by Kelly Cofske
(This story contains domestic violence.)
As Timmy headed down the drive toward home, he smelled fresh-baked gingerbread in the air. He felt warm inside that Mom made his favorite after-school snack on such a day. Rounding the corner of the house, he headed for the back garden to check on his rabbit, Carrots, in the hutch. There was just one bunny left now. Carrots quivered and trembled under his hand as he gave him a quick pat. Timmy glanced toward the tree behind the rabbit hutch and saw the corner of his backpack hidden behind the leafy branches. Turning toward the house, Timmy saw his mom at the window. He headed for the steps leading up to the kitchen.
“Hi Mom,” he greeted her, as he entered the sweltering kitchen. The fan on the ceiling did little to stir the air. He put his books on the kitchen table and turned to his mom.
“Report card come today Timmy?” Mom asked as she extended her hand.
Timmy watched her as she looked at his report card. Mom looked tired today. The bruises on her arms and face had faded, but Timmy’s eyes still zeroed in on them as she passed a hand through her hair.
“Well, that’s fine now Timmy,” she said. Even though her words and tone were gentle and her eyes kind, he knew when she reached comments about his stuttering. Her face turned even paler in the dim light of the kitchen. “Don’t worry about it sweetie, it’ll be ok. I had that same problem and still do sometimes. You earned good marks. You’re smart and don’t you forget it,” Mom said.
She reached out, ruffled the hair on his head, and turning to the counter she sliced him a large piece of gingerbread and poured a cold glass of milk. She smiled at him and said, “Why don’t you eat this on the steps until it’s time? Do you remember what we planned and what to do?”
“Yes, Mom. It’s like a play, right?” Timmy said.
“Exactly! She should be calling soon. When you hear the phone ring, run and grab your backpack and head down the trail. I’m going to yell at you really loud. I’ll just be pretending though. Don’t stop for anything, just keep going,” Mom explained.
“Ok, Mom,” Timmy answered nervously. He trudged down the steps to the backyard, his stomach turning over uneasily. Sitting down on the steps heavily, he set the gingerbread and milk next to him while he listened to Mom pacing the kitchen inside. Timmy wished that the phone would ring soon and they could leave before Father came home. He shivered remembering last night when Father had come home. Still shivering, he looked toward the rabbit hutch and beyond to the woods.
Lizzie watched Timmy through the kitchen window. She walked quickly to the bathroom and splashed her face with cold water. Patting her face dry, she looked in the mirror. Reflected in the mirror she saw a pale face with dry skin and dark circles under dull, resigned eyes. Faded bruises and a perfectly round scar below her left ear completed the inventory. What had happened to the other her, the young girl she had once been, the one with dreams and ambitions? That girl had been smart, clever, and unafraid of the future. She thought that girl died a long time ago, but she had just been asleep for a long time.
She thought of the night last week when the man she married (she long ago had stopped thinking of him as her husband) returned from Murphy’s and beat her almost to death. For no reason at all except she was there and his rage needed to be let out. He had to let it out on her or their tiny community might find out what he hid behind his wide smiles. Cracks were beginning to show through those smiles. She noted it in the way the eyes of the parish focused on her and Timmy more recently over the past year. Their eyes clouded with sympathy, but nobody acted on their behalf. Oh no, God forbid, never that. A husband and wife stayed together, until death parted them.
Until death parted them. She recalled last night and how he drowned the rabbits. That last cruelty almost crushed what was left of her spirit. The slow, steady burn of hatred for him had simmered for years. The cruel insults, small acts of pettiness, and nastiness over the years had fed her hatred of him and her soul shrank further and further inside. Last night, the anger and hatred grew into something she could barely control. How many years had she lived in fear of him, of his drunken anger, of his cold disdain? How many years wasted? No, not wasted. She had Timmy. Her sweet boy didn’t deserve this kind of life, with a monster for a father.
She trembled a little and felt a shiver up her spine as she heard the bathroom clock ticking away the minutes. What time was it? How long had she been standing here staring at herself in the mirror? She hurried to the kitchen as she heard the phone rang.
When he heard her pick up the phone, he ran to the tree behind the hutch and dragged out his backpack. Turning to the rabbit hutch, he took out his bunny from where it was hiding under the hay and placed it gently inside the backpack. Heading for the path leading into the woods Timmy stumbled a little and ran on. It was growing dark and he wanted to be far away before Father came home.
“Yes, ok. About an hour,” She hung up the phone and tucked Timmy’s report card in an envelope. The bulky envelope was stuffed with photos and money that she had saved over the years. She tucked the envelope into her waistband and took a deep breath. Looking around the dim kitchen and rooms beyond she saw nothing in the miserable house that was hers, nothing except her worn-out body and mind. She strengthened her resolve and turned her back. Running out the door and yelling after Timmy, she ran into the woods.
Lizzie started to run faster as she glanced at her watch. The branches whipped at her face and arms, scratching her, subduing her. The brushwood along the path tangled her legs as she fought her way along the path. She focused her eyes on the trail and slowly her footing became stronger and faster as she ran toward the creek.
“Timmy!” she screamed. How far could he have gone? She took the right fork at the top of the hill and headed down to Belt Creek. The creek ran fast and high with the early snowmelt from the Little Belt Mountains. Her eyes teared in the wind as they scanned the shoreline for her little boy. The icy waters ran high and fast. Debris swiftly floated past in the creek. She tripped as she tried to slow her progress down as she approached the water. Kicking off her shoes, she hurried to the water. Was that Timmy’s shirt caught on the rock just downstream? “Timmy!” she screamed, her voice strained against the wind.
“Mom, I’m here,” Timmy’s head popped up from behind one of the rocks. In his hand was a switch of pine.
“Oh, thank God! Ok, just like we planned Timmy,” Lizzie fell to her knees and gave him a quick hug.
Timmy carefully lowered his backpack, took Carrots out, re-zipped the backpack, and tossed it into the river. She took the switch from him and carefully swept away their retreating footprints. They slowly made their way up the hill and to the nearby lookout, where a car was waiting. Her cousin hustled them inside and drove toward Billings.
Timmy looked at his Mom and said, “Mom, your face and arms are all scratched. Are you ok?”
Mom kissed him on the forehead and said, “Yes, honey, these are good marks.”
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU Student