Chapter 1: Broken Family
The steady drip leaking from the faucet blended with the trembling sobs that were muffled against raised, knobby knees. Twelve year old Justin Devonshire sat huddled in the corner of the bathroom floor, the tile cold and uncomfortable as he tried to drown out the sounds of the “disagreement” that was going on in another part of the house. That part wasn’t safe anymore, that part of the house he tried to avoid at all costs when his parents were there.
CRACK! The sound resonated through the wooden door and he winced in reaction. Flesh striking against flesh was in tune to a fist punching a slab of fresh meat, making his stomach cramp with nausea. Justin squeezed his fisted hands to his ears as a plea whimpered to his throat before being swallowed back down. Patricia Devonshire’s squeal of pain was deafened by her husband, Donald’s, furious roar.
“How dare you think that you know better than me? You think you’re so smart now Pat, think that because you be on the web, surfing the in-ter-net, that you know what’s what now?” Justin’s head began to pound as he heard the mocking tone in his father’s voice. He hated the way he talked down to his mother, simply hated it.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered in response and Justin gritted his teeth at her entreaty. “I didn’t mean to say that you didn’t know where you were going. I just meant that I thought-“ Her gasp cut off her words and Justin lifted his head warily. Was it over? Could he leave his sanctuary?
“Who told you to think?” Donald snapped and Justin could hear his mother whimper as a dog might when being tortured by a cruel master. “You’re not very smart and to be thinking about anything is kind of scary to me.” He laughed and Justin could hear the pleasure his father was getting from settling this “disagreement”, one of many that Justin experienced in the last three years. A few more blows of hands pounding flesh, mixed with grunts of pain before silence reigned.
“Clean up your face,” Donald stated to his wife after a few tense minutes and Justin knew now that it was over. “Don’t want the boy to think his mama is a monster, do you?”
Justin sat in the corner for a moment more, with his face pressed against his thighs as he shook uncontrollably. Anyone watching him would have thought fear was his companion, until you saw the rage burning bright in the green depths of his eyes. His fists clenched in helpless fury, Justin imagined raising them up against his father and hammering him repeatedly into the ground. His anger was so great it almost choked him before he ruthlessly chained it back deep inside himself. As a child of twelve, his control over his emotions was astonishing. But being one who witnessed, and was a victim himself of abuse, there wasn’t a childhood for him any longer.
Donald Devonshire was a mammoth of a man. Standing at six foot five with the build of a football linebacker, he was always compared to a shaggy grizzly with unkempt black hair and sizzling blue eyes. Hands the size of hams were used to grip the machines that hauled and distributed lumber to factories. In the beginning, the “before” time, their family was happy, healthy and whole. Patricia was the epitome of a housewife and made sure that hearth and home was well tended to while her men were away. Her son would get home by three from school and homework was taking care of as dinner was prepared. By six p.m., Donald would lumber into their one story abode where his dinner would be waiting for him, as was his family. Their routine could be set by a watch, it was so predictable. But predictability was what kept their family together and they were happy, they were content.
Until Donald’s job began to cut back on his hours and money began to stretch so thin you could almost see it. Donald’s steady going personality began to change as well. He began to have lightning mood swings that swung as easily as a pendulum on a string, and both wife and son were continuously caught in the aftermath. Then when he started to turn to the bottle to help ease his fear and anger over the possibility of losing his job, he turned on his family with smacks and punches that had to be excused or lied about. Many times, in the “during” time, Justin’s mother tried to take her son and leave. Many times, she would stay with a friend or relative and during those times, Donald would beg and plead, whimper and cry that he’ll change so they could be a family again. Softhearted, still in love, Patricia would forgive him every time.
There would be a lull, calm before the next storm of rage would pour down and drown them both. The continuous cycle put a strain on the relationship between mother and son; the thick silences that filled their house, hinting of the next squall were so commonplace that Justin didn’t know any other way of life. The only time when he had peace was when Justin went away to his imagination. There, in a wonderful field, he was able to escape and find a bit of happiness. A psychiatrist suggested that the family take a vacation from the tedium that was their life. They decided to go to Kodak Island.
Kodak Island was a small island off the Carolina coastline that consisted of dense forests and lush fields. The fifty-five square mile acreage of land was dotted with houses of various shapes and sizes. Those of the wealthy elite built second homes there for the seclusion and bragging rights of saying they owned property on Kodak. Donald’s childhood friend was one such man and, out of the goodness of his heart and increase to his wallet, would rent out his three story wooden colonial to the Devonshire family.
