The Silence of the Lambs


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Catherine Baker Martin lay seventeen feet below the cellar floor. The darkness was loud with her breathing, loud with her heart. Sometimes the fear stood on her chest the way a trapper kills a fox. Sometimes she could think: she knew she was kidnapped, but she didn't know by whom. She knew she wasn't dreaming; in the absolute dark she could hear the tiny clicks her eyes made when she blinked.
She was better now than when she first regained consciousness. Much of the awful vertigo was gone, and she knew there was enough air. She could tell down from up and she had some sense of her body's position.
Her shoulder, hip, and knee hurt from being pressed against the cement floor where she lay. That side

was down. Up was the rough futon she had crawled beneath during the last interval of blazing, blinding light. The throbbing in her head had subsided now. and her only real pain was in the fingers of her left hand. The ring finger was broken, she knew.
She wore a quilted jumpsuit that was strange to her. It was clean and smelled of fabric softener. The floor was clean too, except for the chicken bones and bits of vegetable her captor had raked into the hole. The only other objects with her were the futon and a plastic sanitation bucket with a thin string tied to the handle. It felt like cotton kitchen string and it led up into the darkness as far as she could reach.
Catherine Martin was free to move around, but there was no place to go. The floor she lay on was oval, about eight by ten feet, with a small drain in the center. It was the bottom of a deep covered pit. The smooth cement walls sloped gently inward as they rose.
Sounds from above now or was it her heart? Sounds from above. Sounds came clearly to her from overhead. The oubliette that held her was in the part of the basement directly beneath the kitchen. Footsteps now across the kitchen floor, and running water. The scratching of dog claws on linoleum. Nothing then until a weak disc of yellow light through the open trap above as the basement lights came on. Then blazing light in the pit, and this time she sat up into the light, the futon across her legs, determined to look around, trying to peer through her fingers as her eyes adjusted, her shadow swaying around her as a floodlamp lowered into the pit swung on its cord high above.
She flinched as her toilet bucket moved, lifted, swayed upward on its flimsy string, twisting slowly as it rose toward the light. She tried to swallow down her fear, got too much air with it, but managed to speak.
"My family will pay," she said. "Cash. My mother will pay it now, no questions asked. This is her private-- oh!" a flapping shadow down on her, only a towel. "This is her private number. It's 202-"
"Wash yourself."
It was the same unearthly voice she'd heard talking to the dog.
Another bucket coming down on a thin cord. She smelled hot, soapy water.
"Take it off and wash yourself all over, or you'll get the hose." And an aside to the dog as the voice faded, "Yes it will get the hose, won't it, Darlingheart, yes it will!"
Catherine Martin heard the footsteps and the claws on the floor above the basement. The double vision she'd had the first time the lights went on was gone now. She could see. How high was the top, was the floodlight on a strong cord? Could she snag it with the jumpsuit, catch something with the towel. Do something hell. The walls were so smooth, a smooth tube upward.
A crack in the cement a foot above her reach, the only blemish she could see. She rolled the futon as tightly as she could and tied the roll with the towel. Standing on it, wobbly, reaching for the crack, she got her fingernails in it for balance and peered up into the light. Squinting into the glare. It's a floodlight with a shade, hanging just a foot down into the pit, almost ten feet above her upstretched hand, it might as well be the moon, and he was coming, the futon was wobbling, she scrabbling at the crack in the wall for balance, hopping down, something, a flake falling past her face.
Something coming down past the light, a hose. A single spatter of icy water, a threat.
"Wash yourself. All over."
There was a washcloth in the bucket and floating in the water was a plastic bottle of an expensive foreign skin emollient.
She did it, goosebumps on her arms and thighs, nipples sore and shriveled in the cool air, she squatted beside the bucket of warm water as close to the wall as she could get and washed.
"Now dry off and rub the cream all over. Rub it all over."
The cream was warm from the bath water. Its moisture made the jumpsuit stick to her skin.
"Now pick up your litter and wash the floor."
She did that too, gathering the chicken bones and picking up the English peas. She put them in the bucket, and dabbed the little spots of grease on the cement. Something

else here, near the wall. The flake that had fluttered down from the crack above. It was a human fingernail, covered with glitter polish and torn off far back in the quick.
The bucket was pulled aloft.
"My mother will pay," Catherine Martin said. "No questions asked. She'll pay enough for you all to be rich. If it's a cause, Iran or Palestine, or Black Liberation, she'll give the money for that. All you have to do--"
The lights went out. Sudden and total darkness.
She flinched and went "Uhhhhhh!" when her sanitation bucket settled beside her on its string. She sat on the futon, her mind racing. She believed now that her captor was alone, that he was a white American. She'd tried to give the impression she had no idea what he was, what color or how many, that her memory of the parking lot was wiped out by the blows on her head. She hoped that he believed he could safely let her go. Her mind was working, working, and at last it worked too well.
The fingernail, someone else was here. A woman, a girl was here. Where was she now? What did he do to her?
Except for shock and disorientation, it would not have been so long in coming to her. As it was, the skin emollient did it. Skin. She knew who had her then. The knowledge fell on her like every scalding awful thing on earth and she was screaming, screaming, under the futon, up and climbing, clawing at the wall, screaming until she. was coughing something warm and salty in her mouth, hands to her face, drying sticky on the backs of her hands and she lay rigid on the futon, arching off the floor from head to heels, her hands clenched in her hair.

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