It was the last week of the school year, and Hannah was so excited for the its completion. It was Friday, and she had three more days left before she got her final report card. Her little brother, Wally, just finished Kindergarten, and today was his graduation. Mommy had bought him a nice blue suit, a white shirt, and blue tie. He had a nice haircut, and he looked handsome in his cap and gown. Hannah’s stepfather, Joe, was so proud of his baby boy. Mommy took a bunch of cute pictures, and Hannah felt that they had such a beautiful day.
Mommy said she was cooking Wally’s favorite dinner, white rice, beans, and fried chicken legs. Hannah didn’t like the chicken legs too much, and she usually put a lot of ketchup on it. She loved chicken wings, but today was her little brother’s special day, and he could have whatever he wanted. After opening his graduation cards and finding a bunch of $20 bills from Titi and Grandma, Wally sat on the couch with his father.
It was almost 6 pm, and that meant that Joe was most likely drinking his daily packs of beer. Every day, Hannah’s stepfather drank at least three six-packs of beer. Mommy never liked it. She said he drank too much. And even on this celebratory occasion, he had already finished two six packs. Joe always said work stressed him out, and he needed his beer to calm down. But as far as anyone could tell, the packs of beer did the complete opposite.
Wally was excited to eat and couldn’t keep still. He kept climbing the couch, and Joe told him to stop at least four times. But he didn’t stop. Just then, Wally slipped from the top of the sofa and kicked over his father’s can of beer. Wally stared at the beer spilling across the floor and immediately began to cry.
“Look at what the fuck you did,” Joe screamed. “Didn’t I tell you to stop your bullshit? Hannah, get the fucking mop.”
She got up from the dinner table and ran to the bathroom and grabbed the mop. Hannah handed it to Joe and avoided looking into his cloudy, mean eyes.
“Give me that shit,” he yelled.
Joe started mopping the floor with anger and skill. He was a landlord for a building on Brook Avenue, so he knew how to clean up the mess.
“I don’t understand why the fuck you kids don’t listen to me,” Joe barked. “You must be hardheaded like your damn mother because you don’t follow directions.”
Hannah put her head down and sat at the dinner table. Mommy was in the kitchen; Hannah could see her carefully looking.
“Is this damn food ready,” Joe asked, and he slammed the mop against the kitchen wall.
“I’m fucking hungry, and the faster these two eat, the quicker they go to sleep.”
“Yes, it’s almost ready,” Mommy said.
Joe washed his hands and sat at the table. Wally sat at the smaller chair and asked Mommy for his food. He asked at least three times before Joe got mad.
“Listen, boy,” he yelled. “Knock off the bullshit and wait for the food to come. I’m tired of hearing your nagging. Shut up!”
Hannah got up to get the pitcher of iced tea and three cups. Joe didn’t need a cup; he usually had a beer with his dinner. Mommy served each of them, and the white rice was hot and the beans looked delicious. And even though Hannah didn’t like the chicken legs, Mommy fried them nicely, and the skin was super crispy. Just the way her children loved it. Hannah stood up and poured the ice tea into each of their cups, and Wally thanked her. Joe looked down at his plate and took a long drink of his beer. He stared at the plate of food and started picking at it with his fork. Mommy looked at him nervously.
“Is something the matter?”
“Yea, something is fucking wrong.”
Joe didn’t say another word, and he stood up. He suddenly slapped Mommy across the face. Her head went to her right, and she covered her face with her left hand. Wally started to scream, and Joe told him to shut up. Hannah jumped up from her chair, and Joe glared at her.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Mommy cried.
Joe didn’t say a word and swung again. This time, Mommy fell out of her chair, and her head hit the wall.
Joe threw his chair down to the floor. Hannah grabbed Wally from his seat, and they ran to their bedroom. They locked the door and hid in the closet behind the door. The closet became their safe place, where they hid whenever Joe started to hit Mommy.
Wally quietly whimpered and shook as Hannah held him tightly in her arms. They could hear Mommy screaming that she was sorry. Joe kept telling her to shut up, his hateful hands hurting her.
Hannah tried to close her eyes and wait for the orange streaks of light to appear under her closet door, while Joe continued to yell and scream at Mommy. It felt like it kept going for hours, the loud voices, the hard smacks, and the begging. Eventually, Wally cried himself to sleep. Hannah couldn’t sleep, and she stared at the walls for hours, freeing herself from Joe’s world of anger and violence.
Time passed by, and Hannah slowly opened her eyes, and she could feel Wally breathing heavily. She peeked down at him, and he slept quietly. Under the closet door, Hannah could see the orange streaks of the streetlights coming from her open window. Whenever she saw these bits of light, she knew it was nighttime.
It was getting late, and neither one of them had eaten any dinner. Hannah thought that maybe there was food on the table that she could sneak back into the room. She left Wally sleeping in the closet and slowly opened their bedroom door. All of the lights were off, except for the kitchen light. She crept into the living room and turned her head to the back bedroom, where Mommy and Joe slept. Their door was shut closed, and a single beam of light shone from under their door. Her stomach growled, and she quickly moved toward the dining table. Two chairs were thrown on the floor, but their dinner remained intact on the table. Hannah grabbed their two plates of food and the pitcher of ice tea. She balanced the two plates and tip-toed back to their room as fast as she could. Before entering, she glanced at her mother’s locked bedroom door. She hoped Mommy was okay.
She put the pitcher and plates of food on the floor and shook Wally by his shoulders. He eventually opened his eyes, and Hannah smiled.
“Wally,” she said. “Wake up. I have dinner for you.”
“She’s in her room. I got you some food. Let’s eat.”
“Are we going to eat in the living room with Mommy and Daddy?”
“No, we’re going to eat here.”
“Yes, again. Come on, before it gets too late.”
The siblings both ate Mommy’s cooking, and even though it was cold, it was delicious. Wally devoured his favorite meal and licked his fingers after every other bite. He took a long drink from his sippy cup and put his head down.
“What’s the matter, Wally?”
“Why are you sad? It was your graduation day. It’s time for summer.”
“I know, but I want Mommy.”
“I want Mommy too.”
Wally started to cry, and his sister picked him up and cradled him in her arms. He buried his face into her chest, and she rubbed the back of her little brother’s head.
“Hannah, why don’t you cry?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you not scared?”
“No, not anymore.”
“I don’t know. I’m just not.”
“Can we leave here?”
“I don’t know, Wally. We don’t have anywhere else to go.”
She looked out the window, watching the flowing traffic. She wished that her family could be in one of those cars, speeding away from the hands of their father.
Hours later, Hannah felt a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t wake up, and the hand urgently shook her again. When she finally opened her eyes, Mommy was in their bedroom, holding a duffle bag and nothing else.
“Where are we going?”
Mommy put her finger to her lips. She lifted Wally from his bed and held him over her shoulder. Hannah tried to take some of her favorite toys, but Mommy shook her head no. Mommy quietly opened their door and crept through the living room.
Mommy carried Wally and the duffle bag to the front door. She looked back at her bedroom door. The light from under the door was off. Joe was sleeping. Mommy slowly closed the door and left Joe behind.
“Where are we going, Mommy?”
She hurried out of the building, looking up at their apartment window to make sure Joe didn’t see where they were going.
They climbed into an waiting taxi cab and Mommy slammed the car door shut. Hannah looked out of the window and turned to her silent mother. She gently placed her hand over her mother’s and squeezed tightly.
“I had enough, baby,” said Mommy. “It was time to go.”
Hannah nodded and caressed Tommy’s head full of curly hair.
“What’s your destination, ma’am,” asked the taxi driver.
“The family shelter, please,” said Mommy.