Sitting in the cushioned chair on the patio, I swing my legs back and forth while I drink my juice box. My grandma sits in her wheelchair right across from me. Her dark hair mostly turned gray and falling down her shoulders, she wears a loose dress along with lots of necklaces and bracelets. She’s always so colorful. She’s my best friend. She lives with us, and I spend a lot of my time with her.
“How come you’re not playing with your guests?” Grandma asks, her hand gripping her cane.
My brows furrow thinking about the people my parents invited over. My mother encouraged me to play with their daughter Holly and ask her questions about her parents. Are they moving? What does her dad do for a job? Basically anything my parents can use to learn about her parents. My mom and dad are probably trying to buy something her parents are after too.
I’d try to be Holly’s friend, but she’s really mean. Doesn’t matter if she was nice though, I will soon move and have a new school and a new child my age to ask twenty questions.
Tonight though, I don’t want to play this game with my parents. So, I’m hiding out here with Grandma. We do everything together. She taught me yoga, a rain dance, how to draw my feelings, and pretty much everything I know. She would know better than anyone when I’m upset.
“I just don’t want to,” I answer. Pulling my leg up, I rub at the scar around my ankle Holly called ugly. She also said my outfit was ugly. I pull at the denim jacket hugging my brown polka dotted dress. Grandma bought it for me. I love it.
“Oh man, what an ugly scar, it looks like someone tied a dog leash around your foot!” she laughed.
I crossed my legs to try and keep it hidden. “Oh you can’t hide that, I hope you don’t want to be a model or anything, because that,” she points at my ankle, “will never get you in the door.” She flips her hair, her chin high in the air. “My mother says I’m one of a kind, I don’t have any flaws.”
“You don’t like it?” Grandma interrupts my flashback, and my head snaps up. I sigh, running the pad of my finger over the scar.
“It’s ugly,” I whisper. Mom said it’s from the plastic bracelet they put on you when you’re born in the hospital. They had mine way too tight and it cut into my soft baby skin, leaving a scar behind. Dad says I was born with it. I don’t know what to believe.
It’s odd looking. Like a string wrapped around my ankle too tight, but not one of those hospital plastic bands.
“It reminds me of a story I was once told, you know,” Grandma says, lifting her chin. Climbing out of my chair I run to her and fold myself into her lap. I love her stories.
“Legend has it, that there is an imaginary string around our ankle, and it’s tied to our soulmate somewhere here on earth. Nothing can break this string—”
“Is it magic?” I ask with wide eyes, falling deep into the story.
“Oh very.” She nods, holding her index finger up to make a point. “The story told to me was that a little boy was walking home one day and saw a man sitting and reading. When he asked the older man what he was reading, he said it was a book about marriage. He opened the book and showed the child a picture of a beautiful woman, and said ‘You will marry this girl one day.’ The snobby boy didn’t like the idea of marriage and threw a rock at the picture of the girl, and ran. Many, many, years later when he was set to marry a woman from his village, she revealed herself the day they were to be married and she had a scar on her face. He asked her where it came from and the girl said a boy threw a rock at her when she was a kid.”
I gasp, my hands clasping over my mouth. Grandma’s eyes light up as she chuckles at my excitement.
“It’s just a story, but maybe this scar” —she holds my ankle up by using her wooden cane— “isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe one day, your soulmate’s string will be more visible like yours and you’ll have something in common.”
I shrug, feeling more blissful after Grandma’s story. She always knows how to cheer me up. I run my fingers along Grandma’s bracelets, the smell of her making me feel safe. It reminds me of the candle shops Mom goes to. You can’t pinpoint one smell, it’s just a beautiful scent.
“This one is made of lava you know.” She points at one of the bracelets, and I smile. She takes it off and places it around my wrist. It’s too big for me, but it’s so cool I don’t mind. There’s a bunch of black rock beads and one baby blue one all by itself.
“Is it from real lava?” I ask, thinking about the volcanos I learned about in school.
“Yes, from Hawaii! It was a gift, a special gift. Because if you take from the wrong places on the island, it’s said a terrible curse will be cast upon you until the bracelet is returned.” Wow, I’ll be the only kid in the world with real lava around her wrist. I’ll never take it off.
“But this one is safe?” I ask, admiring it. It’s so light, I would think the rocks would be heavy.
“Yes, this one is safe,” she chuckles, rubbing my back in a caring matter.
“River!” Dad yells from the garden. I still as he marches toward me. He’s wearing one of his best suits with a matching scowl on his face. “Your mother and I asked you to visit with Holly while her parents and I talk business,” he snaps. Grabbing my wrist he pulls me from Grandma’s lap, and tears spring to my eyes at how mean he’s being.
