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“You rotten kid! I’m gonna kill you! I’m gonna kill you!”
“No daddy! No! I’m sorry daddy!” He took off towards his room, throwing quick glances over his shoulder to see the distance, keeping him safe, between him and his father. Three long strides got him down the hallway to his bedroom, his safe haven. Swinging the door shut as fast as his little body could manage, the little boy used all his might to drag his dresser in front of the door. He ran to his closet and hid in the back, far corner, next to the walls; the walls that he knew would always be there to hold him up.
“Open up you maggot! That’s right! You better hide. That ain’t no way to treat your father, you know it boy.” His father paused to take a deep breath; You better stay in there for a long, long time boy, cause the next time I see you, it won’t be pretty!” His father was pounding on the door and screaming between breaths in his drunken rage.
The little boy’s adrenaline had his heart beating at an insane speed, his breathing was hard and the tears stung his wide eyes. Now safely tucked away from the familiar fear, the little boy leaned against the wall and shrunk down. He allowed the tears to flow and buried his head in his arms. He allowed the thoughts to come; I wish I’d never been born.
BOOM. The little boy shook awake, what was that? He heard mumbling and his father cursing under his breath. It was just his father, hobbling down the hallway to the bathroom. He must’ve stumbled and fell against the wall. This was all part of his daily routine; he drank, from the time he came home from work until he eventually passed out on the couch. This sound provided a feeling of relief for the little boy; His father would be too drunk by now to even be aware of his son’s existence. Eventually morning would come and it would be safe for the little boy to leave his room. He would flee to school, and return at the end of the day to his temporarily sober father who would again be apologizing for the way he had treated his son the night before. His temper was not one to play with, so Benny, never looking into his father’s eyes, would sheepishly shake his head as if to accept the man’s apologies. His father said all this while cracking open another beer of course. This was his life, nothing would ever change.
The air was crisp and the traffic was buzzing. Even at this early in the morning, the streets were alive. Benny followed the sidewalk to school, as he did everyday. He had to pass through the run down neighborhood, where he lived, to get to school. He observed the McLaughlin house; it was tall and mysterious. The shudders hung crooked from every window, some had already fallen. The windows were dirty and the curtains were rugged and heavy, preventing anyone from seeing inside. The lawn was full of weeds and the cracked steps led up to a large, old and rickety door. Shingles were missing and Benny couldn’t remember of a single time he’d ever seen a light on inside the house. As far as he was concerned, it was haunted. In fact, the majority of the houses down this way looked haunted. They were all dirty; it was definitely not a welcoming neighborhood.
Once Benny walked a couple blocks, the surroundings began looking a little more kept up. He could see his school in the distance. Step after step, Benny had memorized all the cracks in the sidewalk by now. He was used to looking down as he walked. He had no real desire to look up; what was the point? Benny watched as the cars whizzed by him. At the intersection ahead, he heard cars honking as impatient people were becoming frustrated when a little old lady couldn’t get across the street fast enough for them.
Benny turned off the sidewalk and began walking towards the playground. The gravel crunched beneath his feet, and he dropped his backpack on the ground where he always did. He wasn’t quite sure why he always brought it; there was never anything in it anyway, it was more just an accompaniment. The red, blue, green and yellow paint was beginning to chip off the play apparatus. The bars were still cool and damp from the morning dew. Benny walked to the familiar step ladder that led up to the first plat form. All the plat forms were covered by a protective rubber layer so when the kids would run and play on them, it wouldn’t hurt near as much if they fell. The rubber swallowed any noise Benny’s step would make.
Benny reached high for the monkey bar closest to him with his right hand; he jumped and let his whole body swing through the morning air for a split second before he could grab the next bar with his left hand. His right hand swung to join his left and Benny’s whole body was stretched out, with his feet dangling above the ground. With one swinging motion, he kicked his left leg high and reached up for the next bar; he pulled his right leg up too and wiggled until both were wrapped over the bar. He put his feet under the next bar securing his body from falling, unless he moved his feet of course. Benny loosed the tight grip with his hands and let his body fall swiftly. He was hanging upside down. The world looks so much more interesting upside down.
Benny closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. The sound of the birds chirping and the smell of the crisp leaves and damp ground were a favorite of his. The tranquil atmosphere permitted Benny to drift away in his thoughts, allowing him to forget about his father, the calamity he was faced with everyday, and about the life he didn’t have.
Benny’s eyes shot open as his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a vehicle pulling into the school parking lot. The reflection of the morning sun off of the shiny, black SUV blinded Benny. He squinted to satisfy his curiosity. Two little girls, the Jefferson twins, jumped out of the SUV. Their giggles could be heard across the parking lot. Their curly blond hair was tied up in ribbons and Benny thought of how long it must’ve taken their mother to perfect this morning. A pang of jealousy struck Benny at the thought of having such a caring mother. Benny couldn’t remember the love his mother had given him considering she had died of cancer before he could even walk.
