“Another Cliché in a Too-Long Line of Them” – short fiction

If a bug gets into the house, Jared traps it between his hands, takes it outside, and releases it. He literally wouldn’t hurt a fly.

So it’s surprising when he slaps me across the face hard enough to draw blood.

I go sprawling on the kitchen linoleum. He stands over me, unsure whether to be shocked, angry, or hungry for more.

Holding my hand to my face, I kick out. My foot connects with his thigh. He goes down.

I run to the bathroom, lock the door behind me.

 

Jared’s cell phone is on the toilet tank, sitting next to an old issue of Cosmo. My issue of Cosmo. The cover boasts “10 Ways to Make Your Man Worship You.”

I spit blood into the sink and throw the magazine into the wastebasket.

I grab the phone, dial 911.

Jared leaves his phone in the bathroom sometimes. He likes to play games on it while he’s “dropping the kids off at the pool.” His words. Ironic that I’m using it to call the cops on him.

The operator picks up. I start to give him the details when Jared hammers on the door, yelling at me to let him in.

My face flushes. I tear up. Not because I’m scared. Because this whole situation is such a cliché. Because I have horrible taste in guys. Because I’m afraid that’ll never change.

I tear up because I have daddy issues.

 

For most of my childhood, Daddy was a good daddy. Tea parties and piggyback rides, soccer games and dance recitals, Daddy had his bases covered.

Then Daddy lost his job.

Daddy managed a chain of grocery stores. Another company bought the chain, laid Daddy off. “Redundancy elimination.”

He looked for other jobs but didn’t have any luck. Mom was as supportive as she could be, offering to get a job to help pay the bills. Daddy refused. He was too proud, too old fashioned. Thought a woman’s place was in the home.

He kept looking, kept getting rejected or hearing nothing at all. What little extra money we had he started spending on booze.

Another cliché in a too-long line of them.

Daddy started drinking more and more, looked for jobs less and less.

Unbeknownst to him, Mom got a job. At the grocery store Daddy used to work at. Just some shifts here and there. Somehow Daddy didn’t notice.

Until he did.

He was drunk one night, pissed his pants.

He and Mom had separate dressers. Separate but identical. Still in a drunken haze, he went into what he thought was his dresser looking for a fresh pair of underpants. Found an apron from his grocery store instead. ISABELLE was printed on the plastic name tag pinned to it. Mom’s name is Isabelle.

Daddy didn’t like that.

When Daddy confronted Mom, she was in the kitchen making dinner. Eggplant parm. Our favorite.

My little brother, Danny, and I were playing in the family room when we heard the crash. We ran to the kitchen. Found Daddy looming over Mom, her lower lip split. The eggplant parm and the dish that held it were on the floor. The eggplant, sauce, and cheese mixed with the glass shards, a delicious, dangerous mess.

I somehow had the wherewithal to nudge Danny behind me. He didn’t need to see that.

I didn’t need to see that.

But it was in my face, impossible to avoid.

Daddy turned around, saw us standing there.

“Hope, take Danny upstairs,” she said. I didn’t move. “Now!”

“Shut up!” Daddy said. He hit Mom again.

I jumped. So did Danny. We started to whimper.

Daddy pointed at the eggplant parm. “Who’s gonna clean this shit up, huh? Who?!” He backhanded Mom. A cut opened up on her cheek.

Tears in my eyes, I stepped forward, took Daddy’s hand. The one he didn’t use to hit Mom with. “Daddy, stop!” I said.

He pulled away, hit me too. His wedding ring caught me across the cheek, gave me a cut like Mom’s.

Mom didn’t like that. She popped up, punched Daddy. Barely phased him. “Don’t you dare hit her!” she said.

Daddy wheeled on her, hit her again. Closed fist this time.

Mom collapsed.

I grabbed Danny’s hand, pulled him into the bathroom off the kitchen, and yanked the door shut behind us. I looked into his eyes, all red-rimmed and teary. Just like mine. I said, “Stay here, lock the door. Don’t come out ‘til I say. Okay?”

Danny nodded. I left the bathroom, closed the door behind me. I heard it lock.

I rounded the corner into the kitchen. Daddy was in mid-shout. “—you do the one fucking thing I told you not to do!”

Mom cowered on the ground, flattened herself against the cabinets. Glass shards clung to her hands.

“Look at me when I talk to you!” Daddy said, slapping her.

I scampered to the garage, bypassed Daddy’s ’67 Camaro, his pride and joy, went to the

corner where we kept soccer balls, tennis racquets, bicycle helmets. And baseball bats.

