It was cold up there, and even with the door shut she could hear them arguing. Happy New Year. They hadn’t even noticed when she’d left; a night of nonstop partying had gotten them both to that state of drunkenness where the optic nerves cloud over with a selective film that leaves some things out of the picture while sharpening others to unreal distinctness. Not that they ever noticed her much anyway.
She locked the bedroom door, then crossed to the stereo and turned the volume up as loud as she could bear. The speakers blasted to life, screaming heavy metal that rivaled and then obscured the yelling from downstairs.
They refused to listen to her; she refused to listen to them. Not exactly a complicated cause and effect relationship.
Jenni slumped onto her bed, letting the ratcheting music tear through her. She was sick of it all, sick of the fights and the parties and the yelling. She’d tried to end it last summer, but Dad had found out. Fine. At least they cared enough to keep her alive.
Thanks, Dad, thanks for saving my life so I can live through another year of this.
There were scars on her wrists.
She looked up toward the corner where the easel with the canvas stood propped against the wall. The most recent coat was drying, giving off an acrid, disagreeable smell. She had been working on that painting since summer; the first coat had gone on soon after her return from the hospital. She was thinking of calling the work “Life and Future.” No clue why; she just liked the name.
She stood and wandered to the window, watching rain drip from the eaves. Night had bred a thick darkness beneath the storm outside. The room was cold, maddeningly cold, and at the back of her mind she could feel it pressing in on her like a heavy weight. It was always like this in December—and tomorrow January would be worse.
Somewhere out in the darkness there were fireworks going off, muffled flashes of chilly light across the ceiling of clouds. Explosions. A violent celebration.
Another year was beginning. Three hundred and sixty-five more days of coming home in the afternoon to find both of them already drunk or stoned or just not there. Happy New Year. Bring that celebration right this way; let’s have at the fruitcake.
The paint was nearly dry; there would be no getting it off if she ended up regretting what she had done. She could paint over it, hide it, but it would always be there beneath the surface, marring the creation.
Jenni looked out into the rain and tried to remember summer—tried to remember that stiflingly hot evening when Dad had come upstairs and found her sitting on the edge of the bed with her head in her hands and thick wet blood running down her arms to the carpet. If he’d stayed at the bar another five minutes, she would have made it out. Escaped from her life and future. But right then he’d decided to care—decided to come home and check on his daughter. The one time she hadn’t wanted to see him.
Sorry Dad, you missed your chance. I may be alive, but whatever connection existed between us is now dead.
She turned to the canvas and touched it. Already dry. Time for a new coat.
She got her box of paints and brushes from the closet, then stood before the easel and contemplated what to do. The present layer was too dark, too cold. Maybe she could fix it—
The music stopped and a sudden silence filled the room. Voices came up the stairs, angry, shouting, blaming. Still fighting. Jenni looked down at the ruined skin of her wrists, noticing for the first time how large and dark the scars were.
They would always be that way.
She grabbed a brush, dipped it into paint the color of blood, and struck it as hard as she could against the leering canvas.
There Dad, you like this do you like this—
The heavy metal came on again, writhing, blasting, and now she was screaming along with it, flinging paint against the picture with the brush, with her hands, pouring it from the bucket, the floor splattered, the walls, don’t you like it this is my life and future and I hope you’re happy because this is how I’m going to hide it—
Thunder rumbled outside—no, it was more fireworks.
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