"He began to play."

By
He strummed lose and soft then suddenly fast and furious, his fingers flying in dozens of different directions at once. A worn down, faded Korn sticker was stuck to the back, a casuality of his "all I want to do is drive my parents crazy" phase. The gothic cross drawn in black Sharpie on the front and her name sketched out in clear, block letters along the side. Serenity. This was his guitar and he called her Serenity. She was the only one that'd never let him down; that'd
never disappointed him.


He played the opening of "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," a John Mayer song that reminded him of lost love and words left unspoken, then with a silent "please" coaxed her into delivering the opening rifts to "Under the Bridge."


"You never let me down," Luke whispered, smiling in the midst of the song. Getting lostin the chords.


He sat, legs crossed, in the open field. Uncaring of the mud soaking into his holey, used Levis, covering the back in stains that no amount of off brand Tide would erase. His black converse sunk into the mud as well, the hole in the toe of his right shoe allowing water and mudto flow in freely, covering his sock. More stains. More character. His mom always said that the odd, mysterious stains covering the garments in the secondhand store gave the clothing character. "Every stain tells a story," she said. Luke had plenty of stories. Stories covering everything from the rips in his jeans to the red, plaid patches covering his vintage Metallica shirt to the grass stains covering his knees: an after hours escape from the house gone wrong, his mom's unfruitful
attempts to save his favorite shirt from becoming a dust rag, and the last time he'd been in this field. The last time his deadbeat dad had graced Luke and his mom with a visit.


The alcohol, half empty bottles of Jack Daniels scattered throughout the house for his father's convenience: at any one moment he was never more than two feet away from a bottle ofstale whiskey. On Luke's mother's antique dresser. At the edge of his baby sister's playpen. Propped on the back of the toilet, blending into the aged, stained wallpaper of the bathroom. Luke drank from one of the bottles once: the one his dad kept stored precariously on the edge of the beat up entertainment center, next to the TV and stacks of bootleg DVDs. It burned going down his throat, as he erupted into coughs. Coughing and sputtering, he decided this was why. Why his father was the way he was. The whiskey burned his heart away.


But Luke was older now. He knew his father was perfectly evil without the whiskey or the cocaine. Had seen his attempts to quiet his crying baby sister when he was completely sober: burning her with a lit cigarette. Had heard the screaming.


"You slut! You let that...FILTH put his hands on you!"


"No! No, I swear! I swear! He was giving me my keys back! He just touched my shoulder for a second! To get my attention! I swear! Please! PLEASE!"


Followed by the beating. The blood pouring from a busted nose--her nose, his fist. The bruises covering his mom's back back, her chest--places she could hide. Only places she could hide. A week of "oh, it was the funniest thing, see, I ran into the front door" followed by a forced laugh and a fake smile. Luke had seen the faces of his mom's friends--faces full of pity at his mom's job checking in books at the local library. His mom ran into a lot of doors. Doors of all shapes and sizes. Of all textures and angles. Doors that left her cheekbones cracked and a scar along the side of her right eye.


His dad never hit him. Never. They were "buddies."


"Hey, buddy. Help your mom clean up the stains in the carpet." Bloodstains left over from a broken Jack Daniels bottle colliding with his mom's face.


"Hey, buddy. Answer the door." Worried neighbors came over, with questions of concern: "The screaming? The noise? The sound of glass breaking?" It was Luke's job to explain it away.


"Hey, buddy. Call the library and tell 'em your mom won't be in today." Because her arm was broken. Or she couldn't walk after a particularly painful beating. Or her face was so bruised, so broken that no door would ever explain it away.


His dad never hit him. Not until that night.


It was raining. Pouring so hard, pounding into the pavement so loudly that a neighborhad yet to complain about the noise. The sound of breaking glass.


His mom had been late. The sheets of pouring rain had kept her from getting home at the customary hour of 6:30 p.m. Luke had watched, anxiously, as the minutes sped by. Counting down the seconds to 6:30, hoping and praying to any god that was listening that his motherwould come running through the door before 6:31. 6:30. 6:35. 6:40. 6:45.


6:45. Fifteen minutes.


She came bursting through the door, muttered apologies on her lips. Ducking as he came towards her. Cowering against the wall. The one with the family portraits on it. Family portraitsof a family Luke had never known. A smiling father with a arm around his wife. A mother, eyes full of love and happiness. A boy. A boy with his father's deep blue eyes and black hair. A dimple on his right cheek, inherited from his mother. His father used the picture within arms' reach: one of Luke as a baby, smiling in an old fashioned metal bathtub. Holding a yellow rubber duck. Luke watched as his likeness was used to crush in the side of his mother's face. She didn't cry. She just braced herself for more.


The phone rang, probably a complaining neighbor. Luke was expected to answer it. Butinstead of waiting for the "hey, buddy," Luke ran to his room. Throwing death metal band shirts and holey jeans, school books and old board games out of his closet, he found what he was looking for. A metal bat. A metal bat, left over from his short lived "my daddy's my hero" little league days. Luke rolled the bat back and forth in his hands, allowing his grip to mold and sink into the foam surrounding the handle. He pictured the blood. The cursing. The consequences.


Then he heard his mother scream.


Luke walked, slow and sure, from his room. Down the hallway. Holding the bat in both hands, Luke tried to ignore his sweaty palms. The tears rolling down his face. His mom saw
him first, her eyes widening at the sight of the bat and the notion of what he was going to do. His dad saw the surprise on her face, but before he could turn around, Luke swung with everything he had. Seventeen years of lit cigarette burns, broken whiskey bottles, and sleepless nights. He swung with the fear of someday becoming this monster, his father.


"NO!" Luke screamed as the bat connected with the side of his father's face. He drifted towards the hardwood floor, blood pouring from the right side of his head. Luke struck him again and again, until he couldn't breathe. Until he lost count of how many times he hit him. How many times he heard the sickening thud of metal bat against bare skin. Gasping for air,
Luke leaned over, hands on his knees. Luke stayed like that for mere minutes, when suddenly hisfather appeared in front of him, off of the floor. Blood running down his face, he leered at Luke:


"I taught you well, you...."


That's all Luke heard as the darkness engulfed him.


Luke looked at himself in the water. The puddle the pounding rain had made in the wide open field. He saw the blood on his shirt; another stain, another story. He saw the black eye, a startling contrast against his white skin. Like the black oil his father's motorcycle leaked out onto the clean pavement driveway. He imagined his mom was at home, cleaning the blood off the walls and the floor; straightening the family portraits back on the wall. Thinking of a way to cover the bruises.


He eased himself back onto the wet ground, picking up Serenity. Luke wrapped his fingers around her like a boy testing his grip on a baseball bat. He began to play.





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