Last night Ronny was the worst I’d ever seen. I mean he could be bad, a couple punches here and there but it usually was over in less than a minute. And in the last year he’d only been really rough with Mom three times, four? I’d got a couple black eyes but only after getting in trouble or yelling that he couldn’t tell me what to do.
But he’d never gone after all of us like that.
When the sounds woke me around midnight, I knew right away what they were. I’d heard crashes like that ever since Mom’d married Ronny. I used to cover my ears, waiting for it to be over so I could steal into the hall bathroom to soak a washcloth with cold water. Then when Mom came in and closed the door behind her, I could dab at her face or shoulder.
“A call at my office? Why can’t you do your fucking job?” Ronny’s voice came through the door.
“She’s just confused.”
“No, she’s a drugged-out whore!”
The office school called Ronny about the rally? Shit. Why did I trip at school?
“Don’t tell me what to do, you fucking bitch.”
I heard muffled rumbling and a slam. Mom’s cry. “Fuck you!”
I started to cover my ears but then a thump and another slam jolted me out of bed. I peeked through the door crack at the darkened hallway. At the end something was shaking.
I knew what it was. But still headed toward it. Cocked a futile ear. It didn’t stop.
My insides turned to water. Swallowing hard, I clutched my gut and inched forward.
Kyle was already in the hallway by the time I got to the master bedroom. With his door right across from theirs, it must have been even louder to him. His eyes were Night of the Living Dead dark circles begging me to do something.
“Bitch!” Another crash.
I pushed Kyle behind me and knocked on their door.
Another thud. Followed by a muffled cry. Mom’s voice.
The door stayed closed.
I glanced back at my baby brother who was clenching and unclenching his fists. He looked even smaller than he had a moment before. I blinked, wondering if fourteen-year old’s could shrink.
Setting my jaw, I pounded. Still no response. Kicked at the door. Kyle came up by my side and joined me. We hammered so hard I was sure we’d soon splinter wood, a desperate rhythm that no composer would ever use.
Another whimper came from inside.
I jiggled the knob. Locked. Yanked harder. Pushed Kyle out of the way and ran for the door.
And fell into Ronnie’s gut.
He only stared for a moment before grabbing me by the hair. As he swung me in an arc, he screeched, “Go the fuck to bed!”
My back hit the wall and I fell to my knees.
A screaming Kyle leapt at Ronnie and wrapped both arms and legs around his torso like one of those sad monkeys in science experiments. “Leave-them- alone!” he said through clenched teeth.
Ronny backed up smashing Kyle into the wall. My baby brother unclenched his jaw and released his grip.
When he slid down to the floor, I thought Ronnie would stop for sure. He never went after Kyle. It was like Kyle had this special glow to him, heavenly angel or superstar spotlight or something. And he did stop for a sec. Kind of stared confused at his son.
Then his eyes went red. I knew what was next and started to crawl forward.
But was too late.
By the time I reached Kyle, Ronnie had already lifted him over his head and tossed him back toward his room. Kyle bounced off the bed, a weird circus act. He landed on the floor with a sickening crunch. And did not move.
“Kyle?” I croaked pushing past Ronnie toward the crumpled heap that was my brother.
His arm was twisted in a weird position and his breath came in short gasps. It sounded like his lungs had shriveled and now could barely hold air. I reached out and pet his hair.
I swallowed a big lump in my throat. “Sorry.”
“Look at what you did,” Ronnie growled. “Should have left well enough alone.” He kneeled and reached out, but Kyle shrunk from his grasp.
Mom appeared, loose bathrobe belt dragging on the ground. I didn’t dare look at her face. “Baby?”
“Mom.” Kyle stretched his good hand toward her.
She squeezed it then ran her fingers over his forearm. He cried out. “It’s broken,” she said in a distant voice. “But it’ll be okay. We’ll get you to the doctor.”
Only now did I look at her. Disheveled hair. Split lip. Right eye almost swollen shut. She couldn’t go out like that.
“Get your keys, Ronnie. We gotta go to the hospital.” The words didn’t seem to come from my mouth but from some stranger wearing my face as a mask.
While Mom wrapped Kyle’s shoulders in the baby blanket he’d had since he was little, I ran to my room and threw on some jeans and a tee.
Cradling his arm, Mom led my sobbing little brother toward the car and onto the velvet back seat. Then she just stood there, hands extended.
“I’ll take care of him. I got this, okay?” I gently unclenched Mom’s hand from under Kyle’s arm and got in beside him.
Mom’s good eye was a hollow socket as she closed the door.
Ronny said nothing but turned the ignition and pulled out of the garage slower than coagulating blood.
During the silent ride to the hospital, Kyle kept his eyes closed against the pain while I stared at the little trucks and cars on the faded blankie. They dipped and bobbed with each hollow in the road as if trying to drive off the blanket. I watched one and imagined that it escaped the fabric and rolled out the window.
Toward the twinkling lights of some distant and empty street.
About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry, Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward co-wrote Dean and JoJo: The Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet, and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net