Clara leans her torso over the island in the kitchen with the newspaper in her hands she fetched from the front porch that she forgot to grab when she first came home. She was reading the articles inside while a plate of dino chicken nuggets and french fries and a dose of ketchup and mustard on the side. For some reason, he sure did like plenty of ketchup and mustard mixed to form orange ketchstard, but she needed to keep it apart untouched so he could mix it himself.
Kids were weird. She still did it just for him though.
She waited for Kane to finish bathing and come eat. She decided to wait until tomorrow to get him some new clothes rather than today because of the rain that chooses to fall outside since they came home. Sometimes drizzling, other times sounding against the pane of the kitchen window. She was going to sleep well tonight to the peaceful sounds from it on the roof.
She listens for his footsteps on the stairs and his journey into the kitchen with his dark blue onesie that covered his body from the neck down, and she watched him over the newspaper with a small smile on her face when she saw his maximum effort trying to get onto the tall stool himself to eat. The more he grew the more he was determined to do everything himself even in tasks he probably should still get a little help on but she just stood back and left him alone. She only interfered when necessary.
“Can you read me the funnies?” The boy looked up from his plate to ask.
“Sure,” she scrolled over the other pages of the newspaper to the one that she had saved for him. As he ate she would read and show him the sketches of each of the comic strips. Some moments he laughed and others he was confused about what the joke was and she explained it to him. When she was done she let him keep the paper to look over the pictures and went to the fridge to pour her a glass of cold juice.
She shut the fridge and she couldn’t help but stare at the picture she had put on the front hanging from a multi-color sunflower magnet Kane also had made in art class. The hand-drawn picture she wanted to throw away rather than hang but kept it to protect his feelings. Plus it was a decent drawing for a kid his age.
She found it strange that he would draw a tan-colored man with ears and tail of a cat and the black swirls and hard lines on the right side of his body that she didn’t even question what that could even be. She knew young kids could only draw to some extent but Kane takes the cake for imagination.
“Do you like my picture?” Kane smiled proudly. She took a sip of juice and looked at him. She gave a half nod. “Yeah, buddy. I do. It’s the most creative thing I have seen in a while. But can I ask a question? ”
“Sure,” his feet swayed as they dangled.
“What are the black lines on your hero’s body?”
“They are tattoos,” he giggled like she should have known. “Like other people have. But his don’t have no color so I drew some black swirly lines.”
“Oh....” His hero had tattoos. She inwardly chuckled without him knowing that she found his hero a little silly and it made her giggle more than anything else. She would let it go. She turned and waited for Kane to finish most of his food and helped him from the seat so he wouldn’t fall. “Time for bed, sidekick. Go get your toys in your room cleaned and when I come up I will tuck you in.”
“Can you sing mommy’s song for me tonight?”
It wasn’t really mommy’s song, it was their mother’s favorite bedtime song for him. Golden Slumbers by The Beatles. Their mother was a large Beatles fan before she passed. She would sing it to him usually ao he didn’t forget her, but not so much recently. She was always too tired lately to sing it. “Another night, maybe this weekend,” she gave him a depleted smile. “You better go or the tickle monster will come out and get you.”
“I’ll go, I’ll go!” He giggled and quickly dashed out of the kitchen and up the stairs to get everything ready for when she came and escape the threat of the tickle monster. She remained alone in the kitchen sprucing up before she went to tuck Kane in. Washing the few dishes and putting up the plates. She always made sure the house was tidy and clean even if the outside wasn’t the best condition, if she had more time she might have put in a garden or something to make the outside prettier.
Then again Richard’s ugly black beaten truck would just ruin the scene. One would be shocked to think that he would rather be a sorry human being rather than drive her and her brother to their usual routes without having them walking everywhere. It was fine. She didn’t need his help anyway to get everything she needed to be done.
Washing dishes made her think about her hatred towards him a lot. Her Christian mother wouldn’t be pleased that she found hatred in her heart for him, but it was true for Richard. She hated Kane’s father, her stepfather, because of the way he treated her after their mother passed from leukemia.
It was such a complicated situation. It wasn’t simply her mom battling it, especially with the lack of funds. She was diagnosed with it when she was also told she was pregnant with Kane. Imagine newly married but growing sick after a couple of months pregnant just to go to the doctor and find out that they are pregnant and with cancer.
Cancer didn’t affect an unborn child but his gestation was a tough one, so much so with her diagnosed with not just any cancer, but leukemia, the ugliest kind. The doctors even suggested abortion themselves to her because they were unsure about her wanting to just postpone treatments because she feared it would still damage the fetus and cause an increased chance of stillbirth. She has had one herself before after Clara, she feared it a second time.
She wanted that baby. She wanted Kane, she wanted to give him a chance to live. It was her firm decision she didn’t give up on. She had so much faith it irritated the doctors and Richard, who tried to convince her of an actual abortion and how he would be fine with it, to not worry about his feelings about it. But it wasn’t about him. She believed Kane would make it. She did what any doctor would find foolish to do, she postponed it.
