THE YOUNG MOTHER lay weeping. All the more bearing her son in thin arms. A boy she had barely known. Only that she had not raised him. She was selfless enough to avoid letting any child grow into a world where the survival of winters meant waking up in the middle of a kitchen on a mattress to the sight of red-hot coils glow within a grimy stove. She thanked God everyday that he was the third child but the only in flesh for but one pair of innocent eyes would be tainted the image of slow bleeding blight creeping beneath her door. Cold winds whistled a chaotic song that reminded her of each wearing winter which grew worse after the other and how those shorting days entitled fading smiles. Her hands that shook like her child in the night would one day be able to build a fire. One day.
The sun was hidden on a lonesome gray morning. She wiped the tears from her eyes and buried her head in the boys long brown hair. “Wake up,” she whispered to him as she rested on his crown. She gently turned him towards her stare and he grumbled and his eyes slowly peered open and he smiled softly as if to say hello.
As she kissed him on the forehead she looked over to her clock. An old unwashed coffee brewer that at one time may have been white. She slid her feet off the sheet-less bed onto the cold floor and went to fill up a glass of water over the unkempt sink. At the last drop she looked to her frozen window and suddenly felt a sense that her life was confined to the hopeless constitute behind the dark crystal murk and so there was solace unearthed in that of her son’s departure home. She reached out to feel the cold window and held it until the shape of her hand melted into the frost. She put the cup down and shortly after dressed her boy in his winter wear and handed over his pack.
“When can I come visit you again, mom?” the boy said.
“Whenever you want to,” she properly adjusted his scarf. “I’m getting you all dressed up just to take it all off in the car. They’ll think I’m going crazy.”
The boy laughed.
“Whenever you want to. But you just got to go back to school. And I want you to be a good man and learn lots, okay?”
He lifted his chin proudly and smiled. “Yes.”
“That’s my big man.” Although she fought off the tears, her teeth rattled and her eyes inflamed and she held her uneasy hands folded over his. Transparent sadness spoke tales past the facade. She pulled him in for a hug and kissed his forehead. “Okay, at least we know you won’t freeze on your walk to the car.” She opened the door and he walked into the snowy, dark morning towards the parked headlights of his foster parents’ car and watched him ride off with two people in which she knew just as strangers. They vanished into the grim snowfall and she closed the door. The semblance she had convened melted into a teary face.
THE YOUNG MOTHER was asleep when suddenly her door came crashing open and she rose to feel the chilling draft that came behind her boyfriend as he stood in the doorway. She ordered him to close it and got to her feet. His panting breath let off the lingering stench of alcohol as he quietly stared at her, eyes low and unsteady. He was drunk enough to have his jacket unzipped in a snow storm, his reddened ears and nose embossed of snow and frost. Her brows were risen unimpressed but shook it off as if it were inconsequential to react in anyway.
“Lock it,” she said.
He turned to the door and back to her. “I’m sorry, baby,” he plead as he slowly walked towards her.
She stood quiet in stoical manner.
He slid off his boots and held his hands on her shoulders and looked down at her as her revolting expression wound away from his putrid breath. “I meant to come home sooner. I’m sorry. I love you. I promise it won’t happen again.”
Looking away, she said “you stink.” She brushed his arms away and sat herself down on a thin, copper framed table chair and looked to him as if to tell him to sit and he did, more so falling. “Almost three days. You couldn’t stop by once?”
He grumbled and stared blankly at the old, unwashed walls. “Kids. Oh kids just love a fun, old drunk.” He laughed to himself and turned to her, “you think I’m really the daddy type?” Filthy teeth exposed through his grin.
“Well,” she said, lighting up a half burnt cigarette, “for all it’s worth, I missed you.” She inhaled the first drag slowly and even slower blew out the smoke towards the ceiling. “So, what’s up? You came to screw or what? What do you want?”
“Baby, I came to see you. That’s it.” He shifted his entire body towards her and reached out for her resting hand. “If I was any good with kids, I’d be here. You know that.”
She pulled her hand away and walked to the sink.
“Anyways, I can’t stay too long.” The sound of the faucet pouring into a glass. “I think I might have to go for stitches.”
She examined him as he took the toque off his head. She placed the glass of water in front of him and shifted through his greasy hair to see a long, open laceration near his temple. “Oh my God. What happened?” she asked.
“It’s nothing,” he assured, “it’s nothing. I got jumped by these goofs at a party over some shit. It’s nothing. I just got to go get it stitched up, I suppose. I’ll go to the clinic.” He took a drink of water. “Aah, that’s good. After that, I’ll come see you.” He poured the rest of the glass down his throat and placed the empty cup in the sink and slipped on his boots. “I’ll be back soon. It won’t take long at all.”
