by Roberta Beary

I CAN TELL no one’s here. I wish we had an alarm like the nuns next door. I look for Grandpa. He’d always be in his rocker, by the living room window. When Dad came home from work, he’d put the rocking chair back in front of the TV. Now it’s always there.

I can tell no one’s here. I check the kitchen, dining room, living room, powder room. The upstairs. My room, my brothers’, my parents.’ Their bathroom and ours. I run downstairs. Use the powder room but leave the door open so I can see the basement door. I know no one’s down there. Only Dad’s desk, a TV, a poster of dogs playing poker, and Grandpa’s single bed, without sheets. 

I can tell no one’s here. But if they were they’d be in the basement. Standing on the creepy clown face. Mom calls it a playroom even though my brothers go to high school and I’ll go in two years. Nobody calls it Grandpa’s wing anymore. It’s the only door that has a bolt and chain. When Grandpa punished me he would lock me inside with the clown face. I’d sit on the top step in the dark, wait for him to ask if I learned my lesson. 

I can tell no one’s here. I lift all the phones. Listen to the dial tone. I want to call Dad and Mom’s office but it’s only for emergencies. I check the backyard. Dad’s plastic lounger and the two beach chairs folded against the brick grill. No cars in the convent driveway. Why do they get to have a pool and we don’t? It’s warm enough to do my homework outside but what if someone’s watching? Mom’ll be back in two hours. 

I can tell no one’s here. I turn on the kitchen lights. Open my homework. Test the backdoor lock, the front door. The basement door’s open. I don’t turn on the light to see. Who’s down there. Standing on the clown face, all quiet. Like they own the place. I’m not scared. Grandpa always said he’d send someone. From the grave. Make sure I’d learned my lesson.

I can tell no one’s here. But just in case, I do the combination they don’t know I know. For the gun safe. The judge made them get one. After Grandpa. Even though everyone, even my parents and brothers, said it wasn’t my fault.


Roberta Beary identifies as gender-fluid and writes to connect with the silenced, to let them know they are heard. Their work appears in RattleThe New York Times Modern LoveBest MicrofictionBest Small Fictions, and other publications. They divide their time between USA and Ireland. 

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