I picked up an aluminum Easton and hefted it as I walked to the door.

I stopped and took a couple practice swings. On the second swing I got too close to Daddy’s Camaro, took off the side view mirror and some paint. I laughed like a mental patient.

Fuck Daddy’s pride and joy.

I marched back into the house, came up behind Daddy. He was still shouting and had taken a few more shots at Mom. Her face was swollen. Blood and snot ran from her nose.

I gritted my teeth and choked up on the bat. I swung low, aiming for his ankle.

There was a crack! as the bat connected. Daddy went down.

Beauty swing. Under any other circumstances it would’ve made Daddy proud.

After he crashed to the floor I went to work on his ribs, his other leg, his arms. I huffed and puffed as I laid into him, my ten-year-old arms burning with the effort.

The only reason I stopped hitting him was because I’d started to cry.

I dropped the Easton, went to Mom’s side.

She was beat up but conscious. She put her hand to my face, gentle as could be.

I helped her up and got her to the couch in the living room.

Then I got Danny out of the bathroom. He ran to Mom when he saw her on the couch.

Then I called 911.

 

Jared’s still banging on the bathroom door, demanding entry.

The 911 dispatcher is having trouble hearing me. I’m yelling the address into the phone when I hear the door crack.

I look over. Not the door. The doorframe.

Jared keeps it up, he’ll get through in no time.

Another wham! and I startle, dropping the phone. It clatters on the floor tiles.

My eyes dart around the bathroom, searching for something I can use as a weapon.

Plunger? No.

Toilet brush? Definitely not.

C’mon, there’s gotta be something….

Ah. Towel rack.

I rip the towels off and yank on the rod. It takes a few pulls but it comes free just as the doorjamb splinters and Jared stumbles in.

The stainless steel rod brings drywall dust with it, fogging up the room. Jared waves his hand in front of his face, sees me, and charges.

I swing the rod at his head. It catches him in the temple. He stumbles sideways and crashes into the bathtub, banging his head on the porcelain.

I retain my stance, expecting him to get up. He doesn’t.

Still holding the rod, I lean over the tub and take Jared’s pulse. Alive but out cold.

There’s at the knock at the front door. I jump, drop the rod.

I touch my finger to the corner of my mouth as I approach the door. It comes away bloody. I wipe it on my tank top.

When I open the door and see two police officers standing there, I start sobbing. Didn’t see that coming. The sobbing, I mean.

I fall into one of the officer’s arms. His name tag says BENDIS. His badge says DEWEY BEACH POLICE DEPARTMENT.

 

Everything after that is the same as it was with Daddy: cops and medics, statements and questions. Jared’s fate is the same as Daddy’s was: he’s carted out on a stretcher. I catch the word “concussion.”

I’m sitting on the couch, talking to Officer Bendis. I ask how the rest of this will go, how it will play out since there weren’t any witnesses, since it’s he said/she said.

Officer Bendis jots something down on his notepad. “It’s always ‘he said/she said.’ But ‘she said’ usually wins out because men are fucking animals.” He looks up from his notebook. “Pardon my language.”

Officer Bendis sounds a lot like the judge who sentenced Daddy to prison. Minus the profanity, that is.

The medics ask if I want to go to the hospital, do I want to talk to somebody. Thanks but no, I say.

The house clears out, and I go to the bedroom to gather my things. Throwing clothes and toiletries into a duffel bag, I vow to be single for a while, to vet future suitors more carefully.

My track record, I’ll be shocked if I follow through with either one.

 

Bag slung over my shoulder, I head for the front door.

I’m at the threshold when I remember my jacket.

I drop my bag on the floor, go to the adjacent coat closet and root through it. I find my jacket and pull it off the hanger. When I do, something hard falls on the floor, landing with a clank.

I feel around and get my hand on something cold and metallic. I remove the object and laugh when I see it in the light.

It’s a bat. Louisville Slugger, aluminum, worn rubber grip.

Feels like an old friend.

I go to return the Slugger to its resting place in the closet but I stop. Bat still in hand, I close the closet door instead.

I place the bat on the floor and stuff my jacket into my bag. Then I pick up the duffel and the bat and walk out of the house, the screen door slapping closed behind me.

I doubt Jared will miss the bat, and if he does, fuck him, let him riot. I need the Slugger more than he does.

For me, the bat’s a reminder: Daddy didn’t get the best of me.

And neither will anyone else.

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