By Lee Gooden
Roger stood behind the door that led to the second floor. Head cocked to the side, he listened to the heavy footfalls of his father’s workbooks upstairs, clumping from room to room. His mother’s sobs were whispers, added to the other secrets and transgressions already witnessed by the house. Its joints, wiring, pipes, lathe and plaster absorbed the energy of expended emotion.
The knife from the silverware drawer felt good in his palm. He had held it before, while washing dishes, the soapy wood wet and slippery between his fingers, blade side held away from him as the dishrag slid along its length, polishing, invoking, inciting a sharp gleam. And, then there were the times he held it tight in his hand, the blade sawing between the guideposts of a fork’s tines as he cut his meat into manageable bites. What Roger remembered most, and his greatest pleasure, was when he shifted it back and forth from right hand to left hand in front of the full length mirror in his bedroom. He practiced slices, thrusts, feints and parries. Like Zorro. Roger carved Z’s into his enemies.
Roger waited for his father to come down the stairs with his little skip walk, the way he always came down the stairs. Emperor of all he surveyed, skipping and strutting as if he wore a top hat and tails and hadn’t a care in the world. Whistling some Elvis and catching his visage
in the glass of the framed family pictures that hung on the wall of the stairway; Roger’s dad
always looked, and always liked what he saw, standing on a step, paused in his movement, patting down a stray hair that dared defy the regiment of a duck-tail. Roger stopped thinking about his father in the before and concentrated on him in the then.
“Where are you going?” He heard his mother ask his father. Her tone was quiet with no variations in pitch. He was drunk and she was afraid.
“Out.” His father said.
“Oh,” his mother said, “Did you get paid today?”
“May I please have some money for food?”
“Ain’t got no money.” Roger’s daddy said, his southern drawl was syrup covered razor blades. “Bookie cashed my check. I owed him.”
“There’s no food in the house and the Roger needs his medicine.”
“Shit costs too much. He don’t need it.”
” He get’s so sick. The mold and the mildew in the basement and attic is awful. And the pollen levels are sky high, that’s the problem.
” You always make a big deal out of nothing . Gotta toughen him up, so he ain’t so much a titty-baby.”
“You want him to curl up and die?”
His father backhanding Roger’s mother sounded like the crack of a hammer missing a nail and striking wood and thumb. Her cry of pain, her anguish almost made Roger drop the knife. His hands were slicking up. He tightened his grip and wiped snot away from his nose with his wrist. His breath caught in his chest, bronchia congested, he wheezed and almost coughed. He held the knife in front of his face. Afternoon sun shone along its surface. His father’s eyes, narrowed suspicious, full of hatred stared back from Roger’s face reflected on the blade.
He lowered the knife.
Upstairs, a door slammed shut. A locked clicked and Roger heard his father’s heavy Peterbuilt tractor trailer belt buckle buckle bang on the floor. Then the boy heard his parent’s old box springs squeal under his father’s weight. He closed his eyes and scrunched up his face as if he had bitten into a spoiled fruit.
He wanted to push his fists into his ears as the box springs upstairs whined rhythmically, his mother’s cries were breathy and throaty, like gargled punch all slick and slippery. He didn’t want to hear this. It was as if she betrayed him, giving up the common bond between them, pain, black and blue totems, their commonality of salty tears and salty blood; the beatings and humiliations, degrading and demeaning. The box springs squealed louder with more frequency.
And then, abruptly, the box springs stopped singing. There was a stillness in the house, an anticipating silence for something more. His parent’s whisperings to each other were yells in Roger’s ears. A panicked small furry animal bounced inside his rib cage as he considered that maybe he needed two knives.