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The scream was obviously stifled in his mother’s hands. He could picture his father standing above her striking her to the ground every time she tried to move. Between the thick callous of his hand smashing against the side of her face he chastised her in snake like whisks between his teeth for her not to yell out. It would be her fault if the kids woke up. It would be her fault if the kids saw what was happening, because it was her fault this was happening.
Nate stepped from his bed. He was too young to do anything. He wasn’t strong enough to hurt his father, and the last time he’d tried his mother suffered for his insolence. She was the one responsible for raising an obedient household. Nate took the small flashlight from his top drawer, not sure if it would even do anything if he had to strike his father with it. He didn’t grab it for that reason anyway. He had no intention of hitting his father, only in protecting his little sister if he had to. He slowly crept to Lily’s room across the hall, quietly reprimanding himself each time the floor creaked.
He pushed the door open, and as he suspected, his sister was awake in bed clutching her knees to her chest. Her face wallowed in tears.
“Nate!” She tried to whisper in her happiness to see him. At six she was much too young to understand why her father was like this. She crawled to the end of the bed and threw her arms around Nate. He picked her up and moved her back to the pillows, then lay down next to her, holding her. It was her only sense of protection.
There was quiet for a long time. Nate wondered what was happening. He knew his father was still in the house, and he knew his parents were still fighting. Well, his father was fighting. His mother was on the ground battered, weeping, probably bleeding by now. He couldn’t hear anything, but he knew what was happening. For seventeen years he’d known what was happening as these countless outbursts interrupted his sleep. For weeks afterward his mom would remain homebound, never stepping foot outside the house while his father put on his attractive yet sinfully vile smile and chauffeured the children around always claiming an illness set upon his lovely wife.
On the outside they were an ideal family; two bright and attractive kids, who obediently listened to teachers, parents, and coaches. They were both popular in their own respect; Nate for his athletic abilities and good grades, and Lily popular for her happy-go-lucky attitude and willingness to help in class. Their home was large and beautiful. Their mother was stunning, albeit sickly. Their father, while not highly attractive knew business and provided the perfect house to the perfect family.
Nate wanted to scream. His whole family had been trained to keep their personal life personal. His father had perfected the art of abuse, and how to keep it hidden. Unlike other families of abuse, the Berwick family was encouraged to bring other kids over. They were encouraged to play sports and participate in activities outside of the home; his father always playing the doting role, while mother attempted to hide her pain.
Nate held back the tears as he always did. He held back the pain in his upper chest and the impulse to let his anger get the best of him. His fingers toyed with his flip phone. There had been so many times he wanted to call the police. One time he’d even threatened it as he’d somehow managed to step between his father and mother. His mother always ended up being on the losing end.
He’d heard too many stories of abuse where the abuser comes back for retribution. Nate was afraid to call the police. He was afraid he would lose his mom. If that happened he didn’t know what he would do. His father in prison, and he and his sister split from each other in foster homes. He didn’t know if he could do it.
He opened the phone and pushed the buttons, 9-1, but then stopped. This was a family matter. He would have to wait until he was 18 and then he could pull his sister and mother out of the home. He would be old enough to do something.
With his sister now back to sleep in his arms he waited for the back door to slam shut. His father would then walk around to the side door of the garage and quietly leave without any neighbors suspecting anything. Where he went or what he did after one of these outbursts was unknown, but his father would be gone for at least 8 hours, sometimes up to three days.
The door never slammed. All Nate could hear was the creaking of floor boards. What was happening?
Ten more minutes passed and Nate slowly got out of the bed, laying Lily down, and tucking the blanket to her chin. He stepped lightly through the hallway and to the top of the stairs listening for any sound. The shuffling continued. His father was dragging something across the floor, or someone.
Nate walked down the steps, being careful to remain quiet. He could see blood on the hardwood floor. Finally he saw his father in the kitchen. His hands were pressed to his face; tears seemed to be welled up in his eyes. In the corner of the kitchen , sitting on the ground her head cocked to the side, eyes closed, was his mother. She wasn’t moving. Was she—.
With a burst of adrenaline Nate ran across the room and into the kitchen. His father turned to face him. He’d never struck his children before. It was too risky striking a child. Too many people meddled in a child’s life. Too many people could call the police and report abuse.
Nate lunged at his father’s head with the butt of the flashlight. He missed as his father stepped out of the path. Nate lost his balance and fell against the counter, then to the ground as he pulled a drawer handle from its screws.
“What the hell are you doing?” yelled Nate’s father. He looked at his wife, then back to his son. He put out his hands as if to tell his son to remain on the ground. “Your mother fell down the stairs. I was just trying to—“
Nate jumped up and lunged again. It is just like taking down a wide receiver, Nate convinced himself. Hit low, just below the waist. Take out his legs. But, instead of getting up—Kill Him!
Nate’s father punched Nate across the face, but not before Nate was able to slam the flashlight into his jaw.
The fight became a wrestling match. Both men were bloodied when the front door was smashed open.
Two police officers ran in with guns drawn.
“He’s crazy! Arrest him! He’s killed his mother, my wife. Oh, my wife. Just look at her!” His father cried out in feigned tears of grief.
Nate was startled. Who’d called the police? How did they know? Their house was set back far enough so no one could hear anything off of their property. His father was pleading to arrest him. Would they believe him?
Nate crawled to his mother, taking her in his arms. Her skin was cold, but—she was not dead. Her eyelid flinched.
“I’ll take you away from this mom.” He said. A smile lifted one side of her lips.
One of the officers pointed the gun at Nate, “I need you to get up son.”
“But, I didn’t do anything!”
“Just step away from her!”
“Lily!” cried out Nate’s father.
The six year old was standing at the top of the stairs with the phone clutched in her hand. She ran down the stairs, passed her father, and lunged into Nate’s arms. She held her brother. The police officers put their father in hand cuffs and began walking him out the door as other officers showed up.
Lily clutched her older brother. He had been brave for her, going to her whenever the fights began. She had decided it was time to be brave and say something. She did.
. . . And their father would never be back.