“I’m going to the dance,” Anna replies calmly. “And I am not coming home.”
“You will go to no dance,” Malvina says acidly, rising up from her chair like she’s stalking prey. “You will go nowhere in that disgusting dress.” She advances on her daughter, squinting and swallowing hard, like she might be sick. “You wear white like a bride, but what man will take you after you let schoolboys lift your skirts!” She rears her head back like a viper and spits in Anna’s face. “Your father would be ashamed.”
Anna doesn’t move. The only thing that betrays any emotion is the rapid rising and falling of her ribs.
“Papa loved me,” she says softly. “I do not know why you don’t.”
“Bad girls are as useless as they are stupid,” Malvina says with a wave of her hand. I don’t know what she means. I think her English is faltering. Or maybe she’s just dumb. I think that might be it.
There’s bile in my throat as I watch and listen. I’ve never heard anyone speak to their kid this way. I want to reach out and shake her until she gets some sense. Or at least until I hear something crack.
“Go upstairs and take it off,” Malvina orders. “And bring it down to burn.”
I see Anna’s hand tighten on her bag. Everything she owns is held in a small brown cloth and tied together with string. “No,” she replies calmly. “I’m leaving here.”
Malvina laughs. It’s a brittle, rattling sound. A dark light comes into her eyes.
“Elias,” she says. “Take my daughter up to her room. Get her out of this dress.”
My God, Thomas thinks. In the corner of my eye, I see Carmel put her hand to her mouth. I don’t want to see this. I don’t want to know this. If that man touches her, I’ll break the circle. I don’t care if it’s just a memory. I don’t care if I need to know. I’ll break his neck.
“No, Mama,” Anna says fearfully, but when Elias moves toward her, she widens her stance. “I will not let him near me.”
“I will be your father soon, Anna,” Elias says. The words make me sick to my stomach. “You must obey me.” His tongue flickers across his lips eagerly. Behind me I hear my Anna, Anna Dressed in Blood, begin to growl.
As Elias advances, Anna turns and runs for the door, but he catches her by the arm and twists her around, so close that her hair flies against his face, so close that she must be able to feel the thick heat of his breath. His hands are already searching, clawing at her dress, and I look at Malvina only to see a terrible expression of pleased hatred. Anna is thrashing and screaming through her teeth; she swings her head back and connects with Elias’s nose, not hard enough to make it bleed but hard enough to sting like a mother. She manages to pull herself free and scrambles toward the kitchen and the back door.
“You will not leave this house!” Malvina shrieks and follows, reaching out for a handful of Anna’s hair and yanking her back. “You will never, never leave this house!”
“I will!” Anna shouts, pushing her mother away. Malvina falls against a large wooden dresser and stumbles. Anna circles around her, but she doesn’t see Elias, recovering near the foot of the stairs. I want to yell to her to turn around. I want to tell her to run. But it doesn’t matter what I want. All of this already happened.
“Bitch,” he says loudly. Anna jumps. He’s holding his nose and checking for blood, glaring at her. “We feed you. We clothe you. And this is your gratitude!” He holds his palm out even though there’s nothing on it. Then he slaps her hard across the face and grabs her shoulders, shaking and shaking and screaming at her in Finnish that I don’t understand. Her hair is flying and she’s started to cry. All of this seems exciting to Malvina, whose eyes gleam as she watches.
Anna hasn’t given up. She fights back and charges forward, slamming Elias into the wall against the staircase. There’s a ceramic pitcher on the dresser beside them. She smashes it against the side of his head, making him roar and let go. Malvina shouts as she runs for the door, and by now there’s so much screaming that I can hardly make out any of it. Elias has tackled Anna and has her by the backs of the legs. She’s fallen onto the floor of the foyer.
I know that this is it even before Malvina comes out of the kitchen holding the knife. We all know it. I can feel them, Thomas, Carmel, and Will, unable to breathe, wanting more than anything to close their eyes, or to shout and actually be heard. They’ve never seen anything like this. They’ve probably never really even thought about it.