They were always teasing her. Hardly a day went by without Kathleen’s sisters trying to get the upper hand or make her do something she didn’t want to do. Once they coaxed her into a smelly public bathroom first to see if anyone was there. At least that time it backfired on them when she found and kept the 85 cents left on the sink.
Most of the time they simply pestered Kathleen, pushing her away or not letting her join in their fun. She was eight years old, after all, opposed to their oh-so-grown-up 11- and 13-year old maturity levels. No way could either of them be seen with her out and about in the neighborhood. She got the cast-off Barbie dolls and hand-me-down bikes, rusted from being left out in the rain. Luckily, her mom at least made her new clothes when her sisters’ were too worn out to pass down the line. The older girls resented her living in “their” bedroom in the family’s small, five-room house. Kathleen’s tiny mirrored vanity, roller skates and books took up space in an otherwise already crowded environment. God forbid she touch any of their eight-track tapes or try on a bra meant to train someone else’s budding breasts, much less put one of her posters on the faux wood panel walls. Small revenge came when she’d try on their jewelry if they went to a friend’s house.
Her sisters told her it was enough to tolerate her presence without being forced to alternate nights she would share each one’s sleeping space. She suffered the indignity of being kicked from one to the other sister’s bed each evening since there hadn’t been enough disposable income to buy Kathleen her own in the near decade of her life. She’d cover up her scant belongings with a chenille spread and pretend it was her twin bed. Hers was a harassed existence.
The three girls didn’t discuss the most taboo subject out loud during the daylight hours, lest their parents catch wind of the ruse. An ongoing battle stayed whispered under threat of what would happen if Kathleen told on them. As it was, she already spent many restless nights on the divan when the talking upstairs grew too loud and she was quarantined to sleep there. Daddy’s voice came booming through the ventilation ducts, “Who is making all that noise up there?” The two older voices called out in singsonging accusation, “Ka-a-a-thle-e-e-en!” He always charged, “Girl, you get down here NOW!”
She clenched her fits in ineffectual rebellion and flung the covers back to shock the cold upon that night’s bed hostess in the process. “Oh, man …” she grumbled under other audible giggling and fairly tripped over her flannel nightgown as she fumbled down the dark stairway in her housecoat and slippers. Kathleen shook a crop of mousy brown overgrown bangs out of her eyes and took special care to miss that trick step never repaired although broken several years prior. It scared her to imagine what may lurk below, waiting for her foot to fall through the unsupported board and its threadbare carpet remnant.
The ominous space below wasn’t the only place in the house to fear. A subject they’d hidden in silence was the most frightening. Her sisters muted her with stories about what was in the closet of their bedroom, and they leveraged the information against her to make her do their bidding. She was forced to turn out the lights when all of them had laid down to go to sleep with a threat of imminent danger in her vicinity.
Ann said, “You’re the last one up, so go turn off the light!” Gay echoed with, “Yeah, it’s your turn!” “It’s always my turn,” protested Kathleen, tip-toeing silently to the switch on the opposite wall that seemed a million miles away.
She’d been told there was a dead maid in the closet who had been there since before they were all born, and the woman’s corpse would come out if she didn’t do what they demanded. Goosebumps crawled down Kathleen’s legs as she slunk back to the bed d’jour. Her young mind didn’t realize a household with so little money could scarcely afford bills, and certainly not employ a maid, let alone have a dead one’s remains hidden among the Sunday school dresses and old toys. It didn’t occur to her that her sisters would fear a decomposed woman in their midst, too. Her naivete was leveraged for own servitude as well as their resulting cheap thrill.
Revenge came slowly. It was months before Ann found the crack in the Pete Townshend LP sitting unplayed and dormant, put there by a vengeful pre-teen sibling. And it was yet years before Gay was ratted out for having weed in her underwear drawer. Daddy didn’t believe her anyway … not his sweet little girl Gay.
The dead maid’s physical form was never revealed, though her essence loomed there spooking a particular young resident. The house was destroyed by fire after it had long been sold. Faulty electrical wiring, they said, but maybe it was intentional.
For a spiteful little girl’s spirit remained if only in ethereal form, too. She was the one who’d been scolded for playing with a book of matches found alongside some marijuana in a lingerie drawer. Of course, the evidence also burned up. All that was left amid the charred beams, shingles and scant insulation was a single blackened set of twin-sized box springs and a few melted plastic shapes that resembled the faces of Barbie dolls.
This is a Studio 30+ writing prompt: taboo