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the well




For just a moment, she wonders where she is. The next, she?s thinking maybe she?s finally died. Then, suddenly, abruptly, she knows right where she is.

She lifts her face out of the water. She shivers and is almost glad that anything could still make her shiver.

She looks around. It?s darker. She looks up. It?s definitely night. She can be sure of that much. For a second, she thinks it?s possible he just put a cover over the well, but then she makes out a couple stars overhead.

She thinks about screaming for help, hoping anyone is nearby. But, that hadn?t worked so far, and it wasn?t like her voice was sticking around.

She sits up and her eyes adjust rather quickly to the darkness. She can make out individual stones up above her, the bars separating the well from the cavern next to it, a large mass floating not far beyond those bars. Is that a body?

She turns away from it, feels around for the ledge she found? Was that yesterday? The day before? A week ago? She can?t even remember. She?s lost count of the days. She wonders briefly if it?s her birthday yet.

?Am I thirteen??

Her voice frightens her a little. She wasted so much of her voice screaming the first couple days. And all for nothing. No one had heard her scream. Well, maybe him, but he wasn?t about to let her out. He put her here.

She situates herself on the tiny ledge, her back against the stone wall. She almost forgets to wonder once again why he chose her. She?s never figured it out. Of course, that doesn?t surprise her much. The police never figured out why her brother Hector had ended up where he had, burned alive, part of some unimaginable underground project. She guessed no one would ever figure out why he?d grabbed her. Hell, she guessed no one would even know he?d grabbed her. It wasn?t like anyone was paying much attention to her that day in the park. It wasn?t like?

She hears something. Instinctively, she looks up. But, the sound isn?t coming from up there, on the surface.

She looks toward the bars, keeps from focusing on that floating mass, and looks into the darkness beyond. ?Hello??

She shrinks back from the sound of her voice again, shrinks back even more from its echo.


She sighs and relaxes again, well, as much as she can. She looks up at the stars above. ?Star light, star bright,? she begins. Then, she hears something again.

She looks through the bars. For a second she could swear there?s something there, someone there, wading through the water to her. She thinks maybe it?s him, her captor. She thinks maybe it?s Hector. Maybe the police were wrong; it wasn?t his body with all those others. Her brother?s come back for her? finally.

?Where are you going, Hector??

She?s back in their shared bedroom. Hector?s looking back from the windowsill. ?Shh. You?re supposed to be asleep.?

?Where are you going??

?I?m getting out of here. I?m not putting up with that??

?That what??

?That bastard. Thinks he can push anyone around. Thinks just cause he got Mama pregnant, he has every right to hit us and hurt us and??

Hector comes back in from the windowsill. He doesn?t close the window. He walks over to her bed. ?Don?t worry Livvy. I?ll find us a nice safe place to live. Then I?ll come back for you. He?ll never lay a hand on you again.?

?He?ll never lay a hand on you again.?

That echoes out of the darkness. She gets off the ledge, feels a little dizzy, and stands anyway, trying to look strong, defiant. ?Who?s there? Who are you? What do you want??

There?s no response. And, that shape, that shadow, whoever was approaching?it?s not there anymore.

But, that floating mass is. She looks at it, focuses on it. Is it a body? Maybe the previous inhabitant of this well. Wouldn?t it smell worse if it was?

She wonders how long she?s been here. It?s been at least a week. She?s hungry. Her head hurts a lot. It?s not so easy to move anymore. But, she keeps thinking she?s far from being dead. But, maybe that?s just hope rearing its ugly head at an inappropriate time.

?I won?t let him touch you.?

She spins around, sure that came from behind her. But, there?s just a stone wall, that tiny ledge that has gotten far too familiar and uncomfortable. But, anything?s better than sitting in water all the time. It?s too cold most of the time to just sit in the water. And, when she does, her body just gets numb. And, she doesn?t like numb. She doesn?t like not feeling.

She doesn?t like having to hide away inside herself to keep from feeling.

Her bedroom door opens. She looks just long enough to recognize Papa?s silhouette, then she closes her eyes, pretends to be asleep, hopes that will keep him away.

A hand touches her. It?s cold. It?s wet. She opens her eyes.

Something?s on her. She grabs at it, throws it toward the bars. It lands in the water and? swims away? She climbs onto the little ledge again, gets even her feet up from the water. She tries to hold her legs close to her chest. She loses her balance and falls into the water.

And, sits up. Papa?s in the room. What?s he doing here? ?I?m in the bath,? she says. Maybe he just doesn?t notice. Maybe he?s too drunk to notice. But, he?s looking at her. Right at her.

