The long road home
A CLOCK TICKED LOUDLY in the hall as Gabriella Harrison stood silently in the utter darkness of the closet. It was filled with winter coats, and they scratched her face, as she pressed her thin six-year-old frame as far back as she could, deep among them. She stumbled over a pair of her mother's winter boots, as she moved farther back into the closet. She knew that here, no one would find her. She had hidden here before, it had always been a good hiding place for her, a place they never thought to look, especially now, in the heat of a New York summer.
It was stifling where she stood, her eyes wide in the darkness, waiting, barely daring to breathe, as she heard muffled footsteps approaching from the distance. The sharp clicking of her mother's heels clattered past like an express train roaring through town, she could almost feel the air whoosh past her face with relief in the crowded closet. She let herself breathe again, just once, and then held her breath, as though even the sound of it would draw her mother's attention. Even at six, she knew that her mother had supernatural powers. She could find her anywhere, almost as though she could detect her scent, the pull of mother to child inevitable, unavoidable, her mother's deep, inky-brown eyes all-seeing, all-knowing. Gabriella knew that no matter where she hid, eventually her mother would find her. But she hid anyway, had to try at least, to escape her.
Gabriella was small for her age, undersize, underweight, and she had an elfin quality about her, with huge blue eyes, and soft blond curls. People who scarcely knew her said that she looked like a little angel. She looked startled much of the time, like an angel who had fallen to earth, and had not known what to expect here. None of what she had encountered in her six brief years was what they could have promised her in heaven.
Her mother's heels rattled past again, pounding harder on the floor this time. Gabriella knew instinctively that the search had heightened. The closet in her own room would have been torn apart by then, also the equipment closet under the stairs, behind the kitchen, the shed outside the house, in the garden. They lived in a narrow town house on the East Side, with a small, well-kept garden. Her mother hated gardening, but a Japanese man came twice a week to cut things, mow the tiny patch of lawn, and keep it tidy. More than anything, her mother hated disorder, she hated noise, she hated dirt, she hated lies, she hated dogs, and more than all of it, Gabriella had reason to suspect, she hated children. Children told lies, her mother said, made noise, and according to her mother, were continually dirty. Gabriella was always being told to stay clean, to stay in her room, and not disturb anything. She wasn't allowed to listen to the radio, or use colored pencils, because when she did, she always got the colors on everything. She had ruined her best dress once. That had been while her dad had been away, in a place called Korea. He had been gone for two years, and come back the year before. He still had a uniform in the back of a closet somewhere, Gabriella had seen it there once, when she was hiding. It had bright shiny buttons on it, and it was scratchy. She had never seen her father wear it. He was tall and lean, and handsome, with eyes the same color as her