“I heard you fighting with Aunt Barbara again last night,” I say as I pick a blade of grass and crumble it between my fingers. I look to my mother sitting next to me on the lawn, watching Chloe run around and flap her wings pretending to be a bird.
“Look at me mommy! I’m gonna fly away!” she yells as she flaps some more.
“That’s beautiful honey!” my mother shouts back.
“Did you hear me?” I ask. “I’ve heard you guys fight every single night for the last week. I thought everything was sorted after you sold that very old dresser that belonged to dad’s mom and gave Aunt Barbara the money?”
That’s what the fights are normally about. They all go the same way. Every single time like the very first time. We have been back to the storage unit twice already. The first time we took out all three television sets. Mine included. I wanted to somehow help even though I know it’s not my fault that we’re in this mess. The money didn’t last long before Aunt Barbara started fighting with mom again. That’s when we went to get the old dresser. My dad always said that the dresser came with his great-grandparents from England when they came over here for the first time. He always said it was worth a lot of money. Turns out it wasn’t worth that much, or we have been done in. I thought we could have gotten more money for it probably, but we needed to rely on someone to come and get it and we needed the money fast.
“It’s costing her a lot of money to keep us here,” mom answers as she does the same as me, pick a blade of grass and crush it between her fingers. She doesn’t look at me. Instead she picks another blade and crushes that as well.
“There is no way we are costing that much money. That was enough for like one month’s rent in our own place mom. We’ve only been here three weeks, almost four. And it’s not like she’s feeding us. You still buy extra groceries as well,” I say. I have had enough about keeping my mouth shut. I want to know what is going on.
“Your Aunt has been very generous to us. Opening her home to us. We need to repay her generosity,” mom answers but she doesn’t look at me.
“If we are selling our stuff to live in her living room, while you have no job, we can just as well sell it and live in our own little space while you search for a job,” I say.
“And who will look after you sister?” she asks. She looks at me as if daring to come up with a better plan. “Your Aunt is willing to look after her while I try and find work. And getting a job is hard Cory. Jobs don’t just fall out of trees.”
“I can look after her. I do it in any case when you leave to hunt for a job in the afternoons. You never go in the morning,” I say. I have thought this through properly. There is no way we are leaving this conversation again.
“It’s done Cory. I don’t want to talk about this any longer,” mom replies as she picks yet another blade of grass.
“No mom. This can’t go on. You fight with Aunt Barbara and then you cry yourself to sleep on that damn uncomfortable couch,” I say. I can feel the heat boiling up inside me. I don’t get mad often, but my mom is pushing me.
“Cory. I am warning you. Let it go,” she says once more and I know that she is finished with the conversation as she stands up. “Look after your sister. I’m going out to look for a job. Keep her outside as long as you can. I’ll try to be home before your Aunt comes back.”
“This isn’t a home,” I mutter under my breath as she walks away and disappear into the house.
I take out my phone and scroll to the inbox, checking the message I have received this morning from Rick. He’s been inviting me and Mandy to sit with him for lunch some days and he always laughs at my stupid jokes. Then again, I laugh at his too even though Mandy keeps on reminding me his jokes aren’t that funny. I keep on reminding her that it’s good manners to at least attempt to laugh. I wouldn’t quite say that we are friends yet, but it’s getting there slowly.
“Let’s go grab a movie. Just you and me. Without Mandy tagging along,” I whisper his message out loud. I haven’t answered yet, for obvious reasons. Movies cost money. Money that I really don’t want to spend.
I think about the seventy-five dollars hidden in the book Mister Graham gave me. I haven’t read the book yet, but I have been using it as a place to keep the money my mom has been giving me for lunch at school every day. It just feels wrong using any of that money while we might run out of money eventually. I can’t help but fearing that we might sell everything we have before my mom eventually finds a job and then we will have nothing to even eat. This way I at least have something.
Cory: What if I don’t like movies?
I push the send button and the message goes off into the cloud that will within a second probably deliver it to Rick. Soon I can see he’s typing on the other side.
Rick: I refuse to believe that anyone on earth doesn’t like movies. I have a huge collection at home.
I smile. Maybe this is my way out.
Cory: Then maybe we should think about watching something from your collection?
I smile as I see him typing on the other side. Off course there is something more than just saving money if I watch a movie at his house. It would actually give us a chance to be completely alone.
Rick: It’s a date! When? Tomorrow! I’ll come pick you up at home.
I smile as I begin reading the message but my smile fades immediately. There is no way I am letting him pick me up. No way at all. What if he is one of those guys that might want to come and knock on the door instead of texting me to come out? What if Aunt Barbara or my mom invites him in? The mattress that we are sleeping on is very much visible from the front door. And when he finds out what is really going on he will be moving on so quickly that it would make my head spin.
