I wrote this a long time ago.

Maria’s parents – mother and father – were born, raised, and aged in the finest neighborhood America had to offer. It had free healthcare (hypodermic needles), free food (restaurant garbage), free shelter (cardboard), and free education (beaten into you with a baton). Both mother and father knew the kind of cruelty only smart clever humans are capable of inflicting on one another. They had their first date at McDonald’s. They kissed afterward in the bathroom. They knocked each other up soon after that. Nine months later, in a miracle of life unencumbered by logistics, a daughter was born in a place too broken to describe assisted by people too broken to name. But to them, at that moment, it was the world’s best hospital.

“What’s her name?”

“Some place we never been, for a life that’s not ours, for a place where we never were,” said Maria’s dad.

“Mars.”

“Maria.”

Maria means “of the sea,” a place her mother had in fact gone to once when she was very little. This was one of God’s little jokes. On that day her mother’s father saw how big her sand castle was becoming and threw a beer bottle that neatly clipped her shoulder, leaving a curious and beautiful mark on her skin. It looks like a circle – a perfect circle – even now, nestled among all the wrinkles. She (Maria’s mother) washed her wound in the option, where a riptide carried her into the arms of a keen-sighted lifeguard who failed to recognize the subtle signs of an abused child and deposited her back with her family, who seemed nice enough.

Maria’s father one day brought home a watch, silver and bright, that a friend at the mill had given him for Christmas. It meant the world to him, he who had never owned a watch nor had made a friend at work. He pictured eventually buying a cheaper knockoff of the watch, wearing the duplicate, and keeping the original in a safe place. When he had saved enough. After dinner, when the adults were putting the dishes away, Maria could not help but notice its luster and her eyes lit up bright up for passing ambulators to notice outside. She, an oily-fingered child, dropped it and watched the face crackle. She felt next, as if it were one fluid casual movement, a sharp blow on the side of her head; her body flew limp across the room, slamming into the refrigerator. It sounded like this: crack. Her father took two steps, pushed his protesting wife aside, and kept hitting Maria. Hitting a child gets easier with each blow. The shock begins to feel normal. Projecting the frustrations of the world onto something the world is not – small, fragile, lovely – begins to feel normal. Not being able to fight back – that begins to feels normal too. The man in the room who is no longer her father had a splotched face and a contorted mustache.

It would take the mother’s one slow action of removing her wedding ring and inserting it deep into the man’s head, way beyond you could imagine, to stop the man. Maria is on the floor, breathing too shallow to really cry. Her father is now on his knees, really really crying, trying to resuscitate his little girl with the kind of CPR he has seen in movies and TV. He is asking forgiveness, on his knees, from her, from her mother, from God, from the floor. He is kissing Maria’s beautiful red skin He is screaming. He has upturned a table. He has picked up Maria and is carrying her to the car; where he could go he does not know. He fumbles for his car keys and he slips on an icy driveway patch. Down they both go. On the ground he looks next to him; at Maria. She reaches one small hand to brush away the white rose petals away from her father’s eyes. Her face, inflamed and distorted and red and puffy, reaches up to kiss her father on the lips. She grows heavier as her father grows lighter. As his eyes dim and cloud, as the thick redness pouring out of his skull steams and fights against the snowdrift of a long winter night.

Her father will never hit her again. Somewhere a number is decremented.