Her brows pinched between her nose. “You’re not coming back, are you?” Disdain in her voice. “It never ends. Just go,” she said, opening the door.
“Hey. Shh. Here.” He handed over a couple small pieces of shredded plastic grocery bag. “Keep that until I get back. Some guys are going to stop in to see me, so don’t worry if they show up a bit early.”
“A couple of guys?” she worried.
“It’s nothing, baby. They’re just coming to do a little bit of business. Hook me up, you know? Then you know what that means,” he smirked. “Just save that until I get back. I love you, beautiful.” He leaned over and kissed her and left.
The strain on her face faded as she looked down towards the wrapped plastic shreds that lay in her palm. She walked quickly over to a cupboard and tiptoed and reached and placed the pieces on the highest shelf.
IN THE HOURS that plodded throughout the lonesome morning the young mother’s gaze was fixed to the cupboard across the kitchen where inside were the plastic shreds that managed to distract her from all else. She opened and closed it on several occasions to ensure the pieces had not been stolen or had not run away, a sigh of relief after she reached and felt the plastic against her fingertips. The green text of time on her unused coffee brewer climbed slowly past noon when she began uncontrollably biting her nails and jigging her leg, rhythmically swearing at her cuticles underneath her breath and sprouting to the door every time she heard so much as a sound of a passing vehicle. She repeatedly opened and closed a drawer near her fridge and watched as a small tin cylinder tube rolled back and forth and soon after she picked it up and placed it in front of her gently on the table like a cup of coffee filled to the brim and sat down and looked restlessly to the cupboard.
When there was no longer relief in swearing and biting her fingernails, she almost instantly grabbed the pieces from the cupboard and lay them out on the table. She untied the small knots and unwrapped the plastic and poured out the brittle white crumbs in a pile next to her straight pipe. After the last one, she pinched at the small pile. She studied the crumbs closely and carefully and put it up to her nostril for a whiff.
“No,” she panicked. “No.”
She stuffed the tip of the pipe and took a light to it. It lit up in a flame that expelled an odd black smoke and immediately she pulled the tube away from her lips, coughing violently as veins bulged from at the sides of her thin face and neck. She threw the pipe across the kitchen and viciously whipped her arms across the table top, the pieces of plastic and substance scattered across the floor.
She kicked randomly towards the grain-like white crumbs and shouted amply. “You f-cking cocksucker. You son of a bitch.” She kicked over a chair before going back to stomping at the specks. Smeared streaks of white. “You need this shit. You should of kept it. You dirty bastard. You need this shit. To clean off your gross balls, you piece of shit. Soap? You need soap to clean of your infected dog dick, you dirty bastard. You worthless asshole…”
She dropped to her knees and cried in her palms, mumbling and a swear: fuck. A knock at the door. She wiped clear her face and slowly rose to her feet and the door peered open enough to see two men in about their early thirties standing with their arms huddled to their chest, their heavy breath freezing in the air.
“Is your boyfriend here?” said the man nearest to the entrance, leaning his body in closer. He appeared near half a decade older than the other. She may have seen his face around a time or two or perhaps heard of him but never would have damned him a drug dealer if she had to guess. “He said to meet here.”
“Yeah,” she widened the entrance, “come in. He said he’ll be around.”
The older man smiled. “Yeah. Thanks.” And they came in and wiped the snow from their dark clothes onto the floor and walked blatantly to the chairs with soaked boots and sat themselves down as if it was a thing they had done casually in the homes of their own mother. The older man noticed a lady’s concern and looked to the puddles of slushy water leading up to his feet and squinted and grinned curiously at the floor smeared white. “Oops. Were you doing a bit of cleaning? At least now you got some water to get all that off.”
She grabbed a filthy rag from the sink and dropped hand and knee to wipe the water off the floor. “Yeah, I dropped something. Sorry about that.” She looked at the younger of the two, his face stone in demeanor. He anxiously twirled his thumbs and picked at his fingers and then she wondered why it was that as if he refused to look at her. She looked over to the older man and felt uneasy that his stare had hardly eased its inspection of her, unlike his quiet friend. A confident grin below sharp eyes.
“That man of yours, sure takes his time,” said the older man. “That kind of behavior gets a person in all sorts of trouble in this business. Did you know that?”
She went to rinse the rag. “I can imagine. He said he’d be home soon hours ago, so he should be coming.” She took her time twisting and yanking the cloth, watching the filth run down the whistling drain. “He went to the clinic. Got bottled and he needed some stitches.”
