Crashing Down by Meg O'Brien released on Apr 23, 1999 is available now for purchase.
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Holly Beach, New Jersey, 1971
The man was coming at her. Carrie knew what would happen next. It had happened once before, and she had tried to stay away from him since then, had tried to squeeze herself into a tiny, invisible ball every Sunday since then.
Outside in the church courtyard there were voices, other children laughing as they arrived. Here in the dim cold basement of the church everything was silent except for the steady drip of a rusted pipe and the slow, deliberate breathing of the man who was moving toward her, blocking her path to the door.
"You came back," he said, and he smiled.
But she hadn't come back. Not on purpose. It was a mistake. Carrie began to cry quietly, the tears still way in the back, making her throat feel like there was something stuck there, something huge and hard.
"I left my doll," she said, swallowing.
"You mean this?" He held Christy, her doll, beyond her reach ... her beloved Christy, her best friend, the only one she could talk to about the things he had done to her. He said, "I found her for you, Carrie."
"Thank you," she whispered.
He held the doll farther away. Laughing, he pulled Carrie toward him, a hand that smelled of shaving lotion tugging at her head. Carrie's whole body was stiff with fright, her neck a hard, unbending column. But he was stronger, and he pulled her closer and closer. "You give me a little kiss," he said, his voice sounding funny and thick, "right here ... and I'll let you have yourdoll."
She heard Christy drop to the floor as both of his hands held her head, and he moved it back and forth so her cheeks were forced to rub against the stiff, dark material of his trousers. Carrie tried again to pull away, but he held her fast. "Oh, yes," he moaned.
Carrie cried harder, not making any sound, the tears flowing fast and wet down her cheeks. She couldn't breathe. She was shaking so much she lost her balance, and without thinking she reached out to steady herself with both hands around the man's thighs.
His breath quickened; his hold tightened. "That's right, Carrie, that's right."
Carrie stood like a statue, a tiny, six-year-old statue with dark blond hair and bangs, in her best Sunday dressthe only evidence of her pain the tears that streamed down her face. She heard the sound of his zipper, and then, "Good girl, Carrie, that's a good girl." He said it the way her daddy did when her piano lesson went well.
After he had finished with her he warned her not to tell her daddy, because Daddy would be mad and he wouldn't believe her. He made her rinse off her face at the drinking fountain, the one for little kids like her, the one she could reach, and then he wiped her face with a paper towel from the janitor's bathroom across the hall.
"You'd better get upstairs now," he said, smoothing his hair and blotting spots on his suit that her tears had made. He was like another person suddenly, his face a little red, but more as if nothing had happened, like Mommy after she had spanked Carrie for being bad. She would say, "For God's sake, Carrie, there's nothing to cry about now," as if once the spanking was over, there wasn't any reason it should hurt anymore.
Carrie grabbed Christy from the floor and backed away, then turned and stumbled up the stairs to the Sunday school rooms. They were empty, and the bells were ringing in the steeple. She ran down the hall toward the big church, forgetting that she wasn't supposed to run, wasn't supposed to make noise when she came in late. She looked through the door from the hallway and saw her Sunday school class, everyone standing with hymnals in their hands. She saw her daddy sitting at the organ, and heard him start to play the song about daring to be a Daniel, and she didn't know who Daniel was but she wished she were like him, wished she were brave.
Instead, she felt dirty and sick as she looked at her friends. She didn't belong with any of them. Turning, she ran outside and down Atlantic Avenue, passing old Mrs. Baker along the way, seeing her outraged face as Carrie almost knocked her down, running as if the devil were at her heels. That's what Mrs. Baker would say to Carrie's mother, Alice, after church. She'd say it on the phone, because Carrie's mother didn't go to church, and her tone would imply that everything bad that happened to the Holder family happened for that very reason. She'd say, "You'd better do something about that child, Mrs. Holder. Six years old, and out on the streets when she should be in Sunday school! And Mr. Holder giving all his time to the church the way he does, you'd think there would be more discipline in the home. Almost knocked me down and didn't even stop to apologize ... like the devil was at her heels, don't you know."
Carrie would get spanked for that when she got home. For upsetting Mrs. Baker and embarrassing her mother, mostly, and for not being in Sunday school. "It's the second time you've pulled that, young lady, and it had better be the last."
But she didn't know that now. Now she was running, running toward home, running to where she thought her mommy would hold her, where she thought she'd be safe, stopping only once at the big old house on the corner of Nineteenth Street to use the hose under their high front porch to wash her mouth out, over and over and over, even though it didn't do any good, didn't wash any of it away. She wished the water were a wave, that a wave would come up from the beach and wash right over her, wipe her out, drown her, so this would never happen again.
But the wave never came and Carrie didn't drown, and it did happen again. And again. And again. So that by the time she was ten and he would find her, no matter how hard she tried to hide, when he would come up behind her and press himself against her, a hand slipping into her summer halter to squeeze her tiny beginning breast, she felt nothing so much as numb.
She thought that this was simply the way life was. And it never occurred to her to wonder, until much, much later, why that should be so.