Rule of Thumb
“Davey, come here son and give me a
hand changing the flat tire on your mother’s car!” His father calls to him from
the interior garage doorway.
Davey reluctantly stands up and fishes the TV remote out of the couch cushion. His temptation to simply increase the volume and ignore his father was brief, but it was there. He turns off the TV and joins his father in the garage.
His father has just finished setting up the car jack and he motions for Davey to make use of it. He knows his son has never used one before so Davey figures this is one of those father teaching son moments that most family’s value when they have an adolescent male in the family.
Davey was twelve now and really disliked being called ‘Davey’ anymore. He was far too old for that baby name. He tried on many occasions to get his parents to refer to him as ‘David’ but his mother kept forgetting and his father flat out refused. His father went as far as to backhand him when he was asked a second time.
His family was not like most families, but it wasn’t entirely unique in its dysfunctionality either. Davey knew a few other kids who felt the wrath of their father’s temper at the end of a belt or an extension cord. They would all gather during recess and have secret discussions about taboo subjects like ‘patricide’ and ‘genocide’. Just some normal kids talking about their abnormal lives?
Davey was not strong enough to loosen the lugs on the wheel. He struggled but the tire had last been replaced at a garage and they had used pneumatic equipment to tighten the lugs. They were much tighter than a kid could tighten them. He strained so hard that he broke a sweat and the wrench slipped off of the lug causing him to gash his hand on one of the other lugs.
His father gives him his favorite look of disgust and disappointment as he snatches the lug wrench from Davey’s hands. Davey winces in pain as the wrench rips at the gash in his hand even more. He knows better than to cry out. His father would give him a ‘real’ reason to cry, as he so often put it.
His father broke the lugs loose and shoved the lug wrench back into Davey’s injured hand. Again, he had to stifle the natural urge to cry out.
Davey inserted the lug wrench into the jack and began to pump it until the car started rising slowly from off of the ground. He grunted with each pump but he managed to get it up high enough in just six pumps. He knew he was at the right height when his father grunted from behind him and kicked a tray over to Davey for him to place the lugs in as he took them off. His father was a stickler for doing a job a certain way and that way was always, of course, whatever way he wanted you to do it. Right or wrong was only a question of his opinion and nothing else.
His mother pulls up in his father’s car. She had just got back from doing the weekly shopping at the grocery store so Davey knew that she would have a lot of bags to carry and would need his help. He stood up to do so and his father shoved him back down.
“Your mother can do it herself! You’re doing a job for me and you don’t quit until the job is done!” His father coldly insisted.
His mother honked the horn as she got out of the car. She went to the back of the car and opened the trunk. She then peered around the trunk lid to check the status of her help and she noticed that help was not forthcoming. She knew Davey’s father better than anyone and she knew that if no one was coming to help that it was her tyrannical husband’s decision and she would just have to make as many trips as it took.
Davey was just pulling the old wheel off when his mother walked by with her arms full. He was embarrassed to look her in the eye, but not for himself, he was embarrassed for her. His mother had been a part of this ‘Living Hell’ for many years now and Davey had witnessed the abuse and torment all of his short life. It was only recently that he fully started understanding the implications of living such a life for an extended period of time. His mother was severely depressed and her self-esteem was far less than his, if that was even humanly possible. Their lives had been Hell and the man of the house was Satan himself.
She dropped one of the bags the moment she stepped into the kitchen and the sound of a jar breaking could clearly be heard throughout the house. His father ran into the house and he could already hear his mother crying. She wasn’t crying over the broken jar or lost money or any such nonsense. She was crying out of fear.
His father came back to the doorway and glared at Davey for a brief moment. There was definitely a warning in those eyes. He slammed the interior garage door shut cutting Davey off from his mother. Instantly, his father starts yelling at his mother and slamming the kitchen furniture and appliances around. Davey’s mother would react with each loud noise or object being thrown by begging for his father to stop.
It was over in a hot second and the entire household went dead silent. His father slung the door open and glared at Davey once again. His face was flushed and his left hand had a trickle of blood running down it. It was all Davey could do to keep from running past his father to see if his mother was alright. He knew that would just make things worse for him and his mother so he held back.
To his relief, his mother came back out a few minutes later to get more groceries. She had gotten good at putting on a fake smile for Davey’s benefit. He knew that the last thing his mother probably wanted to do at this very moment was to smile or show any signs of happiness. She walked past not looking at either one of them, but she was smiling just the same.
She came back loaded down just as heavily as before and this time Davey actually stands to help. His father throws an adjustable wrench at him that just barely misses his head and he is forced to drop back down to his knees and continue putting the spare tire on.
Without warning, and to Davey’s horror, his father sticks his leg out just as his mother is passing and she trips over it. The groceries go everywhere and his mother falls on top of them. A lot more than one item was broken this time and judging by his mother’s screams something of her might’ve been broken as well.
His father’s face turns seven shades of red before he leans over and grabs her by the hair. He starts tugging at her hair trying to get her to stand back up. She yells out with each pull and he pulls just a little harder when she does.
