There’s Yelling Outside
By Niamh McCracken (15), Temple Carrig School, Greystones, Co Wicklow
Photograph: Michel Brinkmann/EyeEm/Getty Images
This is it, she would think later, this was the moment when fear first crept its way into her life. But she didn’t know that, staring dumbly at the doorway at the tender age of three years old.
She didn’t know fear.
She would soon, not the meaning of the word itself, but the emotion and its threads of panic, weaving their way through her heart.
This little girl’s name is . . . well it doesn’t matter actually. Her name doesn’t matter, nor does her light-brown hair, growing in tufts around her head, and her soulful chocolate brown eyes matter even less.
All you, the reader need to focus on is the crescendo of destruction that eventually reaches its peak.
There’s yelling outside.
Angry voices, from angry people, spitting and growling and snarling. The little girl isn’t sure what to make of the tension she feels, metres away from the doorway, nor the sense of dread growing in her little heart.
It takes courage, copious amounts of it for her to drag her bare feet over to the doorway. If she stands on her tiptoes, there is a small chance of her being able to push open the front door and see what was going on.
She never did open the door herself, however, as she finds it being pushed forward by an angry force, screeching the floor with such violence that she is taken aback.
She glances upwards to see someone she knew very well, but at that moment of time may as well have been a stranger.
The sound of her mother’s footsteps echo as she hurries down the stairs, whilst the little girl does nothing but stare in her drunk father’s eyes, signifying the beginning of the end.
There’s yelling outside.
This is the moment that she wishes she could change, wishes she wasn’t so weak as to do nothing. But this little girl is five, helpless, and her thoughts, as you’ll witness, are fractured, streams of words failing to complete coherent sentences.
The little girl curls herself up into a ball, pressing herself deeper against her mother’s warmth. She quivers, dark brown eyes prickling with the beginning of tears. Her mother smooths down her hair, but it lacks the usual comfort and security it normally brings, feeling harsh and urgent instead of soft and soothing.
There’s another yell, foul language mixed with crude threats, and her mother cups a hand over the girl’s ear, as if that fragile cover would stop the words from piercing through.
It is her daddy out there, the girl could recognise his voice. It is her papa screaming and yelling, his words accented by a definite slur of drunkenness.
Not that she knew what that was, or what that meant. All she knew was to cower in her mother’s arms whenever the brown bottle came out, brimming with some foul liquid.
“Your father is a good person,” she recalls her mother saying once. “He doesn’t mean to hurt anyone.”
Hurting people is bad. The little girl knows this. It’s mean, her mother says, and she can’t imagine her daddy doing anything mean.
He’s just stressed, or at least that’s what her Mommy says, she doesn’t know the meaning of the word herself. When he’s stressed, sometimes he yells at other people. That’s mean, too. Not as mean as hurting someone, she knows that, but it’s still mean.
But it’s not his fault. It’s due to his anger, to his S-T-R-E-S-S. Daddy doesn’t mean to hurt anyone with his fists or with his words.
Her father yells again, his words slurred and difficult to distinguish, and besides, the language is too complicated for her to pick out. But her mother’s eyes narrow, her thin frame stiffening in displeasure, as if Daddy had said something mean.
The little girl asks what’s wrong, but her mother, her shield, only shakes her head wearily, and tells her not to listen.
So she doesn’t, cups her hands over her ears and sings songs inside her head, only stopping when it’s apparent that it isn’t terribly efficient.
There’s another shout, tinged with fear more than anger, and then an ear-splitting scream that sets the little girl’s hair on edge.
Mommy jumps up at the sound, and the little girl’s form slips from her grip, sliding on the floor with a definitive thump.
The little girl opens her mouth to speak, to ask, but her mother is already pushing her out of the way to reach the door. She would call her out on being mean except the sight waiting for them outside halts the words in her throat.
Daddy’s okay. There’s something in his right hand, one of those brown bottles, but broken, jagged at the edges, tinged with a red substance.
Blood. The little girl knows what it’s called from the time Mommy nicked herself on one of the knives, remembers the way it trickled down her fingers before dropping onto the floor. She feels momentarily impressed by her deduction, before her eyes move to the victim of the attack.
It’s one of their neighbours, the man who lives three doors down, the one with the yappy dog. Except she doesn’t manage to identify him right away, as his face is almost unrecognisable, coated in blood.
She’s scared, she’s afraid, because he’s not moving, stiff like one of her toy dolls, with blood emerging from his head like a sprinkler. Daddy takes a step back, hand quivering around the broken bottle, before dropping it, letting it break with a ear-shattering crash.
Her eyes are still stuck on their neighbour, lifeless on the ground. She wonders why he isn’t waking up, and kneels down to poke him. That always worked on Mommy when she sleeps.
Except her mother stares at her with horror in her eyes, pulling the little girl back, prompting a few tears to fall from her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” she asks. “Did . . . Did Daddy hurt someone?”
Mommy pauses, tears prickling at the edges of her eyes, before shaking her head, and Daddy lets out short laboured breaths. The little girl sighs in relief at the realisation that her father hadn’t hurt anyone, hadn’t been mean.
It didn’t explain why their neighbour was bleeding out onto the ground, clearly not about to wake up, but at that moment it didn’t matter very much to the little girl, as she flung her arms around her father, clutching his drunken, bloodstained form close. He stiffened, and then relaxed, letting her squeeze him and cry, until sirens arrive, accompanied by flashing neon lights. They peel her off of him, and take him, march him over to a waiting police car, shoving him in roughly.
“That’s mean!” she yells, glaring at the police officers. “What are you doing?”
“We’re placing your father under arrest,” one of them replied in a bored manner, not at all concerned about another murder that had nothing to do with him.
“Arrest?” the girl plays with the word on her tongue.
“They’re taking him away,” his mother says curtly, hand wrapped around hers.
“B-But . . . Daddy hasn’t done anything wrong!” she glances up at her mother. “That’s what you said, right? Daddy hasn’t hurt anyone! He wouldn’t do something that mean, right, Mommy?”
Her mother’s hand tightens around her own, but she doesn’t deny it.
She doesn’t like to think much of that day.
The little girl, a big one now, of 13 years of age. Her name still doesn’t matter, nor does her dyed red hair. Her eyes have only grown smaller with time, seeming less and less noticeable every day.
It had taken her up to her sixth birthday to figure out what had actually happened with her father.
Her father had killed a man. Under the influence of alcohol, yes, but murder was murder, and murder was despicable.
They visited him every month at the prison, a two-hour drive from where they lived. They stared at each other through the visitor’s glass, air buzzing with thoughts left unsaid.
They never stayed long, at max half an hour. Maybe a wasted trip, but she’d rather a wasted trip than have to talk to him even longer.
He’s not her dad anyways. Her real dad wouldn’t ever do something like that. There had to have been some mistake, in which she had been switched at birth, abducted from her true parents in the middle of the night.
She dwells on this thought instead, and it pleases her somewhat, to create an imaginary life all inside of her head. The truth, she tells herself.
She doesn’t realise that at 13 years old, she still harbours the same naivety.
That’s something that’ll probably never change, but as long as she doesn’t think too much about it, gets off of the bus and waves at her friend, dispelling the darker thoughts swirling around her head, she’ll be okay.
She’ll move on.