“Bottled? Oh. That’s no good,” he smiled at the younger man. “Shit happens when you try to have a little fun around these parts. If people aren’t drinking themselves to death, they’re smoking themselves to death. They’ll spend everything, take everything, just for a little fix. Even from their own mother, brother. Even child.” He saw her head turn slightly, white orb spying over her shoulder. “Hey, I’ve known your boyfriend for so long, how come I don’t know who you are? I think I heard about you.”
She threw the rag in the sink and turned around. “I’m sure everyone has something to say about me.”
He laughed. “No, don’t be so hard on yourself. Your boyfriend too has been on your side of the street for sometime I think. What’s a pretty girl like yourself doing with a smelly, no good goof like that?”
“Hey,” she protested. “He’s a good guy, okay? Everyone has their problems. Nobody’s perfect. And nobody’s so great to be in a position to judge.”
He nodded in what looked to be sarcastic agreement. “You’re right. You’re right. We all got our flaws.” He looked down at the puddle of water surrounding his boots. “I’m thirsty. Are you thirsty?” he asked the younger man. “Do you got anything to drink?”
“Water. Okay. Grab me and my bro a glass. Please?” the older one requested.
The younger man turned towards the wall as if resenting a hand fed meal.
She turned on the tap and filled the first glass to the brim. As she turned the faucet off she heard the sharp snapping click of the deadlock. She turned to the younger man as he stood door side like a club bouncer.
“Okay, I want you two to leave.”
The older man refused her demand with a smirk.
“Right now,” she screamed. “Leave.” She walked briskly to the door but was struck down by the guarding man’s fist before she could touch the lock. She spat phlegm and blood onto the floor as she crawled towards the mattress. “What the f-ck,” she questioned in a daze.
“You’re not going anywhere. And your definitely not screaming like that again,” he got up and put a pistol to her head. “Do you hear me?”
She agreed reluctantly with a nod as she repeated please through her bloodied teeth.
“Okay. I think you’re senses are back, mostly.” He scampered across the kitchen floor. “So he told you that he’ll back later, did he? You’d think sooner than later, this man that loves you so much. This is probably going to be terrible news then.”
He threw her the rag from the sink. “Wash up,” he said and then looked to the younger man, “sit down. I think she learned her lesson.” He went and knelt to her and took the rag from her hand and gently wiped the blood from her chin as she sobbed and shook, staring blankly away from him. “You don’t seem that stupid at all. Not as stupid as I thought you’d be. You know, no offense. But dating that guy, don’t blame me for finding room to assume. Anyways, I’m sure you know that he’s not coming. No. You see, your boyfriend wasn’t bottled last night. I’m assuming he didn’t stay too long. You would of seen the cuts and bruises all over his body. My boy here gave him all that. But he left that out didn’t he?”
Forcibly bringing her face aligned with his as she pulled away, he continued, “If there is no law in the matter of your business than who is there to judge? Who can honestly wait for God to do anyone’s bidding? I don’t think it’s his style. I don’t think it’s a cop or judge’s either in those situations, last I checked. When one is dealing with issues that are under no script, no word, of law or of God, then who has the right to justice? Me. When your piece of shit boyfriend took drugs from me, the will of nature dictates that I’m great enough to judge.” He took a calming breath. “And so last night we made an agreement, me and your loving man.” His hand fell high on her lap as with his other his fingers slid across her cheek. “I’d get my money one way or another.”
She slapped his hand away. “No, you can’t,” she cried. “I’m not his property. He doesn’t belong to me. You can’t do this.”
He looked to his partner for but a deadpan reaction. He gripped her hair and shoved her temple into her shoulder. “I could, and I will, tonight and tomorrow, and the next day and the next day. Until I feel like that little junkie ass has subsidized for three thousand dollars in losses.”
As he began to slip the top off her shoulder, there was a knock at the door.
The younger man went to the window but could not see through the frost. He looked to his superior to find that he was just as bewildered. The older man took out his pistol and casually pointed it at her. His finger wrapped around the trigger. She knew he would pull it if she made even the slightest sound. The knocking persisted longer than one would normally expect. Annoying as the consistent knocking had been in days prior, the young mother’s face lit up slightly as if she suddenly realized who was on the other side.
“Who is that?”
Her voice trembled before she could speak. “I don’t know.”
“Go tell them to fuck off. And if you say or do anything, I’ll kill you and whoever that is. Got it?” he spoke through his clenched jaw as she nodded. “Go.”
The younger man stood behind the door and slowly opened it. And there in the snowfall stood a chubby little girl in a thick faux-fur jacket, her son’s friend, standing silently with a tight smile. Inside the men looked to each other as her head protruded out into the cold. They could not hear a word over the bellowing winds drafting through entrance. The older man moved to stand directly at her backside and put his ear in closer.