Mr. Jefferson hopped out of the driver’s seat and circled around the front of his luxurious vehicle. He knelt down with one knee on the ground, unconcerned about the dirt his expensive suit pants would collect, and pulled both of his daughters into his arms, sending them into an unstoppable giggle. Even though their father was crouching, the twins still had to stand on their tippy-toes to be able to wrap their arms around his neck. Benny could hear a deep mumbling sound but couldn’t put the words together but whatever Mr. Jefferson was saying, the girls seemed pleased. He kissed both his daughters good bye and went back to his vehicle. He drove off and waved to his precious daughters.
Benny closed his eyes again and pondered. He tried to imagine his father bringing him to school. He was still imagining when the school bell rang. He gave up and got off his monkey bars. He walked over to his backpack, picked it up and followed the other students inside.
The day passed by slowly, and it seemed an eternity before the minute hand would circle the clock once. Benny was bored and uninterested with school. It wasn’t the teacher that was the problem, she was nice enough and Benny liked her. She tried hard to keep her class engaged and was always smiling. It was what was being taught where the problem lay.
“Jenny, spell catastrophe.” Miss. Charles would request.
C-A-T-A-S-T-R-O-P-H-E. Benny whipped off in his head.
“Um, catastrophe…” Jenny would reply in a shaky voice. “K-A-T…”
“Sorry, Jenny that’s incorrect. Would anyone else like to try?” Miss. Charles would stand patiently at the front of the class, waiting for someone to give it an attempt. Nothing.
“Ok then, catastrophe is spelled C-A-T-A-S-T-R-O-P-H-E. Now let’s try a different word. Reference. Michael, how about you give this one a try.”
R-E-F-E-R-E-N-C-E. Benny had no trouble spelling.
“R-E-F-R-A-N-S. Reference.” Michael stuttered.
“Sorry Michael, that’s incorrect. Reference is spelled R-E-F-E-R-E-N-C-E. Ok everyone, that is enough spelling for one day. Please take out your math books and turn to page 145.” Miss Charles never gave up on her class.
Lesson after lesson, Benny knew the answers. He felt Miss. Charles’ frustration with her students. Soon the bell rang and recess began. The class jumped out of their seats and tore off towards to the doors grabbing skipping ropes, soccer balls, bats and gloves on their way out. Benny waiting until the mad rush was passed and stood up and began walking out too. He walked to his favorite place and hung upside down and observed the other children, running, playing, and laughing. He drifted away in his thoughts.
After school, the kids took off for their homes. Some rode the bus home, some walked and others biked. Some parents came to pick of their children and the school cleared of all students no more than fifteen minutes after the last bell rang. Benny remained there however. Nobody came to pick him up, nobody ever would.
Benny climbed the steps up to the third floor. The carpet was stained and the walls were a pale yellow. 310,312,314…316. Benny pulled a key from his pocket and began opening the door to his apartment room. He was welcomed by the musky smell of whiskey and a blue haze of smoke his father had created the night before. Disgusting.
It wouldn’t be long now, before his father would return home. Benny began collecting empty beer bottles and cigarette butts.
Knock Knock knock…Benny went to the door and peered through the peep hole. He saw his father; he was wearing the same clothes he wore yesterday, with just a little more dirt and grease smudges. The hatred began to boil within him. Benny knew his father did not have the key to get in. There were only two, and his father always lost his. Benny was tempted not to let him in. He wanted to go back to what he was doing and pretend the man did not exist. The grief this man gave to Benny was something unforgivable. He would never-
Knock Knock knock… Benny’s father was getting angry now.
“Open up son! I know you’re in there. Don’t make me go get Mr. Warden!” Mr. Warden was the landlord. He had the spare keys to every room in his apartment building. As soon as Benny heard his father’s voice, fear began to build inside him. He was intimidating. Benny looked at his right arm and saw the scars. The last time he had tried locking his father out, his father punished him. The cigarette burns formed a triangle on his skin. Benny recalled the pain and tears shed over them. The smell of burning flesh and helpless feeling was all to familiar. Not wanting to experience this again, he began fumbling with the door knob.
“One second dad.” Benny replied as he gave in an unlocked the door.
“That’s better.” His father said as he came inside. He kicked his boots off and walked towards the refrigerator. Benny turned the opposite way and concentrated on stopping the tears from coming. He swallowed hard as he listened to the clanging of the beer bottles in the fridge door. His father mumbled and scratched at his grey mustache. His leathered skin needed a shave and his dark hair needed a washing. He searched with his beady eyes for a beer to quench his desires. This was how he drowned out his life. One would think the man would cling to the things he did have, like his son, instead of dwelling on the things he didn’t.
