With the tip of his paintbrush, he soaked up one of her tears. “You’re even more beautiful when you cry, but that’s not what this painting is supposed to be.” Dalton set his paintbrush down on the wood palette and took her shaking hands in his. “Ssshhhhhh,” he coddled her. She couldn’t keep the tears from flowing no matter how hard she tried. Dalton stilled and gripped her hands tightly. Grace started to sob harder.
“Enough!” He pushed away from her and backhanded the palette with such force that it went whirling across the room. Dalton stood and his face grew scarlet with anger. He ran his hands across his face and started pacing the room. With each step he became more infuriated.
She knew what was coming next just as it had every other time he brought out the paint and canvas. Grace fixated her gaze on one of the many cracks on the concrete floor. She silently willed him to calm down, to just leave her, but she knew that wasn’t going to happen. In the weeks since he had locked her away in this place, he was anything but unpredictable.
The room had no windows so Grace never really knew when it was day or night. Instead, she kept track of when he would come. He had made a comment that she was drinking her water too quickly. “One bottle of water per day,” he had said. He provided her with three bottles of water on each visit. The first several days she had been disoriented; he had hit her on the back of the head when she refused to get into his truck. She spent a lot of time unconscious those first few days but in her conscious moments, Grace would drain each bottle of water dry within minutes. If she had to make a guess, a good week had passed before she started rationing her water. It was impossible to be certain, but she tried timing herself between sips; one sip an hour for twelve hours. Then she would go without for as long as she could hoping it had in fact been a full twenty-four hours. It seemed to be working because by the time she would finish the third bottle of water, he would arrive. She made a mark on the wall with a broken piece of concrete each day. She was taken on March 13, 2016 and after today’s mark, Grace speculated it was about May 4, 2016. Grace had been a prisoner for about eight weeks.
The room was a small square. It couldn’t have been much larger than ten feet by ten feet. It was cold and dank and there was only a single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Grace was shackled to a metal plate that was bolted into the concrete floor. There was a cot against the wall closest to where Grace was shackled with no pillow and only a thin blanket. Dalton had built a small bookcase that stood next to the cot; there were only four books to read at any given time on the shelves. On the opposite side of the cot was a bucket where Grace could use the bathroom. It was only emptied when Dalton came every three days. The room stank of mold, bile, and feces.
Dalton’s yelling brought Grace back to the present. “Answer me!” He bellowed, fists shaking. He was standing right above her now; Grace flinched with anticipation.
“I’m ss-so-rryy,” she struggled to whisper.
“I don’t understand you. I have given you everything. I made this home for you, for us. I bring you books and I play music for you. You are my beautiful muse and I want to paint your portrait to make sure your beauty is never forgotten.” Dalton had lowered his voice and squatted to come down to her level. He picked up the shackles and let out a long sigh as he said, “I want to unlock these, I really do. But you just try to run. Why do you want to leave me? I love you, Grace.” He dropped the shackles and stood, her arms falling back into her lap.
Grace mustered up all of the strength she could. She knew what he wanted her to say, but she was just so tired. She looked up into his empty grey eyes and said, “I just miss the sun is all. I don’t want to run from you. I just wish you would take me with you when you go. I get so lonely when you leave me.”
Dalton walked over to the door and Grace was thrown off by this. Usually, Grace would say a few things to make him feel like she wanted to be here, with him, and then he would instruct her to lie on her stomach. He would stroke her hair and take another piece of her soul away as he did each time he came to visit. Then he would leave.
Grace watched as he undid the bolts and chains and opened the door wide. He turned back toward her and just stared. Dalton was taking her in and looked as if he was having an internal debate with himself. He crossed his arms and said, “This has gotten too big. Your face is on all the news channels and your name is flooding every page of every newspaper I buy.”
Grace didn’t say anything. She wasn’t sure what he wanted and she didn’t want to anger him again. He started towards her and she inched back as far as her chains would let her. She watched as he brought out a key and was overwhelmed with confusion as he unlocked one of her wrists. “Are you letting me go?” she asked in disbelief. He unlocked her other wrist and she rubbed at the rawness, her skin pink and sore.
Dalton’s voice was oddly calm as he said, “I have no other choice. I love you, but there is no other way.” He helped her to her feet and motioned toward the door. “Go,” he said.
Grace was uncertain and her legs were so weak but she started for the door. She hesitated and looked back at Dalton, but he hadn’t moved. She took another slow step, trying to will her legs to work properly. She had only had about a five foot slack with the chains, so her legs had not had much exercise in the last eight weeks. But she was walking, unchained and unshackled towards the open door. She could feel her heart flutter with hope. She was envisioning seeing the sun, feeling the wind bite at her cheeks. She started to think of her sister and her mother and their smiling faces. She would be okay, everything would be okay.
Just as Grace reached the door she felt Dalton’s presence behind her before the belt wrapped around her neck. He pulled her back hard and she stumbled to keep her balance. Her hands flew up to the belt around her neck as she tried to free herself. Dalton squeezed tighter and Grace scratched at his arms. She started kicking her legs and realized she needed to gain traction if she was going to push him off of her. She dug her feet into the concrete and pushed back as hard as she could. Dalton lost his footing, grunted, and fell back briefly. Grace used this opportunity to start to run. She wasn’t fast enough.
Dalton grabbed her by the hair and yanked her to the ground. She landed on her back hard, and it knocked the wind out of her. Dalton was on top of her now with his hands around her neck. Grace kept pawing at his arms, his hands, anything; but it was no use. Dalton was yelling something now, but Grace was quickly losing consciousness and couldn’t make out what it was. He lifted her head and started banging it against the concrete floor. She felt a sickening crack and everything started to grow dark. Dalton let go of her neck and her head lolled to the side. As Grace started to slip away, she noticed the paint brush on the floor right next to her head. She watched as a crimson colored stream made its way towards the paintbrush. This time it wasn’t Grace’s tears that the paintbrush was soaking up, it was her blood. Grace’s eyes fluttered and then everything went black.
Flash Fiction By: R. L. Taylor