"But anyone who troubles one of these little ones who believes in me,
it were better for for him that a millstone be hanged around his neck
and that he be drowned in the sea." - Matthew 18:6
If I'd known it was the last time I was ever gonna see her alive, I probably would have fought a lot harder to stay awake. I tried my best, resting my chin on my forearm and just staring at her as the IV drip, drip, dripped beside me. She was my mom and she was sick. She was already sleeping. Her face looked pale and bony and her eyes were sunken, as though she were already practicing being a skeleton. I held her hand. It was cold.
"I want you to take your sister for ice cream tomorrow, okay?" she told me before she fell asleep. "She's little, and she doesn't understand what's going on. Get some money from Baxter and take her for ice cream."
"I will, mom," I said.
"Are you okay?" she asked me. "You look upset. Don't look so sad, Ollie. I'm not going anywhere."
"You don't look like yourself."
"No?" and she tried to smile.
"Mrs. Wimmer says you gotta come to my school. She wants to talk to you about my report card. All the other's kids' parents went already."
"I like Mrs. Wimmer. Do you? She's nice."
I didn't answer. I hated it when she talked with her eyes closed. I hated how she trailed off.
"Ollie?" mom said, still not opening her eyes. Her voice was a fading whisper.
"I want you to be brave. I want you to be strong. Take care of Sissie."
"I'll take her for ice cream tomorrow," I said. She was talking about forever though. I thought she was talking about tomorrow. She went to sleep and didn't wake up again. I just sat there, trying to stay awake. Trying to be with her, holding her hand, and giving her little kisses.
I fell asleep though, and I didn't hear the machine start to beep when her heart stopped. I think, maybe if I'd heard it, I could have called the nurse or something and they could have saved her. But I fell asleep.
Baxter Douglas was some kind of trucker I think. We don't even know what he was when mom met him. He was just all of the sudden there, on our couch everyday, flipping the channel from the show we were watching without even asking. After mom died, he was still there, on our couch every day, and mom's life insurance was sitting in brown bottle on his stomach, being slowly sipped away.
Thing's went crazy very quickly after mom was gone. Sissie and I soon discovered that the whole nice guy thing had been all an act. Now we were walking around like little robots, not looking up above his waist, always doing what we were told, keeping quiet, and hiding in our rooms. The years passed and nothing changed. We just became more afraid, because after a while being good wasn't enough any more.
I was sitting in my room doing my homework and Sissie was laying on the floor colouring with crayons she brought home from school. She was quietly humming to herself and I was trying my best to concentrate on my math, but we could hear the stomping. Sissie kept looking up at the door and her humming got a little louder. She kept swallowing nervously, and blowing out long sighs that had a little too much shake in them.
Stomp, stomp, stomp, back and forth across the kitchen and living room. He was looking for something. Something we'd missed. I tried my best to get as much homework as I could done before the door burst open. Sissie got up off the floor and laid on my bed. The stomping vibrated in the floor. I lifted my foot up onto the bed as well. Sissie's humming got louder.
"Shhh," I said.
"I did everything I was supposed to, Ollie. Honest."
"It doesn't matter," I said, and her sigh turned to a whimper as the footsteps came down the hall. Stomp, stomp, stomp, faster now, with a purpose.
The door burst open upon our little performance of two normal kids quietly minding their own business. We both looked up, putting on the proper scared face. Not scared, but sort of concerned about what might be troubling him.
"Where's the god damn bottle opener?" he said.
So it was about the bottle open this time. Okay. This was a new one.
I looked at Sissie. She looked at me and shook her head.
"I put it in the drawer when I put the dishes away," I said. I got up, to go past him, to show him that it was in the same place it always is. He shoved me. I stumbled forward and fell to my knees, burning them on the hallway carpet as I skidded to a stop.
"Get up! Find it!"
He stomped along beind me down the hall. I moved fast, expecting a kick. The bottle opener was in the drawer, right where I put it, right where it always was.
"Here," I said. "Here it is."
