She's five when he dies. She hears screaming, banging, and the sound of a door slammed, muffled by her covers, leaving behind a dead beat mother and her dark haired child. She tells her that daddy's rotting in hell, and slaps her when she cries.
She wants to wave goodbye to the only home she's ever known, but her hand is caught in her mothers and the other is lugging her bright pink backpack. Later, she creeps inside one of the doors of her new home and lies down on the bare mattress, curled up and trying to remember the colour of her daddy's eyes. She doesn't like this house, and she doesn't like the fear settling in her stomach.
She doesn't like the look she's too young to read in her mummy's face or that they stopped at a shop that smelt funny on the way here. She doesn't like that she left with a glass bottle, filled with what she thought was water, instead of food for her dinner.
The eight year old is crouched in the tree, her bare and dirty legs wrapped around a branch as her feet pound out a rhythm. It's dark and getting cold, but the man hasn't left yet, and she knows the rules.
At least her mum won't be drunk tonight, or passed out and vomiting. Her body will be covered with bruises that she won't bother to hide, and her dark eyes will be deeper than usual as she rounds on her; whore, sinner, slut, dirty words formed on a generous mouth, but that's better than bile piled up on the kitchen floor, or the tears that fill the red-rimmed eyes when the drinks too soft.
Her mummy is pretty, with her dark features and sculpted face, but the reek of booze and vomit, sweat and cheap cigarettes have long since hidden the lithe figure that she remembers. But she's still pretty, and she knows that's why the men come.
Finally he leaves, and she glares hard glances at the back of his auburn head as he saunters down the driveway. She slips into the darkened trailer, trying to stay silent as she pours cereal into a cracked bowl.
Spooning the stale food into her mouth, she counts her ribs with her free hand. She allows a small smile to relax her mouth. Her mother's bottle is full; tomorrow there will be fresh food in the cupboard.
She's eleven and she walks down the hall, scuffed trainers squeaking on the cheap linoleum. Dark hair hangs into dark eyes that smoulder with barely contained rage, as she plays the scene from this morning over in her head. She waited at home for her mum, watching trashy television and tidying the three room trailer. She even picked some pretty looking weeds from the pavement cracks a few blocks over, and put them in the only glass she could find.
She had scrambled upright eagerly as the county hospital van pulled up, depositing her mother on the weed filled driveway, the number of a rehab centre that she would never call clutched in her rough hands.
She opened her mouth to say hi, but her mum pushed straight past her and into the trailer, pausing for only a second to take in the uncommon cleanliness, before disappearing into the dim space, and the sudden burn of humiliation surprised her as it heated her face. The tears surprised her even more, and she brushed them away angrily.
Slamming her hand into the side of the trailer, and feeling the whole frame shake in response, hadn't helped the viscous anger spreading through her, or the throbbing sadness that threatened to overtake it. She had turned and started to sprint the long walk to school, slamming her feet into the concrete and wishing that the cracks appearing weren't just her imagination.
She hates her life. She hates that her mum ignored her completely, heading for the cupboard and her room. She hates that she missed gym with Mrs. Andrews for a woman who obviously didn't give a shit about her. And she hates that she's worried anyway.
She was thirteen when she had her first taste of a cigarette, thirteen when the first tang of vodka slipped down her throat. She still remembers the guy at the bus stop, with the spiked hair and tanned arms, doused in deodorant, the guy who stared at her chest as he offered her the pack. She took one, tucking it into her bag and, later, when her mum was passed out on the kitchen table, she drew it down, watching as the smoke disappeared in the cool air.
He was at the bus stop again the next day, and he offered her another cigarette as he invited her to a party. Standing in front of the mirror, she looks at herself - dark hair framing a sculpted face with sinful eyes and a full mouth, a curved body barely covered by the stolen top and skirt - and she smiles.
Standing in a doorway, she accepts the bottle as it's passed round. The taste surprises her, a burning she hasn't felt before, but she carries on drinking, feeling the eyes staring at her. By her sixth gulp she can feel her head spinning, and unexpected happiness forming.
Stumbling into the house near dawn, she catches sight of herself in the same mirror, and for a moment she looks so much like someone else - so much like her -that she doesn't recognise herself.
She's thirteen when she begins to understand her mother.
She's fifteen, and she's lying on her back, skirt pushed up around her waist and top discarded somewhere in the darkened room. The rhythm of skin on skin above her pulls her in, and she kisses him, long and hard, trying to recreate the overwhelming passion in the stories she sometimes reads.
Her mum died two years ago, suicide by razorblade, and the trailer is dusty and rusted, same as it always was. It's uninhabited now, but she goes back sometimes. The electricity doesn't work, or the water, and there's no food, but that's not really any different. She can still see her; passed out on the table, vomiting on the living room floor, pouring sour milk onto her breakfast, curled up in the dirty sheets, and lying still in a bath full of red.
It reminds her of something that she can't quite grasp, something hard and familiar in the pit of her stomach, and she likes that feeling, sometimes. She sits in the old tree she spent so many nights in, waiting for her mother to finish whoring, and lets the memories of the worst years of her life wash over, and she smiles. She smiles and she cries, and wishes her life could go back to something she understood.
She understood the alcohol, and the pain and the poverty, the hunger and the cheap clothes and the days spent scrubbing puke out of a threadbare carpet, or scavenging for food. She knew how to deal with those things; she knew how to deal with her life.
She's fifteen and she lying on her back, and she doesn't know what to do anymore.