The 5 Stages of Grief

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Chapter 6, Holly

The pain was excruciating, searing through her body like hot grease. Though she knew her mother lifted and applied, lifted and applied, it just felt like one long burn. It reminded her of a magazine article she once read about nerve-endings. She willed herself to recall its contents to help avert her senses from the pain. It wrote about how the nerve-endings on your fingertips were far more acute than those on your back. How, if you took two needles and poked them into your finger at the same time, in different spots, you could feel separate and distinct pricks. However, if you were to try the same experiment on your back, they would appear as one.

Holly did not know about the fingertip portion of the experiment, but she would categorically agree with the back theory as she could no longer differentiate between where the pain began and where it ended. It was all just one long burn, like a welding torch held to the same spot for hours, never ending.

Her mother had escalated to this new form of punishment some time ago. This afternoon’s offense had been speaking out of turn by speaking her opinion, even though she knew that was just as likely to be grounds for discipline as anything else. The matter of fact was anything could be grounds for discipline. As quickly as Holly figured them out, found pattern in the madness, her mother changed or added rules. It became a terrifying mind game, the ever-changing rulebook, like nailing Jell-O or herding cats – for consequences. Only it never ended and she couldn’t win and the host was her evil mother with a sadistic taint who controlled every waking moment of Holly’s life.

She did her best during punishment to utilize her mind, to take her away. Mind over matter, to think of anything other than the pain being inflicted upon her body, mind and soul. Sometimes it even worked a little.

It was the smell that brought her back. The burning stench of flesh, her flesh. Her mother painstakingly filling in each and every belt-hole imprinted upon her skin with the burning embers of her cigarette, completing her unfinished work, like an artist, Holly’s quivering skin her canvass. The process took about an hour from start to finish. Her mother needed to light two cigarettes, sometimes three, to fill in every belt hole relieved upon Holy’s flesh. All the while lecturing her on the evils of men and their vile appetites of carnal lust and hedonism and the world in general.

Sixty, even. Holly had counted them one day in the mirror while her mother was busy. She had tried to count them several times while being punished, but had never been able to. As after a while, somewhere in the vicinity between ten and fifteen, her entire back would feel as if a torch were being lit to it, just like the magazine article had said. She didn’t need to look as she had already figured out what the pattern was that her mother was creating, but she looked anyway to confirm her intuition.

The exactness, commitment to purpose, the obsessive-compulsive mind of her mother would never be able to let go of the holes. Holly knew they would drive her crazy, infest her mind until she simply had to do something about it. Everything about their home, as meager as it was, was about order, routine and discipline.

After so many – corrections – with the strap on her bared skin, the belt-holes, no matter how hard she tried for perfect aim, were bound to disappear, become blurred. It occurred to Holly immediately after the first blazing embers were applied to her welted skin, what her mother’s solution to the disappearing belt holes was to be. The pungent odor of burning skin confirmed it.

When curiosity won over and she looked in the mirror for proof, she was amazed, but in a detached way. She almost admired the precision her mother had adhered to over the years, had nearly forgotten the pattern so carefully embedded within her skin. It had been there so long she didn’t think about it much, she was only aware of it when dealing with the direct application or the remnants of one.

The pattern started at her lower back, just above her buttocks. There were five perfectly outlined belt marks impeccably placed, one above the other. The tips came to one inch – or two and a half centimeters as her mother adhered strictly to the metric system – from her spine. The same was applied to the other side, making ten outlines or tattoos in all.

Her ass cheeks had the same treatment, though only three to a side. These, her mother angled slightly upward, reminding Holly of a chevron or checkmarks of some kind, with the whole design finished off with two strokes to each leg, applied horizontally.

Holly thought of the many years, the hours her mother had spent getting the pattern just perfect. How the eluding holes – which were bound to become obscured under repeated application –would infuriated her, send her mind reeling looking for solutions to this most elusive and frustrating problem. The delight when she came upon it. It must have nearly driven her mad searching for something, anything, to punish Holy for so she could try out her new idea, latest inspiration.

Three to a stroke, that’s what brought the total to sixty. Three burns to each belt stroke, making a perfect replication upon Holly’s skin.

“Are you listening to me young lady?” The slap across her bared and burned ass startled Holly from her daydream, where she went away, sending waves of pain rippling through her tender skin. She held her lips tight and scrunched her eyes to keep from crying out as she would only get more of the same.

“Yes Ma-ma, I am listening.”

“Then what did I say?” Her mother’s accent, though thick, no longer seemed different to Holly as it had when she was growing up. She remembered the shock she felt when she had first gone to school and found out no one else talked that way, that her mother was different, that they were different, from everybody. It took years to get back to normal, to not notice her mother’s accent. Now she barely heard the difference, it all sounded the same to her, her mind instantly compensating for the variance.

“You said to ‘go wash up and get ready for bed, and to make sure I clean the sink and toilet after I use them.’ That you will be inspecting to make certain I obeyed the rules.” She was still lying face down on the kitchen table, her bared skin quivering against its cold surface, the liquid which oozed from her fresh burns only added to her shivering. Her answer, a guess, had Holly holding her breath in anticipation as she watched her mother’s face contort in careful consideration for what felt like forever, though was only a moment. Her mother finally broke the uncomfortable silence, “Close enough. Now off you go and be quick about it. You have twenty-one minutes before bedtime, make them count.”

Holly realized there was no way she could fit her milk and cookie in with only twenty-one minutes to bed, but did not protest. She felt a pang of hunger at the thought, yet pushed it aside while she concentrated on balancing, staying on her feet, as she felt rather light-headed after getting off the table. Sometimes she would try to sneak a cookie to her room for later as it curbed her hunger and helped her to sleep – though tonight, her mother was far too vigilant. Looking at the big clock on the kitchen wall – the only one in the house – she realized she had just wasted three minutes of her treasured time with this fantasy and hustled her screaming body upstairs to get ready for bed, hoping tomorrow would be a better day. She put her head to pillow eighteen minutes later.

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