Kane, just like she said, did make it. He was premature when they induced her labor. She only had him for a year before cancer took her when she began the treatments even after the lowered chance of survival. Clara was young herself at sixteen, but she was old enough to remember every moment Sherry sat in the rocking chair in the baby room holding him. Every chance she could take, even when she was restricted in the bed, she wanted Clara and Kane by her side.
She woke up to her mother gone one morning.
She wiped the tear that fell down her cheek silently at the memory. In truth, she never blamed her mother for her decision. She believed in Kane more than she wanted her own life, and it was always her decision. And not even the doctors could talk her out of it, the severe risks, but Kane is alive. And he is healthy. He was also the best little boy in the room full of the other little five-year-olds when she would have to sit in that classroom with all of them, although he was the smallest.
And the meetings with the teachers. Richard did none of that. She was more than fine with doing it herself, she was positive that the reason her mother wanted her baby so much was for her daughter. She did question why she ever thought Richard was a good idea to have him with.
She was done swimming in her thoughts. It always made her cry when she did, something she didn’t feel like doing right now. She washed one last plate and dried it with a towel and placed it neatly with its friends in the cupboard. Her work here was done. Now she needed to go see what Kane was up to.
The sight of Richard himself leaning against the doorway with his arms crossed was one to make her back up against the counter and her heart race. The look on his face was one that she was familiar with. He was drunk. How long has he been standing there?
He didn’t say anything. Usually, he would say something foul when he looked at her, something disgusting. Like the time she walked out of the shower with a towel and did that stupid line “You know what would look good on you?” She hated that line. He used it all the time like it would be funnier the next time he said it.
He just stood there and gawked with a crooked smile on his face and she could smell the alcohol from where she stood and didn’t like it. At all. It was always wretched.
She stood there and waited for him to move so she could slide away and to Kane’s room. She wanted him to just get another one of his beers from the fridge and go back into the living room. To leave her alone. But he just stands there and stares. Stares and sloppily smiles.
“I... Um...” She needed to do something to get things going so she could just leave. “I am done with everything here, I’ll just...” She moved around the island and tried to make the run for the stairs. “Get back to Kane. He’s upstairs. I need to see how he’s doing.”
She squeaked when she felt her arm quickly snatched before she could slide away. She was also shocked that she was grabbed. Usually, it was just states and comments. He grabs her, forcing her to take a step back, and turned to him. His hold on her arm grew tighter to the point of pain and she made an effort to pull it away. His words are slurred and slow, “You take care of that boy all the time, baby girl. How about you finally take the time to care for me?”
An icy chill traveled through her veins and made her shiver equally in anxiety and loathing. It was this very moment she feared, and she screamed, moving her arm to free herself again, “what the fuck are you talking about?” She knew what. “Let go of my-”
Tension piled onto the apprehension that already consumed her. He threw her back in the kitchen and she hit the island counter hard enough that a pained holler left her. Pain shot through the arm that hit the marble corner. She saw herself bleeding now.
She flees. She scurries away from him quickly while her hand flattened on over where the counter cut her skin, but he moved around the island after her to keep distance between her and the exit. She used the island counter as a barrier between them.
He finally lost his fucking mind. He finally had enough Bud Lights and no shame, and she could see it on him. That drunk way of thinking, that he was trying to get what he felt he was entitled to have, to make good of those horrendous words.
She tried to reach for the frying pan on the counter that she hasn’t put up yet, but she was grateful. She could easily reach it.
It was fools joy. He corners her against the counter and uses his large hand to cup her throat and slam her against it to force a shout of shock from her. She was afraid that he cross further over that line, that he would finally go this far. He was intentionally hurting her with his hand on her throat tightening and when she fought him with her kicks and punches he backhands her cheek.
The side of her face burned and her body lip throbbed and he holds her down again, his free hand pulls her shirt and she could hear it rip. She went to shove her knee between his legs but his mind was aware enough to stop her knee with his wrist.
His words were sloppy and pissed while he manages to remove the bottom half of her newly ripped favorite thin fabric shirt, but she still was desperate to fight him, pressing her palms in his face to push him back. “I just wunna know if ya look like your mother.”
Her stomach crawls in sheer revulsion and a part of her body rejected his presence immediately, so much so she was nauseated. She always despised it when other people touched her. Sickened by it. It was tenfold now. She was still trying to struggle but she hated herself for being too weak to get him off. She hated her weakness so much she wept. He was still stronger and he knew it, tears roll down her cheeks as her panic suffocates her.
Was this going to happen? One minute washing dishes, the next helplessly allowing someone who is supposed to be her stepfather, her supposed family, molest her? “Please... Please, R-Richard. Please stop. Don’t do this to me. Please.”
Her pleas seemed to have stimulated him further. “With ya walkin’ around in that sexy apron of yours? Walkin’ out of the showers with those little thin towels? Nah, baby doll, it’s about time you earn your keep under this roof. You are na my kid anyways.”
She didn’t want this to happen. She didn’t want to be here. She whimpered as he continued.
