UNION COUNTY VOCATIONAL-TECHNICAL SCHOOLS' STUDENT NEWSPAPER
Sarah Rosales, Academy for Information Technology
When you come home, the house is quiet. The wood and stone greet you familiarly as you step through the doorway, and the stench of the Thames follows right behind like an unwanted guest. It is still the afternoon, and so you will find something to do until your mother gets back.
As a washerwoman at the Carmody Estate, your mother works for barely a handful of pennies. When she comes home, her hands find your shoulders or the top of your head or your cheek or some variation of those three, and she kisses you in places it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to kiss, like that bump you’ve been trying to smooth out on your nose. She touches you preciously, with hands that are scrubbed dry and raw like the cracked wood beneath your feet, but you find yourself leaning into them despite their splinters. She is one of the most hardworking people you have ever known.
You don’t like thinking of your father. He’s always been disappointing in ways you hope to never emulate. He works the fishing docks in the daytime and drinks himself silly in the evenings. It’s all he has ever known. With his pathetic habits, it’s still a complete wonder how he can hold down a job. That man is roughspun, cut from something that only dirties you and your mother, and he only carries fury inside the bones of his hands. You wonder, sometimes, where fathers like that pick up that sort of anger. Perhaps, it was given to them like a cruel gift, or maybe, it latched onto them one day, and they just never found the strength to let it go.
The floorboards bend slightly under the weight of somebody entering the house. You hear your mother step towards the kitchen, immediately working on dinner. From your spot by the window, you notice she’s brought home cod. It’s not your favorite, especially with its eyes bulging and its blood dripping onto the floor, as she prepares it over the fire, but it’s the cheapest on the market.
When you greet your mother, she smiles warmly, and you feel brighter inside. Without a prompt from her, you start to spill all the new things you learned in school: the stories you were able to read today, how cleverly you solved your arithmetic problems, always faster than your classmates. Since you got home, you have planted yourself in your sitting nook and found yourself utterly enraptured by a tale about ruthless pirates and the allure of the open sea--a book your teacher kindly let you borrow.
Your mother wipes her hands on her skirts, and squeezes your cheeks so hard you feel the pressure through your teeth. She often does that when is feeling particularly joyous, and right now, you catch a teasing glint in her eyes.
“Eddie,” she begins. She sits beside you by the window and takes out a piece of red cloth. “I want you to feel this.” Her fingers caress the fabric and you mirror her actions. It’s the softest thing you have ever had the pleasure of touching.
“Where did you get this?” you ask in awe. “Did you buy it?”
She shakes her head. “The estate is full of beautiful things like this--silk clothes, silver plates--and they just throw them away like nothing.”
That red silk cloth has to be the most expensive thing in this household. “Why are you telling me this?”
The brightness in her eyes softens. “The truest thing I have ever known is that the state of our lives will never be up to us.”
Her voice doesn’t drip with bitterness or venomous hatred. There’s something profoundly sad lying in it that makes you want to hold her until the reality of the world rearranges itself into something better.
“We’re just not those kinds of people,” she says and hands you the silk. “You can find happiness in a small life, but power, riches, respect--we’ll never be born for those types of things.”
You can’t help but rub the cloth against your cheek. For a moment, you imagine it as the soft hands your mother could have had, if the both of you lived a different life.
“We never will be.”
When your father comes home, the table is set for dinner. Along with cod, there’s boiled potatoes and sliced bread. For once, he’s sober, and that surprises you.
The house fills itself with a tense quiet, a contrast to the peaceful silence you and your mother had been enjoying before he arrived. It feels like a shark circling the waters, waiting for you to set your foot in.
A chair scrapes against the wood as your father pulls in to the head of the table. He eyes the food with contempt. There are no endearments, no questions--just an air of apprehension that’s waiting to burst. You’ve always hated how quickly he turns a home into something vile, how quickly your mother becomes ashamed of herself for mistakes she has yet to make. She recedes into herself as she eats. It saddens you that every night she makes herself smaller than she already is.
