Punish the Sinners

Prologue

He reached up and grasped the doorknob carefully, half-hoping it would be locked. When it wasn’t, his eyes widened in anticipation, and he began pushing the door open very slowly. When you are four years old, and you are going to do something that you are not sure you should do, you try to do it either very slowly or very quickly. The little boy was doing it very slowly.

He pushed the door to his parents’ bedroom open just far enough for his small body to slip in, then closed it again behind him. He looked around, though he already knew the room was empty. On the other hand, when you are four, very few rooms are truly empty.

He tiptoed across the room to his mother’s closet, and again half-hoped the door would be locked. When he found that it wasn’t, he made up his mind to go ahead and do it He pulled the door open and stepped into the closet There they were: his mother’s shoes.

He had seen a picture in a book once—a little boy, all dressed up in his mother’s clothes—his tiny feet lost in the immense high-heeled shoes, his body swathed in the folds of a red dress, and his face just barely visible peering out from under the brim of a large sunbonnet His mother had thought the little boy in the picture was adorable.

So now he stepped into a pair of his mother’s shoes, and tried to balance his weight on those tiny little heels. It was difficult, but he managed it Then, while he was trying to figure out how he was going to get to the hat-box perched almost out of sight on the shelf far above his head, he heard the sound.

It was the click of a doorknob, and even before he heard the next sound, he knew that someone had come into the room. He turned quickly; the closet door was almost closed. Maybe, if he held very still, and stayed very quiet, whoever was in the bedroom wouldn’t notice the doset door at all …

He crouched down on the floor of the closet More sounds. Footsteps, and two voices. It was his parents, and they were both in the bedroom. He heard the bedroom door close.

“I just don’t like doing it now,” be heard his mother say. “It seems so—so dirty, I guess.”

“You mean you don’t like doing it in the light.” His father, angry.

“The trouble with you, Ruth, is that you’re prissy. You need a touch of the whore in you.”

The little boy wondered what “the whore” was.

There was a scuffling noise, and then his mother’s voice: “What about the children?”

“What about them?” his father rumbled. “Elaine’s at school, and the kid’s outside somewhere doing God knows what.”

The little boy sank farther back into the depths of the closet Suddenly it was very important that he not be discovered. He wasn’t sure why, but he knew it was important

He listened to more scuffling sounds, and heard some words that he couldn’t quite make out. He began to wonder what was happening on the other side of the closet door, but he was afraid to peek out and see.

When his mother began to moan, the little boy conquered his fear. He crept to the crack where the door stood slightly ajar, and pressed his eye dose. He could see the foot of the bed, but that was all. His mother moaned louder; he decided to risk pushing the closet door open a little more. And then he saw them.

They were on the bed, and they didn’t have any clothes