The Crash

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
The story of an abusive alcoholic, as seen from the perspective of his children.

Submitted: June 08, 2017

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Submitted: June 08, 2017

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The Crash

 

The plate slipped from her grasp. She watched as it fell to the floor in slow motion, shattering upon contact into a million pieces. Her blood chilled. For a moment, the world went absolutely still and silent. Then she heard her father bellow from upstairs: “Delilah! What are you doing?” Her heart jackhammered. Her hands shook. She looked around for the broom but couldn’t see it.

“Answer me!” Delilah heard him stomping to the staircase.

Delilah’s blood ran cold. She dropped to her knees and brushed the shards of the plate into a pile, cutting the tips of her fingers in the process. The stairs creaked, the sound growing closer and closer. She gathered as many pieces as she could and threw them in the trash. She turned around to get the rest, but David was standing in the doorway, his features shrouded in shadows. His face was hidden. His hands hung at his side, curled into fists.

She backed away until she hit the wall. Her chest heaved. Without a word, he walked over to the broken plate. He crouched down, gingerly took a piece, and stood. He turned it over in his hands. He looked at her. His face was dangerously blank.

“What is this?” he said, holding up the sliver of plate. She swallowed but didn’t respond. “What is this?” he repeated slightly louder, shaking the shard. Even with the distance between them, Delilah could smell alcohol on his breath.

She tried to talk, but the words got stuck in her throat. “Daddy, I-I-I--I didn’t. . . It w-wasn’t on pur--

Instantly, his face hardened, becoming sharp as a tack. “DON’T STUTTER!” He threw the piece at her. It hit the wall just to the right of her head. A shriek escaped her lips, and her legs gave out. She looked up just in time to see the back of his hand coming toward her. She heard rather than felt the hit: a muffled smack. Everything went red, and then she felt it. The side of her face burned, her skin writhing.

Her ears rang. In the background, she heard him yelling, but she couldn’t make out any of the words. Slowly, she regained her senses; her vision came back and his words were crystal clear. She raised her head to look at him. He loomed over her, his shadow weighing heavily on her.

“--piece of . . . Are you crying?” He paused, mouth open, and stared at her. He scowled. “GOD, you are such a whiny. Little. Brat!” He accentuated each word by banging his fist against the wall. She jumped slightly at each hit.

Delilah tentatively reached up and touched her eyes. Her fingers came away wet. She looked at her fingertips. Blood mixed with tears. A wave of nausea came over her.

“Just get away from me,” he muttered. “I don’t want to look at you anymore.” Delilah stared at him. Her legs shook too badly for her to stand. “GO.”

The next thing she realized, Delilah was scrambling up the stairs, running on all fours like a dog. She stumbled on the last step and hit her head on the floor. She paused, breathing heavily, ears ringing. She dragged herself up the rest of the way and stood unsteadily. On wobbly legs, she went the rest of the way to her bedroom. She collapsed onto the bed, crying despite her best efforts. She stayed as quiet as she could, but every once in a while, a deep, airy sob escaped her lips.

She crawled to the head of the bed and buried her face in a pillow.

 

From her swing, Delilah numbly watched the activity on the rest of the playground. Some kids climbed the monkey bars. Others queued up to use the slide. Many had formed playgroups and were playing sports or chasing each other around. There were a few others like Delilah, sitting off to the side, alone. She didn’t watch them much; they weren’t any fun.

She would occasionally catch a glimpse of her older brother Tom taking after their father, running around on the basketball court. She considered asking him if she could play with him and his friends, but she already knew the answer. It would be the same as always; Tom wouldn’t want his dorky little sister embarrassing him. She figured she had better get used to it; he would only be here for the remainder of the year, then he would go off to the big school, leaving her truly alone.

Eventually the bell tolled, signalling the end of recess. Delilah dragged her feet on the ground until her swing lost momentum. She stepped off and followed the horde of children inside the building.

The halls seemed extra busy that day, making it take longer than usual to move around, but Delilah didn’t mind; she was in no hurry to start math.

The kid in line behind Delilah flicked the back of her arm. She half turned her head to look at him. She had to crane her neck to meet his eyes.

“Hey, Freckles,” he said, “how’s the weather down there?”

She rolled her eyes and turned forward.

“Hey, I was talking to you!”

She ignored him. They walked about four feet, then the boy pushed her, making her tumble into the girl in front of her. There was a domino effect, taking down the next three kids in line. Delilah landed her hands and knees. She looked up and saw the rest of the line had stopped and was looking at the cluster of fallen kids. She quickly got to her feet and looked at the floor, her face growing warm.

