Shades of Fear edited by Dara Ratner Rochlin
Shades of Fear are stories we tell ourselves. These fears exist everywhere: in our minds, in our neighborhoods, and in all the places beyond. Come with us as our 22 writers take you deep into their world of fears, exposing the vulnerable spots in each writer’s soul. What strikes fear in their hearts will haunt you.
Sweaty Sheets & Sleepless Nights
By Joi Miner
We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
I keep my demons on a chain
But the bad asses they are
They break loose sometimes
Wreaking havoc on
Tossing and turning, the mattress squeaked beneath the weight and movement. Loud moans bounced off the walls. Wrestling within the sheets, the headboard banged rhythmically. From the hallway, it sounded like Bonnie had a visitor. Like she was caught up in one of her many sexcapades. Until… the moans got louder.
Turning into screams. The movements becoming violent as she kicked around.
Normally, Bonnie could kick herself out of her nightmares. But some nights, she had what her grandmother called a witch on her back.
Meaning that she was conscious enough to know that she was dreaming, but for some reason her subconscious would not release her back into the realm of the living. Bonnie referred to this as an out-of-body experience. It was kind of like watching the movie that was always on repeat in her head, but being glued to her seat, eyelids taped open during the most horrific scenes.
Nights like these were why Bonnie preferred to sleep alone. She couldn’t predict when her dreams would turn from fairies and gumdrops to gory slasher films. She’d survived a lot of evils in her short life. Seen things that would have had most in straight jackets ramming their heads up against padded walls. She’d gotten through it by suppressing it, only sharing her triumphs in her writing. There she could express herself and alleviate the stress when it wore on her spirit too heavily.
But all the writing in the world couldn’t erase everything from her mind. On nights like tonight, it caught up with her. She had pushed some of the pain so deep into her mind that she had forgotten it.
But at night, when she found herself at her mind’s mercy, her dreams oft played images of past atrocities in spurts. They had become more and more vivid lately. Maybe it was the stress of J’s death that had opened this door. Whatever it was, it had become less still photos and more feature films.
The first night it happened, a few weeks ago, the bed had been so wet she thought she’d peed on herself. Once her heart rate had slowed, she remembered the full scope of her nightmare of her ex-husband’s abuse. She remembered how she’d cowered in the corner balled up begging for him to stop. It never did soon enough.
She’d learned to stop begging and start praying. She would just pray and take herself to another place until he stopped punching and kicking her and walk away. She never got up immediately after he finished. She’d tried that once and he’d come back to whale on her again. She often stayed in the corner until the morning. Those nights she didn’t sleep. She listened to the house. Heard every creak, every breath, every movement.
With him being a firefighter, the beatings would last sometimes for the entire 48 hours that he was off. He’d go to bed, get a good night’s rest, and come back, refreshed, to punish her again for whatever wrong she’d done to him. By the time she’d gotten the courage to leave him, she had mastered the art of staying up for two days straight, taking full care of Tzionne without making a sound for fear of disturbing him, and hiding her bruises from loved ones.
All of this came flooding back. Bonnie had fought to catch her breath. After that night, she’d kept a brown paper bag in her nightstand to keep herself from hyperventilating. The dreams didn’t come every night but when they came, Bonnie knew there was no going back to sleep. She knew suppressing them would only make things worse in the long run. She would sit in her bed, feel the air from the ceiling fan cool her moistened skin, and cry, or scream, whatever she felt necessary.
Bonnie hated being alone on these nights. But she hated more having to explain her tossing and turning to a lover. She didn’t want them to get this close to her. Didn’t want them to see anything short of her sexual prowess and the perfections that she exhibited when in their presence. It was a front, but weren’t they all fronting? Everyone pretending to be whom and what they thought the other person desired them to be? So what was the harm?
And most of them weren’t emotionally vested enough to be the support Bonnie needed them to be during one of her fright nights as she called them. So she saved herself the embarrassment and disappointment of having to put them the hell out and cut them off completely if they proved to be the one-dimensional fucks she knew they all were.
Bonnie sat up and scooted out of the bed. She stretched her sore limbs and walked into the kitchen to fix something to drink. The refrigerator creaked open, reminding Bonnie how dead and empty her house was. Tzionne was with her grandmother this week and Bonnie was taking advantage of the free time to get overtime at work. She tried to work until she was exhausted so that she could have a dead sleep. Tonight, this mission had failed. Her demons had found their way into her dreams.