“Okay, see you later then,” the young mother spoke in a clear yet shaken voice.
The man moved even closer, his ear near in between her head and the door.
“Help,” she whispered.
The man grabbed her hair and threw her to the middle of the kitchen floor and ran outside and pulled the little girl in by her coat collar and bowl-cut hair.
“Leave her alone,” she begged, fearing for the crying girl.
“What is wrong with you?” He tossed the girl to the floor and put the gun to the women’s forehead almost at the same time. “Do you want to die? Huh?” Jabbing her in the forehead. “Are you stupid?” He pulled the gun away and put it to the terrified little girl’s temple as she sobbed to the ceiling on her knees. “Is this what you want? You are just as stupid as I thought you were.”
“I’m sorry,” she cried at his feet. “I’m sorry. Let her go. She didn’t do anything. She’s just a little girl. Please, let her go and you could have anything. You could do anything, please.”
“Let’s take them both to that backroom,” he ordered the younger man who stood panting in apparent anxiety.
They took the women and the girl to the main bedroom down the hall and gagged them using whatever clothes they found laying around and tied their hands behind their back. The younger man stood on guard as the older swore to himself in the kitchen. The mother begged to the younger man through her gag but he was unmoved. The older man came into the bedroom punching himself on the cheek.
“Should we just go?” said the younger man.
His superior looked at him as if insulted. “Leave? She knows who we are. If this fat little kid says anything, we’ll be screwed. Cops will be all over our ass.”
“What if she doesn’t say anything?”
The women looked at the little girl as if to calm her down.
“She’ll tattle-tale,” he said walking to the little girl. “Won’t you?”
The women shouted something through her gag for the older man’s attention.
“You did this. You brought another child into your fucked up little world to suffer. And now you know what? She gets to watch and witness. Witness what happens to f-ck ups like you. Then after that? We’ll see how fast you could dig your grave and hers when this is over.”
The superior grabbed the seams of the women’s pants and started pulling them off and when she was in her underwear he ordered the younger man to pin her swaying body to the floor and he did so in reluctance, looking elsewhere with his hands clutched over her shoulders. The older got inbetween her kicking legs and unzipped his jeans.
Then there was another knock at the door. The men turned to the hallway. Frozen. The sound of the door creaked open and with it the wind and the sound of boots stomping and the older man stood up and pointed his gun down the hallway and then to the floor ahead and laughed in relief.
“What’s up?” said a hoarse voice. “What the hell? Why you getting all hostile?” A the stranger with a face gaunt and that would have a starving shark lose its appetite walked in the room and he stopped instantly at the sight of the two distressed bodies gagged on the floor. A little girl and half naked women. “Whoa. What the hell is going on here? I guess I didn’t miss too much.”
“That stupid bitch brought this f-cking kid in it. Now we’re stuck with them both.”
“What do we do?”
“We have our fun and get rid of them.”
“Get rid of?”
“You didn’t miss a damn thing.”
He took a few back steps towards the door. “Hey, I just got out of jail. I thought we were just going to stop by for a bit of fun. This is too f-cked up, man. I can’t do this.”
The superior turned to the man. “You are doing this.”
“What if someone finds out? I can’t do life, man. C’mon.”
The older put his hand over the man’s shoulder. “Look, don’t worry about a thing. No one will ever no we were here. Besides, this is a junkie’s house. All her neighbors know that people come by just to get f-cked up all the time. Plus it’s a blizzard out there. No tracks. No anything. It’s fine. We’re fine,” he said with an uncomfortable grin.
The gaunt man looked at the little girl. “Can we talk in the kitchen? All of us.”
The superior and the younger man looked at each other and both walked out of the bedroom, the strange man lastly closing the door.
“I CAN’T DO THIS shit,” the mother heard the younger protest down the narrow hallway.
She looked to the little girl and mumbled as if to calm her down. She shifted her jaw tirelessly until the lime cloth between her teeth slid to her neck. “Okay,” she whispered. “Turned around.” The pudgy girl turned on her side and the women used her teeth to pluck and untie it as aimlessly as a snared rodent gnawing its own leg however her binds were too tight around the girl’s swollen and reddened wrists. “F-ck.” She looked to her dresser lined up with the bedroom door and propped herself to her feet. She waited until the three intruders screamed uncivilly before she used her hips to budge and fasten the dresser against the door, inch by inch.