After a few seconds, the teacher, Ms. Jefferson was there. She was an elderly, balloon-shaped woman with thick glasses taking up half of her face. “What happened here?”

The girl in front of Delilah was just rising. “She pushed me!” she said, pointing at Delilah. “I hurt my hand.” She held up her palm, which had a thin red line running underneath her index finger.

Delilah felt like a deer in headlights. She looked around, trying to think of what to say. She glanced behind her, at the boy who sent this whole thing into motion. He had his hands in his pockets and was looking everywhere else. She hated that look of perfect innocence on his face. She turned back to Ms. Jefferson.

“I . . . I fell,” she said.

Ms. Jefferson crossed her arms and shifted her weight to her back foot. “You fell?” Delilah nodded. “Are you sure about this?”

“You didn’t fall!” the tall boy said. “I saw you push her.”

“No I didn’t! I was just walking--”

A sharp glare from Ms. Jefferson stopped Delilah. The stare lasted for almost five seconds, during which Delilah squirmed and looked at her shoes. “You were messing around, and these kids got hurt because of it. And then you lied about it.” She exhaled, a sound that reminded Delilah of a walrus. “I’m very disappointed in you,” she said formally. “I’m giving you detention for thirty minutes after school.”

Delilah’s heart skipped a beat. “I-I-I need to do something a-at home.”

“You should have thought of that before you started causing trouble.” Ms. Jefferson turned around and started walking to the front of the line.

“If I don’t do the dishes, my dad will be mad at me!”

The teacher’s posture stiffened. She turned her head just enough to meet Delilah’s eye. “You can tell your father that you made a poor decision and had to stay after school because of it.” She promptly turned and waddled away.

Delilah’s shoulders slumped as she sighed. From behind her, she heard a chuckle. “Nice one, Freckles.”

 

Delilah raced down the sidewalk, each step sending a jolt up her spine. Her chest heaved and her legs burned. Her hair bounced in her face, but she didn’t take the time to move it. She rounded a corner, finally seeing her house. Relief filled her when she saw her father’s car wasn’t in the driveway. Ten seconds later, she was standing on the porch, doubled over and panting. Once her heart rate slowed, she straightened, looking at the door.

She swallowed. With shaky hands, she grabbed the door knob. She pushed it open and crept inside. She made her way to the kitchen, taking care to step only on the floorboards she knew wouldn’t creak. She had just reached the sink when she heard footsteps behind her.

“Sorry!” she said. She whipped around, eyes closed and hands held defensively in front of her face. She waited for three breaths before opening her eyes.

Tom stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, one hand resting lazily on his hip. He cocked his right eyebrow.

“Why?”

She stared at him, feeling lightheaded. She clutched at her chest and exhaled.

“Why are you sorry?” he asked.

“Never mind,” she said, turning back to the sink and starting the water. After a moment, she straightened. “Hey,” she started, “is Mom home yet?”

“No, she’s working late this week, remember?” Delilah’s shoulders dropped as she sighed in relief. “Why were you late?” Tom said.” I waited after school for you, but you never came out.” Delilah plugged the drain and squirted some soap into the water. “Where were you?” After a moment of silence, she heard Tom walk closer.

“You ignoring me now, or something?”

“I’m busy!” she snapped, looking at him.

He raised his hands. “Fine. I was gonna help you with the dishes, but if you don’t want to tell me where you were . . .”

She straightened. “Really?” He shrugged, examining his nails. Delilah sighed. “I huh-h-h--” She took a breath. “I had detention.” Tom laughed, and she scowled. “It’s not funny!”

“Why’d you have detention?” The left side of his mouth stretched up.

She opened her mouth to respond, but she heard a car door slam shut. Tom’s grin faded.

Delilah looked at the sink full of dishes. “T-Tom, help me do these. It’ll be fast.”

Tom glanced at the dishes, then back at her. “Doing the dishes is your job. I’m not getting in trouble for it.” He turned and ran out of the room.

“I hate you!”

She grabbed a plate and started washing it, scrubbing as quickly as she could. She finished and took another one. She was on the fifth plate when the front door opened. She dropped the plate she was holding but caught it just before it hit the floor.

“Delilah? What are you doing in there?” It was him. He had his jacket slung over one shoulder, and he stood with his hands on his hips.

Heart pounding in her throat, Delilah set the plate on the counter and turned to her father. She moved her lips but couldn’t get the words out. Finally, she managed: “Just doing dishes. Daddy.”

