Ellie could not understand her mother’s grief, could not understand why she wrapped herself up in black everyday and sulked. She could not understand, or perhaps she just refused to. Her father wasn’t a good man, and Ellie considered this a fact, an unshakable truth. If anything, Hugo was a petty tyrant.
She had not always thought of her father this way. As a young girl he would pick her up and carry her around the house even when she was old enough to walk, her long, thin legs hoisted over his shoulders. He regaled her with stories of valiant knights saving damsels and told her that she was so delicate that if he let her go she would surely break.
Ellie was his porcelain doll, a precious toy that he took pleasure in dressing, molding her to his fancy. He would sometimes put his face against hers, pressing so hard that his glasses left marks imprinted in her skin. Hugo would even push their lips together, once leaving a technicolor bruise on her mouth.
Although she adored this attention while younger, it slowly began to smother her. He would insist on holding her hand in public, as though to say that she was his and no one else’s. Hugo controlled her appearance: hair kept long, skirts and knee-highs, the perpetual schoolgirl even in the summertime.
The same iron grip was exerted on his wife, though he regarded her as little more than a nuisance. Hugo married her young (she was still in high school, acceptable in those days), unripe and rather boyish in appearance.
What a delicate creature she was! Hugo gave her the nickname “bird bones” while holding her in his arms on their wedding night. Her frame was small and easily breakable, and he knew if he squeezed hard enough her arm might snap. This gave him a feeling of satisfaction.
Hugo’s worship of his wife lasted until she fell pregnant, at which point she began to swell. All of a sudden she lost her girlish charm, his lithe androgyne morphing undoubtedly into a woman. He was repulsed. Maybe that was why he tried to prolong his daughter’s girlhood, to avoid this same feeling of disgust writhing away in his gut.
Hugo’s attempts to pervert time made Ellie a prisoner. At times she had intense fever dreams of chopping off her hair and dressing in baggy men’s clothes just to irk her father. Still she remained obedient. Whether Ellie was afraid of his wrath or the loss of his approval she didn’t know. She certainly wasn’t prepared to find out.
But she did, on her eighteenth birthday no less. It was the day Ellie lost her virginity to her boyfriend, a well-kept secret until she bled so much she had to be taken to the hospital. Once Hugo heard the details and the nurse left the room he slapped his daughter hard and admonished her for being a whore. “See,” he said through his teeth. “This is what you get when you spread your legs.” Her mother said nothing.
He stormed out of the building and drove frantically home. When the two women returned they found him dead, hanged by a belt in Ellie’s closet. Hugo didn’t leave a note,but Ellie heard his words loud and clear. The next day she got a haircut.