Who Rules In Hell
"Damn, you're ugly," her mother said as Dena stepped from the shower. "How could I give birth to such an ugly daughter?"
"You're dead. Go away," Dena said, her voice flat. The same words she'd said for days now, though they did no good.
"You've been eating too much. Look at you! That's fat on your thighs! My God, after all I told you, the minute I die --"
Dena stopped listening just as she had when her mother had been alive and complaining she'd never be a beauty queen like her older sister. (And ignoring how Alena had run away as soon as she could and lived happily thousands of miles away.)
Well, there was one big difference. Dena used to leave her mother behind, but now the wrathful ghost followed her everywhere. If she hadn't been so good at ignoring her living mother, this new hell would have driven her insane.
Even on a day when the others congratulated her, her mother still hovered at her ear.
"So you got a promotion," her mother snickered. "Big damn deal. You only got it because the manager wants in your pants."
"Really? Well, I guess I'm not so ugly after all," she said, looking at the mirror by the coat rack where her mother glared.
"That's the way he likes them; ugly and too stupid to say anything to his wife. Men don't care what you look like if you spread your legs wide enough."
She turned away in disgust and went to help a woman with two young sons. Every time Dena's mother made some rude comment, Dena became more helpful and polite. After a while her mother drifted away.
She came back as soon as Dena had a moment free. Dena's hair was a mess, her makeup made her look like a whore and she held a job that only a moron could like. She didn't deserve love. She would never deserve love.
"You all right, honey?" May asked as they swept up the area at the end of their shift. "You've seemed very quiet since your mother died."
Dena looked into the larger black woman's face and tried to offer a smile while her mother commented about the woman's fat body, her ugly clothing, her thieving hands and the only kind of friends Dena would ever be likely to get.
"I'm fine, thank you," she said belatedly. "Just not sleeping well. I'll get better."
"Honey, if you need to talk, you just come to me. It's not easy, being alone in the world. At least I got my younger brother. And you got me."
May turned away as though it wasn't necessary for Dena to say anything. And for a moment, even her mother fell silent.
With her shift over, Dena walked out into the mall, huddled in her jacket, unwilling to return to a house that wasn't empty enough. Sometimes the mall crowds could drown out the sound of her mother's harridan voice and Dena could drift in a swathing of sound and color.
Occasionally she would stand at the edge of the food court and take in the scents of foods she'd never been allowed to eat.
"Look at you, salivating over that crap. They're staring at you. They're all looking at the ugly girl, gawking. They're laughing at you."
Someone laughed and the sound struck clear to her heart, even though she knew it had nothing to do with her. She wondered what it would be like to have friends, to sit and laugh with them --
"You have to deserve friends."
Her mother's words could still hurt sometimes. Dena turned away. She walked and walked, but the crowd grew thinner and her mother's voice louder. Soon it would just be the two of them again.
She couldn't stand the thought of life with her mother's glaring eyes in every mirror, her mocking voice in every room.
Dena stopped in front of a shop window, thinking of the only escape she could imagine. Death wouldn't be so bad if she could be guaranteed release from the bond at last. But how could she be certain? Death of her mother hadn't been a change.
Could it be worse?
Something leapt at the window, startling her. She yelped and stepped back and then realized it was only a white puppy, hardly bigger than her two hands. He stood, legs on the glass, tail wagging.
"Dirty animal. There should be a law about selling those creatures! Look at it, peeing all over everything."
Dena turned away. The puppy yipped and batted against the window, trying to reach her hand.
"I'd kill every one of them, if I could get my hands on them --"
"But you can't," Dena said, softly. She'd learned not to draw attention when she spoke to her mother. "You can't."
"Don't you tell me --"
Revelation. Dena felt her heart beat with new life. She lifted her head and smiled, though not a friendly look. Her mother screamed and swore; her house, her money, her control.
Her hell until this moment.
Dena bought the puppy. That night the puppy chewed on the leg of the perfect dining room table and Dena laughed at her mother's rage.
The next day she didn't make her bed. She talked with the people next door whom her mother despised. She went to dinner with May. Oh, and she planned more, much more.
"Honey, I wondered if you'd ever ate, as thin as you are." May shook her head as Dena nibbled on a hamburger, as delicious as Dena had always imagined it would be. "I'm glad you're doing better. It looked like you were going through hell."
"I was," Dena said. May didn't notice when she glanced to the window where her mother glared, quieter now that Dena could hear the voices of those around her. "But I learned how to rule it."
Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here: http://www.fmwriters.com/flash.html