Warning! May be graphic to some readers. Contains domestic violence and language.
Sam was finishing his after-school peanut butter and jelly sandwich when the phone on the kitchen counter rang.
Sam answered, unraveling the phone cord. “Hey Mom. Thirty-five minutes? Sure, I’ll be ready.” Pausing for a moment he asked the rhetorical question, with a grimace, “Is he going to be there?” Upon receiving the answer he spoke his goodbye and hung up the phone with an exasperated sigh and went back to his sandwich.
“Sam, you here?” called his stepmother, Carol, from the entryway.
“I’m in the kitchen,” he answered. “My mom will be here in about a half hour.”
“Oh, wow, two weeks goes quick,” she replied putting her work bag down entering the kitchen. Carol gave Sam a kiss on the top of his head and put her hand on his shoulder before asking, “So, is he going to be there?”
Sam only nodded, dropping his eyes to the floor.
“I’m so sorry honey. Just, just try to avoid him, but be polite, okay?” she said. “Hey,” she started in a happier tone, “How about when your dad gets home I see if I can’t convince him to pick you up early on Sunday. Maybe head to Farrell’s for a treat?”
Sam packed with two days of clothes and his Discman with a few CDs. He raised his arm, his watch showed he had about five minutes or so before she was supposed to be there. She was habitually late so he grabbed his Game Boy with Tetris inserted. On his way out the door he said goodbye to Carol and sat outside the front door waiting and playing. To his surprise, she was only nine minutes late.
He jumped to his feet and walked as if on a cloud to meet his mom at the end of the driveway meeting her 1978 yellow Toyota Corolla as it rolled to a stop. He hopped in and she turned the car around while putting on her favorite album, Phil Collins’s No Jacket Required.
“Mom, when are you going to get a cassette player?” Sam asked playfully. “You’re the only person I know, except for Grandpa, that has an 8-track player. And his is in the garage. In a box.”
“When I can afford a new car, I’ll be able to afford newer music things,” she replied.
The 35-minute ride was pleasant as Sam and his mom talked about school and some of his friends. She asked, as she did every other time she saw him, if he’d had a girlfriend or not, to which he simply shook his head and rolled his eyes.
They arrived at the dingy apartment building in which she lived. Sam’s mom time ended with a shudder as he made eye contact with the man standing lazily with a beer can in his hand at the back entrance.
“Don’t worry Sam, he’s actually nice once you get to know him,” said his mother trying to believe it herself while unbuckling and getting out of the car.
Wearing a stained white t-shirt, stained brown slacks, and unkempt hair the man lashed out at Sam’s mom, “Where the hell have you been?”
Sam unbuckled and opened the door to hear the tail end his mom receiving, “I didn’t sign up for this kid shit,” before the man slammed the door the stairwell door in her face. She stood up tall to put her “face” on and turned around.
“Well come on, let’s get you some food,” his mom said.
Once they’d exited the stairwell on the third floor Sam’s eyes began to water as a mix of rotting meat and a fresh onion had been forced to sit under his nose. “What’s that smell?” he said.
“Oh, I think Dave is cooking for us tonight,” she replied raising her eyebrows and pursing her lips.
They entered the small one bedroom apartment and Sam winced at the foul odor within. The galley style kitchen was directly to the left as he walked in giving Sam no time to remove the shrewd expression from his face as he passed it.
“What? Yous got problem with my cookin’ skills?” Dave asked Sam as he passed. He stepped out from the kitchen to the mix dining room/living room so Sam could see his whole short body. With his hand out to his side, palms up, and head held high his further said, “Hey, I ax you a question.”
Sam’s mom looked at him before shifting her eyes to Dave, “I don’t think he’s just hungry honey.”
Dave remained standing there. “Well?” He said looking at Sam.
“Um, no. I don’t have a problem,” Sam spoke in a barely audible tone.
“Good! Cuz this food ain’t for little-rat-pussies,” Dave paused for effect. “You ain’t no little-rat-pussy ares ya?” he asked with cold eyes.
“Dave!” interrupted Sam’s mom.
“Shut it Tracy!” Dave said raising his voice; she complied hunching over slightly in her seat.
“Set the table kid.”