?I?m in the bath,? she says again, louder, loud enough for it to be heard through very thin walls. Surely, Hector will hear her and come?

But, Hector?s gone. He?s run away. And, promise or not, he?d never come back for her.

Papa crouches down by the side of the tub. He?s grinning. His teeth look yellow. Too yellow. His breath smells like something rotten, like something dead.

Like that body floating on the other side of those bars.

She sits up. Her shoulders and her back ache. There?s something wrong with her right ear. Her mouth is dry.

She cups some water in her hands and drinks it, sure to swallow quickly so she doesn?t throw up like she did the first time. This seems so much like a well, but the water tastes more like a sewer. She wishes she knew something more about sewers and drainage systems, so she could at least try to understand where she?s going to die.

?You?re not going to die.?

It?s Hector?s voice, out of the dark.


She feels sick suddenly. She vomits. She cries. She crawls up onto the ledge again.

?Hector, where are you? Why didn?t you come back for me??

She hurts between her legs. There are bruises on her thighs, her knees, and her arms where he held her down. She cries into her pillow, but Hector doesn?t come save her. And Claudio and Sal don?t even seem to care about her. They survived Papa. They got out. All three of them. And, now Papa could do whatever he wanted to her.

And, she almost wishes she could be back there in her bed, waiting for the door to open, Papa to come in. Anything to be out of this place, this hole in the ground. She cries again, then she curls up as best she can and tries to sleep.

Something moves in the water beyond the bars and keeps her awake a little longer. She watches for it, tries to stay alert. And, that?s when she falls asleep.

And, she wakes to the sound of her door opening, Papa coming in. She looks to Hector?s bed. But, he?s gone, hasn?t slept there for months. He?s dead, or so the police say. She refuses to believe it. She still expects him to come save her, to come take her away from this place. Papa climbs into bed with her and she wonders where that safe place to live is, wonders what?s so great about it that Hector won?t come back for her.


Papa?s gone. Her bed?s gone. She looks up, blinded by the light. She turns away, her eyes get past the spots, and she sees stone. Then, she remembers where she is. She looks at the bars, at the body floating beyond them. Only, in the light, it doesn?t look so much like a body anymore. And, there?s something shiny at the edge of it, whatever it is.

One glance up to confirm that it?s daytime, midday or so. The sun?s directly overhead. She drops down into the water and crawls to the bars, ignoring her aching back and shoulders and arms and legs and head and she squeezes one arm and shoulder between two bars, reaches for that body, that shiny object. And, just as the ache starts to overwhelm her, she feels it under her fingers, she grabs it. She collapses into the water, her head barely above the surface. She relaxes. She breathes in. She breathes out. She breathes in, coughs, coughs again, then breathes out and sits up.

And, in her hand she finds a quarter.

?Now all I need is a dime, and I can make a phone call,? she says. Then, she laughs. Her laugh is hoarse, raspy, almost not there at all.

She closes her hand around the quarter and starts to shake, to cry.

She closes her eyes and tries to think of something good, something happy and bright. She sees Benji. He?s laughing. Milk?s coming out of his nose. That just makes him laugh more. They?re under the big tree on the playground at school. She can?t remember if this is before they kissed or not. She wishes she?d asked Benji to run away with her. She wishes she?d told him that she loved him. She wishes?

She hurls the quarter through the bars into the darkness beyond the little patch of sunlight. ?I don?t wish for anything,? she says.

?Nothing ever comes of it.? She reaches out for the bars and pulls herself to them. Then she screams, ?nothing!? And, she lets go of the bars and falls back into the water again, exhausted.

After a while, she notices the sun has moved. It?s still light in the well, but not for long.

She drinks some water, vomits, drinks some water again and holds it down with a lot of effort.

Then, she leans back against the wall, still sitting in the water. She looks at her hands. They?ve gone far past prune hands. The skin is white, loose. It doesn?t feel like skin anymore. It feels like? She doesn?t know what it feels like.

She looks at the ring finger of her left hand. She can?t remember if she still had a ring on it when she was put down here or not. She can?t remember if she even had it when she ran away from home. She hopes she didn?t leave it behind for Papa to find it. He?d be mad if he found it. He didn?t want her involved with boys. He didn?t?

?Yeah, well, I kissed Benji, Papa,? she says. ?I kissed him more than once. And, he gave me a ring. And, I hope I did leave it behind for you to find. I hope you find it and it makes you so mad you have a heart attack and you die.?

But, she doesn?t want Papa to die. She covers her face in her hands and tries not to cry over Papa. He?d hurt her so much but she can?t bear to think like that, to want him dead.

