Sunday, August 21, 2016
Liberty #62: Panda
When she was finally blessed with a little girl, she was told to keep her quiet. She complied as best she could but too many long nights forced her husband to move their daughter’s room into the attic. It was there that a large stuffed panda sat in the window. The girl had received the panda from her grandma, her father’s mother. It was unknown if her mother still had her parents.
Her grandma would dote on her as much as possible. Her mother often gave her too much attention, and her father not enough but grandma did it just right. The girl loved seeing her grandma come through the attic door.
“She seems thin and looks pale,” the grandma said to the girl’s mother. “Have you been feeding her enough?”
“She never gets hungry,” mother shrugged. She could never hear if the girl was crying so she rarely came up to feed her. She was fed only when the adults were. “And we don’t get out like to the park as much as we would like,” mother explained. They had stopped leaving the house because her husband began worrying that someone would take her. Her husband had become very erratic over the last couple of months. She just brushed it off as he was a new father. Everything would be back to normal soon.
Two days before the girl turned three, their phone rang. Both the father and mother could easily hear the phone in the hallway but not the girl screaming and crying right above them. She tried to get out of bed but both her eyes were cloudy and unfocused, a problem she noticed a few months ago but kept to herself. They usually fixed themselves by the afternoon.
He got out of bed and shuffled to the phone, answering it with a gruff “Hello?”
A man on the other end explained that something had happened at his mother’s house and that he should come over. Within minutes, he and his wife we dressed and heading out the door.
“What about…?” she asked, pointing to the door to the attic, but was interrupted.
“She’ll be fine,” he grabbed her hand and pulled her along.
They drove across town to his mother’s house. Police tape encircled the front yard and there were a couple of police cars. He and his wife stepped over the tape and went into the house. “What are you doing? This is a crime scene,” an officer said.
“This is my mother’s house,” he said gruffly.
“Oh,” the officer hung his head. “Sorry. We’re thinking it was a robbery. Someone broke in through the side door and your mother was unfortunate enough to still be awake.”
The officer led them to where his mother was, covered with a sheet. He collapsed to the floor and began sobbing. His wife stood over him and gently put her hand on his shoulder.
Over the next few years, they grew more reclusive. Dark shades were drawn on every window except the one with the panda. His mother had left him a small fortune so he no longer had to go to work. They lived meagerly on his inheritance and kept from going outside as much as possible.
The girl was now six and, while skin and bones, still cute with her short, home-styled haircut and freckles dotting the area across her nose under her eyes. Her mother went upstairs every evening before bed to give her food and clean up the child’s toilet that she had been trained to use.
“Hey, there,” her mom would always say. She would never use her name. She may not have even remembered it.
“Ay, deer,” the girl would repeat.
“Here’s your food.”
The bowl was placed on the floor and she was unchained from an o-hook screwed into the wall. Her mother would clean out the bowl while the girl ate then drop off the clean toilet and a baby bottle of water, take the empty dish and the empty bottle from the evening before, the girl would be chained back up and her mother would leave, locking the door behind her. That was most interaction the girl would get for the next three years.
Downstairs, the girl’s father had moved he and his wife’s bedroom into the living room. He never went upstairs and she only went up to tend to the girl. Everything had been moved downstairs whether they needed it or not. The downstairs of their house became a cluttered mess and he began worrying about thieves wanting his family’s possessions. He kept a gun an arm’s length away all the time.
He spent the days muttering and wandering around the house, making sure their piles of trash were suitable or that their piles of trash were where they were supposed to be. She just stayed out of the way, in her rocking chair, attempting to read through her diminishing eyesight. Then, one day, it was gone. Replaced with a white, cloudy image, her vision never readjusted like it usually did. She carefully felt her way to her rocking chair and sat down, unmoving, untalking, unseeing.
The girl had been crying for over an hour before he finally heard it. “Why is she crying?” he asked.
“Then feed her. You’re supposed to keep her quiet.”
“I can’t feed her.”
“I can’t see,” she revealed to him.
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t see. It’s like I’m looking through clouds. I can’t get her dinner fixed. I can’t go up and down the stairs. I can’t clean her toilet. You’re going to have to do it.”
“I don’t go upstairs,” he grumbled.
“Then she’ll just cry,” she shrugged.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, the girl’s cries clearly drilling into his ears. “Why didn’t you tell me about your eyesight?”
“You don’t want to be bothered by our ailments,” she answered.
The crying deafened him. His wife continued to sit in her rocking chair, acting like nothing was wrong. She could barely hear her daughter but he was being tortured by her screeching wails. The girl couldn’t hear the two gunshots her father used on her mother and himself. They were too far away, the walls too thick, her crying too loud.
The shots did catch the attention of their neighbors who found this the last straw in the family’s oddness. They called the police who came over, saw all the windows covered to keep out the light, and pushed their way into the house. Inside, they found the woman bleeding and slumping in the rocking chair. The man, in his armchair. The police heard the faint screaming coming from upstairs.
Upon breaking into the attic, they found the girl, chained to the wall, her toilet nearly full. Nothing in the room besides a mattress, blanket, and the sun-bleached panda in the window. One of the officers carefully went to unchain the girl while the other radioed in.
“Hi, there,” the officer said kneeling down in front of the girl. “My name is Hal, what’s yours?”
The girl had stopped crying but was still sniffling. “Pa-naa,” she said, but was pointing at the stuffed animal in the window.
“Okay, we’ll just call you that for now. Panda,” the officer said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”