Knowing she wasn’t going to get anymore sleep tonight, Bonnie sat on her couch and crossed her legs Indian-style beneath her. She sat and enjoyed the silence. Meditated on her dreams and prayed quietly that she didn’t have to deal with that abuse anymore. Trying to bring herself to face the pain and erase this horrible memory from her mind, Bonnie remembered the last fight they’d ever had. The one that had caused her to leave.
Bonnie put Tzionne into her carseat while Keith put the groceries in the trunk of their sky blue Geo Prizm. When he got into the driver’s seat and cranked up the car, Bonnie seat belted. She stared out the window all the way home. As they turned into Woodcrest, he couldn’t take the silence anymore.
“What the hell is your problem, Bonnie?” he asked frustrated.
Bonnie continued to stare out of the window, not wanting to fight in front of Tzionne. She was going to wait until they got home, put the baby down for her nap, and then discuss, as calmly as possible, his flirting with the Wal-mart cashier right in front of her. She knew that any mention of him doing wrong would lead to her being physically attacked, but today, she’d had enough.
She was not going to be abused and embarrassed. If he was going to flirt like she wasn’t there, then maybe it was time that she wasn’t anymore. Let him beat up on these bitches that thought he was such a catch.
Noticing that she was ignoring him, he floored the gas, whipping around the curves to their street. He knew she hated this, especially with Tzionne in the car but he was going to make her talk to him.
Bonnie took deep breaths and said a prayer until he pulled the car, shooting sparks, into the driveway. Bonnie reached for the handle to get herself and her child out of the car before this idiot did something else stupid and dangerous. Keith hit the button locking the door before Bonnie could get free.
“Tell me what the hell your problem is,” he demanded.
“Keith, not here. Not now. Let me put Tzionne to bed and we can talk about this.” Bonnie was pleading with his rational side, as small as it was, she hoped that he would keep the abuse out of the sight of their 3 year old daughter.
“If you want to get out of this fuckin car, you’ll tell me what the hell your issue is.”
He was gritting his teeth, Bonnie knew this wasn’t a good thing.
“It’s nothing, Keith,” Bonnie tried to calm him.
“Now you’re gonna treat me like I’m stupid?” he was gripping the steering wheel.
Bonnie could hear the leather squeak beneath his grasp. It made her flinch. She knew her throat was next.
“No,” Bonnie chose her words carefully while trying to press the fear out of her voice, “I just think we should have this conversation when Tzionne is asleep.”
“Well, I think,” he mocked her, “we should have this conversation now.”
He wasn’t letting up. Bonnie knew that the longer they stayed in the car, the higher the chance that her face was gonna be knocked into the window.
Bonnie looked over her shoulder to see if her daughter was picking up on the tension.
Tzionne’s eyes were heavy with sleep. Bonnie decided to go ahead and get this mess over with so she could get her child out of the car and into the house.
“Fine, Keith,” Bonnie started, mustering up all the fearlessness and strength she could find, “if you really must know, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t flirt in front of me like I’m not there.”
Keith laughed, more like snickered at her demand.
“And who the fuck are you?” he asked snidely, demeaning her as if her request was ridiculous.
“Last time I checked, I was your wife.” The words soured in Bonnie’s mouth as she spoke them. She hated the fact that she was his wife. That she’d let herself stay in this situation for as long as she had.
“No.” he corrected her vehemently, “you’re just a bitch I knocked up and haven’t been able to get rid of.”
Bonnie didn’t react. She was used to the verbal abuse. She also knew he’d been sleeping around on her. None of this mattered to her. She hadn’t slept with him in months. They’d been sleeping in separate beds for longer than that. There had been several nights when she’d heard him sneak a woman into his room when he thought she and Tzionne were sleeping. Bonnie was numb to all of it now.
Her failure to react made him angry and he unlocked the door and popped the trunk. Bonnie knew trouble awaited her exiting the car, but she didn’t care, as long as Tzionne was safe.
She grabbed her dozing child from her car seat and took her into her room. Laying Tzionne gently in her bed, Bonnie went into the kitchen to put up the groceries that Keith was bringing into the house.
As she bent down to pick up the bags that had been thrown on the floor, she was met with a blow to the back of her head.
She stumbled to the floor, cowering as close to the cabinets as she could. He stood over her, foaming at the mouth. His big eyes bulged out of his head in anger.
“Now, talk all that shit you were talkin in the car!” he screamed at her.
Bonnie rubbed the back of her head that was throbbing from the impact. She didn’t say a word. Nothing she said would make any difference. Not saying anything wasn’t going to make a difference. He was gonna beat her til she was bloody and keep beating her til he was tired. She prepared herself mentally for the pain.