Sam looked at his mom who refused to return the look. He understood, she felt guilty for bringing this man into their life.
Sam grudgingly, though not outwardly, got the thin paper plates and plastic cups from underneath the breakfast nook placing them on the flimsy card table in the “dining room.”
“Mom?” Sam started, “Is the silver-”
“We ain’t got none of that fancy shit here anymore kid. Tre, show him where we keep our fancy forks and shit.”
Sam’s mom pointed to the closet near the door. Inside he found the plastic-ware in a clear bag at the bottom next to a baseball bat bag, boots and shoes, and a few other boxes. He grabbed three sets plastic forks and spoons then put them on the table when Dave called him again, “What? I gots-ah get my own drink around here now too? I’m cooking for yous- ya know!”
“Sorry Dave,” Sam said, slowly walking back to the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator, then looked at Dave, then back in the fridge. “Um, there’s only beer in here,” he stated genuinely surprised. He had a momentary thought back to the days when his mom would have gotten chocolate milk or a fruit juice just for him when he came over.
“Go ahead and grab yourself ones too,” Dave told him with a halfhearted chuckle. Sam grabbed a Natural Light ignoring the comment and placed the beer on the card table. “Hey, kid. I said. Grab yourself. A beer. I didn’t fuckin’ stutta did I?”
Sam looked at his mom for reassurance. He found none as she had her back to him looking out the winder on the far side of the room.
“That bitch ain’t goin-ah help ya,” Dave said as he was tending to the stove.
Sam felt hotter than he’d ever felt before. Tiny beads of sweat began popping up on his forehead; he could feel the veins in his neck bulging as they pressed against his t-shirt. He stood there, drilling holes into Dave with his eyes. Fists balled so hard his fingers began to hurt and indents were forming on the inside of his palms to point of near blood draw. I’m going to kill you, Sam thought gritting his teeth behind his lips.
Dave raised his head and made eye contact with Sam, pausing for only a moment, a wicked grin on his face. “You want some of this kid?” Dave said slow and drawn out as he dried his hand on the other side of the breakfast bar.
Tracy, having come back from her ignoring and meditative state, reached out and grabbed Sam’s arm, startling him. He turned to find his mom slowly shaking her head.
“See, pussy, even you mama knows better. Don’t-cha?” Dave sneered. “Let’s eats,” he grumbled as he scooped food onto the plates.
Sam and his mother stayed where they were until Dave spoke again. “Get ya asses ova here an eats dis,” he demanded.
Without looking at her Sam took his mother hand and sat in the folding chair opposite Dave. His mother on his left between them. He looked to his mother with her curved back and hunched forward nearly putting her hair on her plate, then back to his plate which held a seven-inch hunk of sausage. Taking a plastic fork and knife he cut a piece, placing it in his mouth. He just as quickly spit it out; immediately regretting doing so.
Dave had his feet firm upon the carpet and had raised up as fast as The Flash could run before the chunk of meat even landed back on the plate from Sam’s lips. Reaching over the table, spilling the beer, and getting a hold of Sam shirt collar, Dave drove Sam back in chair back was slammed on the ground. Dave hovered for only a moment before he struck his knee upon Sam’s neck and into his Adam’s apple. Reaching back, Dave grabbed a plastic fork.
“You ungrateful little fuck!” Dave spat with the plastic spoon hovering just above Sam’s left eye lashes. “You’re lucky yous daddy needs you back or I’d fucking run this Goddamn mother-fuckin’ fork through your FUCKING SKULL!” he said ending with a shout and the onset of halitosis before pausing to take a breath. “If you ever, spit out another piece of food that I make you, you will regret it. Do I make myselfs clear?”
Sam laid still in a mess of beer and food not wanting to move, let alone nod.
“Yes!” Sam finally said.
Dave gave one last thrust of his knee into Sam’s neck before standing and throwing the fork onto the floor. Sam started choking as he tried to take in huge gasps of air. Dave wiped his dirty hands onto his shirt before proclaiming that he was leaving to the bar and expected the place to be picked up before he got back. Not waiting for any acknowledgment Dave grabbed a beer out of the fridge and left, leaving Sam lying in waste and his mother sitting motionless upon the folding chair.
