Mother pushes us out the door and across the porch, yelling for us to hurry
“Come on,” my mother says, reaching her arm out, urging my sister to get in the car. She doesn’t want us to see what he might do, what he told us he was going to do. I’m not even sure what brought it on this time, other than the Styrofoam cup filled with whiskey that tends to wake the beast that lives behind his eyes. This time, it’s a sad monster that emerged, telling us that he’ll do it, that he has no reason to go on if his own wife doesn’t love him. Without her, without us, he’s nothing. We can never leave. That’s what he said as he started loading the gun, one bullet at a time. Usually, it’s a mean, violent beast that takes over, raging and throwing stuff, sometimes hitting too. All the threats and ultimatums line our walls like blood that can’t be washed away.
My sister won’t budge. She’s not like me. To her, no matter what he’s done, he’s still our father. She’s afraid it won’t be like last time, when he said he was going to end it once and for all but of course didn’t. He took his gun outside, shooting only once. Instead of following him or looking out the window to try to see what he was doing in the dark, I started reciting the number to call the sheriff’s office. I always worry I’ll forget the numbers when I need them most, but I never do. I pick them out of the dark like fireflies.
The sheriff’s number is useless now. When I went for the phone, Father ripped it out of my hand and then ripped it out of the wall, slamming it down on the kitchen’s cold linoleum floor; he stomped that cheap plastic thing to bits with his steel-toed boot. The sound of the destruction was so loud it drowned everything else out, scaring us all. With no phone there’s no way to call for help – not that anyone has ever helped us before.
She still won’t move. I want to slap my sister across the face, inducing a pain so sharp it snaps her out of it. We don’t have time for tears. They’re pointless and do nothing but slow us down. Tears are a luxury we can’t afford. We must leave, like Mother says. But when my sister moves at last, it’s to turn around and go back inside our red house that already feels like the scene of a crime. My mother gasps, but I tell her to start the car, that I’ll go back for my sister.
The kitchen is bright, but with the long yellow curtains drawn, the living room is shrouded in darkness. My sister stands in that space between the two rooms, watching. His grip on the gun is loose, like he might drop it. He’s sobbing like a child, but I remember the smashed phone, the bruises that are hard to hide, the bloodied noses, and all the other things he’s done, which makes it easier to disregard the sorrow I might otherwise feel – the sorrow that just gets in the way. I stomp it down like he stomped the phone, and I grab my sister’s hand, gripping it tight. My father looks at us and slowly raises the gun to his head. My sister bursts into tears, but I remain silent. I take a step back, yanking her along. To my surprise, she doesn’t resist. I pull her like a ragdoll into the kitchen and out the backdoor, leading her to the car. In the backseat, I push her to the other side and take my place beside her, never letting go of her hand for a second. I want to tell her that everything will be ok, but I can’t find the words and don’t know if I believe them anyway.
My sister snivels quietly, afraid of what we’ll find when we get back. I know that fear, of never knowing what will be waiting inside when we walk through the door. It is inescapable, following me wherever I go. Sometimes it feels like a cancer that’s eating away the healthy parts.
As we pull out of the driveway, I quickly roll the window down with my free hand, hoping to hear the sound of Father’s gun one last time.
– Cameron Mitchell