Cory: Tomorrow’s fine. Pick me up at the mall. Need to get Mandy there early. She wants to shop. Will shake her off before you get there.
I press the send button and wait for the reply.
Rick: 100% See you at 12. Will text you when I’m there.
I sigh of the relief just as Chloe jumps on me from behind.
“What the fuck!” I say loudly as I taste the grass in my mouth where I fell face forward.
“You said an ugly word!” she screams at the top of her lungs. You could swear that I have slapped her instead of saying a cuss word. “I’m gonna tell mom! You said an ugly word! Mom! Mom! Mom!”
Chloe screams as if her life depends on it toward the house.
“Chloe!” I shout, but she isn’t listening to me. She just keeps on screaming, yelling for my mom.
“SHUT UP!” a voice bellows as the back door slams open.
Chloe stops screaming.
Aunt Barbara steps out of the house making both Chloe and me freeze in position, staring at her and waiting for what will come next.
“Will you two stop? Your mom might not know how to properly discipline her children, but I sure as hell know how!” she spits, turns around and walks back into the house.
I motion for Chloe to come closer to me but before she even reaches me, Aunt Barbara comes storming out of the door again, this time holding a wooden spoon. Before I can get up to reach Chloe the first blow his her on the bum. Her eyes widen and then she starts screaming and crying like I have never heard her scream before.
“This. Will. Teach. You. Some. Manners!” Aunt Barbara screams as one, two, three, four, five, and finally a sixth blow lands on my sister’s little body.
“No!” I scream as I lunge forward and grab Aunt Barbara by the arm, pulling her away from Chloe. She stumbles but regains her balance, aiming the spoon at me, but before she can land it on me I push her backward, hard. I watch as if in slow motion how Aunt Barbara falls backward, hitting her back against the open door that she just came out off.
“You little!” she spits as she regains he balance and I jump to grab Chloe and get her out of reach.
“My mom doesn’t hit us!” I scream at her, pressing Chloe against my body.
“You will be out on the street before the sun goes down!” Aunt Barbara shout as she turns around and goes into the house once more, leaving me outside with my little sister in my arms, crying as if her entire world has ended. If she was older I would have told her our world possibly has just ended.
“Shhh… Shhh… It’s okay Chloe. It’s okay,” I whisper to Chloe as I rub her back.
“I want mommy,” she cries into my ear where I am holding her tight, walking to the far back of the yard where we will be completely out of view of the kitchen window.
“Mom will be home soon,” I say as I pull my phone out of my pocket and dial my mom’s number.
“I want mommy,” Chloe repeats, still crying into my shoulder. I have no idea how to calm her down at all. I need my mother here and I need her here now. If Aunt Barbara can come out and hit a five year old and still go for me as well, who knows what else she is capable off?
The electronic voice on the other side of the phone keeps on telling me that my mom is not available at present, but for some reason I keep on dialing her over and over. I need her here and dialing her number seems like the only thing I can do in this situation.
After the fourteenth time of dialing my mom’s number and the annoying voice telling me that she’s not available, she finally picks up the phone.
“What the hell happened over there?” my mom’s voice rings into my ear.
“Aunt Barbara hit Chloe. Six times mom. With a wooden spoon,” I say trying to keep my voice as close to normal, but I can hear the shake in my voice. I am still shaking on the outside as well, and Chloe crying into my shoulder doesn’t make it easier.
“Where are you now?” mom asks. I can here she’s trying her best to be calm as well, and I can hear she is driving while speaking on the phone.
“I’m outside. Behind the mulberry bushes,” I answer.
“Stay there. I will be there in a second. Try to calm your sister down. Tell her a story. Anything,” she answers.
“Okay mom,” I say, looking over to the kitchen window, craning my neck to see if Aunt Barbara is still there, but I don’t see anything.
“Good. Don’t move from that spot. I will be there now,” she says. “And Cory. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I answer as the phone dies in my ear. I press the phone back into my pocket and sit down on the ground, bringing Chloe into my lap and away from my shoulder.
“Chloe?” I say. “You need to stop crying now. As soon as you stop mommy will come home and everything will be okay again.”
“My bum hurts,” she keeps on crying. “I want mommy.”
“Mommy is on her way. But if you stop crying before she comes I will tell you a story,” I try a second time to stop her tears.
It seems to work and for a while between her sobs I tell Chloe a story about unicorns that use their magic to kill evil witches that come and eat children. The we both sit up straight and listen to two women screaming at each other behind the kitchen door that is closed to us and the rest of the world.