The punching game (Freewrite)
The boy never makes a sound. He sits perfectly still on the on the rickety chair, with it’s moth-eaten fake velvet. Green and stained. Not that it matters, for the boy sits in the dark, with just the glimmer of light trickling out under the living-room door to keep him company. One that he would gladly do without, as the dim light likes to play cruel tricks on him, casting frightful shadows that stretch their long pointy claws and try to grab at his feet. Or his neck. The boy knows it’s just the old coat-rack with a missing arm, nothing but a few pieces of wood barely hanging together. But that’s by day, when there’s light outside. And no one inside, for Daddy is at work then, and Tommy doesn’t have to wait in the chair.
There’s no sound coming from the other room, but it’s definitely too early for Tommy to tiptoe his way to bed. It cannot be more than ten. The boy doesn’t need a clock to tell the time - there are other ways to know if it’s ten or twelve. There’s a big difference between them, one than he can measure by his father’s voice.
There’s eight o’clock Dad, when they have dinner and he asks about his day and his homework. He never checks, but homework is very important for Dad. Then there’s the nine o’clock father, who’s had enough of the boy and everything else and all he wants is a cold beer. Once he brings one from the fridge, he’s free to go, actually he must go and leave the old man have a drink in peace.
Only it’s not just that one beer and when he shouts out for the boy he doesn’t want to be kept waiting. Tommy darts from his chair, runs to the kitchen and comes back with another cold beer. That’s about ten o’clock when he can still shout. After that the boy strains his ears to catch any mumble, because Daddy is sleepy, but not quite that sleepy and he gets pretty pissed if the boy isn’t quick.
Mom wasn’t very quick and sometimes she’d doze off in her chair and Dad would have to open the door and slap her awake. When he wasn’t that drunk he enjoyed waking her with a shout, just to see the terror in her eyes as she saw her husband towering over her, one hand rolled ominously in a punch. Sometimes he’d punch her in the face, sometimes he wouldn’t - you never knew with him. Tommy’s learned not to fall asleep, but that doesn’t mean nothin’. Dad might hit him anyway. Because that’s how he is, as Mom used to say in the morning as she stood in front of the mirror, brush in her hand, concealing the bruises under layers of powder with expert moves. ‘It’s because of all the work, he works too much and it messes with his head, but you know he loves you, he loves us both, and it doesn’t really hurt, it’s just ugly, and you don’t want ugly Mommy taking you to school, do you?’
She was lying, he found out the first time Daddy slapped him hard over his left eye. It was ugly and it hurt like hell. So he learned not to fall asleep while he’s waiting.
Sometimes, Daddy is quiet for a long time, and Tommy hopes he’s asleep, but still he doesn’t move until he hears him snoring. He counts in his head and if it gets to five minutes then he’s definitely sleeping on the couch and if he does wake up again he’ll just stumble to the bathroom and then to bed.
‘600 hundred bottles of beer on the wall…’ He’s in a singing mood, which is bad for Tommy. Means Daddy isn’t going to fall asleep anytime soon.
‘If one of those bottles should happen to fall’ - God forbid, thinks Tommy, for he’s seen what Daddy can do should someone break a bottle. The ragged line on his mother’s cheek, that no amount of powder could hide and the blood-soaked blouse she’d hid in the hamper when he came to see why she was crying in the bathroom. As if he didn’t know.
‘I can’t take this anymore, Tommy’ she told him that night. The boy searched her mutilated face with hope in his eyes, but all he found was sorrow. She patted him on the head and kissed his forehead and she was so sad that night.
It was only the next day he understood the nature of her sorrow, when he came back from school and she wasn’t there anymore. All he found was a plate of cold meatballs left on the table. And an apple. For dessert. ‘Cause she figured he might want some dessert. Sure, Mom’s gone, but at least I’ve got this apple. Nothing to worry about.
The bitch, the filthy bitch - father said when he found out and the boy agreed, even as silent tears rolled down his cheek he agreed.
At least his Dad was good at teaching him stuff. All those years spent waiting on the chair by the door were not wasted. He’s learned patience, he’s learned how to sit still for hours, hidden in a bush where no one can see him. He sings in his head to pass the time, ‘600 hundred bottle of beer’, although he doesn’t drink. That’s another thing he’s learned from his Dad - it’s not that it makes your breath stink and you end up peeing yourself when you’re passed out on the couch, but it makes you vulnerable. Someone could sneak up on you and stuff a pillow over your head, for instance. Tommy’s learned he needs to stay alert. And he’s learned how to listen, he can hear couples passing by, talking the kind of shit couples talk about. He makes no sound and they take no notice of him.
And he’s learned to hear the soft noise of a twig breaking under somebody’s foot and he can tell if it’s some dude or if it’s a girl, one of those bitches that come jogging in those fancy lycra pants that cling to their sweaty thighs and you have to yank hard to pull them off. The fury in their eyes. The fear when he makes a fist and sometimes he punches them and sometimes he doesn’t. The sadness in their eyes as his hands grab at their necks and they realize this is how it ends. For them, at least.
Story written for @mariannewest's freewrite challenge. Today's prompt was: '600 hundred bottles of beer on the wall'!
Check out her blog for the daily prompt and join our freewrite community.
Thanks for reading!