David looked at her incredulously. Finally, he sighed, letting out a great whoosh of air. “Didn’t I tell you to do that right after school?” She nodded meekly. He closed his eyes, mouthing something. He looked up. “If I pulled that when I was your age, my father would have skinned me alive.” He stared her down for a few seconds before dismissively waving a hand at her. “I don’t have the energy to deal with you right now. Don’t bother me until dinner.” Rubbing his eyes, he disappeared into the hallway.

After taking a moment to compose herself, Delilah returned to the chore. Her hands shook violently, making it difficult to hold the dishes. But she didn’t dare stop; she didn’t want to imagine what would happen if the dishes weren’t clean in time for dinner.

 

It was silent around the table. The only sounds were the ticking of the clock and the occasional clink of silverware. Finally, David put his fork down with a thud. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, looking back and forth between the two kids. Delilah tried to meet her mother’s eye, but Janice was looking at her lap, just as she always did when her husband spoke. She hadn’t changed out of her nurse’s outfit.

“Your report cards came today.”

Tom shifted in his seat, eyes locked on his cup. He fidgeted with his hands in his lap.

David slid his chair back from the table and walked over to the counter. Tom watched him out of the corner of his eye, then quickly looked away when David turned around.

David returned to his seat and dropped two slips of paper on the center of the table. “Look at them,” he said simply.

Tom stayed still as a statue. Delilah reached out and took one of the sheets. She glanced at it, then slid it over to Tom. She picked up the second one and examined it more thoroughly. She couldn’t help but grin a little. She picked up her head, and the smile disappeared.

David glared at Tom as the boy read his report card. Tom’s expression was blank. After a while, he set it down and resumed looking at his cup.

“Tom,” David said in a low voice. Delilah flinched, but Tom gave no recognition he’d heard. “Thomas!”

With a sigh, Tom looked up. “Yeah?” he said in a small voice.

“Care to explain?” Tom shrugged in response. David gripped the edges of the table, his knuckles turning white. “Why is your little sister doing better in school than you are?”

Tom sniffed, then mumbled something.

“What?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know,” he repeated. “Apparently you don’t know much of anything.” David shook his head and picked up his fork. “It better not happen again.”

“Sorry,” Tom said quietly.

“You two ingrates can’t do one thing I tell you, can you? You don’t do your chores, you don’t try in school . . .” With another shake of his head, David resumed eating. The others at the table were stiff and silent for a while. Eventually, Janice gave Tom a small, discrete smile.

Everyone resumed eating, and the mood at the table gradually returned almost to normal. Tom occasionally glanced at his father before flicking his eyes away. Delilah absentmindedly rubbed her cheek, remembering how it felt to be on the receiving end of her father’s anger.

“Pass the potatoes.”

That single, gruff sentence was enough to make Tom jump. He quickly grabbed at the bowl and pushed it across the table. He overextended, sending it right off the edge. It fell to the floor and shattered, the sound as jarring as a gunshot. Tom froze, immediately turning pale.

David wiped his mouth with a napkin and threw it on his plate. “Does no one in this house know how to hold anything without dropping it?” He stared daggers at Tom. “Well? You just gonna sit there?” Tom flinched, sitting up and looking between his parents. David rolled his eyes. “Get the mop.” He snapped his fingers. “Clean that up!” Tom was out of the room in an instant, his footsteps retreating down the hall. “And get me a beer,” David called.

He shook his head, staring into space. “Ridiculous,” he mumbled. Moments later, Tom raced into the room. He opened the fridge and brought his father a silverish can, then dropped to the floor to start cleaning up the potatoes.

David popped the top of his can and started to raise it to his lips, but he paused. “Hurry up!” he snapped. Janice rose from her spot and started picking up the shards of the bowl. David snapped three times, pointing at her. “No, no, no. He can do it himself. He doesn’t need his mom coddling him.”

Janice gave a tired smile. “It’s fine, dear. We’ll be done in a second. Just drink your beer.” She resumed cleaning.

David’s grip tightened, and beer squirted out the top of the can. “Did you just tell me what to do?” he said, his voice cold and low.

Janice froze. “No, I didn’t . . . I just meant that--”

“Shut up,” David said quietly. “Everyone just leave me alone.” He stood up, hitting his knee on the table in the process. He swore, then stomped out of the room.

Janice let out a shaky breath. “It’s okay. He’s just upset--his job is very stressful.” She ran a hand over her eyes. “You two just go on to bed. I’ll finish cleaning up here.”

Both kids stayed still for a few moments. Delilah pushed back her chair and shuffled out of the kitchen, being especially quiet as she passed her parents’ room. She crept up the stairs and into her bedroom. She crawled into her bed and lay back. The last of the day’s light peered in through her window, outlining her windowsill. She stared up at the ceiling until her eyelids grew heavy and slowly fell closed.

