The Girl was still very young. Yet she had known more horrors in her few years than most would in an entire lifetime.
It wasn’t all tears and blood-soaked sheets. She was forbidden to leave the House she lived in, but it was a lovely House, built by her Father’s own hands, beautifully decorated, and bathed all the day long in soft light from its many frosted windows. The bed she slept in was comfortable enough. Her Mother saw to her every material need, provided her with food and clothing, and toys to play with. After breakfast each morning, her Mother would sit down at the table next to her and lay open the Book. Sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours at a time, her Mother would read to the Girl from the Book, which had been written for her by her Father and contained everything she would ever need to know.
Her Father was a great man, her Mother told her — a healer, a teacher, a leader. Now he lived Upstairs, on the second floor of their House. The Girl had never met her Father. She was prohibited from visiting the second floor, though it didn’t much matter; she had never found a door that might lead up there, anyway. Whenever the subject came up, which was usually at least once a day, her Mother would reassure her that her Father was Upstairs, able to see and hear everything they were doing downstairs, and that her Father loved her very, very much.
Each night after her Mother tucked her into bed and turned out the light, a Man would climb in through the Girl’s bedroom window, slide under the covers, and rape her. It had happened every single night for as long as the Girl could remember. She would cry out for help, but no one ever came to help her. She would try to fight the Man off herself, but she was far too weak. She would beg him to stop, to go away and never come back, but he never listened. The Man never spoke a word to the Girl, and when it was over he crawled out from under the covers and left the same way he came in, always taking care to close the window from the outside.
One morning following an especially brutal visit from the Man, her Mother entered the bedroom to find the Girl sobbing into her pillow. “What’s the matter, beloved?” her Mother asked her, stroking her hair ever so gently.
“The Man,” she said, lifting her face from the tear-soaked pillow. “He comes through the window every night and hurts me in the most horrible ways. And no one does anything to stop him!”
Her mother sighed and took a seat on the edge of the bed. “But we’ve been over this before,” her Mother said. “I could never protect you from that man because I’m not strong enough. He’d overpower me without even a struggle. And no lock or bar could keep him out if he really wanted in.”
“But what about my Father?” the Girl sobbed. “He’s the bravest and strongest there is! He could stop the Man from hurting me!”
“Oh, yes, absolutely,” her Mother told her with an emphatic nod of her head. “He could stop the Man.”
“Then why doesn’t he?”
“Well, honey,” said her Mother with a chuckle, “if your Father came downstairs to stop the Man, where would it stop? Once the Man was gone, there would still always be problems you couldn’t handle yourself. Would you expect your Father to come downstairs and, say, help you find where you left your shoe? Or help you clean up a drink you spilled? Or pick something up for you that was too heavy? If your Father stepped in once, he’d have to step in all the time. He wants you to learn to do things for yourself. So he just stays out of it.”
Her Mother reached her arm around the Girl’s shoulders and pulled her close. “But don’t worry,” her Mother said. “Your Father loves you very, very much.”
Weeks passed and nothing changed. The Man still came through the window every night, the Girl still endured hours of unspeakable cruelty at his hands. Then came another morning when the Girl’s Mother entered the bedroom to find her crying.
“What is it, my child?” her Mother asked.
“The Man,” she said. “Why won’t my Father stop him?”
“I’ve told you before. You can’t expect your Father to fix everything just how you want it.”
“But if he only knew what it was like . . .”
“Oh, but he does know,” the Girl’s Mother told her. “He knows about everything that happens to you, and when you feel pain, or sadness, he feels it too.”
“Then how can he not help me?!” cried the Girl, tears spilling down her cheeks.
Her Mother thought a moment. “Well,” the Girl’s Mother said, “have you ever asked him to help you? He isn’t the type of man to interfere where he isn’t wanted.”
“Ask him?” said the Girl. “I’ve never even seen him!”
“But he can see you! And hear you! Right from where he is Upstairs. Tonight, before you go to bed, ask your Father to help you get rid of the Man. Ask him sincerely, with all your heart, and I’m sure he won’t refuse you. Your father loves you very, very much.”
That night the Girl asked her Father to save her from the Man. She laid in her bed and spoke the words out loud, “Please, Father, help me. Save me from the Man who comes through the window.”
The Man came through the window the same as he had every night before. He slid under the covers and raped the Girl just as always. She begged her Father to help her, crying out to him as best she could between sharp, involuntary gasps of pain. The Man finished and climbed back outside, pulling the window shut after him. The Girl’s Father never came.
“Why didn’t my Father help me?” she demanded the next morning.
“I’m sure he had a very good reason,” her Mother told her. “He has your best interests in mind.”
“Can’t I please go Upstairs? Can’t I please just see my Father one time? Talk to him in person?” the Girl asked.
Her Mother shook her head. “Your Father will reveal himself to you in a way of his own choosing. It’s not for you to decide when to see him.”
“But why not? If he loves me, and he wants me to love him, why doesn’t he just come downstairs?”
The Girl’s Mother smiled softly and shook her head. “Because. It’s very important to your Father that you choose to love him — choose to love him of your own free will. If he came downstairs and sat with you, talked with you like I do, then you’d surely be won over by what a charming, loving, wonderful man he is. You’d be helpless in the face of him! You’d have no choice but to love him then. But he wants your love for him to truly mean something, so he remains unseen and leaves the choice to you.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” said the Girl.
“Maybe not,” said her Mother. “But would you expect it to? Your Father is a very intelligent man, and he has good reasons for what he does. People of ordinary intelligence like you and me, we have no hope of comprehending his ways. But don’t forget — your Father loves you very, very much. And — someday — when you’re all grown up — you’ll get to go Upstairs and live with him.”
