“Let go.” Katie screamed; she knew better than to cry.
Carlos had her arm twisted painfully behind her back. He was a heavily muscled, and unusually handsome man. His face contorted into a snarling mask as he slammed her head against the wall, breaking the glass in the frame of their last family photo — we were all smiling, Katie thought as she melted down the wall to the floor.
“Don’t hit her,” Alex, who was four, yelled as he came running down the hall from his room, swinging his plastic T-ball bat over his head. He whacked Carlos across the back with all his might.
“God dam brat,” Carlos slurred.
Shoving Alex down the hall towards his room, Carlos stumbled, grasping blindly at the walls, knocking several more pictures and kick boxing awards to the floor. Katie crawled over to Alex shielding him on all fours, Carlos, upright again, and fuming, charges toward them with fists flailing. As he lunged at Katie she gave a hard backward donkey kick landing a blow that dropped Carlos to his knees. Locked in a fetal curl holding his crotch, he was frozen for the moment. Katie scooped up Alex and ran for the door.
“You bitch. I’ll kill you. Get back here. You can’t leave me. Who’s going to have you? Look at you, you a fat, ugly, nothing.”
The tired diatribe still cut her, old as it was. The injury last year that sidelined Carlos from his kickboxing dream changed him. Katie tried to help. But, anything she did just made him angrier. It was one thing to take it out on her, but he hurt Alex. She wanted to run back in while he was down and really incapacitate him, or just kill him. She held back tears, shocked by her own rage.
“Where are we going, mommy?” Alex looked up at her with those Oreo orbs made larger by his thick glasses. She melted. Katie had always been afraid of having kids. She had watched her own mother ruin five kids and figured if that shit was hereditary it was probably safest not to even try. Bi-polar runs in families. Both of her sisters suffered with it. Maybe because she was the middle (invisible) one, it had skipped her.
Katie had never been invisible to Carlos though. He was charming; distracting Katie from her past with laughter, roses and all the right words. Marriage followed and when Alex was laid in her arms at University of Washington Hospital she was eternally changed.
“Let’s ride the bus for a while.” Katie said, crossing the street with a tight hold on Alex’s hand. Buses came by every few minutes, and downtown Seattle, you could ride free from Jackson Street, up Capitol Hill. It was nearly dark, and Katie hadn’t thought to grab her purse.
Her heartbeat drowned out the city’s noise. She broke out in a cold sweat, as she realized she had no money, no ID, and she had to go to work tomorrow. What am I going to do, she wondered? Questions formed one after the other with no space to think of solutions in between. She silently told herself, calm down, don’t scare Alex, relax, tell him everything is fine.
“Where does this bus go?” Alex asked, as he pressed his nose against his teary-eyed reflection in the big window.
“Everything is okay, don’t cry, we’ll just ride around for a little bit.” Katie said, patting his back. The bus was empty except for them. The driver, who was watching in his rear-view mirror, grinned when her eyes met his there. Katie sighed; it came out louder then she meant it to. The driver winked into the mirror and threw her a thumbs-up.
“You go ahead and relax, I’ll just drive awhile.” His easy smile was comforting. Katie sighed again, as she felt the tightness in shoulders begin to dissipate.
“I’m not crying, I’m a big boy,” Alex said, as he turned from the window and crawled into her lap. Katie wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his wispy curls, damp with sweat from playing Luke Skywalker and beating up his bunk bed with his imaginary lightsaber. She loved that smell, little boy sweat, from the pure and uninhibited exertion of play. That was his job, to play. Her job was to give him a life that allowed such freedom. Every child deserves that.
“You have blood on your face, mommy,” he said as he yawned and nuzzled into her chest.
“Lady, end of the line lady, time to go.”
Katie’s head snapped to attention as her senses rushed to inform her she had dozed off. She adjusted Alex’s head to her shoulder so she could stand without waking him. He was talking in his sleep again.
“Luke, it’s Han Solo, he got’s Chewie, it’s okay now…” Alex’s words mushed into mumbles as Katie headed down the aisle with him over her shoulder.
“Do you need some help?” The driver — named Dion, she could see by his name tag — was looking at her, concerned.
Katie caught sight of herself in Dion’s magnified mirror above the money box. A bloody lip, and bruises in the perfect shape of Carlos’s thick fingers, wrapped around her neck. She also had a golf-ball-sized knot above her left temple, more visible damage than normal. Carlos prided himself on not leaving clues for others to see, but he had finished off a fifth of tequila this time. That’s thing about tequila, it absolutely lowers inhibitions. If Carlos was at the point of not trying to hide it anymore, Katie knew there was no going back. She dropped down on the top stair of the bus, and finally asked a complete stranger…
“Will you help us?” She watched Dion flip on his out-of-service light as he dialed 911, then she cried.
After being told by family, friends, teachers and employers that she should be a writer, Kristine Dukes is finally giving it a shot. She was rewarded with a “do-over” which happens sometimes in life when extreme circumstances present themselves. She went back to school and finished her BA majoring in English with a writing emphasis. She got some validation for this left turn in life when she won 1st place in the creative non-fiction category of the Presidents Writing Awards at Boise State University two years in a row (2012 & 2013). That made her brave enough to try submitting new stories to other venues. She’s now working on her MA in Rhetoric and Composition. She hopes you will like her newest work.
This story is sponsored by
Adamar, book one of The Hennion Chronicles — Adamar and his friends race to save an alien world, humanity’s future and the woman he loves. They must unlock a secret from the dawn of creation, now used by an emperor to enslave his people, so they can stop his sadistic rule and open a portal to home.