“Yes?” I ask him quietly. He won’t ask me for anything I’m not supposed to provide him in front of the children, which means this will probably some kind of labor that’s too much for me to bear alone.
Dad likes limits—physically and emotionally, but as long as those children need me, he’s going to have to do a hell of a lot more to me than he already has to break me.
“I want you to climb down into the well today and give it a nice cleaning. Put some elbow grease into it,” he says as he reaches for the purple crayon sitting next to Cleo’s small hand.
I wrinkle my nose at him even though he’s not looking at me.
He’s never sent me down into the well before and the last person that …
“Why?” I ask him evenly.
“When did you get so damn mouthy?” he snaps back, giving me a glare. “Because I fucking said so—that’s why.”
“No way,” I shoot back, vehemently shaking my head. You can’t get rid of me that easily. Especially when I haven’t done anything wrong, I finish to myself.
He leans back in his chair, an amused smirk on his face. He sucks his teeth and glances down at Cleo who’s now watching the both of us curiously before he leans back down and leans his arms on the table.
“Your Momma is a lot smarter than her Momma,” he says to her with a chuckle. “Too smart for her own good sometimes,” he continues, casting me a dangerous glare. “But she should know that I’m not entirely done with her yet, so don’t you think she should be a good girl and clean the well like Daddy asked her to?”
Cleo shifts uncomfortably on her knees. She gives me a curious look and a frightened one to Dad when she turns her attention back to him.
“Momma …” her voice trails off as she bites her lower lip.
“Go outside and play with your brother and sister,” I tell her tiredly.
“Stay where you are,” Dad counters in a stern tone. “We’re not done coloring and you may have to see what happens when someone talks back instead of doing what they’re told.”
I cross my arms defiantly over my chest and tear my eyes away from him and back to our youngest. “Cleo; mind what your Momma tells you and go outside.”
“Don’t you move,” Dad says to her in a low, dangerous tone.
Cleo puts her face in her hands and begins to sob as quietly as she can. She’s confused and doesn’t know what to do and that’s more our fault than her own. She understands what I want her to do and she understand what Dad is telling her to do, but she’s so scared she doesn’t know who to listen to.
I walk over to their side of the table and put an arm around Chloe’s shaking little body and give Dad a dirty look. One he returns with wild eyes and a dangerous smile.
“Get your ass into the well, girl. Don’t make me tell you again.”
My back is sore and it’s hotter than Satan’s asshole down in the darkness, but I knew what Dad was up to. Either get in the well, or he’d get into Cleo and I’m still holding out hope that he’ll let me out of here if I do a good enough job.
I sigh as I reach down the wet and dirty rag back into the bucket and keep scrubbing the mold off the brick enclosure. I try not to think of Mom—of how she died all alone down here. Probably scared more for me than herself, but I hope she knows that I’m as much of a fighter as she is. Even more so according to Dad, and I won’t let it end the way she was forced to.
I glance up at the opening of the well and shield my eyes from the sole beam of sunlight that’s threatening to blind on Dad’s behalf for not continuing to work.
“Yes?” I call back.
“I’m getting hungry. Are you going to make supper tonight?”
I smile despite the situation I find myself in. Richter doesn’t let anyone within a fifty-mile radius of his voice know that he’s a growing boy and is constantly hungry.
“Soon as I’m done down here,” I promise him.
“Get the fuck away from there!”
His gasp echoes down to me, and the quick glance over his shoulder before he disappears makes me roll my eyes. Maybe one day they won’t be as afraid of Dad as they currently are.