Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Death of Alexa Grace

Part One
A Broken Home

Alexa Grace sat out on the cold chipped steps of Saint Martha's Home for Hope, smoking a cigarette recalling old memories of a time not that long ago, where the girls would huddle beneath the tall fir trees, with their study books in their laps, their crafts at their sides, and the sisters watching them from this very spot, gossiping about Father Reese. He would frequent the orphanage two or three times a month, supposedly to make the rounds and make sure everything was in order; but, she, like any other girl with any sense about her, knew of his extracurricular activities with Sister Sara; Sister Jennifer; Sister Darlene- the list went on and on. She once called this place home, her room being on the fourth floor west wing, her lone window blocked by one of the hulking trees out front, which she would use to scale down to the ground at night to meet up with the first guy willing to drive her ten miles down the road to the market for smokes and, if they were willing, booze to get her through the next few grueling days here. In fact, she spent a lot of time sitting on the ledge of her window, looking far below and wondering if her fall would lead to any broken bones or permanent damage, because a girl without a good pair of sturdy legs beneath her was worthless to a family in need of a nanny for their real children. 

She had long given up on being adopted by anyone. Most girls, who did not get a family before the age of six, ended up spending their entire youth here, only to be released into the world on their 18th birthday, with only a bag of clothes and the torn and tasseled shoes on their feet. Some had an allowance, which they saved in mason jars taken from the kitchen, for their day of release that often never made it, due to being stolen by one girl or another. Alexa, however, had saved up over 500 dollars. She had also managed a broken nose, a dozen busted lips, a forearm fracture, dislocated jaw and more black eyes than she could remember; but, she had her money. She puffed from her cigarette, holding it in her lungs for some time, and then exhaled a band of perfectly formed smoke rings. The wind took hold of the rings and pushed them to the side. She had fought the urge to question why no one ever adopted her. Why was it that Alexa Grace in all of her beauty and pride not bear the gift of a million dollar smile? That was key in landing a family, a warm friendly smile that both her manila file photo and up close and personal face could mirror. She could never find her smile. Her history did not hold smiles in its cards. Her beginnings were tainted by the smell of booze and musky body odor that she could still smell till this day. The taste of evil still present on her tongue, kissing her as though she were another street whore, purchased by the man who came home well into the night to kiss his faithful wife and children goodnight. The same man who had raped her repeatedly, and then forced her to call him Daddy the following morning, with a smile about her face at the breakfast table. 

She stamped the butt out beneath her black heeled boots, searching her matching coat for another smoke. Her life, she remembered, was all pain and shame that was supposed to end at these chipped and cracked doorsteps. The faded red entry doors at her back were to be a way out of the hurt, turning out instead to be a new chapter of humbling life lessons with the priest, who dropped in on the girls periodically, and the occasional lesbian sister in search of acceptance outside her habit. Her slender fingers fondled the zippo, striking the thumbwheel that scratched at the butane soaked wick, sparking a flame at the end of her cigarette. Images of fire raced through her foresight. An intense heat overwhelmed her as the memory of her father and mother's scorched face cried out to her, their bodies flailing in the flames like tassels at the end of sparklers. She was fourteen then, already nearing that critical age of adoption when children are not only helping hands around the house, but potential playthings to husband's who had not seen their wives nude in years. All she needed to do was smile- she would tell herself this every time a family chose to meet with her, standing outside the interview hall, checking her dress to make sure nothing inappropriate was showing repeating these words slowly over and over again. All you need to do is smile. But she couldn't. Not then. Not now. 

