her skin. The pain only intensified strike after strike, as though the belt were sprouting spikes and flames the longer it was wielded.
Finally, after Erika was certain she wouldn’t be able to sit for the rest of the day, and her father was breathless behind her, the hits stopped. Erika dated not move because prematurely moving from the assumed position for punishment would just make it last longer. Erika caught her breath, wiped her eyes on her biceps—not daring to move her hands a single centimeter—and visualized sitting on a block of ice as soon as she was freed.
When she heard her father take a deep breath and saw him stand tall behind her, belt in hand, she realized he wasn’t done. At this point, she believed to have cried all the water out of her body and she was confident that if he hit her any more, he would start drawing blood. Then again, this wouldn’t be the first time. Erika braced herself again.
But instead of the sharp slap of leather, she felt her father’s hands sliding up her back, around her sides, and down to her breasts. Erika’s alarm made her stand up straight, but he grabbed her neck and forced her to bend over again. She stopped struggling and he released his grip.
Erika had had enough sex education to realize that it was her father’s erection that she was feeling sliding along her back, his scrotum resting at the apex of her buttocks.
She knew something wasn’t right about this, but it was hard to ignore having him present with her as she had wished. He was here, and he was remaining here voluntarily. Just because of how she looked in her vessel’s clothes. Maybe this was a small price to pay for a little extra time with him.
Her father put one hand on her stomach and the other on her back, holding her steady as he lunged into her.
Erika felt pressure and pain that wouldn’t allow her to cry out, only inhale in shock. She kept reminding herself that he was here, just like she wanted.
He’s here…he’s here…he’s here…
Erika could see her father in the mirror when she looked up and he was smiling, lost in an ecstasy that didn’t match her experience at all. This was the most expressive she had ever seen his face. His moaning and gasping was like a beautiful, new language he was speaking to her. In the midst of her violation, she was shown a power that she hadn’t realized that she had.
She kept her eyes on the reflection of his in the mirror until he finished with her.