“You really think you mean something to me?” He poured on the insults with each lick.
“A bitch who don’t have a job. Won’t fuck me? Can’t cook worth a shit?!”
Bonnie took the blows. Balling up in the fetal position to minimize the impact. Something made her open her eyes. She looked around his leering figure to see her daughter standing at the top of the hallway. This made Bonnie sit up.
“Keith, the baby.” She tried to plead as he drew his foot back to kick her wherever his foot would land.
“Fuck the baby. You don’t care about her. She was just your way of trapping me into being with your triflin ass!” His foot landed squarely in her stomach.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” Bonnie screamed, the wind being knocked out of her.
Through blurred vision, Bonnie saw her child running in her direction. Tapping into her maternal instincts, she found the strength to pick herself up off the floor in time to see Tzionne grab her father by his pants and try to pull him away from her mother.
“Tzi!” Bonnie screeched as Keith picked their daughter up by her arm and carried her out of the room. She followed him down the hallway hollering for her husband to put their child down as Tzionne screamed in pain, punching at her father with her free arm.
Keith placed Tzionne roughly on her bed and closed the door. He turned to continue his assault on Bonnie and was met with a stiff right jab to the face. While he was in shock, Bonnie kneed him in the groin and watched him collapse to the floor. Seeing her chance, she kicked him in the face and began wailing on him with every bit of strength she had left. She grabbed a painting from the wall above his head and hit him until it broke.
It was then that she heard her child screaming at the top of her lungs from behind the closed door of her bedroom. This made Bonnie flip into Mommy mode.
She stepped over her injured husband and opened the door to get her child. Tzionne flinched against the wall, still holding her arm. When she saw that her mother was the one opening the door, Tzionne wiped the tears from her face. She ran and jumped into her mother’s arms.
Bonnie, ignoring her own pain, hugged her child as tightly as she could. Carrying her daughter in her arms, she walked past Keith, fighting the urge to kick him one last time. Bonnie grabbed her keys from the holder by the door and walked out the front door towards the car. She placed Tzionne in the front seat, secured her with the seat belt, and pulled out of the driveway.
Looking over to her child, she noticed that Tzionne was still grabbing her arm and grimacing. Ignoring her appearance, she rushed her daughter to Baptist Medical Center East.
Luckily, she’d left her purse in the car in the midst of all the chaos, so she had all of the insurance and identification documents needed to get her child looked at.
The nurses seemed equally as concerned with looking at Bonnie. By their faces and actions, she knew she must have looked a mess.
While they x-rayed Tzionne’s arm, Bonnie went into the bathroom to take a look at herself. She knew she was a bit sore, but no amount of sore muscles could have prepared her for her reflection.
Her hair was disheveled. Right cheek bruised and swollen. There was a cut above her right eye that had dried crusted over it. Her top lip was swollen and she could taste the blood from it in her mouth. These scars were like none she’d had before. He’d gotten careless. And that was a bad sign. The next step would have been her life’s story in the Obituary section of the newspaper.
Bonnie ran water onto a paper towel and cleaned herself up as best she could. She rummaged through her purse, pulled out her phone, and called Lucy.
Asking her friend to meet her at the hospital, she went back into Room 3, where they were seeing Tzionne. The nurse brought Tzionne back into the room from her x-ray with a brace on her little arm. Bonnie fought back tears. The nurse’s face showed there was more.
“Mrs. Jones,” she cleared her throat, “your daughter’s wrist is broken.”
Bonnie held her composure as the nurse continued.
“She needs to keep this brace on her arm and we’ve made an appointment for her with a Pediatric Orthopedic Specialist in about an hour to get a cast put on it.”
She paused, handing Bonnie the appointment card.
“It’s a hairline fracture so it will heal well and rather quickly as long as there’s no more damage done.”
“No,” Bonnie assured, “there won’t be any further damage done.”
“Mrs. Jones, may I speak with you outside for a moment?”
With the sense of urgency that littered her voice, Bonnie knew that she had no choice in the matter. She looked at Tzionne who was laughing at an episode of The Proud Family.
“Tzi, baby, Mommy will be right back, ok?” Bonnie rubbed her daughter endearingly on the back.
“Ok, Mommy.” Tzionne responded blankly, never removing her eyes from the TV screen.
Bonnie followed the nurse out of the room like a child being called into the Principal’s office. The nurse turned to her with caring eyes. She looked Bonnie over one good time before speaking.