Before more than a minute or two had passed, a loud banging stirred Delilah. She frowned, straining her ears. She heard something pounding downstairs, alongside squeaking springs. Occasionally, she heard a muffled grunt or a feminine sob. After a few minutes, her father made a noise like a short, high shout. Everything went quiet again.

 

Days later, Tom stared at the ceiling, hearing the commotion from the rest of the house. He knew he should do something; he was twelve, old enough to start acting like an adult. He should start being the man of the house--lord knows his dad wasn’t up to it. But he just couldn’t. Every time he started to stand up to his father, those cold eyes seemed to stare straight through him, and he started shaking and felt tears well up. Even now, hearing his parents fighting, he couldn’t do anything but lie in bed and listen.

He’d thought about doing something, though. He’d thought about it all the time. It would be so easy. In the middle of the night, he would sneak out of bed and into his parents’ room. He would put his hands around his father’s stupid, fat neck. It would be so big Tom would have to use both hands just to wrap all the way around. Then he would squeeze. Squeeze until his fingers locked into place and his knuckles turned white and his hands shook and David’s eyes went bloodshot and popped out of his head.

His sister’s shrill voice rang out. Tom cringed and rolled over, pulling a pillow over his ears. Even his little sister was out there trying to stop the situation, being braver than he ever was. His dad’s voice grew louder. He heard Delilah again, followed by a crash. He couldn’t hear anything else for a minute or two, then he heard something walking around upstairs. Someone with light footfalls.

The bedroom door opened, making him jump. He sat up and instinctively pushed himself to the edge of the bed, against the wall. He breathed a sigh of relief at seeing his mother walk in.

Something seemed different about her. Tears welled up in her eyes, her face was splotchy and red, and her wrists were scratched and swollen, but it was more than that. He couldn’t place what it was. Something was just . . . different. Something in her eyes.

“Thomas,” she said, “we’re leaving. Just you kids and me.”

“Where are we going?” he asked, his voice embarrassingly thin and high. He cleared his throat.

“To your Aunt Rachel’s house.”

 

Minutes earlier, Delilah sat looking out the window, tapping her fingertips against the wall. Rain was coming down, pounding the trees and drumming on the rooftop. She watched as one raindrop rolled down the window, growing in size and momentum as it ran into other droplets and absorbed them. Just as it reached the bottom, two headlights shone at the end of the driveway. Delilah frowned, moving her face closer to the window and squinting.

“That’s not Daddy’s car,” she said, turning around.

Janice tore her gaze away from the TV. “I can’t see it.” She stood and leaned forward, craning her neck. She shrugged. “I’m sure you just saw it wrong.”

A minute or so later, there was a bang at the door. The doorknob rattled, then the door swung open. David lumbered into the room. His tie hung loosely around his neck, his shirt was partially untucked, and his hair was a bird’s nest. He leaned back and put a hand on the doorframe, swaying slightly. The smell of alcohol hit Delilah like a brick wall.

“David . . .” Janice clasped her hands over her chest.

He sniffed and clumsily rubbed his nose, practically slapping himself. Out of the corner of her eye, Delilah saw headlights leaving the driveway and caught a flash of a yellow car. The same kind of yellow car as that one night. The night when David first came home smelling of beer, the night Tom “fell” downstairs.

“David,” Janice repeated, “what happened to you?” Her voice quivered.

He jerked his head up, brows furrowed and eye narrowed. He pointed a finger at her and shook it twice. “You know good and--” He hiccuped. “--and well what happened, wwwoman.”

Janice took a step back. She swallowed. “I don’t . . .”

“Yes you dooo.” He paused, as if realizing something. He spoke again, his voice suddenly rising. “You may me marry you!” He swung his arm to the side, pointing. “You ‘ad to go and get pregnant with that. Little. Braaat.” Delilah looked where he pointed: down the hall, where Tom’s room was.

Janice moved her lips, but no sound came out.

“Don’t you start, too.” He stumbled a few steps to the side and dropped his arm around Delilah’s shoulders. “This one’s been stuttering,” he said, as if sharing a secret. “I keep telling her to stop.” He raised a finger. “I tell her: ‘You stop that, it makes people think you’re . . .’” He pressed the side of his hand against his chest and twitched his head, his tongue sticking out of his mouth. “Special.” He whispered the last word, but it had an edge that gave Delilah goosebumps.