Grandma pushes her wooden cane in between Dad and I, stopping us.
“She is a child, don’t make her do your bidding,” Grandma suddenly spits, saliva hitting Daddy’s shoe. Dad inhales, lifting his shoulders as his whole body takes in a breath. His eyes go savage wide as he glares at my grandmother, his jaw so tight my heart beats a little faster.
“Now, River.” He jerks me hard and escorts me away from the porch. I look over my shoulder at Grandma, her eyes set on mine as I’m hauled off to the bossy little girl who will make fun of me all night.
My grandma died in her sleep that night, and I never saw her again. I lost my best friend.
Sitting on my bedroom floor, I grip the controller with my sweaty hands. My tongue slides over my bottom lip as I try and beat the crap out of Johnny Cage. He’s good, but he’s no match for Raiden. I’m pretty good at this game for a nine-year-old. I throw electric bolts at him, and Johnny Cage starts wobbling. It’s time for me to finish him. Just thinking that, I use the raspy voice of the video game. I bite my lip again, my hands working the buttons fast. I love this part of the game; the ending. For the final punch, the one to win the game, Raiden will electrocute the arms and legs off him, and then slam his head into the ground. It’s so gross, it’s cool. Something bangs into the wall, knocking down my Mortal Kombat logo. It falls to the floor, slamming into my bare knees. I groan in pain, pushing it away. It’s made out of brass and heavy as hell. I gotta stop putting things on my wall. Dad is always falling into them in his drunken daze and making my crap fall and break, or nearly kill me.
“I told you not to get this cheap shit no more, and I ain’t eating that crap you’re cooking either. I told you to get Taco Bell for fuck’s sake!” Dad hollers. He’s drunk, again. He’s been home all day because he was fired from his bricklaying job for being drunk on the job. When the Sheriff drove him home, I overheard Dad telling him that he wasn’t drunk, it was just the boss wanted him gone because he had better ideas and made him look bad. I’d say getting so drunk you built yourself a bed out of bricks, wouldn’t classify as a good idea.
“I had to go to the grocery store, get gas, drop a check off at the electric company so we have fucking lights, and pick up Warner’s new football uniform. You could cut me some slack, Tim! It’s bad enough you got fired. Again!” she defends herself. Standing to my feet, I let Johnny Cage pummel me. He can win, this time.
“Mom?” I open my bedroom door, the smell of her meatloaf making my belly growl. I love her food, it’s way better than Taco Bell. Sometimes I think Dad just likes to fight with her. This summer has been brutal with him always fighting and getting fired.
“So it’s your fault why I’m puking my damn guts up?” Dad pops out of the bathroom staring down at me with glossy eyes, his lips swollen from vomiting. His white shirt is smudged with Doritos and cigarette burns and his hair is sticking up everywhere.
“No…” I shake my head, fear rippling up my spine. He’s so much taller than me, the scruff of beard on his cheeks giving him a dark look. His cigarette dangles from his lips, his cheeks hollowing out as he takes a large drag. It’s coming. He’s going to snap. Closing my eyes, I wish I could turn into Raiden and use my superpowers on my father. To impale his head into the floor and piss on his body.
Just as I expect, a large hand backhands me into my bedroom floor. My jaw aches, and my eye stings. It feels like a hot iron just pressed against my cheek.
Holding my face, I look up at him, standing in my doorway and sneering down at me. He blows smoke into my room, a smile spreading across his face.
“Don’t you touch him!” Mom screams, running down the hall. I see her painted red nails grip my father’s shoulder and tug, but his strength is no match for her. He steps forward and slams my bedroom door shut. The notorious grunts and whimpers from my mother has me jumping to my feet.
I try and open the door, but he’s holding it shut. I can’t get out.
I slam my fist on the door, the cheap wood rattling with every hit. “Don’t you touch her. Fight me!” I scream, tears blurring my vision. I can take the pain. I can hide the marks. My mother can’t though. Too many people ask questions. A woman with a black eye draws attention, but a growing boy doesn’t gain a second glance. I don’t know how many times Mom has sent me into a store to get things because her lip is busted too badly, or her head hurts from Dad smacking her.
“Fight me, you pussy!” I scream again, not giving a damn about my language. It’s no use though. He can’t hear me or doesn’t care.
Falling to my ass on the floor, I wipe away a stray tear. I’m not sad, I’m angry. I’m pissed! I would do anything to take my mother’s pain away. Maybe one day I can. Or maybe one day I’ll leave this place and never look back.