She pulls her hands from her face and looks into the darkness beyond the bars. ?I loved him, Papa,? she says. ?I loved him and he loved me. And, your approval or not, I?d have married him. I?d have become Mrs Benjamin Littlejohn. No more Olivia Reyes. No more daughter of yours.

?Does that upset you?

?Well, too bad. You hurt me too much. You made life hell. And, I never liked your restaurant, by the way. Damn Mexican food. Never liked the stuff at all.

?I?m such a horrible little girl, aren?t I? Nothing like you?d have me be, nothing like??

Something moves in the water.

She backs against the wall and watches.

Something crawls onto that body?barely out of the daylight, it already resembles a body again?and looks at her. Tiny eyes, dark eyes. And, it grins. And, it has yellow teeth. She plugs her nose. She doesn?t want to smell its breath. And, she closes her eyes. She doesn?t want to see it looking at her anymore.

And Papa?s hand is on her knee, pushing her legs apart.

She opens her eyes. It?s still looking at her.

?Go away,? she says. It doesn?t move. ?Go away,? she screams. It still doesn?t move. She lunges at the bars, screaming, yelling. Finally, it jumps into the water and swims away.

She gets up, her body aching all over.

Papa throws her against the wall. She tries to open her mouth, to scream for someone to help, to scream for Hector who?s not there, to ask Papa to stop. But, his hand is on her mouth. His skin is dirty, tasting of grease and dirt and shit and death?

She screams. The strength of it surprises her and she quiets abruptly. She looks around the inside of the well. ?Papa?? But, he?s not there.

It?s dark. She looks through the bars at that body. It?s lying very still, but she gets the idea that it?s not only not dead but actually looking at her, waiting for her to let down he guard. ?You?re getting weaker,? she can hear it saying. ?You?re getting weaker, and soon you?ll be mine. No more Papa. No more well. Just you and me and the darkness.?

It turns over in the water. And it?s got an erection. She turns away, disgusted, frightened.

?Just take it in your hand,? Papa says. ?There?s nothing to it.? And, he puts her hand on him. She closes her eyes, pretends it?s something else, pretends it?s someone else, pretends it?s Benji.

But, smiling at that thought is a mistake. Papa thinks she?s enjoying it. He slides her hand up and down, shows her how it?s done. ?That?s good, Livvy,? he says. ?That?s perfect.? His breath gets heavier. She can smell it, feel it on her. It?s hot, it?s? It?s somehow yellow in her nose, brown and yellow and old and dying and it?s all over her, and there?s no more image of Benji in her mind, just Papa?s erection in her hand. A sudden wetness over her hand and she opens her eyes, sees that crawly, sticky?

She falls into the water, her legs weak beneath her.

She nearly thanks god for pulling her back to the present. Then, she remembers where the present brings her. And, that body is still watching her, waiting till it can slither through the bars to have its way with her.

?You can?t have me,? she tells it. But, there?s no defiance in her voice, only defeat. She wants to cry. Her ear hurts. Her head hurts. She can?t stand up. She reaches out for the ledge and pulls herself to it, but it?s higher today, or she?s smaller, or she?s weaker. She can?t seem to get onto it. All the strength is gone from her arms.

Something moves in the water. She looks to the body, but it?s not a body. It?s just a lifeless mass, a clump of grass or dirt, some trash someone threw down a well. ?You?re nothing,? she mutters. ?You?re nothing.?

She relaxes a little. She?s cold but it hurts to shiver. There?s a ringing in her ear. Something brushes against her leg.

She looks down. Papa?s touching her again. He?s grinning. He?s got no clothes on. He?s kneeling over her on the bed, a dirty erection dangling between his legs, brushing her leg just a little.

She knows what she?s supposed to do. She sits up and reaches for him with her hand, eager to get this done as fast as possible.

?No,? he says. ?Not like that this time.? His grin gets bigger, almost inhuman. His teeth are yellow like his breath. Then he?s straddling her. He?s pushing her legs apart.

Then, he?s inside her.

And, she slips deeper into the water on purpose this time, waking herself but nearly killing herself at the same time.

Coughing, she wonders why she keeps fighting, why she keeps coming back out of the water. ?You?re not gonna get out of here,? she tells herself. ?You got away from Papa, but you went right into the clutches of someone much??

Is this worse? She?s not even sure.

An image comes to her. Eleven fingers. The guy that put her here had an extra finger. She wonders if that extra finger works as well as the others. Or is it just a useless appendage, something to be removed like a dewclaw. ?Or like a penis,? she says to the darkness. She laughs. But, the darkness doesn?t get the joke.

