Her face was a terrible, screaming red. She smacked ceaselessly at him.
Jonny and I pulled her wrists, tried peeling her fingers from his hair.
“Let him go,” we said, shoving. But she was strong—much stronger
than we’d ever known her to be.
At the old house, she hadn’t punished us; my father did. When he
came home, she’d tell on us for mouthing off or leaving the yard or
breaking a dish, and he’d pull out a paddle, line us up in the kitchen,
and beat us individually until she begged him, eventually, to stop. But
Summit Street was a training period for my mother. She had figured out,
I think, that we responded to pain—and it had to hurt. Unlike my father,
she hadn’t learned to stop.
Jonny punched her first. He was seven. He hit her in the stomach. I
shoved her. Chris stood up. She kept his hair but grabbed me, too. She
threw her weight into me, smashing my head and shoulder through the
hallway wall, stunning me. She dragged Chris through the living room
to the front door and pushed him onto the porch.
“Stay the fuck outside,” she screamed.
She jammed the ironing board between the handle and the baseboard, told Jonny and me that she’d call the cops and have him arrested
if we let him in. She said they’d come and take him away; we’d never see
him again. She said to shut our fucking mouths. This time we listened.
This time we went to bed. This time we lay quietly in the dark.
That night, Chris slept on the front porch. It was cold, and he didn’t have
anywhere to go, so he curled up inside his shirt and slept with his head
on the stoop.
In the bedroom, I ached to go outside. My face was scratched; it
burned a little where it was cut. I stared out the window, where streetlight shadows played off the side of the neighbors’ house. I kept looking
for Chris, waiting for him to run down on the road and goof around or
flip us the finger, but he never came. I could hear Jonny breathing in the
dark. I knew he was awake, too, by the way he breathed, but neither of
us was willing to make a sound.
I could’ve opened the bedroom window and called for Chris, but I
was too scared that he’d be taken away. So I lay there instead, imagining
Chris outside—a rock—and feeling sad for him.
I tried thinking good things: of eating a giant bowl of pasta or ice
cream; of rollerblading down Henderson Street or riding bikes behind
the church; of Chris and his old guitar; how he’d gone to a few lessons,