They usually went that last two weeks in June every year since Justin was five and the memories, both poignant and heartbreaking, ran through Justin. Feelings of contentment and despair settled in Justin’s heart as they crossed the wooden bridge that separated Kodak from North and South Carolina. Arriving at the rented “cottage” that was the home of Donald’s friend; Justin’s parents had a disagreement over the fact that Patricia wanted to use MapQuest when they got lost on the way.
Which brought Justin to his hiding spot in the bathroom, to escape the inevitable canvas that would be his mother bruised, bloody face and body; he was never able to stomach the sight. He slowly stood and, a little wobbly, walked over to the door and placed his ear against it. Hearing the faint swish of running water from the master bathroom, Justin cracked open the door and stuck his head out. He then heard the click of the remote as the television was turned on and knew that it was okay to escape to his bedroom. He spent the rest of the night alone, avoiding both of his parents and thinking about his happy place.
In the morning, Patricia decided on a mother-and-son picnic and Justin reluctantly agreed. It wasn’t that he wanted to stay in the house with his father, but he didn’t want to face the light of day and view Donald’s handiwork. So with averted eyes, he joined his mother for a walk through the sun dappled forest two miles from their cottage. Their journey was silent, with each lost in their own thoughts. Justin willed the picnic to be over as he carried a wicker basket filled with fried chicken, biscuits, fruits and apple juice. Patricia carried a red and white checkered blanket, paper plates and cups. Pink and violet wildflowers bloomed free, intoxicating the air with its sweet aroma.
“Justin, I…” Patricia began, hesitant.
“Yes?” Justin inquired without looking at her.
“Nothing, it’s nothing.” They continued walking until they came upon a valley, lush with bushes filled with berries and sunflowers. Patricia gasped in awe at the serenity of it. Seagulls cried out and Justin ran up a small hill overlooking the valley to encounter the ocean. Standing on the cliff, he looked down below at a cropping of jagged rocks. Wave after wave slammed its fury against these enormous bits of stone and Justin closed his eyes to better listen to the beat of nature pulsing out a unique melody.
“Please be careful on the edge, Justin,” his mother called out fretfully, but Justin ignored as he leaned a little forward to grasp the notes of the water. “Justin? Justin, I said be careful.”
“What?” Justin gasped and turned away from the scenery.
“I said to be careful along the edge,” Patricia repeated as her son stared at her as if she were a stranger. She flushed in embarrassment, not knowing why. “You may get hurt.”
“Right, thanks for the warning.” Justin looked at her a moment more before turning back to the view.
“It’s time to eat.”
“I’m not very hungry.”
“Still, I said it’s time to eat so I would like for you to come away from that cliff and join me here.” Fists clenching, Justin whipped about to find his mother standing with her face averted. It’s like she’s trying to be a mother. Where was this mother when I was receiving a fist to my ribs? Taking a bracing breath, he closed his eyes and tamped down his anger and frustration.
“I’m really not very hungry,” he replied through clenched teeth. “I want to go back to the cottage.”
“What about our picnic? Don’t you want to-?”
“No, I want to go back.”
“Mother,” he snapped as his frustration flared up. Patricia stared at Justin, wide eyed. “I don’t want to do this anymore. Do you get it now?”
“I understand,” she replied in a wobbly voice. With a sigh of disappointment, she gathered up the supplies, turned and slowly started back down the hill, Justin trailing behind her. The walk back was tense and when they spied the cottage, Justin made a quick escape. He rushed up the porch steps, through the door and to his room. Closing the door forcefully, he locked it and slid into the chair at his desk. He turned his laptop on so he can play Wizardry, an online game where he was the hero. He yearned to be a hero for someone.
Standing near the cliffs, Justin watched some geese fly across the clear blue sky. He wished desperately that he could join them in flight. He wanted to feel the air rushing past him as he escaped to a new destination. Turning around, he spied his parents sitting on a checkered blanket. As close as they were sitting, they were as distant as the moon is to the sun with Patricia reading a book and Donald watching a battery powered television. Justin slowly approached and his mother placed her book on her lap. She looked up into the sky, feeling the sun shine on her face.
“It is a beautiful day,” she said softly, breathing deep.
