“John’ll be here any minute. Git this room cleaned up.”
I looked around the living room. It seemed clean to me. Mama hit the pillows on the couch, again then set them square on each end. When did we get pillows? I wondered.
So much was changing and I didn’t understand why. John was spending more and more time at our place. Why was she all of a sudden worried how it looked?
The door opened and I jumped. Mama was making me as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. The expression Granny used so often always made me smile, but not this time. Instead my thoughts were interrupted as John stumbled into the apartment.
I missed the days when he’d knock.
Mama rushed up to him before he’d even shut the door. She leaned up to give im a kiss but he turned his head and it landed on his cheek. She tried to move closer to him and he took a step back.
“What’s wrong?” Mama asked.
“Those fucking assholes,” John said as he crushed the Budweiser can he’d been holding in his fist.
Mama grabbed his arm and led him to the couch. “What happened?”
John stood in front of the couch, his knees pressed against the cushions. “Someone told Jim – that no good lazy bum – about my time in the joint and he fired me.” He looked down at Mama and snapped his fingers as he added, “Just like that,” his words slurring.
“He can’t do that!” Mama said.
“Well he did. I’m gonna kill the fucker who ratted me out.”
“Don’ go gittin in any more trouble than yer already in.”
Without warning John turned and his hand cracked against Mama’s face, sending her head reeling. She took a step backward to keep from falling over.
Mama gasped but I silently cheered. This is it! I thought. We’re finally going to be done with John!
I waited for Mama to yell, for her to order him out of our apartment – and our lives – forever. I could barely breathe.
But she didn’t yell. She didn’t tell him to leave.
Instead she walked into the kitchen without a word. I heard a door open and shut, then another. The refrigerator opened and ice clinked into a glass. The rest of apartment was silent until John said, “Wha’ you lookin’ at?”
My skin prickled as he lurched toward me. He was between the hallway and me. No way did I want to be alone with him. I looked for a way to escape. I could duck into the kitchen with Mama, or try to get around John and run to the bedroom where Jack was playing.
As I hesitated John got closer. The look on his face changed but I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He seemed less angry but I was still afraid.
Before I could decide what to do he was in front of me. He ran his hand over my neck and across my shoulder. I shuddered.
“I bet you could make me feel better,” he said as his fingers trailed down my arm. He grabbed my hand but I yanked it away before he could get a good grip. He reached for my other shoulder and I went in the opposite direction, slipping behind him just before he could grab me.
I took my chances with Mama, afraid he’d corner me in the bedroom. I didn’t know what he had in mind but I didn’t want to find out.
Mama stood facing the counter. One hand rested on the laminate while the other held a glass to her lips. I recognized the brown liquid in the cup and the glazed look on her eyes when she turned to me.
I stopped suddenly in the doorway, deciding at the last minute to go to the bedroom. At least Jack was in there. I reversed direction and ran smack into John’s round belly. One of his beefy arms went around my back while the other ran over my hair. “Be a good girl,” John said. “Come sit and have a drink with us.”
His grip was too tight for me to get away. He pulled me further into the kitchen and pulled out a chair. As he fell into the chair he pulled me with him. His hand was bruising on my upper arm as I stood facing him. Without looking away he said, “Get me a drink, woman. Daddy’s had a bad day but it’s lookin’ up.”
Mama didn’t move. His gaze shifted to her and he said, “I need a drink, dammit!” His rumbling voice made me shake, but as his attention turned to my mother I slipped from his grip and headed out to the living room. I didn’t know where to go. I thought about running out of the apartment, but what then? I looked down the hall. Granny’s door was open. She was out playing Bingo or something. I scooted quietly into her room, shutting the door most of the way behind me.
I stopped to listen. My breathing was heavy, my heart pounding in my chest. I heard John’s chair scrape back on the linoleum floor. Then I heard a thud and shattering glass. I turned away from the door and searched the small room for a place to hide. The mismatched furniture filled the tiny space but didn’t offer many hiding spots. I was about to head to the closet when I heard awkward footsteps coming down the hall.
John’s voice asked, “Where’s your sister?” and I realized he must be talking to Jack.
Frantic now I realized I might not have time to make it to the closet. I threw myself onto the floor and crawled under the twin bed, the metal frame just barely high enough off the floor for me to fit. As I pulled my feet under the door to the bedroom creaked open. “Come on out, Katie. I ain’t gonna hurt ya.”
I could see his feet walk slowly into the room and I held my breath. He walked around the bed and opened the closet. He slammed the closet door shut with a bang then said, “What the fuck? You lil’ shit. When I find you…” His voice trailed away as he left the room.
Still afraid to breathe I stayed under Granny’s bed until I fell asleep.