A swing of a wooden bat came and connects with his back and stuns him. The second hit came and he turned to use his arm shield himself even when it hit again. He slumps away but the little boys hit were not as effective as a grown man. He grabs the bat and jerks it from Kane’s small hands. He turns it and pulls the bat from his hands and rears it back.
Clara didn’t allow the impact to happen. She steels herself on the counter and shoves him against the doorway as hard as she could to keep the distance from him and her brother. He used the doorframe to keep himself on his feet.
She advances and grabs the bat on the ground the same time he did and the two begin their battle throughout the kitchen to try to get the upper hand. Magnets on the fridge fell followed by everything else on top of it.
Cereal boxes on the ground were crushed when stepped on, everything in the counters now laid shattered on the tiles, and Clara managed to use his strength to release the bat so it backfired into his nose. She saw the sudden gush of blood.
His broken nose empowered him with rage. He jerked her towards him in front of the fridge and rams her hard against it. With one hand on her throat with his other hand on her torn shirt, he smashed her into that fridge once. Then twice.
She would take those two slams that were so brutal it rocked the vast steel fridge. Her back mashed against the now dented surface and dragged back for another blow. She waited for that second opening and to hoist her leg to replay her kick from before. She accomplished it with the adrenaline now surging through her, her foot shoved him again.
Alcohol took him over. He wasn’t sober enough to maintain his stance to deflect her kick, and the excess force wobbles him. He didn’t salvage his balance, he stepped on a magnet and fell once it slid his feet out from under him. His head collided with the pointed marble corner of the island counter and he collapsed on the white tile floor.
Silence squeezed the room and it took time for Clara’s brain to register. Her head maintained a major impact on the fridge, the handle had succeeded to strike her side enough. Her arm that was already injured bled much more with the wound from the counter much bigger. Her hip would hurt too later when the adrenaline dies off down to her leg. The world was spinning, but she needed to focus on Kane.
She needed to snap out of this. Why did Richard stop? Not that she complained.
She did focus eventually after blinking until her eyes weren’t blurry anymore. He was stunned to see him laying on the ground in the pool of burgundy liquid that oozed into the cracks of the white tiles.
Nestled in the corner of the kitchen was a spooked, but safe, Kane. He was trembling and weeping. She limped towards him and used her body to cover his view of the body that was laying in its blood. The boy hugged her instantly and she winced in pain but kept her body still so he didn’t notice. Her body was sore and it would only get much worst later.
“You’re bleeding,” he sniffed and held her tighter. If she wasn’t hurt she would have picked him up and left the kitchen, but she just stayed placid and stroked his back to soothe him. “I’m fine, buddy. I’m fine. Go upstairs and put everything you want to keep in your bag. I am going to pack a bag of things and we’re leaving.”
“Where are we going to go?”
“Away from here,” or to a hospital... But she had the stashed money to leave this house that wasn’t hers. She urged him to the doorway. “Quickly. Do it quickly.”
He made sure to grab his picture that was laying on the ground before dashing out of the kitchen and up the stairs to his room to pack his things in his bag. She was slow following him while using the railing of the stairs to pull her sore body up each step.
Her shirt was ripped and her lip was cut, she could feel that with her tongue. The area below her left eye was starting to hurt and she almost mistook the tear sliding down her eye for blood. She gently wiped it with a finger to assure herself that no, there was no blood. But swollen. It was a numb tear.
Her leg burned from where she was smashed against the large fridge. The side of her head throbbed, maybe even cut, but her main concern right now was leaving. Getting away from here. She had planned this for a while, she didn’t expect for this to happen tonight.
She used the railing on the stairs to support her up each step. Richard performed a toll on her in only a small amount of time.
Things changed too fast. So fast she didn’t know how she was so going to comprehend this. What she did absorb was that Richard was dead... his head hit the marble corner of the island. There was no coming back from that. Even with that fact in mind, she was terrified that she could be charged with murder. That idea haunted her.
There was a chance she could go to jail for this. Richard had police friends... Would that matter?
She took a large blue gym bag that was in the corner of her room and stuffed her clothes inside, heading into the bathroom to sweep the medicine inside along with her shampoo and conditioner, razors, and other womanly products as well as Kane’s toothbrush and paste.
She brought the bag back to her room to find the stash of money she hid behind the bed. She wanted to use the money in the future when she had enough to buy her apartment or home away from here. Right now hopefully it would be enough to take her away. Far away.
Kane stood at the doorway of her room with her bookbag filled with all of the things that he wanted to take with him. His favorite shirt and pants and even the picture he had drawn in school today. He had even changed out of his onesie and into the same clothes he wore today at school, but Clara was too busy to notice as she zipped up the bag and threw the strap over her shoulder, wincing when she stood up with the heavy bag and walked for the door. She offered him her hand. “Come on, we need to go now.”
“Is this a good idea?” He took hold of her hand and the two stepped down the stairs, outside, and into the rain that drenched them instantly with the millions of drops that spilled from the sky. The rain was also a great help to conceal the tears that fell from her face as they walked on the sidewalk.
She held her tears back from seeping into her voice, “Sure. Maybe.”