The Girl brightened a bit at hearing that. “Really?”
“Oh, yes,” said her Mother. “He promised.”
The weeks, months, and years went by, carrying the Girl through childhood to the brink of adolescence. The Man still invaded her room and raped her every night, but now she held fast to the promise her Father had made. One day, she knew, he would welcome her Upstairs, and she would feel his strong, protecting arms close around her.
But as the Girl’s body grew, so grew her curiosity. For the first time, she began to ask her Mother about the world outside of their House. “What is it like out there?” she said one morning, looking past her Mother to the opaque, glowing window above the kitchen sink.
“It’s terrible,” said her Mother. “Out there everything is hard and cruel. There are dangers you could never hope to survive. Without your Father’s care and protection, you would never survive. Without him Upstairs to love and honor, your life would have no meaning. It would be empty and pointless. That’s why you must never leave this House. Only here can your Father guard you from what’s outside.”
Her Mother’s answer didn’t satisfy the Girl. There was a whole world beyond those walls, and it was a world she was determined to see with her own eyes, even if only for a moment.
That night after her Mother tucked her in, the Girl slipped out of bed. She dressed quietly — but quickly, knowing the Man would be coming through the window at any moment. She stood with her back against the wall and her bedside lamp — the heaviest object she could find — in her hands. When the window opened and the Man climbed inside, she stepped noiselessly behind him, brought the base of the lamp down across his head as hard as she could, and clambered outside.
She ran as long and as far as she could. There was nothing in front of her but open fields, rolling gently toward the horizon as far as she could see. When she felt she could run no more, she stopped. She looked up at the sky and saw stars for the very first time. And there was the Moon, shining its cool, silver light down upon her. She felt grass beneath her feet, and saw trees of all kinds growing together in clumps that sprouted up here and there around the fields. She found a comfortable spot beneath one of those trees and settled down for the first time to a peaceful night’s sleep.
The next morning she awoke blinking into a light like she had never seen. It wasn’t the dim glow of frosted windows that touched her — it was the bright, brilliant full light of the Sun. She stood, stretched, and walked out from beneath the tree to look at the world. It was so big! The sky was the most stunning shade of blue she’d ever seen, and great white clouds floated weightlessly in that blue like bubbles on bath water. She took in a long, deep breath through her nose, filling her lungs with air that smelled of pine trees and a dozen kinds of flowers.
The Girl felt her Mother’s hand clamp around her wrist. “What are you doing out here?!” asked her Mother, glaring at her with eyes lit by fury.
“I had to see for myself,” said the Girl.
“I’ve been looking all over for you!” said her Mother. “You know how dangerous it is out here! You know you must never leave the House!”
“But I spent the entire night under that tree,” the Girl said, pointing. “And it was the most wonderful night of my life! I’m safe! I’ve never felt better!”
“You’re lucky to be alive, you little fool!” her Mother snapped. “You think that Man who comes in your window at night is bad? This world is full of Men just like him! You’ll never make it on your own — you’re too weak and stupid! And if you turn your back on your Father, he won’t protect you! He won’t let you come Upstairs someday, and you’ll have nothing to look forward to but suffering and death!”
The Girl’s Mother dragged her back home across the fields. She offered no resistance until they neared the front door. Pulling away from her Mother, the Girl stood back and saw the House from the outside for the first time. “Mother,” she said, staring straight ahead, “there is no Upstairs.”
“It isn’t what it looks like,” said her Mother after a few nervous seconds had gone by. “Come inside with me and I’ll try to explain.”
“It isn’t safe for you out here!”
“Tell me the truth. Do I even have a Father?”
The Girl’s Mother laughed. “Of course you do! How else do you think you got here?”
“What does he look like?”
“What does my Father look like?”
“Why . . . he looks like you. Or, you look like him, I should say.”
“What color are his eyes?”
“What does it matter what—”
“How tall is he?”
“Child, you aren’t meant—”
“What does his voice sound like?”
“It isn’t fair to your Father to try and reduce what he is to terms that a simple creature like you could—”
“If he’s so much smarter than I am, why wasn’t any of this in the Book?” the Girl asked, gesturing toward the sky with outstretched arms. “He wrote about the House, his rules, even you — but nothing about the trees or the grass or the Sun.”
“All of your questions will be answered at the proper time,” said her Mother.
“Right. When I grow up. When I’ll finally be safe from that Man who sneaks into my bedroom at night, because I’ll be living with my Father. Right?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“On an Upstairs floor that doesn’t exist!”
“You mustn’t let him hear you say that!”
“What does my Father look like?”
Her Mother lowered her head. Slowly, after staring at the ground for a long time, she lifted her eyes. “I don’t know what he looks like. I’ve never seen him.”
For a moment — for quite a bit longer than a moment — the Girl could think of nothing to say. She could only stare at her Mother in silence.
“You’re not my Mother,” the Girl said.
“I’m the only Mother you’ve ever had! You were a bawling, starving baby when I found you! Without me, you’d never have made it this far!”
“You wrote the Book.”
“I wrote what your Father directed me to.”
“You built this House.”
“To serve your Father’s purpose.”
Her Mother reached out for her. “Come back inside.”
The Girl pulled away. “Never again.”
“The Man will still find you,” her Mother said. “You’ll never be rid of him.”
“I’ll take the risk,” said the Girl.
She turned away and began to walk. In what seemed like no time at all her Mother had shrunk out of sight, and the one-story house had become a dot on the horizon behind her.