“Where’s my beer?” he snarled. He dug his hand into the fridge, pushing things aside and throwing old milk cartons and bottles out. “I know I’ve got more.” the old man mumbled under his breath and began cursing and swearing. He slammed the door shut and charged over to his one lone chair in the living room. Benny was startled and his eyes widened as his father stormed past him. He held his breath and expected a blow from the man.
“Get out of my way.” And a shove were all Benny got from his father. The man began counting the bottles on the floor and surrounding his chair. He got to ten and when he didn’t find any more, he slowly raised his head and glared at Benny. Terrified, Benny shook his head. He knew exactly what his father was thinking. Benny regretted his attempt at being helpful by cleaning up the mess his father had made.
“What did you do with my beer kid?”
Benny stuttered and swallowed
“What did you do with my beer?” Benny’s father was roaring now. He walked around the chair and came full speed at his son.
“I swear! I didn’t take it! You drank it all last night!”
“What do you think I am kid? An alcoholic? I wouldn’t drink my whole case last night. There’s more and you took it. Where are you hiding it?”
Benny ran behind the kitchen table. He glanced over to the hallway that led to his room. His father was blocking it.
“Don’t you even think about running from me again boy. I won’t let you. You do something like this and I’ll show you what you deserve.”
Benny searched wildly for a plan ‘B’ as he shuffled left and right, keeping the distance between him and his father as great as possible. He looked to the counter and saw nothing but dirty dishes.
“Just tell me where you put them son.”
By this time Benny knew any pleading he made was of no use. His father was sober and there was no calming him. He gave up his search and faced his father, looking him straight in the eyes. Benny’s lips began to quiver.
“You drink too much anyway. Even if I did take your beer I wouldn’t tell you where I put it! Why do you have to drink so much? Why can’t you be like everyone else’s dad? I hate you!” Benny was sobbing and furious.
Thoughts from the day came flooding back to him. Giggles and ribbons, soccer balls and skipping ropes, C-A-T-A-S-T-R-O-P-H-E, Miss. Charles and smiles, playing and laughter, mothers and fathers, birds and leaves...
Benny’s vision was blurred now because of his tears. The tears were salty and burned down his hot face. The man standing across the table was so bewildered by his son he was speechless. For a moment.
“Why you… How dare you!? You should be happy you’re still alive! I ought to kill you! I’ll send you straight to hell kid.” The man shuffled left, Benny shuffled left, the man shuffled right, Benny shuffled right. Benny knew as soon as his father laid hands on him, he wouldn’t have a chance. He searched wildly for some sort of defense. His father tore to the right and ran around the table, lunging for his son. He grabbed a hold of Benny’s arm and lurched the boy towards him.
Out of the corner of his eye, Benny saw a shiny object; a kitchen knife. He grabbed it with the opposite arm is father gripped before it was out of his reach. With the momentum his father used to pull Benny towards him and all the strength Benny’s eleven year old body had in him, he plunged the knife through the man’s chest.
For one moment, the tears, screaming and adrenaline stopped. All Benny heard was his heart pounding in his chest. The grip on Benny’s arm loosened and the anger in the man’s eyes dimmed. Blood came trickling out of the corner of his mouth and he looked down to where the knife was protruding from his chest. He looked up at Benny and with the last strength he had, he slapped his son.
Time seemed to be moving in slow motion for a moment. His father stepped backward and struggled to hold himself up with a kitchen chair. Shaking, the man fell backwards and landed on the ground. Benny was shaking too and watched as the man’s blood began leaking through his clothes and onto the white, vinyl floor.
Benny’s tears were streaming and he took three steps backward while looking at his father, then spun on his heel and ran towards the door. He ran down the pale and meaningless hallways, down the stairs and out the apartment building doors. Benny could hardly see, and didn’t hear anything around him. People starred, but Benny didn’t notice. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him, past the haunted houses, across the busy, city roads. The gravel crunched beneath his feet but Benny didn’t notice. He kept running across the parking lot and up the ladder to the first platform that didn’t make any noise.
He reached for the monkey bar closest to him with his right hand; he jumped and let his whole body swing through the air for a split second before he could grab the next bar with his left hand. His right hand swung to join his left and Benny’s whole body was stretched out, with his feet dangling above the ground. With one swinging motion, he kicked his left leg high and reached up for the next bar; he pulled his right leg up too and wiggled until both were wrapped over the bar. He put his feet under the next bar securing his body from falling, unless he moved his feet of course. Benny loosed the tight grip with his hands and let his body fall swiftly. He hung upside down. His blood gushed to his head and the unique feeling engulfed him. He heard simply the constant thud of his heart. Benny’s world was upside down and through the monkey bars, He could turn it right side up.
The familiar feeling came flooding back to him- his reason for coming here so often- it was the feeling of relief.