“I can’t eat this,” your father says, and throws the bread to the plate.
“What do you expect to eat like a king?” your mother mutters before she realizes what she’s done. You sit on your hands to brace yourself--the shark smells a foot in the water, but it’s not yours.
The food is flung at your mother’s face, the fish and potatoes staining her.
“Why do you make this slop!?” the man yells. The plate clatters helplessly to the floor, and you feel yourself sink into your chair. Desperately, you wish that you and your mother disappeared to somewhere better.
“It’s all we can afford,” she responds meekly. Her hands grasp her dress and she looks to her feet. You’ll never forget that face--that look of utter fear, the kind that coils around your entire being and eats away at your heart. Never has your abhorrence for your father been stronger.
He slaps her across the face hard, and she takes it, because what else is she to do?
“I need to get out of here,” he says, and walks out the door. It has started to rain.
Your mother bends down and starts picking the food up from the floor. You offer to help, but she tries to give you a look of reassurance.
The state of our lives will never be up to us.
The futility of her statement echoes in your mind. You want to grip change, hold it by its ends and carve it into something new, something you and her deserve. You want to be made for good things.
Your mother retires to her room, holding herself up after putting away dinner.
You walk out the door to find your father.
You can guess where the bastard wandered off to. You see him stumble out of the tavern and you follow him down the rain-slicked streets. You catch him by the pier, near the old stone wall.
You didn’t know what you would do once you found him. He’s twice your scrawny size and can still fight back even in a stupor. The sky crackles with thunder, and the sea splashes tumultuously against the edge of a nearby dock.
“Edward! Boy!” He smiles deliriously once he spots you. You creep out of the shadows. “My son, come here.”
Your feet are stuck to the ground. The thumping of your heart beats in your ears incessantly. Your father’s mood shifts as easily as the waves. “I said come here!”
He trips over a stone and you stare at him with dark eyes.
Something vicious curls in your chest. You grab at a length of rope you eyed by your side, something a sailor probably left when he was tying away the boats. You wrap the rope around your knuckles, once, twice over and pull until it rubs raw against your skin. Is this you tying the rope around your father’s neck? Or a deep-sea monster that swam out of the ocean? For a fraction of a second, the rope feels like the mighty arm of a sea beast, and you feel more powerful than you have ever before. Your foot finds itself planted into your father’s back to gain more strength than your thin arms have. It rains harder as your father claws at his throat. His tongue rolls back, and he gasps chokes that scratch at the roof of his mouth.
When you let go, he drops to the wet stones lifelessly. You drag the body to the edge of the pier and kick him in. The water consumes what’s left of the man.
You look at your hands. The joints have darkened where the blood was strangled for a moment, and the rope’s ghost tracks trace itself around your skin like chains. Despite the roaring of the ocean and the thunder up above, you hear nothing but the ceaseless beating of your heart. But this time, it’s mixed up with something else--a buzzing in your head, as if a void were calling out to you.
Were you… always capable of this?
Your father is dead, yet you can’t help but think of your mother. You still carry that blood-red silk cloth she gave you. What would she think of her little boy now?
You turn around, rub the soles of your shoes on the stones and do not walk back home that night.
Tomorrow, your mother will wake up early and get ready to go to work. She will come home, hands as dry as bark and prepare dinner, just like she has always done. The table will be set for three, and when you don’t come home, she’ll simply assume you’re off doing God knows what, as teenage boys are known to do. But she’ll believe you’ll come back. You always do. When her husband doesn’t come home, she’ll sigh in relief that maybe that piss-poor bugger fell in the ocean for the night.
When she realizes that the both of you won’t be coming back, how will she feel the loss of you? You imagine her sitting by the window in that little home, looking at the children who walk down the streets, trying to find your face among them. She’ll wonder where you ran off to, doing that everyday until you walk right through the door and give her the biggest hug and an apology for staying out so late.
You feel the ghost of her hands skim your cheek, and the weight of home in your pocket.