Her father. Shouting her name. “Olivia!” His footsteps falling loud and heavy on the wood of the floor.
Olivia. The soles of her feet pressed hard against the same wood floor. Feeling the vibration of his every step.As he’s circling, gaining momentum, coming closer to the place where she’s hiding.Fierce jolts rippling through her.Edged on one side with terror, on the other with hope.
The air in the living room, the air throughout the house, is cold. Stale with the wintry funk of blankets in need of a good washing.Sour with the odor of boiled cabbage.Musty with the papery scent of books. Books piled onto windowsills, sagging on shelves, stacked in cluttered doorways.
It is because Olivia is only nine years old, thin and small for her age, that she is fitting so neatly into this cramped space. Stuffed-in like a cork in a bottle. Knees drawn up, arms wrapped tight around them: spine jammed flat against a few inches of living room wall. One elbow pushing into the cracked leather of an old armchair; the other pinned against the side of a wooden cabinet. The cabinet door—open. Pulled flush against the front of the armchair to create the fourth wall of her hiding place. Suffocatingly close. Fogged with her breath.
Again. Her father’s roaring shout—“Olivia!” This time not quite as near.And with a different quality. Something wild, slightly unhinged. And in the tender place at Olivia’s core, where fear is wedged against hope, there is the sensation of fire and snakes. And knives.
The chill from the wall at Olivia’s back is agonizing, shaking her with cold. She lowers her head—letting her hair fall across her arms and shoulders. Her hair, honey-blonde, has never been cut. It’s extraordinarily long and thick. As it settles around her, Olivia feels its weight but no warmth. She whispers a single, angry, word: “Stupid!” Last night she put a quilted bathrobe, and mittens, and her fleece-lined slippers at the foot of her bed. Then this morning, only minutes ago at first light, when she was running out of her room, she forgot them. She has come away unprotected wearing only her nightgown.
Olivia’s shivering is making her teeth chatter. She’s worried about the noise. She bites down—trying to quiet it. And for a split-second.Absolute stillness.Then a flash of light.A thundering BANG.Searing pain. Her father’s fingers twisting deep into her hair. Knotting it into a handle; lifting her off the ground. Olivia is coming away from the floor with her knees to her chest—her arms still tightly wrapped around them.
She is momentarily airborne. Then she’s landing on her back, on the sofa. With the wind knocked out of her. Just for an instant something strange: as if time has stopped. Her father.Making a tiny hushed sound that sounds like, “Sorry.” The look in her father is bordering on terror. Then it’s gone. The look—and the terror. And he’s screaming: “What the hell? What the bloody hell?”
Calista.With her ink-black eyes and soap-white face.Rushing into the room, wailing: “How could you do such a hurtful thing? Knowing we’d be getting out of bed with the house quiet like death and you nowhere to be found. Your poor father calling for you, and you not answering.Like you’d been taken or something!”
Olivia. Being dragged to her feet. By her father, gasping, gulping. As pale as paste except for the skin right above his cheekbones, which is blotchy red. “What the hell’s wrong with you? What in God’s name did you think you were doing?” The darkness in his eyes obliterating Olivia’s hope, leaving only her fear. She’s trying to make herself hold still but can’t. She’s shaking too hard. With the fear.And the cold. She’s barely able to breathe as she’s telling him: “I wanted to know…would you miss me if I was gone?”
But it’s not her father who’s swooping toward her, it’sCalista. Calista in her rumpled grey nightgown, wafting the smell of sleep-musk and sweat, saying: “Have you lost your mind? What kind of child even thinks of tormenting her parents with such a wicked prank?”
There is the sting of a slap on Olivia’s face as she answers: “You’re not my parent.”
“And for that,” Calista mutters, “I thank the Lord.”
Olivia only half-hears what Calista has said. Olivia’s focus is on her father, even though she’s trembling with the cold. Even though her eyes are watering from it. And she can barely see him. Even though she’s in terrible pain because he lifted her up by her hair and let her full weight dangle from her scalp, she cannot move away.
Olivia, too young to comprehend the concept of impossibility, remains at her father’s side. Trembling in her faded nightgown, gazing up at him. Longing for him to kneel and put his arms around her: hold her close, the way a father in a storybook would. If the little girl he loved had been lost and now he had found her.
When her father turned and walked out—ashen and silent, his anger spent, his expression blank, hands hanging loose at his sides—Olivia came back upstairs. Cold. Sick with sadness.
She went to the end of her bed. Gathered up the quilted bathrobe, the mittens, and her fleece-lined slippers. And with her teeth chattering and her fingers blue she put them away, and wrapped herself in the blanket from her bed. Later, after she heard the thump and whoosh of the heat being turned on, she went into her closet. To get dressed.
She is near her bedroom window now. Watching dawn give way to morning. She’s at the little pine table that serves as her school desk. Her books are in tidy stacks at one end and her pencils in orderly rows at the other. She’s wearing a beige sweater, brown corduroy pants, striped socks, and navy-blue sneakers. She is meticulously clean and neat. With the exception of the place at the crown of her head where her father’s fingers were dug-in to lift her from the floor. There, her hair is wildly snarled. And she has no way to deal with it. Olivia’s hair hangs from her head to her hips in a massive, weighted curtain. Only the reach and strength of an adult can maneuver a brush from one end to the other.
