From Barbara Radecki’s The Darkhouse

May 8, 2016 by

From Barbara Radecki’s The Darkhouse


Chapter  1 


I wait for my father to notice me. He hangs his head over a textbook and wiggles the eraser end of a pencil on his temple. A fan of sunlight through the grimed kitchen window bleaches him to almost nothing.

In a calm voice I say, “Goodbye, Jonah.”

A long time ago, I asked him if I should call him Dad. He said it made no difference. Peg and Doris don’t like it, but Jonah is the only word that comes out, even when I mean to say the other one.

He doesn’t look at me but keeps erasing his temple.

An old nylon knapsack is looped around my shoulders. It’s stuffed with some clothes, a map, and money stolen from the grocery jar. I don’t want Jonah to ask me why I’m using the old knapsack today instead of my usual schoolbag. If he does, I don’t know if I’ll be able to lie, to bleat something about needing extra books for my lessons with Peg. Despite my worry, I dawdle at the edge of the room with the wrong bag anchored to my back, my too-small body not able to hide it.

Yearning grows up inside me, so furious it’s almost certain to squall out. It makes me want to collapse and expand all at once. I want to run and not look back; I want to burrow into Jonah and know his touch.

Yesterday is when everything changed. My life like a katydid: one moment a leaf like any other, the next a predatory insect.

Jonah was doing his work—like now, absorbed in a scientific journal—and I reached across him to clear the table. A mistake. He grabbed my wrist.

“Stop,” he said, his eyes no longer running over lines of text but stuck on one word. “Distraction is obstruction,” he said.

Only two long bones—my ulna, my radius—held the pressure of his squeezing fingers.

“Get out until I’m done.” His eyes stayed on his work, like he was talking to a ghost.

“I’m sorry,” I said. He let go of my wrist and I walked out of the room.

I used to be interesting to him. When I was little, maybe four or five, he’d put me in our back room for a few hours every day. “Do whatever comes to mind,” he’d say, “even if it feels like a long time, just do whatever comes to mind.” When I asked him why, he’d tell me it was for his scientific work and very important.

I’d wait in the back room as he locked the door between us. There isn’t much there, only an old fold-up cot and stacks of cardboard boxes I’m not supposed to look into. Somehow I knew Jonah was watching me, so I only did the kinds of activities he’d allow. I made music by plucking the springs of the cot. I stared out the window and pretended to interact with miniature people who lived in the grass outside the house. Usually I’d end up rolling around the floor talking to myself. I never raged, I never banged on the door, I never begged for Jonah.

After a long while Jonah would unlock the door and let me out and he’d go write pages of notes in his journal. Without saying a word, I’d walk past him into the kitchen, climb onto a chair, and reach for cookies or crackers or juice. Then I’d go up to my room and eat and drink like a hungry dog. I’d let the tears come. Thick, helpless tears that clogged my nose. Never crying so loudly that Jonah would hear.

It’s like Jonah says: there’s only one instinct—the instinct to survive.

Today he doesn’t look up at me, doesn’t talk to me, doesn’t even grab my wrist, so I turn away from him without saying another word and leave him to his work.

I picture her face, the one I invented for her. My mother. All my life people said—or almost said—she’s crazy. That’s why she left us before I can remember. That’s why Jonah and I escaped to hide on the island. Crazy, crazy, crazy. Seagulls in the sky.

Only my mother knows what really happened. Today I run away to find her.



Barbara Radecki is an actor-turned-writer whose debut novel The Darkhouse comes out this fall through Cormorant/DCB.

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