“Ma’am, in instances like these it’s protocol to contact the Police Department and the Department of Human Resources to report child abuse.” She paused to let the information sink in.
“But from your appearance, I’m pretty certain that it wasn’t you who did this to your daughter.” She reached out to wipe the tears from Bonnie’s face.
Bonnie flinched at her touch, more out of instinct than anything else. She hung her head from the embarrassment of it all.
The nurse leaned in, “Tzionne told me what happened,” she whispered.
Bonnie‘s head sank lower. Her chin nearly touching her chest, she began sobbing. The nurse rubbed her back soothingly.
“Bonnie!” Lucy hollered down the hall at her friend.
When Bonnie looked up, Lucy stopped in her tracks. She now knew why she was being followed by two Montgomery Police Officers.
“What the fuck?!” Lucy’s anger was apparent in her face and her speech.
Bonnie pointed to the door of Room 3 and Lucy rushed in to see after her goddaughter while Bonnie informed the police officers what had happened.
They took pictures of her and Tzionne’s injuries and got her husband’s address and description. Bonnie was told to go Downtown to file a complaint as soon as she could but told that she had 366 days to do so.
After taking Tzi to get her cast put on, they’d dropped her off at Lucy’s house. Lucy and her boyfriend went with Bonnie Downtown to press charges and, after she was sure that Keith had been arrested, they’d gotten a U-Haul, gone to the house and moved all of Bonnie and Tzionne’s things into storage. Being a housewife and having no income, Bonnie had started a Rainy Day account for the day that she left Keith. Lucy promised to help her get on at her job the next week and Bonnie and Tzionne stayed at her house until things calmed down. It took Bonnie a week to tell her family what had gone on because she knew that, although they would help, it would come with criticism.
The court date was set and Keith received a mere slap on the wrist. With being a Firefighter, he was sentenced to Anger Management and Community Service. The Montgomery Fire Department gave him two weeks’ suspension without pay.
Bonnie dove back into the workforce after being out of it for 5 years. This made her put Tzionne in daycare. Which she hated to do. And she used what money she’d had left in her Rainy Day account to file for divorce. And here she was.
Bonnie came out of her flashback with tears running down her face. She sniffled in the darkness, her tears falling into her glass of wine. Bonnie gulped down her wine and went back into the kitchen, grabbing the bottle from the refrigerator.
She poured and drank until she passed out. She was off tomorrow so she could afford to get wasted. Bonnie embraced the darkness behind her lids as she was lulled into a drunken coma. She’d faced her demons tonight. There’d be no more tossing and turning.
Joi Miner, of Montgomery, Alabama, is the wife of Johari, and mother of two beautiful girls, Qadira and Phoenix. She considers herself a Jacqueline-of-All Trades. A performance poet, with 4 collections and a load of publishing credits under her belt, she feels that you can incorporate poetry into every aspect of life. She employs this, using her craft to teach individuals of all ages and from all backgrounds to use writing as a tool for healing.
Her company, Poetic Advisory, LLC, a publishing imprint and public speaking firm, offers workshops to students, teaching them poetic mechanics and how to use writing as a coping mechanism for issues that they are facing such as bullying, finding self, and general growing pains. A sexual assault and domestic violence survivor, she also teaches survivors of these atrocities to use writing to heal.
In 2013, Joi embarked in theatre, producing and directing Ntozake Shange’s stageplay “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf” with great critical acclaim. Joi, and Poetic Advisory™ LLC, are also the founders of the Annual Juneteenth Culturefest in her hometown (2012). Her newest endeavor, Vices, her debut work of fiction, is slated for release Fall 2014. Sweaty Sheets and Sleepless Nights is a sample chapter from this work. She can be reached at www.poeticadvisory.com and email@example.com.
“When an editor works with an author, she cannot help seeing into the medicine cabinet of his soul. All the terrible emotions, the desire for vindications, the paranoia, and the projection are bottled in there, along with all the excesses of envy, desire for revenge, all the hypochondriacal responses, rituals, defenses, and the twin obsessions with sex and money. It other words, the stuff of great books.”
Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees
Dara Ratner Rochlin is a freelance book editor and major grammar nerd, dating all the way back to elementary school. A voracious reader of all genres, you can find her blog/website at www.dararochlinbookdoctor.com. She can also be followed on twitter at @bookdoctordara
When not editing, she enjoys time with her family, the beach, and chocolate. She’d like to thank her husband Jeff, and her two wonderful children, Jason and Alyson, for all their support and love during the creation of this anthology.
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