He snatched it from my hand and smacked me hard across the side of the head. A bright flash zipped through my head and I saw stars, the side of my face got hot. My ear rang for a moment and I was dizzy.
"From now on I want this thing on top of the TV. Nowhere else. I don't want to have to look for it. Do you understand me?"
I nodded, still dizzy. He smacked me hard again, the other way. I think I cried out a bit, but I can't remember.
"I said, do you understand me!?"
"I do. I do. Yes! I do."
He raised his hand again and I flinched, but he was only putting the bottle opener in his pocket.
"Yes, yes! I do. I do," he mocked me in a whiny little voice that sounded nothing like me. "You do what?"
"I understand you," I said. He smacked me under the chin, knocking my teeth together and forcing my head up. I'd forgotten to grit my teeth. I usually never forget that.
"Look at me when I'm talking to you!"
I didn't want to look at him. I would have rather pulled out my own eyes. I looked up into his face though and waited for him to continue, trying my best to keep the scared/concerned look on my own face, and nothing else.
"You understand what?" he asked me.
"I- The bottle opener, goes on the TV."
Yes, that was it. That was the big issue today. Okay. I got it. Are we done now? Can I go?
He studied me for a moment, sneering at me like I was a criminal he was forced to guard.
"You think I'm a prick, don't you?" he asked.
Oh no. The trap! There was no right way to answer that question.
"No," I said, taking the obvious path.
"No?" he replied. "You're a fucking liar!"
There was no right answer. All there was was a big boom, and I found myself on the floor, waiting for my vision to turn back on. I could feel the cold linoleum, but I couldn't see for a moment. Everything was just a dark blur.
"After all I do for you, you can't even be honest with me! Admit it! You think I'm a prick!"
Another boom, this time in the side of the stomach, with a foot. I slammed against the stove.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" was all I said. He was worse than a prick. He was a devil in human flesh, but I would never say so.
"Get out of here, you little cocksucker! Go on!"
I scrambled to my feet and was back at my bedroom door before the echo of his yell had even faded. He was coming after me though, running. What had I done? He'd told me to leave, didn't he?
He caught up to me in my door way and kicked me in the back. I slammed into the dresser and the whole thing fell forward, almost crushing Sissie. She screamed. He grabbed me up off the floor and threw me right over the dresser onto my bed. The bed broke and hit the floor with a crash that shook the house, and then he flipped the dresser back up against the wall. The drawers were all over the floor and my clothes were everywhere. He stomped right through the bottom of one of them as he came forward again. Sissie covered her face and I had just a moment to glance over at her before I was yanked up off the bed. My shirt ripped, but held on enough for me to be pulled eyeball-to-eyeball with him.
"If you ever look at me that way again, I'll fucking kill you! Do you understand me?"
What look!? I was looking at the floor the whole time!
I nodded, feeling like this was the end of everything. I would finally be killed. I didn't want to die.
"Don't you ever look at me that way again!"
He threw me back down onto the mattress and the headboard tipped forward, knocking me in the head.
"I understand. I understand," I said.
I didn't though. I hadn't looked at him at all.
He stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
"Christie, I want you in bed in five minutes or you're gonna get it too."
"Yes," her little voice croaked.
I sat there holding my head, holding my side, squeezing my eyes shut and just breathing, deep and hard, trying to force my nerves to calm. I was shaking and I couldn't stop myself. I wanted to cry, but I couldn't. The Devil hates wimps.
"Come on, Ollie. Let's clean this up, okay? Please?"
Sissie was allowed to cry. She was a girl. Her voice was a terrified whisper, her sentences were punctuated by tortured squeaks, like a frightened dog.
"Come on, Ollie, in case he comes back again. Please!"
I got up and began cleaning. I put the clothes back in their drawers, folding them all, and sorting them neatly. Then Sissie helped me slide them back into the dresser.
"The bottle opener goes on the TV from now on," I said. "Don't forget."
"Okay, Ollie. I won't."
.... There is more of this story ...