I trudged across the park near town hall, on my way home from a guitar lesson. I had told my mother that if I were to continue taking piano lessons, I also wanted to take guitar lessons, learn to play something that interested me instead of constantly having to compete. She must have seen the determination in my eyes – she found the best guitar teacher in town and made the arrangements.
I was returning from my third lesson, walking home. She might have arranged the lessons, but she also made it clear she wouldn’t be a chauffeur. The frosted, brown grass crunched under foot. Winter was slowly tightening its grip.
It wasn’t till I drew level with the merry-go-round and stopped to adjust the strap of the guitar case that I noticed the figure sitting at the top of the slide. I couldn’t make out a face – it was only a person-shaped shadow against the grey sky.
“Hey, you.” the voice said. It was a cold voice, devoid of emotion. My heart fell.
I watched as he slid down the slide and approached me. Each step left the grass bare, a brown patch against the paler frost. His breath puffed from his mouth and hung around his head in the still, windless air. He stopped in front of me. I looked up into his face and fought the urge to look away, to find an escape. Running could only have made the situation worse.
“What’s in there, baby?” he asked, motioning to the soft case slung across my shoulder.
Any hope I had of this ending without tears was rapidly draining away. His voice was cold and emotionless, but his eyes burned with hurt and anger. I was always frightened of Jay, but his eyes terrified me.
“I’m sorry about your sister, Jay.” I said.
I instantly understood it was the wrong thing to say. His fist lashed out and caught me under the chin, sending me to the hard ground. The guitar sounded a muffled clang as it slid off my shoulder and landed beside me.
“You don’t talk about her!” he screamed as he kicked me. “You don’t talk about her at all ever! Got it?”
As suddenly as he had started, he stopped. I opened my eyes to see he had taken my guitar out of its case. The guitar had been my grandfathers. He had given it to me in hopes that I might some day enjoy it as much as he had.
I held out my hand, still sitting. “Give me my guitar Jay.”
“Give me my guitar, Jay,” he mocked. “And what if I don’t?”
I kept my hand out, determined to get my grandfather’s guitar back. “Give it now, Jay.” I demanded.
I saw him move but I wasn’t fast enough. He was bigger and stronger and faster than I was, and I was off balance trying to stand up. The guitar caught me on the temple, spinning me around and back off my feet. It all happened so slowly.
I heard wood splinter and strings break. I felt the sharp edges of broken wood dig into my skin. As I spun toward the ground, I saw stars. I always thought that was an odd expression, but I saw nothing but black and stars.
I remember him yelling at me, screaming at me from a million miles away. I remember thinking how disappointed my grandfather would have been. I remember the metallic smell of blood in my nose and thinking how upset my mother would be if it stained my coat.
I remember the spiky, frosty grass pressing against my face and how the blackness stole over me.