She is not able to move quickly enough for him because of her injuries so he starts picking up food and whatever was in the broken containers that now litter the garage floor and smears it all over her face and in her hair. He even opens an unbroken dozen eggs and breaks them over her head one egg at a time and in between each egg he scoops up handfuls of yogurt and potato salad and sticks the mixture into her eyes and mouth.
His mother’s choking sounds mixed with her cries cause Davey to finally break and he stands up screaming at the top of his lungs. His father stops smashing things on his mother’s face and head, but only from the temporary shock of hearing his son screaming like a banshee. He laughs loudly and punches Davey in the head so hard that Davey blacks out and drops like a rock to the concrete floor.
Davey comes to and discovers his mother and father are nowhere in sight. His head is throbbing and hurts more than anything he has ever known. He feels a knot on the back of his head that must be at least as big as a golf ball. The interior garage door is shut so he assumes that his parents are inside. He nearly slips and falls on the huge mess that still covers the garage floor as he carefully manages his way to the door. He notices it is getting darker outside and realizes he has been out for more than just a minute.
He puts his ear to the interior garage door and there is nothing but silence. He enters the kitchen and tiptoes over broken dishes and the overturned trashcan. He looks around the downstairs in futility. They have to be upstairs he reasons. He climbs the stairs one step at a time trying to move like one of the ninjas he sees on the Saturday Matinees.
He reaches the top of the stairs and that’s when he hears his father talking to his mother in their bedroom. He can’t quite make out what is being said so he decides to be brave for his mother’s sake and put his ear to their bedroom door. He can hear his father half-whispering to her but it sounded more like he was hissing at her like a snake.
“You think I like treating you like this, honey-pie? You gave birth to my heir. He’s not much but then neither are you. Stop crying and get ready to take this like an adult.”
She does not respond with anything other than more sobbing.
“After all these years you still cry like a baby!” His voice rises. “You know Ole’ Woody personally by now!
Davey’s father mentioned the one thing that always struck fear into his heart. His father had introduced him to Ole’ Woody when he was quite young. He always referred to an antiquated law mentioning being able to discipline any member of your family with a stick that can be no bigger around than a man’s thumb. It was the basis for the old saying “The rule of thumb”, he was so proud of announcing as he beat us mercilessly with the stick made of strong hickory that stung fiercely when applied.
His mother was so upset that you could hear her hitching with each sob and a stutter in her voice when she replied to his father’s question, “Ye-ye-yes sir.” The shame in her voice is apparent even to a child and Davey feels her shame along with her.
Davey has felt “Ole’ Woody” on many occasions and he knew that his mother had been feeling it for much longer, but this was the first time that Davey would be hearing it happen. He was determined to not let it go down so easily. He bangs on the door with all of his might and yells for his father to “stop hurting his mother” until he hears the sounds change in the room and then he bounds down the steps as fast as he can without breaking his neck.
As he reaches the bottom of the staircase, he can hear his father slam the door open as it hits the wall behind it. The door stop had long ago been knocked off by repeated impact. There now was a hole in the wall that his father patched so often it never quite dried all of the way in as many years as Davey could remember. When he was younger, he would draw in the moist plaster with each new fill. There were several hole in the walls like that throughout the house. Nothing or no one was safe when his father was angry.
He got away so quick that his father must assume he is still upstairs because the next door to be slammed open is the bathroom door. He must check the other two bedrooms very quickly because it is only a few seconds later and Davey can hear his heavy footsteps stomping down the staircase.
Davey quietly slips back into the garage. He spies the shovel that his dad buried the dog with and he slams the head of it into the fluorescent tubes in the overhead light. They explode in little slivers of glass and he barely gets his eyes closed in time to keep it out. He ends up with his face covered in broken glass pieces and a fine glass dust that scratches his skin when he touches it. His father obviously hears the sound and now his footsteps can be heard coming from the living room area straight to here.
The door opens and the light from the utility room chases the darkness away. Davey sighs in frustration over his advantage being lost so quickly. His father can be heard cursing as he tries the light switch in vain.
“Davey?! I know you’re in here boy! Come out right now so we can talk and I promise I won’t be mad at you for the light you broke and we’ll just talk about you interfering in my business with your mother.”
A few moments of silence pass and then you can hear the sounds of frustration his father loves to make. The continuous sighs are the worst. Sometime it seems that they have become some kind of habit and that they are in auto-pilot mode. They were always the prelude to an outburst of anger. My paternal grandfather was said to have been the same way about things and had nearly killed his first wife out of anger.
“Davey?! I’m not mad at you or your mother anymore. I just want us all to sit down to supper like we usually do. Your mom needs you to help her fix the meal. Also, there’s a mess in here that I need you to clean up. Come on out and I’ll forgive both of you. I mean it!”
His father mutters a few words that Davey easily recognizes as some of his father’s trademarks. He can hear his father’s footsteps on the other side of the car heading towards the rear. Davey grips the shovel in a choke hold near the business end. He was ready for a quick short distance strike if needed. He notices that the shaking of the shovel in his hands is in perfect rhythm with his pounding heart.