By the time Dave returned Sam was asleep on the couch, his mother in her bed. They’d cleaned up the apartment in silence. Sam tried to ask his mother what she was doing with him there, but received no answer. He knew he could ask her to take him home; he also knew she’d get beat some more too. Sam instead stayed in an effort to disway Dave from touching her.
Sam heard the door open and close hard, not a slam, but hard, before hearing the three steps to the fridge where Dave, Sam presumed, was getting another beer. After cracking open his cheap drink he took a few more steps then stopped. Sam couldn’t see him, his eyes still closed, he could only hear the movements and strained breathing.
Sam hoped to God that Dave would just go to sleep and end the night.
That didn’t happen.
Through the door, Sam heard, “You’re drunk- stop it.” She said it again. Then a thump, and the smack of a backhand upon a face. A whimper. Time stood still as Sam’s whole body tensed. It seemed like hours before there was a pause in the shallow muffled cries for help and over exaggerated groaning. “Stop,” he heard his mother say in a half cry, half squeal.
“Fuck the kid, I don’ts care he hears us,” came Dave’s voice from the room, followed by a grunt, another backhand hit, a choking cough.
Sam couldn’t tell who was choking. It didn’t matter as the sound of his mother yelling “STOP” burned into his ears. “Stop,” he heard again, but somewhat muffled. Sam stood up and shuddered while looking around the room for something. Nothing. Nothing, save for himself. Sam closed his eyes, his arms began to a shake. Anger. Pure hatred. His eyes SPRUNG open as he brought his hand to eye level, they were glowing, like a ruby with a dim light behind it.
The sound of Dave’s grunt snapped Sam into action. He burst into the bedroom to find Dave forcing himself into Tracy while holding her hands and covering her head with a pillow to muffle her screaming. Sam raised his hands to grab him and found he didn’t need to touch him. Through thought alone, his want and anger were infused as Dave grabbed at his throat choking, and unable to breathe.
Sam wasn’t sure how he knew to do this, but he could. With his virtual grip around the neck of the aggressor, he quickly waved his arm to the far side wall. Dave sailed across the bed as if being pulled by a rope right into the wall. Sam released his grip walking over to his mother and covering her up.
Tracy turned over from under the pillow with two swollen and bruised eyes. Blood crusted around her nose and mouth. Sam clenched his teeth, bulging out the side of his jaw, trying to hold back his fear. His anger. Moving from his mother’s side, still holding her hand, staring intently at Dave.
Dave screamed in agony.
The corners of Sam’s lips turned slightly upward while he let his mother’s pain-bearer continue to scream. Dave began hitting himself, his head, his chest, his head again. His screams began to sound hoarse and scratchy. Blood began dripping — gushing — from his nose and right ear. His left eye shot out in a spray, deflated.
The screaming stopped, suddenly. Dave’s body lay sitting limp and lifeless, somewhat hunched over. Sam remained frozen looking at the deed with a slight twitch below his left eye.
“Sam,” came a distant voice. “Sam, honey, wake up,” his mother was shaking him as he lay on the couch. “Honey, we need to get you cleaned up and to your Dad’s house.”
Sam was startled at his mother’s shaky voice. The grog wore off quickly as went to rub his eyes and hit himself in the chin with the aluminum baseball bat he was gripping. The bat fell with a clang to the floor.
He looked at his hands, his eyes got wide, “Mom, who’s… is this?” he asked looking at his red-crusted hands. He sat up, looking at his mom who still had bruised eyes and blood on her face. “A dream? I didn’t touch you! Is that… is this your blood?” he asked looking down at his hands then back to her. She responded with a slow head shake and a glancing to her bedroom.
Sam stood, moving towards her, tripping over the bat on the floor. The bat was covered in blood save for the tip. It left a drag mark from the bedroom to the couch. Following the trail, Sam found the source of the blood.
To the right of the bed, sitting on the floor, sat a nearly naked man hunched over. He could tell it was Dave, but he couldn’t see it was Dave. The walls were splattered with blood, bone chips, and brain matter. All that remained was an open cranium with coagulated ooze seeping atop a jawline.
“What did I — ”
“You protected me,” his mother cut him off grabbing and turning his face to meet hers. “You did what had to be done… Let’s get you cleaned up.”