“I’m going to break the window. You’re going to get on my back and jump out, okay?” she said to the little girl. She looked around the room but there was nothing her teeth could grip to break the window therefore she put her forehead against the cold glass and pulled her head back past her shoulder blades and thrust forward. A mere spiderweb crack came about the thudding impact. The men continued to obliviously argue. The concoction of their arguing voices and the thudding struggle of the little girl’s feet masked the impact. Blood poured down her forehead and into her shrouded eyes. On the second attempt, glass and ice and snow came crashing down onto the floor and shards were instilled in her flesh. They heard the shattering impact on that occasion.
As the women got to her knees the little girl stood for a moment to see the lady. Her face full of blood and lacerations and skin hanging from her forehead. “Go,” she demanded. The sound of rushing intruders came down the hallway. The little girl stepped on the mother’s back and she rose to throw the girl out the window. When the intruders broke through the door they saw the smashed window and rushed to it. The little girl’s tracks lead to a small break in the tall fence where she passed under for escape.
The superior took to kicking the mother in the ribs in blind anger and the gaunt man hesitantly walked backwards to the door.
“This is f-cked up,” said the strange looking one, “I told you. I’m out, man.”
In almost an instant, the older man turned to him and put a pistol to his head and demanded that he not move to which the gaunt man told him “do what you got to do” and thus was shot in the back of the head after he turned to walk away. Blood and flesh and bone skewered throughout the hallway walls. The younger man shook when he saw the lifeless man’s skull empty a pulpy pink and red liquid to the floor.
“You have anything you want to say?” he said to the younger. “You want to go?”
Scared, the younger one shook his head.
“Well hold her down. I’m getting what I f-cking came for.” The older turned the women on her back and unzipped his pants. “Hold her down I said.”
The younger man was still, watching as the women lay silent and bloodied. He watched as the man started tearing away the clothes off the helpless mother like a savage beast. A man who had more vehicles than anybody could need, more people at his side than most politicians, and more money required from the enslaved to last a lifetime. The man regarded no life save himself. Although the ladder was never clear to the younger, he realized that now. At last, he saw only a manipulative man selfishly unhinged from all law and virtue of man and God. This nefarious man could of seized his unrelenting pride and let the loss of it wear on his soul as bleakly as wind against stone however he did not and therefore the young man lifted his pistol and shot the unjust man twice in the back as if the entirety of which he stood aloof to the monster was for that moment of which nature appointed him law and judge and subsequent of the settling echos of gunfire he witnessed the deliverance of justice as the eyes of evil saturated among the dead and then the pistol fell to the younger one’s side.
The women was too weak to push the dead older man off from her torso. “Please, help.”
The younger man roused from his shock and dragged him off and as soon as he stood to his feet, the sound of a .22 caliber rifle went off and the women looked over to the doorway and saw a hefty man wearing spandex over his plaid jacket, his gun pointed sharply. The little girl’s father. The young man fell to the ground at her side, life seeping from a blank stare and soon after, when the hefty man had picked the young mother up to her feet and escorted her out, he died on the cold floor.
In the hefty man’s pick up truck in the driveway, he had blanketed her and assured that she was now safe and that help was coming. She looked out to her tattered, trailer home and its frozen windows glowing through the evening’s darkening skies and, as they drove off, the world went black.
THOUGH SHE HAS always waited for God, perhaps He did answer back however not in the way she had expected. She could not see his face or feel his hands or hear his voice. Perhaps he spoke through the confinement of her cold, gray home. In such a way being, even as great as He, one could not amend, could not dictate, nor judge. Only an extension of understanding that may be derived as it is. A cold and gray home. An internal loneliness within. Perhaps angels are not always found only in the joyous and prosperous aspects of the world but also that of in dismay and pain. She dreamed that those whom suffered longer and harder battles were the ones that brought themselves closer to the warming embrace of divinity. She had never read or heard of script or of law by God or by man that could directly dictate the will of flesh and so it was only by her steadying hand and alarmed spirit that she could find the greatness within herself to grant justice and it was in that dream she was terrified but somehow she had also built a fire. Then she awoke.
A year had past after the storm. The sun streamed through her hallway windows like thick, golden beams. Particles of dust danced liked ever changing constellations. The walls were adorned with framed photos of family and friends and stickers that immortalized the simplistic words of terrible and nameless writers of past. Live. Laugh. Love. She followed the fresh smell of coffee into the kitchen and picked out the pot from the stainless steel brewer and poured herself a steaming hot cup. She stared out past the window as she stood at the sink and scrolled along her freshly painted fence and in disguised thought she realized there was something important missing. “Get up now, you’re going to be late for school,” the young mother hollered to the hallway and turned back to the window and took a sip of coffee.