His father is now at the rear of the vehicle and Davey thinks he hears him tapping “Ole’ Woody” on the trunk lid. Davey knows that he and his father are about to come face to face any second now so he white knuckles the shovel and keeps reassuring himself that he can do it if he must. Suddenly, there is a loud ‘boom-like’ noise from within the house that is so loud it makes the house shake and the lights flicker. His mother is screaming again, but this time it sounds like she is in agony. Davey can only think that a bomb of some kind must’ve went off and that’s why the house shook and his mother is screaming. What else could it be, he asks himself as he applies all the logic his young mind can muster.
To Davey’s relief, his father takes off running back into the house. Davey is behind him in an instant. His mother’s screams have stopped and other than their racing footsteps all has gone quiet and still. Not knowing where she is, Davey’s father systematically slams every door open in his hunt.
“Where are you, woman?!”
As if in answer to his call, she cries out weakly. Davey and his father both look at the half-open attic door. His father reaches up and grabs the rope.
“You’ll stay down here if you know what’s good for you!” His father warns him. “Your mother and I have some business to finish!” The last part he yells up to the attic so Davey’s mother could hear him.
He climbs the fold-up ladder and then pulls the ladder back up so Davey won’t feel compelled to use it. He then shuts the door behind him with the rope wedged in the door so Davey cannot reach it. He hears his father begin yelling within seconds of closing the door.
Davey falls to his knees crying. His mother has been beaten for years and now she is getting beaten, maybe even killed, and there was nothing Davey could do about it. He can hear his parents tussling in the attic. He could hear his mother cry out now and then after it sounded like she had been slung around the attic like a rag doll. Glass and other objects can be heard breaking as he hears his mother being slammed into boxes that held the surplus of their life together.
Davey gets the sinking feeling that this time his father is going to kill his mother and he had neglected to call the police right away and now it could be too late. He had to chance it. If there was any way to save his mother’s life, that had to be it. He starts to go done the staircase and then comes the loudest boom yet. The house shakes so violently that it appears it might fall apart. The attic door comes open a little and the rope drops back down to where Davey can reach it.
He jumps up and grabs the cord. He pulls the ladder down and ‘Ole Woody rolls past him and lands on the floor.
“I’m coming up!” Davey shakes his head. He slowly ascends the ladder on wobbly legs.
He reaches the top and once his weight is off the ladder it springs up enough to block a lot of needed light. He looks around and at first he can see very little and then slowly his eyes start to adjust. There are boxes and old furniture strewn all about. He had never been up here before. His father had made it off limits to him from the first day he noticed they had an attic. He said it was no place for kids to be playing and if he didn’t watch his step he would come through the ceiling. Davey figured ceilings must be very expensive and would get him a long meeting with “Ole’ Woody” so he stayed away from the attic.
“Mom?” Davey calls out to the darkness. “Dad?”
He takes a few steps further in and a creaking under his feet causes him to freeze in place. Once he realizes that he is not going to fall through the ceiling, he proceeds a few steps at a time. He doesn’t get far before he slips on something warm and wet. He hits so hard that he is afraid he will go through for sure this time. He slowly rises to his feet and rubs the back of his head. He feels blood on the part of his head that hit the floor and the pain makes him wince.
A drop of something hits the top of his head. Instinctively, he looks up to see what had landed on his head. What he finds chills him to the bone. His father is hanging from a high rafter and bleeding down on him. His father’s clothes are ripped from his body and his genitals are hanging from his mouth. His intestines have been ripped out and used to secure him in an upside down fashion. Davey stares into his father’s cold and lifeless eyes and the tears begin to flow.
“Mom!” He yells out.
“Davey.” It’s low and he can barely hear it, but it is his mother’s voice and he gets so excited that he forgets about his father’s gruesome death. He stumbles over some boxes toward the sound of the voice. He no longer cares if he goes through the ceiling. His mother is alive and that is the most important thing on his mind.
He discovers there are some candles burning in the corner of the attic that he couldn’t see before. The alcove was in a good hiding spot that no one would notice from the ladder. It was around a small bend in the attic that conformed to the ‘L’ shape of their home. There are a ton of books piled up all around. He is surprised that his mother has been reading any of them. The titles mention “Satan” and “Demons” and “Selling Your Soul” and it all means very little to Davey. However, the pictures in them were very graphic and scary. The one that laid open on the table in the center of the space had a picture of a man hanging from a tree the exact same way his father was hanging now.
“Davey.” The voice is clearer this time. He looks in the direction it came from and there stands his mother. To his relief, she is unharmed. She opens her arms invitingly and he runs into them and hugs her as tightly as he can.
“Mommy. I thought daddy had killed you!” Davey confesses. “I know you had to kill him, mommy. He was not a good dad and he was very mean to you.” He tells her as he pats her on the back in an attempt to console her.
“You’re a good boy, Davey.” His mother replies. “I am so sorry.”
“For what, mommy? It wasn’t your fault.”
“I’m sorry that my revenge on your father carries such a high price, Davey.”
She slices his throat open with a knife she had behind her back. She then lays him on the table and proceeds to devour his body as she had agreed upon.