Among the Cinders
Polly shivered uncontrollably, her little lips turning blue as time went on. Her own body heat wasn't enough. She didn't care what her mother said. She was twelve years old, she could warm herself by the fire if she wanted to. And besides that, Mother wasn't home, so she'd never know... Her blue eyes darted about, just to be sure that no one was watching her disobedience. She ran to the fire and sat down in front of it, as close as she could get without burning herself. The sudden temperature change was a total shock to her system, causing her skin to tingle. She was amazed-she couldn't see her breath anymore. She almost expected to see steam rising from her skin as she thawed.
She thought only momentarily about the clothes she was sullying as she sat there in the cinders. It was the new dress her mother had bought her for church on Sundays, the pretty blue one with lots of ruffled petticoats beneath the wide skirt. Her mother was never one to splurge on frivolous things such as clothing, so the dress was like a symbol of her mother's growing fondness towards her.
Polly's mother had never liked her much. She was the main reason Polly's father had left her mother. She'd been brought into the world with two parents who really couldn't care less if she died or lived. She'd become quite the tough and inventive little girl, having to find ways to feed herself when her mother refused to give her anything, and ways to keep herself warm when Mother told her not to go near the fire.
How she had longed to do it for so long, her deepest of hearts wanting to rebel against the force that had oppressed her and made her life a living hell for nearly thirteen years. The fire was so comforting- its light, its warmth, the cleansing cedar-infused smell of it all... Polly hadn't felt so peaceful in quite some time. If Hell was all fire and brimstone, she'd rather be there than in a clean and disgustingly tidy Heaven where her mother-who was such a good and honest Christian woman- would surely be in the afterlife.
She could have watched the flames lick at the logs, dancing their dance of destruction that was so beautiful it nearly brought her to tears, for hours on end. She wouldn't have to think about the glorious dance for that long. Not caring that her pretty blue dress was getting horribly covered in soot and ashes, little Polly Flinders curled up by the hearth and fell into a peaceful slumber. Her coal grey cat, Heather, curled up beside the girl, lending what body heat to the child she could.
Polly's rest was soon disturbed, however, as her mother returned home from a trip to the market and the preacher's home. Unbeknownst to the child, her mother had come back into the house, bringing with her a frosty breeze from the wintry outdoors. Coldness and anger seemed to ooze from her every pore as she saw her daughter lying in the soot, her beautiful blue dress covered in ashes and smeared with black. Heather, sensing the danger, quickly darted from the hearth, going to seek shelter in Polly's room.
Mother Flinders, known to many as Molly, grabbed her daughter by her head full of pretty blonde curls. How could something so evil be so seemingly innocent? Molly was convinced that her daughter, who was born a bastard child with no stern father figure around, was Satan's spawn and blackened to the core. The only way to make the girl learn was with harsh physical lessons. Things that would make her cry, seeing that the path to evil was painful, and the road to salvation was a hard one. It was a long road back in to God's good graces, but Molly would make her daughter walk it if she had to push her the whole way with a red hot branding iron.
Polly cried out in pain as she was yanked to her feet by her long blonde hair. She looked up into her mother's cold and hard brown eyes. They were so much like dirt... unyielding and stubborn unless Molly's mind was worked in the right way. Sometimes, Polly could block out the pain, make it nothing more than an illusion her body was trying to trick her mind into believing. This, of course, only fueled her mother's anger more, making the punishment that much more severe. It could be anything from a few minor cuts and bruises to a beating that put her in bed for weeks. From the look in her mother's eyes, she had a feeling that this was going to be one of those nights where there was no reasoning with her mother, Molly. She'd just have to sit back and let her mother get everything out, letting her vent her frustration on Polly's already beaten and battered little body.
Her mother loomed over her like a demon from a nightmare- a nightmare from which, for Polly, there was no waking. Her mother cuffed her smartly across the face, the impact making Polly's head swim and sparks burst before her eyes. Her eyes watered and tears ran down her face, but she didn't make a sound. Molly snarled, her lip curling up in a sneer. She shook Polly as she screamed obscenities at her. "How could you do something so stupid?! You ungrateful little bitch! I do something nice for you and how do you repay me?! You throw that niceness back in my face!" Her mother was extremely angry. Spittle sprayed from her lips, a few droplets of it landing on Polly's cheek, a slight soothing comfort against the burning bright red hand print emblazoned on her skin.
The little girl remained limp in her mother's arms, her whole body flopping about like a rag doll. She was nothing, she wasn't there anymore. Her mother's voice became a soft droning sound and she let everything around her drift away. Her body was floating, almost like she was submerged in the deep and cool waters of a lake, somewhere far away from civilization and this abominable woman who had given her life.
Polly's eyes saw her mother pull down the long leather whip from the wall, but it didn't register in her mind. Her eyes were empty and vacant as the stained glass windows of an abandoned church, beautiful and yet so lifeless. No signs of life came from her other than her breathing, which was involuntarily fast due to her body trying to protect her from the pain.
Molly, in her fit of rage, tore the dress from her daughter, tossing the pieces aside violently. It left Polly shivering in nothing other than her thin white shift and her stockings, her young body just starting to display womanly curves. A scream of anger, envy, jealousy, loss, and madness erupted from the throat of Molly Flinders. This child, who was so beautiful and like her father, was the reason Thomas had left her. She'd make the girl pay for taking away the only man she'd ever loved.
Little Polly's body twisted and writhed beneath the blows of the leather, the weapon hissing as it flew through the air, cracking loudly as it expertly struck her flesh, drawing blood when hit at just the right angle. Blood ran down her everywhere, and Polly couldn't care less. Her mind was safely walled up by that secluded and peaceful lake, the serenity of it all making her smile outwardly, despite the intensity of the pain that would surely catch up with her later. Molly continued to beat the girl repeatedly, the whip rising and falling with an almost measured cadence.
After somewhere around half an hour, sweat was pouring down Polly's mother's haggard face, and her eyes were calmed. There was no more malevolent demon lurking behind her mud brown eyes. They were simply apathetic and uncaring. Nothing but vessels used for seeing. If a person's eyes were windows to their soul, the light wasn't on in Molly Flinders's attic and her soul wasn't there. Molly tossed the bloody whip aside and coldly told her daughter, "Go to bed, you useless little whelp."
Polly, finally starting to come back from her place of solitude and serenity, obediently headed into her room and closed the door to the closet like space. She waited until she heard her mother close the door to her room and begin to snore loudly before she ventured back out into the main room. She boiled a pot of water and set about cleansing her wounds, carefully pressing a cloth wet with hot water to the slashes and welts. It stung something fierce and air hissed between her teeth several times in pain. She picked up the pieces of her dress, her beautiful dress that her mother had so needlessly destroyed, and made makeshift bandages for her back and sides with the scraps. She wrapped them around her malnourished body, wincing as she tied the ends together tightly in a knot.
Heather mewed softly, the tone questioning. She had to make sure that Polly was alright. Not only was she her only source of food in the winter, she was also her only companion. The cat loved her as deeply as was possible and the feelings were reciprocal. They needed each other, not only for survival, but to keep hold of their sanity.
The two retired to Polly's cubicle like chamber, both crawling into her bed and beneath the scant covers. She lay on her side and drifted into a pained and exhausted sleep, careful not to lean on any of the brutal wounds inflicted by her mother's hand. The hand Molly so often referred to as "the Hand of God."