Faith stood staring agape at the building, the depressing, worn down apartment block where she had lived for majority of the first gruelling fifteen years of her life. It had changed, not for the better; the signs of decay slowly, inevitably tearing it down, the building crumbling into the dirt, like so many of the houses around it, like the worthless lives of the poor souls who lived within them. The siding - aluminum, not the new vinyl - was dented, oxidized (you can't call it rust), shabby and barely doing its job. Scratched beyond cosmetic repair, bent away from the corners. The window sills rotted, paint flakes chipped off in too many places to count. The glass inside seated haphazardly, drafty and unsealable, letting the hot air out, the winter chill inside, wasting the little money the owners had. But they never cared enough to do anything about it.

As Faith stood in the gentle falling snow, the flurries settling to land in her dark, curly hair, she marvelled at the feelings seeing the apartment again now brought to her. Just thinking of the cold inside - 58 degrees in February - made her shiver. It was only December now, but she had been stupid, freezing out here in her too thin stylish jacket, wearing driving gloves instead of the mittens any smart person would use in the cold winter wind. And she had never bought a toque - which is what you really call the knit caps you wear in winter, not whatever the fuck those idiots in California called them - which would have gone a long way to keeping her ears from frostbite.

When had she allowed herself to get so soft? This was a brisk day, but not cold. It was a day for snowball fights, tobogganing, building a snowman, making a happy childhood memory, playing in the snow with friends and trudging back through the drifts at the side of the road in soggy snowpants that never seemed to do what they were supposed to, swishing their plastic swish as you moved your legs, and then being left to dry beside the radiator by your frustrated mother who would never let you make those happy memories in the first place.

The feelings that really got to her were those: the look of contempt on her mother's face, the scowl, the painful knowledge that she was unwanted, unloved. Faith sniffled; make-believing that it was the cold outside that was making her nose run, when the source was really from within. She remembered how her mom, almost a decade since the last time, would only stop ignoring her to beat her and abuse her. And what had she really wanted? She'll never know; she doesn't want to know. She doesn't even know why she came to this place.

Faith used to climb out her window at night, escaping from her mother's drunken rages or the angry sex she would have with some filthy man she barely knew. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. When she was little, Faith used to slide down the drainpipe and, in the morning, would climb back up again, making an awful racket as the aluminum crinkled beneath (or was the beside?) her feet, leaving dents and a tell-tale series of black rubber marks along the side of the house from the Reebok Black-tops she had stolen from another kid. Her mom was always too drunk to notice. The damage she had caused remained, her footprints still visible along the pipe, even worse for wear than when she had left all those years ago.

Even the eaves trough remained, pulled away from the roof the night when she found out that she had grown too heavy for the structure to hold her. The hanging icicles right from the middle proved it had never been repaired, at least not successfully. The water that dripped from the icy daggers fell at the steps of her door, not hers any longer. That was a lawsuit waiting to happen, not that the occupants would ever have any money to make a suit worthwhile.

A fragile little girl's insecurities... She had cried for days when she realized that she was too big to climb anymore. And she had still been young at the time. Now she had at least another twenty pounds on her young self. With all the horror of her youth it was silly that weight was the something that brought her to tears. She was always being abused because she was a scared little girl; she had grown up with that knowledge. It was her identity. She never cried, not really. She sobbed when no one was looking, but never broke down to tears and whining. Pain was her life, and she took it like a man, so to speak. When one day she wasn't so little anymore and she couldn't deal with that of all things, she wept for days. She never again sneaked out through that window. She sat and listened to her mother's screams, her drinking, or her fucking, and she learned what it meant to live in prison.

This house, this cheap, fucking apartment house - four units in a piece of shit not fit for one family of welfare bums - was her first prison. It was a place where nightmares were born, spirits were broken. It shaped her mind, her soul. It broke her. Not instantly, not overnight. Slowly and inexorably over the course of years, it broke her. She couldn't leave it. Couldn't run away. Even when her watcher took her from here it always stayed with her. No escape. Just parole. Every night she lived the same abuse in her prison. She just couldn't tell if mom played the role of warden or cellmate.

She smokes a Du Maurier - not her brand. She bummed it from a passing stranger. The cigarette that hangs from her mouth warms her; its deadly embrace steeling her shaky nerves. There's nothing to be afraid of. It's just a house.

She's been to real prisons but nothing can ever compare to her first. Never. She built prisons of her own since then - high walls in her mind to keep her feelings in and those of others out. Sometimes it seems as if she's destined for jail. And here was the beginning.

Mom wasn't there anymore. She was long gone. Inside, a new family lived. They wouldn't know why the eaves trough was leaking, or why the aluminum siding had all those dents in it. They would wonder about the plaster patch in the drywall where some of the furniture had come to land after Faith had fought with her mom for the first time. They would think about those things occasionally when something brought them to their attention, but they would never know, and probably wouldn't care. Just normal damage accumulated during normal living. They might ponder wistfully about the footprints.

"Fuck it."

She threw her half-burned cigarette into the gutter and walked away.