by Ginette W. King
The door at the top of the stairs whips open. Rectangular light explodes into the darkness, searing the back of my eyeballs with pain. I jerk my head away from the glow.
I wait to hear his clunky footsteps on the stairs, but it’s silent. I glance up into the penetrating brightness as much my eyes can tolerate. Someone is just standing there in the doorway, watching me.
Please don’t come down, I silently beg. It’s only been two days.
The shape’s clearer now – it’s not him – but her squatty silhouette instead. She’s holding something in her right hand.
“Here ya go, girl,” she says with contempt.
Instinctively I curl away and throw my forearms over my head.
They took me from the supermarket one night as I closed up shop. Last thing I remember is putting the key in my car door, then waking up on the floor next to a plastic laundry basket and the sour smell of mildew. I’ve been here ever since. Blindfolded, drugged, and paraded out at their parties, thrown back in the basement when it’s over.
I will escape eventually. I will. But for now, I simply exist. A numb animal. Try to stay sane, stay alive.
She grunts as she hurls the object down the stairs, then slams the door. It makes a dull thud in the blackness as it collides with the ground. Sounds heavy – not like the usual half-eaten pimento loaf sandwich or moldy lump of cheddar cheese.
It could be cabbage– they tossed that down here once. I’d gnawed on it for three days, making the most of its crispness and moisture.
I strain to hear if whatever she threw makes a noise, but there’s nothing ominous, just the muted crinkling of plastic reshaping itself. After a few seconds I go after it. The rats don’t wait for long before claiming their share. I dash from my camp at base of the washing machine to where I’d heard it land, grope about for it in the dark, grab it, and scamper back to the relative warmth of my pile of rags. Anything to stay off the cold cement.
My hands paw the football-sized thing and I feel its cool ridged sides and smooth metal bottom with my fingers. It’s flattened on one side from its concrete arrival.
I force my greedy mouth around the top of it but there’s only the slick nothingness of plastic wrap. Still sealed? A thrill surges through my skin. I haven’t had fresh food in months. A gift from someone no doubt, tossed aside, then into the basement for their secret hobby.
My long fingernails gash the wrapper open and I am overcome with its sweet aroma as it hits my deprived senses. Fruity and liquored and heady. Bread? Dessert? The very thought of dessert sucks my breath away and my hands tremble to get it in me.
The first decadent bite dissolves against the roof of my mouth and I distinguish each flavor with unusual precision. Pecans … sour cherries… nutmeg… walnuts… pears… apricots… raisins… vanilla… butter… pumpkin pie spice… dates… honey… figs. I swear I even taste pomegranate. It’s positively swimming in liquor: bourbon and whiskey. The warmth of it pervades my belly and spreads through my body like a hot rock dropped in cool water.
Out of habit I start to wolf it down but immediately slow my pace – I cannot help but savor it, so ambrosial and comforting and luscious. It yields to my tongue like melting chocolate and my body hums with the pleasure of it. I feel exhilarated, more alive the instant the first moist crumbling morsel touches my mouth.
Against my will, I flash to a world that doesn’t exist for me anymore happy times in the crowded family kitchen, peals of laughter from my nieces, satisfied tummies, warm spicy smells radiating from the oven.
For a moment I know nothing about the people upstairs or my dank basement prison. A wave of pleasure devours me and satiates every cell –I exist only in that buttery texture, that brown sugar richness, that dense liquored heat.
The saltiness of my sudden tears merges with the flavors.
And I know it must be Christmas.
Ginette is a recovering technical writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. After a decade in the software industry and completing a master’s degree in Australia, she finally let her imagination deliciously consume her. She is currently working on a novel in addition to articles and essays. A non-fiction piece is forthcoming in FATE magazine. Contact Ginette