Life beyond Saint Martha's netted more of the same failures, even when she managed to find one small diamond in the rough; somehow, she managed to turn it too into an exuberant waste of time for all involved- relationships were nothing more than delays in the inevitable loneliness that stalked her. For some reason, Saint Martha's Home for Hope had always tugged at her heart, pulling her back to its quietly contained chaos in which she learned how to be a lady, as well as how to give fellatio to Father Jessley- a perverted man she recalled, more so than that other clothed liar, with his sweaty palms and his cigarette breath. What was his name again? Father Reese, was it? Alexa stood. She approached the doors, kicking them. Their old hinges creaked but held firm as did the rusted chains that wrapped and coiled in between the wrought handles that had withstood countless attempts of breaking and entering by hopeful squatters. The first three levels of the building were boarded or bricked to keep out vagrant youths, trying to vandalize or initiate themselves into gangs who fought one another in hopes to lay claim to the lost treasures beyond its walls. The higher floors remained accessible, due to funds for its annual maintenance shifting in the churches accounts to settle sex abuse cases across the country. Its windows had long been shattered by numerous stones from the ground. Many were by the very children who once lived here, casting their metaphorical rocks that broke the panes above, releasing pent up frustrations and spirits of long ago into the world- freeing mind, body and souls one stone at a time.

Having no luck with the door, Alexa returned out front, where her black 83' Honda V65 Magna stood. On the back of her bike were two ten gallon gas tanks, each one filled with petrol that would be the foundation of her portrait she held in mind. She took a tank from the bike and opened the cap. Strong fumes escaped from the container. She turned her head away so that the fumes would not further flirt with the end of her cigarette while she poured the gasoline down the steps, pooling a bit at the end, and then ran the remaining fuel along the grass to the base of a tree that stood a yard or so from the building. She then sat the container down next to it and returned to her bike. She sucked smoke into her lungs, dropping the butt at her foot, crushing it into the gravel. Her hesitation to continue would be pushed aside by pride. She did not come here to stop now. What she was now doing was what should have been done long ago, before the trials, before the evil could spread from one innocent to the next. She eyed the center window on the fourth floor, the hallway window that looked out beyond the garden to the black gates out front. This would be her swan song, and the climax of decades of abuse that went unjustly ignored by the church, its leaders and those who would not listen to the tearful confessions of all who endured this living hell. Alexa grabbed the second container and turned back for the home. For this one, she began at the base of the steps, moving left towards the second tree, the same tree that had supported the weight of a restless teenager so many times during the twilight hours of her youth. She then quickly ascended the treetop, moving gracefully from limb to limb, her hands finding old familiar branches as easily as the first day she had climbed out from her window from above,  until she was face to face once more with the jagged smile of her bedroom window.

She sat, perched atop the limb like a cat plotting its way onto the window ledge, considering her actions a final time. The bitter air rushed out from the haunted halls inside, raising the hairs on her forearms as though she had passed through a field of static electricity. She found her inner self smiling for the first time. The gap between the window ledge and the ground below seemed so far away at the age of fourteen, now just a stretch of her arm and a slight hop from the branch and she would be inside. She grabbed hold of the window ledge and pulled herself through, minding small shards of glass that continued to cling to rusted frames. Her old room was hauntingly still, unchanged since she was taken away by men and women who wore badges and gun belts around their waist. She stood to her feet, memories flooding her mind, her bed still rested to her left, burned out in the center. Was this the same bed she remembered? She felt a pain in her stomach, stinging pain that resonated from her bladder to the small of her back. That taste returned to her tongue. The fire that scorched her tiny body, traveled up her legs along her small frame to the back of her neck, as well as the black cloth her young fingers tore at, fragments of which remained under her fingernails, would later wash away beneath a cold shower to remove him from her. The graffiti laden wallpaper, portions of which had stripped or peeled, clung to the wall against a cold wind blowing throughout the old children's home, spoke of discarded sins and paved way to stories that continued to allude the masses. Pentagrams encircled the names of staff who contributed in the darkness a filthy secret that died along with the house, buried in the dust and grime of time. Alexa fought these images, proceeding into the dark hallway.

