Between the heat, the noise and her husband yelling, Becky thought she was going to lose her mind. The little two-bedroom trailer was like an oven, baking and broiling the occupants inside and making the air stifling and thick. Tensions were running high as the noonday temperature increased. She did not know which was worse, the television blaring or the clothes dryer screaming. The dryer had been a nice gift, but it was easy to tell why their neighbor had parted with it. The older woman was so pleased with herself when she offered it. Becky almost laughed when the woman said in a quick chirpy voice, “I’m glad to help out those less fortunate than me,” then added, “I think that is what folks ought to do, and I just guess I’m one of those giving people.” It had been a nice gesture, but the machine squeaked constantly with an ear-piercing cry as though it were in agony, making one wonder if it was worth using at all. With the noise and the summer heat the little mobile home had become a live-in torture chamber.
The little box fan at the front door was nothing but an illusion of hope. All it managed to do was blow the hot air around some, and suck in flies. It was no wonder little Mitch was crying. His little cheeks looked as if they had been rubbed raw with sandpaper from the prickly heat. Becky tried to hush her baby by wiping him down with a cool, damp washcloth, but that only seemed to agitate him all the more.
“Can’t you shut that kid up?” Becky’s husband yelled over his shoulder from the living room. “Me and Tony can hardly hear the game.”
Becky shot him a glance and watched as he turned a beer can bottom up and swigged the last few drops with a triumphant belch at the end.
“And while you’re at it, fetch me and Tony another cold one.”
As much as she had first loved her husband, she had now come to despise him. They had been married less than two years, but in that time he had more than once slapped her around for most any reason, and the mental abuse hardly ever stopped. The abuse was always worse when Mitch was drinking and had his friend over.
Both her husband and his friend spent most of their time off from work sitting around sipping beer and watching the game; Mitch in the easy chair and Tony on the couch; both wearing shorts and shirtless.
From the first time she met her husband’s friend, Becky decided she did not like him. She did not like the way he looked at her when Mitch wasn’t watching – she did not like the way he came over every weekend and – she did not like the way she was expected to wait on him. She figured he mostly hung out with Mitch because they fed off each other. Tony needed a friend and Mitch needed someone to look up to him. Mitch liked having a “yes” man around and Tony was one of the few people who could tolerate being with her arrogant husband for any length of time. Probably the biggest thing that bothered Becky about Tony was his snickering though. He did not laugh like most people. His was more of a sneaky snicker, which he did often. The fact that he snickered every time Mitch yelled at her added to her dislike.
Little Mitch was crying again, and Becky thought that maybe if she fed him, he would settle down and take a nap. She started to take her son into the bedroom and do a quick breastfeed, but she was so sweaty she would have to bathe herself first, so she went to the refrigerator to grab a bottle she had stored up.
“Where is my beer?” Mitch yelled again.
She turned to tell him it was coming and saw that he was already up from his chair. She could also tell he was spoiling for another fight. Becky flinched, expecting him to come over and slap her across the back of the head the way he liked to do when he was drinking, but instead, to her horror, he headed for the playpen and little Mitch this time.
“I thought I told you to shut this kid up!” he yelled through clenched teeth, as he jerked up one side of the playpen.
Becky did not have much of a temper and would much rather give in than fight, but when she saw her husband lift one side of the playpen with her son it, then slam it to the floor, her temper shot up. Even though the baby was not hurt, it scared the toddler and he began screaming louder. Mitch lost control.
“I told you to shut up,” the man yelled, reaching for the baby again.
Mitch was a little over six-feet tall and outweighed his wife by nearly sixty pounds, but at that moment it meant nothing to Becky. In an instant she was on him and had pushed him halfway across the room, yelling all the time, “Leave my baby alone!”
As quick as she had been to attack, she was just as quickly overpowered. Mitch went straight to his favorite hold, grabbing her by the neck and forcing her up against a wall. Tony snickered.
“Don’t you ever put your hands on me again,” The words came out so forceful Becky could feel beer spit hitting her face.
This was when Becky did some of her best pleading. She was not a fighter and her husband knew it. Normally when things got to this level, she would whimper and apologize with downcast eyes. But this time was different. She did not beg. This time she did not look down, nor did she whimper. This time she kept her eyes fixed on his eyes and stood firm. She had surprised herself when she attacked and was suddenly feeling a surge of confidence, or was it just blind anger?
“Take your hands off me,” Becky said in a cool voice. A bead of sweat trickled down her red face and dripped off her chin.
Mitch was somewhat taken aback by his wife’s newfound voice. He released his grip and stepped back, looked at her a moment and wondered. This gave Becky even more courage. Rather than being a participant in the drama, Becky felt like she was watching from a distance as a scene from a movie was unfolding.
Keeping her eyes locked on his she swept back the lock of hair that had come lose from her ponytail. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest and her breathing was deep and steady. Becky was not scared this time. She was mad and was actually anticipating the next move. At this point she was ready for a fight if it came to it.
“I don’t need this,” Mitch finally said, taking a mock swing at her head with his hand. Becky did not turn or blink at the intimidating gesture. She continued to glare.
Mitch kept his eyes lock on her for a second longer, then turned away slowly. Reaching for his shirt and shoes he called to his friend, “Come on, Tony, the air is better at the Malibu and it’s a lot quieter.”
Tony snickered and agreed.
Becky watched as Mitch kicked the box fan from in front of the door and strutted down the front steps of the trailer with his sidekick close behind. In a second, they were in Mitch’s old truck and spinning up dirt as they headed to the bar.
She was relieved when she saw the truck go out of sight, leaving behind it a floating dust cloud that hung in the still, hot air. As she stood in the doorway watching, hoping he would just keep driving, she felt her arms and legs grow numb and she suddenly felt weak. When she was sure he was gone, Becky stumbled to where her son was and found the strength to gather him into her arms. Holding him tight she felt her own tears roll down her face onto the face of her baby.
Becky did not want to involve anyone else in her problem. She had married Mitch against the advice of her friends, and she swore it would be for better or worse. She had no idea how worse things could be, yet she was determined it was her problem and she would keep it to herself. Now, it was not a problem – it was a decision. She picked up the phone and dialed. As she waited for the call to go through, she wished her husband were dead – in fact, she wished all men were dead, with the exception of her grandpa, of course.
“Hello, Grandpa, this is Becky.”