THE ROOM WAS EERILY SILENT.
Apart from the light scraping of our knives and forks against the plates, I was sure I would be able to hear a pin drop. Everyone held their head down, scared to even breathe, lest they were reprimanded. I held my fork like a shovel, uncaring if father noticed. On rare occasions, when we were allowed food, I didn’t waste any time scarfing it down. While the sour taste of potatoes filled my mouth, my empty stomach didn’t seem to care too much.
Devin sat in the seat beside me, his bony frame looming over his plate as he shoveled as much food in his mouth as he could. His cheeks were slightly hollowed in; a pale, almost gray colour tainting his skin.
The light-bulb above us flickered on and off, adding to the thick atmosphere. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as father threw his utensils down. In the silence, the noise felt deafening and almost eerie. The scraping of forks stopped and almost like it was planned, we all seemed to hold our breaths in anticipation for what was to come. The seconds that ticked by, felt like hours. Time seemed to slow down as we played the waiting game.
I held in my instinctive flinch as my name passed through his lips, but I couldn’t stop the slight shiver that ran through me. His voice alone had the hairs on my arms rising. My chapped lips parted to reply, but I didn’t dare lift my head up from the table.
The man who called himself my father took a large swig of his beer, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He carelessly tossed the glass bottle behind him, letting it shatter into millions of tiny fragments over the dirty floor. No one dared to breathe as the loud crash filled the room.
My younger brother’s eyes widened, and as he went to protest, I stepped on his foot under the table as discreetly as I could as a warning. Devin was only ten years old and I would do anything to keep him away from father’s violent outbursts. His small frame made him an easy target for father, something I tried my best to prevent.
“Are you going to make me repeat myself, Isla?”
Father’s voice was strangely calm and composed, but I knew that only meant he was repressing his anger until he could unleash it in full force. I shook my head silently and I pushed my seat back, the legs groaning as they scraped across the wooden floor. I came to a slow stand, but my knees wobbled, threatening to give way any second.
Eyes trained solely on the floor, I took the few short steps in father’s direction until his shoe clad feet were in my line of view. Father groaned as he stood up, his towering figure looming over me. He began to circle around me, the heels of his shoes now being the only sound in the room.
“Do you know what you did, Isla?”
That was the word that he wanted me to say, but in reality, I knew I had done nothing wrong. That wasn’t what he thought though.
Father’s voice was calm and smooth, and if I didn’t know any better, I would have said he was in control of himself.
“Hm. Would you care to tell me what you did wrong?”
“I didn’t have the list done,” I replied in a monotonous voice. My replies were short like I was a robot being commanded on what to say, but it kept me alive and that was all I asked for.
The list was something father had come up with himself. It was self-explanatory for the most part. Everyday father would stick up a list on the refrigerator, one for Devin and one for me. Most of them consisted of chores and other manual jobs, however some. . . did not. It was then, I took the risk of being punished.
“And do you think that’s acceptable in this household?”
Father’s voice began to grow in volume with each question he asked, a clear sign of his rapidly approaching rage.
My lips parted as I obediently shook my head, “No, father.”
I watched as father clasped his hands together, bringing a stubby finger under my chin and forcing me to look him in the eyes. His eyes held a dark glint, one that promised nothing but evil and maliciousness.
“You know I have to punish you now, don’t you Isla?” he crooned, the smell of alcohol wafting in my face, “As a parent, it’s my job to discipline you.”
Struggling to keep a straight face, I numbly nodded my head, “Of course, father.”
He chuckled darkly, stepping back. He scratched his chin thoughtfully as his eyes glanced over to the small kitchen. His eyes lit up in excitement as he rushed over. I snuck a quick peek at Devin, my face softening as his terrified eyes bored into me. Then hardening, only temporarily, as I saw him picking on his scabs. The scabs caused by. . . the countless times I had been too late to defend him.
“Don’t worry,” I silently mouthed, shooting him a reassuring smile, “I’ll be okay.”
He shook his head in defiance, his eyes filling with unshed tears. I narrowed my eyes at him, shaking my head. His frightened face stared up at mine, and I managed to muster a brave grin. I knew it wouldn’t ease his anxiety, but I knew from experience, it was comforting all the same.
If it had been the other way around, there was no way I would have kept sat in my seat, however, Devin was much weaker than I was, with no chance of standing up to father. While I knew I would never be able to overpower him, I could hold him off while Devin went and hid outside.
“Ah, here we go!”
My body tensed as the familiar sound of the swish of a knife sounded from right behind me. The hairs on my body rose in fear, a cold rush flushing through me.
“Do you know what I’m holding in my hand, Isla?” father said in a low voice, gleefulness seeping in his tone.
I barely managed to nod my head, in fear that the knife could be pointed right at the back of my head. Father let out a boom of laughter as he came to stand in front of me. My eyes immediately locked on the familiar looking weapon; the five-inch stainless steel kitchen knife. It seemed father had taken a liking to that knife. The handle was stained slightly red from not being cleaned after our ‘disciplinary lessons.’
“Now,” he grinned, an eerie smile gracing his lips. His dark eyes dilated as he looked over me, “What should I start with this time?”