“Yes it is,” Justin agreed and she looked at him with a soft smile.
“How about we try for another picnic?” Forest green eyes pleading, eyes that mirrored his own, she laid a gentle hand on his arm. “Would you like that Justin?”
“Yes, I’d like-“
“For crying out loud,” Donald interrupted furiously as he glared at the two of them. “Can’t the two of you shut up so I can watch the game?”
“I’m sorry, Donald,” Patricia whispered and lowered her gaze to her lap. “I was just remarking about how nice of a day it is and that we should have-“
“Be quiet Patricia,” he warned threateningly as he rose up a fist. She flinched and Justin clenched his teeth in anger before take a big swallow.
“We were just thinking about having a picnic, Father,” Justin entreated with his head down and hands closed into tight fists. “Do you think that would be alright?”
“Well….”Donald appeared to mull it over before sighing in exasperation as the game came back on. “Whatever, just be quiet and try not to make no noise. Go get the stuff, boy.”
“Yes sir.” Justin stood and walked down the trail that led to where the car was parked. I hate him, I hate him so much.He strolled along the forest, not taking notice of the birds twittering in harmony. The dirt path, shaded by trees, sprouted a few pink and yellow wildflowers as Justin marched on. Why must he make us miserable because he’s unhappy? Can’t we enjoy our vacation without having to worry about getting hit? I wish I could disappear somewhere. I wish I could be taken away to another place where I’ll be free from him. Then he’d see that he can’t-
His thoughts were interrupted by an old woman standing in the middle of the path. Garbed in a black dress with her white hair pulled in a bun, she looked like a schoolmarm. Her stooped build and gnarled hands made her look like a sinister one.
“Well hello, little boy,” she said in a creaky voice. “How are you on this lovely day?”
“I’m fine, ma’am. How are you?”
“Oh, I am simply wonderful, and how delighted I am to meet you!” Black eyes showing no emotion, they tracked over Justin’s frame.
“I wouldn’t know, ma’am. How-“
“That wasn’t a question, silly boy,” she snapped out furiously, interrupting him. Smiling slightly, tightly, she slowly walked over to him. “Pray, what is your name child?”
“It’s Justin Devonshire, ma’am. I-“
“Who are you here with?”
“I’m here with my parents. We’re about to have a picnic and-“
“My word boy, aren’t you going to ask me my name? Don’t you have any manners?” She asked a little spitefully before rising up a hand for a moment of silence. Nostrils quivering, she breathed in air with her eyes closed. Opening them once more, she stared at him. “My name is Agatha. I live in a cottage down the lane.” Her eyes tracked over Justin again. “How long do your parents plan on staying?”
“I don’t know exactly, my parents never-“Justin was interrupted once again, but by his mother calling his name. He turned in the direction his mother’s voice was coming from. Hearing the worry in her tone, he sighed, aggravated. Why is she acting like the concerned parent all of a sudden?
“I’m sorry ma’am, that’s my mother calling me,” he began as he turned back around, but the path was now empty. “Where did she go?” His eyes scanned the area. Hearing his name called, he turned around again and saw his mother walking rapidly toward him.
“Does it really take this long to gather our belongings?” She asked quietly as her mothers’ eye looked him over for bruises. “Do you need any help?”
Justin just stared. “I was getting the stuff out of the car, but this old lady stopped me. I was talking to her.”
“Okay, we’ll get the things and head back before your father gets upset,” she said with a worried look over her shoulder. Justin’s rage erupted like a volcano.
“We wouldn’t want to upset Father,” Justin snapped. “He’ll smack you around and take his belt to me, wouldn’t he Mother?” Patricia gasped in shock, but Justin chose to ignore it. Shoulders hunched as if warding off a blow, he started to stomp toward the car. His mother halted him with her words.
“Justin, I…I’m sorry. You might not believe me, but I’m really sorry.” He heard a sob and closed his eyes in shame for hurting her. “I know it hasn’t been…easy for you to put up with what you do. I, I wish I could change things for you, but you have to trust me when I say that your father is trying to be a better man.”
Tears burned in Justin’s eyes and he turned to find his mother standing in the middle of the path with her arms wrapped tight around her body. Her pose represented desperation and immense sadness. Sighing, he walked over to his mother and wrapped his arms around her. Smelling the sweetness and feeling her soft frame, he remembered past encounters of his mother’s love. All the angry feelings that harbored and festered in him began to slowly depart, but the small piece of his soul that hardened him against his parents continued to stand firm.