“David! She can’t help it. She’s just a child.” Immediately after she spoke, David’s face hardened, and he took a clumsy half step toward her. Janice stiffened, her eyes going wide. She swallowed. “No, I-I’m sorry, I didn’t--”

“Now yur doin’ it!” he said in a high voice. He stumbled over to her, shaking her by the shoulders. “What’s a man supposed to do? He has retarded children, and his wife dun support him . . .” He shook his head. “I jus--hiccup--don’t know.” Casually, almost lovingly, he grabbed Janice’s hair and pulled, jerking her head down. “You did’s ta me!” His face contorted sharply. Janice clawed at his wrist.

Delilah ran forward. “Daddy, you’re hurting her!”

David payed her no mind, tugging at his wife’s hair, harder and harder. “I had plans! I was gonna go to the big cities, play basketball, make a name for myself.” He let go of Janice and pushed her forward, straight into a wall. She whipped around to face him, holding her arms defensively over her head. “Then you had to go and get knocked up! You made me do it!” He took a series of short, raspy breaths. “I was a kid, I din know better!” He inhaled sharply and viciously scratched at his nose. “You was just slinkin’ around in that . . .” He traced her body with his fingers, a hungry look in his eyes. “. . . that slinky lil pink dress . . . How was I supposed to know?” He stepped toward her, grabbed her wrists, and pressed her against the wall. His voice grew louder and louder as he spoke. “You, always wantin’ more, moaning, and moaning, like a little--”

“Stop it!” Delilah screamed.

Without looking, David backhanded her, sending her tumbling over the coffee table. For a moment, she thought she was looking at the night sky, filled with stars and swirling red lights. Then she blinked, and she was back. Pain flared up in her face. She resisted her first instinct to scream. She closed her eyes and held her breath for five seconds. She exhaled, opening her eyes.

She sat up, carefully touching her throbbing nose. At the bridge of her nose, the bone jerked sharply to the right. Her hand came away red. She felt dizzy. She blinked, and it passed.

A large, hulking figure passed by her, and she looked up. Her father shuffled over to the couch and practically collapsed onto it. Mere moments later, his loud snoring filled the room. Delilah looked at her mom. She had her back pressed against the wall, as if still being held there. Her wide eyes stared straight ahead.

Before she realized what she was doing, Delilah tackled her mother’s trembling waist in a tight, sobbing hug. Delilah buried her face in her mother’s shirt. She felt Janice’s hand cradling the back of her head.

“It’s okay, sweetie. It’s okay. Daddy doesn’t mean it. He’ll wake up and make it all better.” Delilah felt herself being gently nudged away. Janice crouched so she was level with Delilah. Janice looked at Delilah’s nose, at her tears. Slowly, something changed in her face. Something in her eyes.

“Delilah, go get your jacket.”

“Mommy--”

“It’ll be alright.” She pressed her forehead against her daughter’s. “It’s okay. Go get your jacket.”

Nodding, Delilah stepped away. She glanced at the couch--David was sprawled out, his mouth hanging open, his face drenched in sweat--before hurrying upstairs to her room. The whole way, her legs felt like rubber, and tears streamed uncontrollably down her face. She tried to stop crying, but there was nothing she could do. The tears didn’t come from any conscious effort; they were simply there.

In her room, she took her jacket from a hook on the wall. She shrugged into it and was about to leave when something caught her eye. Sitting on a shelf, abandoned a couple years ago, was her teddy bear: a round, brown thing with one missing eye and a bite taken out of its left ear. Her dad bought it for her fifth birthday. She used to sleep with it every night. It always smelled like him. It used to comfort her and help her fall asleep. She took a step forward, reaching toward it.

Several mental images flashed before of her eyes. David holding a plate shard. Tom’s X-rays after he broke his arm. Her mother’s black eyes. Her father passed out on the couch.

Delilah turned and walked out the door.

Downstairs, Tom and her mother were waiting for her. Tom seemed fixated on David. By his waist, Tom flexed and unflexed his fists. His hands shook and his knuckles turned white.

Janice put a hand on Delilah’s shoulder and led the two kids outside, into the downpour. No words were shared between them, but they all knew to go to the car.  As they walked across the lawn, Delilah felt as if a great weight was pressing down on her shoulders.

She opened the back driver’s side door and crawled inside. Tom sat in the passenger’s seat. Janice got in last. Slowly, almost hesitantly, she started the car. She glanced back at the house expectantly. She waited for a few moments. Turning forward, she sighed, then looked at the kids. She smiled, blinking quickly. A tear rolled down her face. “It’ll be alright.”

They pulled out of the driveway and turned right. Delilah looked out the window, watching as their house grew smaller and smaller until, finally, she couldn’t see it anymore.


© Copyright 2017 Clifford. All rights reserved.

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