The Halls of Saint Martha's Home for Hope stretched in every direction, each path a slow desolate march into the abyss, escorted by monsters among men. Callous individuals who thrived on the weak and powerless also thrived on the children’s infinite sadness. The sisters acting as slave drivers to the children, always reminded them of their misfortunes, blaming them for having the cards dealt unfairly in favor of everyone, but them. They were unwanted, unloved, misbegotten souls left in a purgatory of sorts, their only means of escape being prayer and the occasional foster family. She casually walked along the hall, her hand grazing the discolored pastel wallpaper, eyeing the mold that had built up along the crown molding. Like the Sistine Chapel, the ceilings here also depicted scenes from The Holy Bible, as well as the first Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus. Those murals existed beyond the constantly locked door of Father Reese's quarters, which were situated on the fourth floor as well, at the far end of the east wing, far enough not to be heard by anyone of any importance. Alexa remembered this hallway well. So much so, she could traverse it in pitch dark, a feat now assisted by daylight, funneled in from the blown window midway along- her final destination.

The portrait was nearly complete; her song of sorrow nearing its crescendo as she reached for the belt around her waist, pulling the leather strap from its catch. The center window ran from the floor to the ceiling, highlighted at night by a hanging chandelier whose rust covered arms stretched out like a three-pointed star, each point holding six candle-shaped bulbs on a platinum dish. No one ever asked about its shape or talked about the coincidences that it implied, for doing so would mark time spent with Father Reese who was more than happy to show you his murals. Alexa stood at the base of the window looking down over the concrete steps below. The smell of gasoline rose into the air, a scent that had become intoxicating, even arousing, to her. It brought a sense of cleansing to her surroundings, its fumes mixing with the musk damp air inside, moments away from removing the stench from this place- her home. Alexa tied the belt around her neck tight, gagging against the squeeze from the leather at her throat. She then took her zippo from her pocket and held it outside the window. She had only one shot at hitting the pooled petrol at the top of the stairs. Four stories was a lot further than the eye perceived from the ground, but she did not worry. It was that reoccurring feeling she had lived with ever since they took her from the burning house, she once called home. She flipped the silver top, and spun the thumbwheel that grinded against the wick. A spark turned into flame at her fingertips, which she then carefully aimed. With a long elongated breath, Alexa dropped the lighter, turning to focus her attention now on the chandelier. The hand of a true architect never doubted its creation, and this being her most desirable creation of them all would be no different.

Alexa then walked into a nearby room, Cailee's room, if she remembered correctly. Cailee was a quiet girl. This did not bode well for her, especially since those girls who said little often made the best bedfellows. She had long blond hair that would turn white by the time it was all said and done. She was Sister Sarah's favorite. Each night, Sister Sarah would read to Cailee before bed. Once she was asleep, the chair in which she read from was used as a brace, wedged under the doorknob, for there were no locks in the house, except for Father Reese's quarters. Just as she had hoped it would be, the chair remained intact, located in the corner of Cailee's room. Alexa took the chair and drug it out into the hallway underneath the chandelier. She then climbed up onto the chair and looped the end of her belt over one arm of the chandelier. A draft of hot air rushed in from the outside as both trees had now caught fire. If their dry bark and orange and brown leaves burned as she had hoped they would, her portrait would soon be on display. She then reached up, standing on the tips of her toes, and tied the end of her belt firmly into a knot. This was the final and most delicate piece of her portrait. She weighed a hundred and fifteen pounds, one-twenty wet. The home was old, but its foundation and frame sturdy. The bolts that held the chandelier firmly in place would certainly the extra pull of her body weight. It must in order to forever be immortalized. Confident in her construction, Alexa looked out over the garden to the vacant street. She then started to say the names of those girls she hardly knew. Betty Thomas; Sabrina Ruez; Denise Shelly; Abigale Stevens; The sisters, Stacy and Brie and Alexa Grace, would now be free. She then kicked the chair away from underneath her. The chandelier pulled violently at its steel bracket, bracing against the extra weight suddenly thrust upon it and held its ground exactly how she had hoped that it would.

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