RBIS • by Charles Kirby

I’ve been afraid of certain things — loud noises, the dark, the boogey man — but you learn that those things don’t touch you, hurt you, or hate you. That everything that scares you about them is what you don’t know about them — not what you do. I learned too soon the only thing I feared was hearing my dad open the front door after I was in bed.

For a long time, I thought if I lay there quietly and pretended to sleep he wouldn’t bother me. I would spend hours practicing pretending to sleep. My sister would watch me and then I would watch her. We’d assess the other’s performance like inept drama teachers unsure of what we were looking for from the other.

In the hours after my mother turned off my bedroom light, I’d concentrate on the vertical stripes of my bedroom wallpaper, imagining that if I could step between the stripes I would go to my sister’s room next door and we’d escape through the back of her closet to somewhere nice. I didn’t know what that place would be, but it would be better than that house at night. It was childish, but we were children.

The sound of his heavy steps moving up the stairs made an ominous beat — one, two, three — till he had ascended all twenty-two steps and then there were the fifteen steps to my room. He’d open the door and sometimes he would be completely engulfed in shadows appearing as a dark and unfamiliar form. Other nights the moon coming through my window lit half of his face and I was denied that short moment of disbelief. But I could always see the bottle in his hand.

He’d come near me, pause, then sit on the bed and roughly pat me on the stomach. Sitting there quietly in the dark he’d stare at the wall and his scent would violate my nose. I used to think that was just what he smelled like, like gasoline or the cleaning stuff Mom used.

“What’s Joe DiMaggio hitting?” he’d slur out.

I’d think quickly then answer slowly so he would understand, “381.”

“Good, good, slugger,” then he’d rub my hair and walk out, leaving my door hanging open. It was the same test and different players every night. I learned not to fail. Eleven steps to my sister’s room and then I’d fall asleep.

***

So many years later and I don’t know where he is anymore. After a week of nights of not hearing that door open, I’d thought my worst fear had just gone away. But things like him don’t die so easily.

After a late night at work, I come through the front door and go upstairs to my son’s room. I am so angry with him that my fists are shaking. That day, he had thrown a baseball through window with the glass still down. Seeing the window as I walk up the porch, I can tell how much his impertinence is going to cost me. At his door, I can hear how heavily he is breathing. He is so scared and trying so hard to not let me know.

It is in these moments that I hear those footsteps again. I see my mother’s bruises and the tears streaming into my sister’s mouth as she tells us what happened on those nights. And I look into my son’s room at his rhythmically rising back. It is a choice that seems so easy to make when made concrete, but life is organic — it’s hard to see the patterns.

I close his door and go to take a shower, letting the streaming water take away everything I don’t want.


Charles Kirby is an English major studying at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma. He writes short stories, poems, and essays.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Sheila Cornelius

    I thnk the first part of this works very well. The dialogue between father and son (?) is particularly effective. The last paragraph, with its time shift, seems a bit too much of a summary, Effective writing, all the same.

  • Sarah

    This story left me more than a little confused.
    -What gender was the main character? I guess it is safe to assume it’s a boy since the father left him alone after quoting a sports figure..

    -The boy and his sister would stare at each other, but the sister was in a different bedroom?

    -The last section tries to fill in some blanks, but needs tightening up. The father left for a week, then came back? What is the relevance here?

    *ok, I thought about it more, and the author is saying that the father died, but the boy had taken his place.. gotcha.

    “It is a choice that seems so easy to make when made concrete, but life is organic — it’s hard to see the patterns.”

    -This sentence doesn’t really make much sense in the context. The father is angry, but chooses to cool off in a shower instead of cooling off on his son. This is obviously a choice made because he DOES see the patterns.

  • The boy staring at his sister (and she back at him) while they were in different rooms confused me. I think this is just an error in the story…unless I’m missing something.

    Abusive father stories are always hard to read since they violate “trust” on a massive scale. You wonder why the mother didn’t intercede — especially since she must have known her children were being abused as much as she was — but reality tells us some women just won’t turn in their men to the authorities. I’m hardly one to judge her motivation.

    I thought the MC was done well and the idea of him fighting the same urges as his father was realistic. We know that abused boys many times grow up to be abusive as well.

    In the end, we root for him to continue to overcome his demons and that’s a sign of a good story. Three plus stars from me…+

  • Besides the areas of seeming confusing pointed out by the other commenters, I just want to say that there is a lot of summation in the story. The story is effective. It’s just that the more summation in a flash fiction story the closer it moves toward essay. This much summation means the may be trying to cover too much time. Still, it is a good story. Three stars.

  • Obviously, I left out the word “story” in the next to the last sentence.

  • vondrakker

    Wow
    5 *****

  • I enjoyed this, and thought it was well written, but perhaps not a sufficiently different ‘take’ on a well-worn topic. The description of the narrator’s son waiting for retribution was particularly well portrayed in few words. Thanks for the read.

  • Caitlynn

    I thought this was rather well-written. Like a few others, I was initially confused about the two siblings watching each other sleep in separate rooms, so I re-read that portion. I think that part doesn’t refer to when the father comes home, but well before he comes home. The narrator says, “I would spend hours practicing pretending to sleep.” That seems to imply that he and his sister spend time practicing long before bed-time ever comes, which means that they could be in the same room while doing so.
    Overall, I’d say this is a job well done.

  • Alvin

    The beginning paragraph in the second part doesn’t need to be. No need to explain what you are about to explain – let the story do it.

  • I think this is brilliant. I wouldn’t change a word.

  • Pingback: Just Starting Out « charlespdk()

  • fishlovesca

    Three stars.

  • Thanks for the comments, everyone. I appreciate your reading the piece and your insightful observations. Some good points are made that I will consider in the future. Originally, the story ended after the good slugger line leaving it all even more ambiguous but ominous. And I think adding “During the day, I would spend hours practicing…” to clarify when the brother and sister practice breathing. Anyway, thank you again for taking the time to read, rate, AND comment. Happy readings.

  • Interesting story, and a positive ending in the son refusing to continue the cycle of abuse. The mention of the sister also makes me concerned about the nature of her abuse, and leaves me wondering how she is coping as an adult. Personally, I might end the story with the MC calling her, or touching base with her, or something that shows her in the present day too in some way. Just a thought.

  • J. Chris Lawrence

    I have to say, I do not share the confusion that other readers before me have described. For myself, this piece flowed smoothly throughout the whole, and captured well a complex story arc that is generally not suited for this medium of fiction. The prose was both stirring and excellently delivered. I give it a 5.