Word Association Game

Word Association Game

‘Let’s play our little game.’
Carmen shuddered as the smooth voice washed over her, turning her heart to ice. She was sitting on the hard-backed chair in his living room, where he liked her to spend the afternoons while he sat in the armchair opposite, occasionally pacing up and down in front of her. She pressed her knees together and hunched over, trying to make herself as small and insignificant as possible. But as he smiled down at her, he placed his hand firmly under her chin and forced her head up so that she couldn’t avoid eye contact. He ignored her streaming tears.
‘You know the rules, Carmen. When I say a word, I want you to say the first word that comes into your head. OK?’
Carmen nodded reluctantly.
‘Right, here we go. Nice and easy to start with. School.’
‘Interesting.’
‘Friends.’
‘Loyal.’
‘Parents.’
‘Safety.’
‘Home.’
‘Warm.’
‘Love.’
‘Lost.’
He stopped his pacing and glared at Carmen, who now coldly met his gaze. Gone were the days when her stomach had flipped with excitement when he’d picked her up from school, gone were the feelings of warmth whenever she’d thought about him. Gone was the rage she’d felt whenever her friends or family timidly suggested she spend less time with him, start hanging out with them again like she used to, and put her phone down for one minute when they were apart. Carmen had been convinced they were just jealous that they didn’t have someone like him in their lives. But gradually she too had grown uneasy, especially when he’d forbidden her from studying for her exams, telling her repeatedly how useless education was and how she would never need to work because she had him, and he loved her. Finally, she had decided to tell him they couldn’t see each other any more. He’d seen red then, had bundled her into his car and driven her to a strange house she’d never visited before, and had not let her out of his sight since. She’d heard nothing from her family; he wouldn’t allow her to watch TV and had taken her phone away immediately. Carmen had no idea if anyone was looking for her – or if they’d ever find her.
He continued to glower at her, before suddenly softening his features once more.
‘Now, Carmen, you know that’s not how we play the game. You know those aren’t the right answers. And you know what happens when you don’t give me the right answers.’
A sudden blow across her right cheek snapped Carmen’s head back sharply, causing her to whimper in pain. He watched her carefully as she tried to control herself. She knew that resistance was futile.
‘We’ll try that one more time. No more mistakes, now. School.’
‘Lame.’
‘Friends.’
‘Boring.’
‘Parents.’
‘Suffocating.’
‘Home.’
‘Here.’
‘Love.’
‘You.’
This time, his face broke out into a broad grin. Kneeling down in front of Carmen, he wiped her tears away and gripped her in his strong embrace.

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