The front door slams against the house, and I jump to my feet to see who is leaving. Shoving my red curtains to the side, I look. I pray it’s not my mother. If she’s leaving, she’s probably going to her friends in Colorado without me.
It’s my dad though. Watching him get in his truck and drive away, the hum of the motor takes me back to the time my mother and I went to Colorado.
“Hunny, do not play with snakes!” Mother yells at me from the wooden porch. She has a small bottle of wine in her hand, like one you would see in a mini fridge or something, and has been laughing with her old high school friend all day. I’ve never seen her so… happy. I think they sat outside all night talking and cackling like a bunch of hens. I couldn’t be mad though, it was cool hearing her laugh like that. It made me laugh.
Ignoring her ranting about how nasty snakes are, I snatch up the slithery reptile behind the head and turn to show her I know what I’m doing. If Dad taught me anything, it was how to wrangle a snake.
“I caught it!” I smile. Breathing through my nose the smell of green leaves and wood fill my lungs. I love it out here. I could live here and build an amazing clubhouse and catch snakes all day.
“Good job!” Pink stands from her chair and claps. Mom shoots her a heated look, her blonde hair falling into her eyes from whipping her head so fast.
“Don’t encourage him, Pink!”
“Oh come on, he’s being a boy, let him be. You don’t have that fucker breathing down y’all’s neck for once. Just… relax.” Pink sinks in down into her lounger and closes her eyes as if she just slipped into a hot tub rather than a pink ratty chair.
Running off into the brush to the winding creek I let the snake go. It whips off, not looking behind it. I love it here, I don’t want to go back to Georgia. I wish Mom would just stay here with Pink. I mean, it is crazy she has pink hair, a pink house, and her poodle is even pink. But it’s nice here. Mom is happy, I am happy.
“Warner!” Mom’s voice carries through the trees. Snapping my head up, I look for her. “There you are. We gotta head back early in the morning. You all packed?”
“Mom, do we have to go? I can go to school here or something.” I try to convince her. She has to see that we are better off here. She places her hands on her slender hips.
“No Warner! I told you before, this was just a vacation. Dad expects us home in two days.”
I sneer, crossing my arms. This was not a vacation. Mom cried all the way here, smoking like a train, and promising me she would never come back.
“Warner, don’t hate me,” she murmurs. Looking at the creek, the black snake sits on the bank on the other side. I stare at it. I don’t hate my mother, but I hate that we’re going back.
“We will be back. I love Pink. She’s always up for us to stay.” I hear Mom’s feet pitter-patter into the brush as she walks away.
My bedroom door slowly opens, creaking from the hinges taking me from the flashback and I swing around. My mother stares at me with a frown, her makeup running down her red face. Just another night in the Nine household.
“Warner, I’m so sorry hunny. It seems I spilled something… on your uniform.” She holds my football jersey, it looks to have whiskey on it. Is she serious? That is what she’s concerned about right now? Screw that jersey.
“Mom, it’s fine. I don’t care. Are you okay?” I close the gap between us and hug her. She sniffles, pulling me close. Her hair is pulled out of her updo, strands sticking out everywhere. Dad must have dragged her by the hair again. I can just imagine the sound of strands snapping as she kicks and screams down the hall. I hate that man. I really do. And at the same time, I’m scared to death I will be him one day.
“Things will get better,” she promises.
Pushing her an arm’s length away I glare at her. How can she say that? They will never get better. “No mother, they won’t!”
She puts on a smile, wiping her streaming tears. “Your father just had a bad day. He’ll be better tomorrow. Now wash your hands, it’s almost time for dinner.” She gives my shoulder a pat and starts muttering under her breath picking up my dirty laundry.
I don’t get it. Does love make you stupid? Can you not feel the slap of a loved one if you’re so deeply in love?
“Maybe we should go to Colorado,” I suggest. Last time we went was when Dad got fired from his last job and went on a drinking bender. It was nice not having to walk around on eggshells. Mother turns, her face red.
“No, that was not a good idea last time.” She shakes her head, tears still streaming down her face. “We’re a family, we stick together.”
I bite my tongue, the word family a loose term in my opinion. If family is this, a drunken father who hates to work, sits on the couch every day watching TV drinking anything that will give him a buzz just to stand up and hit everything in his path? A mother who works a dead-end job as a mail carrier that comes home to a man demanding more from her. I don’t think so.
The best thing this family can do is split up. It’s the only way I can save my mother.