Olivia is wondering what her punishment will be. Wondering whether or not she is going to be hit—and if she is, with what, and how hard. Her mouth is flooding with the taste of salt. Tears crowding every inch of her. Fat and hot. She’s afraid to let them go. Terrified of all the ways they could hurt her if they were to show themselves on the outside. Where other people could see them.
Olivia shifts her attention to the window—and her telescope. The view it provides is of rolling hills. Dormant vineyards, winter-bare. And a long, dusty road with a modest country house at the far end. A house that used to look exactly like Olivia’s, battered and brown. And has now been transformed.By a picket fence and banks of roses. By walls painted white, and a bright-red front door. By a family named Granger: a pretty mother, an amiable father, and two young children.
Olivia has never spoken to any of the Grangers. Never come close enough to touch their picket fence. Or hear the sound of their voices. Yet she hungers for them—yearns to be inside a house like theirs.
Through the telescope Olivia is seeing the school bus stopping outside the Granger’s gate. Where their mailbox is. The mailbox that has their name painted on it in bold black letters. And Mrs. Granger with her radiant prettiness and long shearling coat and rainbow-colored muffler is running her fingers through her children’s hair. Giving each of them a kiss as they’re scrambling onto the bus.
Then the bus pulls away. And Olivia is grieving. Watching Mrs. Granger go back into her house.
When both the school bus and Mrs. Granger have disappeared Olivia closes her eyes and dreams. She dreams Mrs. Granger is still at the side of the road and that it is she, Olivia, who’s being lovingly sent off to school. She’s wearing a backpack; her shoulders warm with the sun. The air smells like perfume, like roses. And she’s hearing the friendly squeak and rattle of the bus as it’s stopping—for her. The sensation is glorious. Like dancing with butterflies. Mrs. Granger is raising her hand. On the other side of the dream Olivia, with her eyes still closed, is raising her own hand and slipping her fingers into her hair. For the span of a heartbeat she is experiencing a mother’s caress. The sweetness of it, almost unbearable.
And in the midst of the sweetness—excruciating pain. Olivia’s fingers snagging against the tangles, pushing at the sore places on her scalp. Shattering the dream.Letting-in the harsh reality that Calista has marched into the room, muttering: “Stop whatever nonsense you’re up to. And for goodness sake open your eyes!”
Calista.Wearing a baggy, ankle-length woolen skirt; a flannel shirt; and a pair of blue clogs, scuffed at the toes.Placing an apple onto the pine table. Putting it on top of one of Olivia’s books, a thin volume in a dust jacket made out of white wrapping-paper.
Olivia is frantic to keep the book away from Calista, to stop her from opening it and reading it. And killing the things that are inside it by simply laying her flat, black gaze on them.
But Calista doesn’t realize the book is different from any of the others on the tabletop. She’s pointing to the apple, telling Olivia: “Your father didn’t think you deserved any breakfast. You have me to thank for this.”
Olivia wants to believe Calista is lying. She wants it to be her father who sent the apple; although she knows he has offered no opinion on the subject of her breakfast. She knows he’s left the house and has done what he always does when he’s upset. He has vanished.
Now Calista is pulling a wooden-handled brush through Olivia’s hair. Inflicting hurt with each grim, determined stroke. And Olivia is thinking about the women in her history books, the women of the Old West. She’s thinking they must have this same grim determination in their strokes when they were beating rugs. Or intruders.
Calista is gathering Olivia’s hair into a thick braid. “I envy you this. I’ve never seen hair so long and magnificent.”
“I hate it,” Olivia tells her.
Calista brusquely fastens the braid with a rubber band. “I think it pleases your father—for your hair not to be cut.”
“How do you know?” Olivia has turned so that she can look directly at Calista. Something she rarely does; she’s intrigued, curious. Her father seldom speaks, unless he’s instructing Olivia in her schoolwork. She’s eager for any scrap of information. “What did he say?”
“It’s not so much what he’s said, it’s more like—” Calista pauses; a slight catch in her breath, the same one that’s in Olivia’s when she thinks about her father. “He’s a complicated man. He’s brilliant, a genius. Geniuses don’t see the same world other people do. Ordinary people like you and me.”
“My father says I have an excellent mind.” Olivia doesn’t want to be grouped with Calista in any way.
“Well you should use that ‘excellent mind’ of yours to do something other than play ugly tricks on the one person who’s sacrificed everything for you. Your father has devoted his life to raising you, schooling you, all on his own. He’s been a saint. Something that certainly can’t be said about your mother—”
A loud roaring.In Olivia’s ears. Like the bellow of a caged lion. The ferocity of it is stinging her eyes. Putting a low moan in the back of her throat.
“—your mother abandoned you, ran away, when you were still a baby in diapers. Because she was blonde and beautiful and all she thought about was her own pleasure.” Calista is gripping Olivia’s chin, not letting her look away. “That heartless prank you pulled this morning tells me you’re headed down the same selfish road as your mother—more concerned with what you want than what you owe.”