Suddenly, it?s light again. She?s slept some, miraculously not drowning in the process, but she doesn?t feel at all rested. Her body aches all over. Her head hurts. Her ear?s getting worse.

And, there?s a bruise on her thigh. She looks at it and she?s back at home in the bath. There?s blood in the water. There are tears in her eyes. But, strangely, she feels nothing. No pain, no cold, no Papa inside her, no sewage around her. She wonders if she?s died. She wonders if this is heaven. But, are there bruises in heaven?

She can?t breathe. She can barely move. It takes all her strength to sit up, pull her face from the water. And, simple as that, heaven?s gone.

The sun?s overhead. It?s light is almost warm on her skin. But, her skin is so waterlogged, so loose, so dead, that the warmth does little to comfort her.

She settles down against the wall below the ledge and tries not to notice the sunlight.

?My father used to have sex with me,? she says. That body on the other side of the bars doesn?t seem to be listening, but she continues anyway. ?He used to make me jerk him off, then one night he decided that just wasn?t enough anymore.

?My brother Hector was supposed to? But, he never came back. Why didn?t Hector ever come back?? She?d cry but there are no tears left. They?re all dried out. ?He?s my brother. He was supposed to come back for me. Why?d he have to go and die??

She gets no answer.

It?s quiet.

Her bedroom door opens. It?s Papa. Mama?s asleep, and Livvy wishes she were too.

She tries to feign sleep. She keeps her eyes closed. But, even with her eyes closed she knows what?s happening. Papa?s taking his clothes off. Papa?s pulling her blanket down. Papa?s pulling her pajama bottoms off. Papa?s pulling her underwear off. Papa?s on the bed. Papa?s straddling her. Papa?s pushing up her top. The weight of his hands hurts her chest. He pushes her legs apart. She tries to imagine it?s Benji on top of her. She tries to believe that she?s making love to Benji. But, then the pain hits her and she?s only being fucked by Papa. Benji?s off in his own bed, dreaming happy dreams.

And, she wants to be with Benji. She wants to be with Hector, whether he?s alive or dead. Anywhere is better than here. Anything is better than this. She opens her eyes and looks up at Papa. His eyes are closed. His mouth is open, yellow teeth and yellow breath and decay and love and sex and death and the well inside there.

Briefly, in the present again, she wonders if the well?s even real, if there was any guy with eleven fingers. She wonders if she ever even had the courage to run away like Hector had before her. She wonders if maybe the well is just someplace she goes when Papa?s inside her.

Well, better than Papa or not, she doesn?t like the well. And, she doesn?t like Papa. She doesn?t like him inside her while Benji sleeps alone in his bed.

She pushes her legs together, tries to force Papa out of her. But he?s too big, too strong. She tries to sit up, but his hands are on her shoulders, holding her down. And it hurts inside her. Her head hurts. Her ear hurts? Or, is that later?

She screams. And, Papa stops moving. He opens his eyes and looks down at her. ?Get off me,? she says. When he doesn?t move, she screams it. ?Get off me.?

?You?ll shut up if you know what?s good for you,? he says. It sounds like a line. It sounds dishonest. And, she knows that it means nothing. This isn?t good for her. She knows that shutting up won?t help at all.

She screams again. No words. Just sound.

And, he slaps her. She looks at him, confused, surprised. She hadn?t expected that. He?d always hit her brothers, but until then, she couldn?t remember him having ever hit her.

Thinking he?s got control again, he pushes inside her again. His eyelids flutter and close.

Then, it hits her, a wave of energy, a wave of hatred, of fear, of? well, something, some strength she didn?t even know she had. And, she?s writhing underneath him, kicking at him, scratching at him, screaming, wailing.

He gets off her only to come back and slap her again. But, she doesn?t shut up, doesn?t stop fighting. She gets up and her shoves her back down. She gets up again. He punches her. It hurts. It hurts.

There?s a ringing in her ear. The body on the other side of the bars moves closer, watching, waiting.

And, Papa hits her again. She falls back onto the bed and rolls off the other side. She lands on her head, on her face. When she gets up her nose is bloodied. She grabs at her pajamas. She screams something at Papa. It was supposed to be words this time. It comes out as nonsense. But it?s loud, it?s defiant. And Papa freezes.

The body twitches. Are those its hands on the bars? ?You?re almost mine,? it whispers.

That?s all she needs. She grabs shoes and is out the door. And, she?s down the hall, past Mama, who looks almost genuinely surprised to see her naked daughter, bloody nose and all, running by, and she?s down the stairs and out the front door.

Blocks away, the cold night air hits her and she stops running. She puts on her pajamas, slips her feet into her shoes and walks away, following in her brother?s footsteps.