The Devil You Know (TW: Abuse)

Ariel M. Goldenthal

Editorial note from Sara Siddiqui: In very few words, Ariel shows us the day-to-day, minute-to-minute struggle of an almost-twelve-year-old girl, her early years split between two houses and two parents, one being domineering and physically abusive. In such an environment, each breath is a strain, each step a burden. I can only imagine the brittleness that would mark such a childhood, and the embedded splinters it leaves behind. I thank Ariel for trusting me this tender non-fiction micro and invite you all to read it.

              I close my eyes and see you standing in the kitchen doorway, hands pressed so hard against the frame your knuckles turn white. Your legs spread wide to keep your balance: This is your only regular exercise. This time, I lingered too long when you told me to set the table. I wrap my arms around my middle; the streaky bruise you left me last week has just begun to yellow.

              Do I slide between your legs, escape into the dining room with the double door to the porch? How will I finish my Animal Farm essay on time? Do I barricade myself in the computer nook, fixing my eyes on the family of rabbits outside, and hope you don’t drag me away by my wrists again? Mama bunny corrals her babies into an opening in the fence you demanded my father install around the backyard before the divorce and disappears. I burrow out of the kitchen, hitting the wood floor and scrambling to get on my feet. Thud. You stalk me into the dining room, your nostrils firing and floorboards shaking under the weight of your stomps.

              I sprint down the street with my purple fleece hood pulled over my head. It’s November, three days before my twelfth birthday, and your frequent warning echoes in my ears: “You can’t walk to your father’s house alone.” The lurking danger of the unknown. 

              I stop and the stillness of the street swallows my breath. Oak branches curl into fists, shooting burgundy leaves from between their knuckles. Ants scurry across the asphalt and I inhale each time one strays from the line’s security.

              When I reach my father’s house, you’ve already called to tell him to drive me home; that it’s not safe for me to walk back in the deepening sunset by myself. I open the door and keep running.

Ariel M. Goldenthal is an Assistant Professor of English at George Mason University. Her work has appeared in Tiny Molecules, Emerge Literary Journal, MoonPark Review, and others. You can read more of her work at and follow her on Twitter @arielgoldenthal.