Olivia expects this is where her punishment will come. A hit with the back of the wooden hairbrush. Or maybe a slap from Calista’s wide, brick-like hand.
To Olivia’s surprise Calista steps away; and has an unfamiliar gentleness in her voice as she says: “I’m not telling you these things to be cruel, I’m trying to teach you a lesson. You’re a difficult child and you need to grow up to be a good woman.”
Calista sits at the edge of Olivia’s bed, saying: “I’ve been trying to show you how to mend your ways, every day, for the two years I’ve lived in this house, the entire time I’ve been your father’s wife. I think it’s one of the reasons he married me. Being alone with you was too much for him, he needed a woman’s help.” Calista is smoothing the folds at the waistband of her baggy skirt and sighing. “But soon I won’t be able to look after you as much. You’ll need to be on your own. I’m going to have a baby, Olivia. A child that’s mine.”Calista’s tone is incredibly soft, as if she’s speaking only to herself. “There isn’t anything as precious as a baby of your own, if you’re a good woman. To a woman with a true mother’s heart there is nothing more important than cherishing her child.”
Olivia is again experiencing the sensation of fire and snakes. And knives.
In the afternoon, Olivia is standing in front of a shelf near her bed. The shelf contains an assortment of little-girl treasures that (over the course of her childhood) Olivia has discovered in her father’s attic. The most beloved of these objects is a small, beautifully delicate copper-wire cross. Olivia keeps it hidden, tucked away behind two other items from the attic. A portable record player and a stack of old record albums.
Olivia has put the soundtrack of a Broadway show onto the record player’s turntable. She waits for the music to begin. Then lowers herself out of sight. Into the sliver of space between her bed and the wall. There is no lock on her door: this is only place she can find privacy. She has brought along a pencil, and the book in the white dust jacket—and she’s opening the book to its first page. On that page, written in the perfect cursive taught to her by her father, is the book’s title:
“The Book of Someday”
The pages beneath the title page have been filled with what is essentially an evolving map of Olivia’s heart. Every sentence, a dream being born, a vow waiting to be kept. Among them are notations such as:
Someday I will have a birthday party with people and singing.
Someday I will go to ballet lessons and wear pink ballet shoes. I will have a friend and we’ll hold hands and she’ll think I’m nice.
Someday after the century changes, when it’s in the 2000s and I’m all grown up, I won’t stay in the hills out by Santa Ynez, California any more. I’ll go to a place that is somewhere else.
Someday I will live in a house with a red door and roses.
Someday I will be pretty and not have long, heavy hair that aches my head.
Someday when I’m a mommy I’ll never run away because I’m selfish and bad. I’ll stay and I’ll say I love you. I’ll say it all the time, and give hugs. And I won’t hit, especially not with a wooden hairbrush because of the hurt not ever stopping, even after the bruises go.
Someday I will attend a real school.
Someday I will be brave and tell Mrs. Granger how much I love her. Maybe she will let me come and live with her and she will smile at me and let me have a dog. One that’s little, and is white with a curly tail.
Olivia is abruptly looking up from her book. The song coming from the record player is describing a concept she has never thought of before. A ‘someday’ that needs to be added to her list.
Someday I’ll go to town in a golden gown and have my fortune told.
Olivia’s pencil is flying across the page—spelling-out this new promise. And there is unbridled bliss.
When the day has faded, and night has come, there is unbridled terror.
Olivia is waking from a horrific dream. Screaming and at the same time burying her face in her pillow. Trying to stop the sound so he won’t hear. But her father is already on the other side of her doorway. In the darkness. She can feel him there with the look in his eyes that is soft, like sadness, and then harsh, like the sharp edge of a stone.
Her father knows about her nightmare. Olivia has told him exactly what she sees when she dreams it, and that it has been with her for as long as she can remember. She doesn’t understand why, but she senses the knowledge of these details is what brings that strange look to her father’s eyes. That look of sorrow, and of stone.
Once her father is gone from the doorway Olivia crawls into the frigid space between her bed and the wall. Desperate to stay awake.To keep the nightmare at bay.
The dream is ghastly in its silence and its simplicity. A void.And a woman.Floating in an eerie kind of sleep.Draped in a shimmering garment that flows from her shoulders to her knees like a column of starlight. Wearing pale-colored high-heeled shoes fastened with a strap at the instep, each strap anchored by a single pearl button. Her arms outstretched. A silver band encircling her head.In the band, a plumed white feather. Her hair is short. Chestnut brown. Her face is in shadow. Only her lips are visible. Fiery red and slowly parting.Making way for a noise.A shrieking howl.Which, when it comes, will be the sound of unadulterated horror.
Olivia’s fear of her nightmare is colossal. Her only defense is to gaze toward the window. Waiting anxiously for the protection that morning will bring.
This will become a habit with Olivia—her passion for morning. As an adult she will greet each new dawn by walking briskly toward the rising sun. And on one of these walks, almost twenty years from now, Olivia will again encounter the fiery-lipped woman in the pearl-button shoes. But she will no longer be an apparition haunting the night. She will be a reality. Existing in the cold clear light of day.
The Book of Someday