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Her face was smarting from the slap. But as soon as palm had landed on cheek and humiliation set in, bitter rebellion was set into motion. Ivana received many slaps in the course of each day. Every day since she was 3 and on special occasion perhaps a few more. So instead of gulping down her shock and maybe even crying she would put her best cheek forward and close her eyes. And when that was over she would stare at the floor till the ranting and raving blew over and she heard the word, ‘Hopeless!’
That was the signal to sit put for 5 minutes and then get up and go to her room.
Ivana relied on signals. On chatter and hands and nods and laughter to let her know what was going to happen when the air got heavy. Her predicted anticipation was fine tuned to a point that it was nothing short of a skill. When Ivana was 9 and 3 months she walked into her parent’s room late at night. She’d had a nightmare.
It was very dark. She heard some noises but she couldn’t really make out much. So she stood and listened. There were heavy stunted breaths, a slight thumping, and some odd sounds and although she wasn’t really quite sure about it she wanted to turn around and go back to her bed.
But she didn’t move. It was too dark and she’d probably miss the fifth floorboard and there would be a loud creak. They would hear…and she didn’t want a slap, not now.
So she stood with her hands on her ears by the wall and stared at the pattern of the wood near her feet. When she finally pried her hands off her ears she realized that it was completely and totally quiet. Ringing silence disconcerted her. It disarmed her ability to prepare and to see. They were asleep. She could go back now.
Tracing the embossed swirls in the wallpaper, she dodged the floorboard and made it back.
Her parents were sat on her bed, silently stunned.
She couldn’t quite understand what she had done, but her heart beat so hard her chest hurt.
There were a few times that they’d taken her to the fairground and save for those few times she almost never heard in that tone, those words.
She took 9 full steps in the direction of her bed and clutched the lace that spilt over it. It was her mother that spoke first. She was crying. Her voice was muted and shook with the same sickly doom that wafted through the room.
“Ivana, sweetheart, come here and sit down next to me”.
She could hear her father pacing. Every single step he ever took struck terror in her heart. Always. A silent indiscernible terror that never reached her face.
She sat down.
Lace crumpled in her little fist.
Her father left the room. His departure bore a resonance larger tonight than ever before.
“Sweetheart, I’m going to ask you something now ok? Don’t you worry about a thing, ok? “
“Ok now Ivana I just want you to tell mommy the truth. Has daddy …”
More escaped sobs.
Ivana’s heart beat so hard now she thought she might die. The lace was damp.
They didn’t often ask her opinion on things. Let alone about each other.
“Sweetie does daddy come to your room sometimes at night, you know just to talk and kiss you goodnight?”
He would. Sometimes. He would come in and she would hear the door open slowly. It would always creak just when the door knob was turned then it stayed quiet. Just standing there, a stern observer.
It was never the bed that he sat on. He always kneeled on the floor so that his head and hers were at the same height. Almost always, she was awake and acting marvelously.
Her mother is clutching her so hard that now, all Ivana can think of was how to catch her next breath without shirking her off. It was a rare occurrence, this clutching.
He would ask her if she was asleep in a gentle voice. Almost always at this point her performance would gain momentum and she’d try to feign a gradual wakening.
Most recently he had knelt and spoken of how he wished things were different. How he wished things weren’t so difficult. It was hard to focus when she was trying so hard to look comatose.
“Sweetie, tell mommy… does daddy ever say or do anything, anything at all honey, that you don’t like? Just tell mommy Ivana.”
There is finally a breeze in the room. The front door has been opened. He mother is breathing so hard Ivana’s hair keeps tickling her eyelids and she cant move it because her arms are in a clutch.