“I’m sorry, Mother,” he murmured into her stomach as he felt her arms cradling him. “I know that you want to believe that, so I’ll believe it too.” She sighed deeply and stepped away from him, grasping his shoulders.
“Let’s go get the supplies.”
“Yes,” Justin stated and they headed for the car.
Chatting amiably with each other, mother and son carried between them a picnic basket, a blanket, a jug of tart lemonade and some glasses. They heard Donald chatting with someone and reaching the valley, Justin spied the old woman, Agatha.
“Who is that?” Patricia wondered out loud.
“That’s the lady I spoke with, Mother. She said her name is Agatha.” His mother threw a startled, yet frightened look in his direction.
“I didn’t realize I’ve spoken out loud, I-“Blonde head shaking negatively, she smiled a little ruefully. “Never mind, let’s hurry up before your father gets upset.”
“Yes, let’s…“Justin’s words died away as his mother hurried toward the duo. He quickly followed in her direction.
“What took you two so long,” Justin’s father griped when he saw them approaching with the supplies. “It feels like I haven’t eaten in days. Do you want me to starve to death?”
“I’m sorry Don, we have the food right here,” Patricia said with a small whine. Donald sighed in exasperation as he snatched the picnic basket, opening it to peer inside.
“Never mind, what do we have?”
“Chicken, some salad, biscuits, sandwiches and-“
“I didn’t need the whole menu, Patricia. I can see what’s in here with my own eyes.”
“I’m sorry, honey,” Patricia whispered with her eyes cast down. After a tense silence, she softly cleared her throat and gestured in Agatha’s direction. “Who is this?”
“Who is who?” Donald looked around and saw the old woman sitting a few inches away. “Oh, just some lady that lives down that dirt road there. Says her name is Agatha. This is my wife Patricia and our son.”
“Yes, I met your son a little earlier,” Agatha stated. “How do you do madam? It is so lovely to make your acquaintance.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Patricia replied.
“So what brings you this way, Agatha?” Donald asked in a bored tone.
“Well,” Agatha began, shifting to get more comfortable. “I always take a walk this time of day and saw your adorable son down the lane. So I introduced myself and he said he was here with his family. I decided to meet you all firsthand.”
“That’s so nice of you,” Patricia said, beaming at Agatha with genuine warmth. Seeing her happiness, Donald began to calculate how to take it away. “It’s wonderful to meet new people.”
“Yes, but next time you can visit someone else,” Donald interjected and silence was met with this statement. Patricia threw a horrified look at her husband, who was glaring at her. Justin kept his gaze on the ground so neither member of the family noticed Agatha’s satisfied smirk.
“Well, I’ll just go right now,” Agatha said in an injured tone. “You have yourself a wonderful picnic.” She slowly gained her feet, groaning along the way. Panting, she shuffled down the lane towards her house. Donald quickly turned on his wife.
“Next time, ask to invite strangers to our picnic. How stupid can you be?”
“I…I didn’t ask her to-“She was cut off when Donald slapped her across the face. Letting out a shocked cry, she began to scramble backwards out of his reach.
“You think I asked her to be here? Huh?” Moving quick despite his bulk, Donald grabbed Patricia by her hair and yanked with all his might. She screamed in agony and Justin swiftly stood.
“Leave her alone,” he screamed, red faced. He couldn’t take watching the abuse anymore. Mean as a snake, Donald glared at his son for a moment before striking out. His fist connected with Justin’s stomach and he dropped to his knees.
“You think you can tell me what to do, boy?” Donald released Patricia and walked over to his son. He leaned down and landed several blows on Justin’s prone form. “Who are you to tell me what to do with my own wife? You don’t run things around here, boy. You need to learn this lesson.” With his wife screaming in his ear, Donald quickly backhanded her before raining punches to his son’s upper body. Panting with exertion, Donald straightened and looked at both his wife and child.
“I run this household. Anyone says different can discuss that with me. Just let you try and discuss it.” He lumbered off with the two of them lying on the grass in agony. Justin refused to allow tears to shed and for the first time, even though he thought it plenty of times, hate mingled with the fury that was harbored inside of him. He realized in that moment that he could kill his father and not be afraid. That thought scared him to the depths of his scarred soul.