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The Morning After MAG
Sunlight fell in stripes on his stomach. He stared at them until his eyes hurt. His body felt anchored to his bed, like the nightmares were still in his head, making it heavy and awkward.
He could hear his mother banging around in the kitchen. She must have been doing it on purpose, trying to get him up so that he would go see her. He wasn't sure he wanted to. Pieces of the night before were beginning to leak back into his head. They pressed down on him, holding him down on the mattress.
He heard his mother yank open a cabinet and pull something out, probably a coffee mug. He could smell the Folgers brewing. He sighed, resigned to the fact that he had to get up eventually. He swung his legs out of bed. The floor was cold on his soles and he curled his toes involuntarily. He tugged the comforter off the floor and deposited it on his mussed sheets.
Padding down the hall, he avoided the places in the floor with nails sticking out or where boards sagged. He approached the kitchen and slowed, peeked around the corner. His mother sat in a chair and stared into her cup as if the swirls of cream in her coffee would form the solutions to her troubles. The yellow linoleum shined dully and the Formica table looked ready to collapse.
She didn't look up as he walked to the table. He imagined she might be embarrassed. He wanted to tell her that he loved her even after what happened last night. That he knew she had to do it. But he couldn't seem to find the words, and instead he sat down.
She had set a cup of milk in front of his seat. He picked it up and drank, washing away the sour taste of morning from his mouth. She drank too, her eyes never leaving her mug.
The silence lasted too long. His mother finally cleared her throat and muttered, “They're coming soon.”
He flinched and responded, “Yeah. I know.”
Speaking seemed to trigger memories in both of them. For him it was the feeling of his father's fist against his face and the smell of whiskey. The pain in his head as it struck the coffee table. Red everywhere. He reached a hand back and felt the spot. He was lucky not to have a concussion, he knew that. But he didn't feel lucky at the moment.
The look on his mother's face told him she was thinking about last night too. Her forehead was wrinkled and her knuckles were white against the mug in her hand. She didn't look guilty, just tired.
“There are some things you're going to have to remember when I'm gone,” she said. He nodded to show he was listening. “First, when they take you away, put only important things in a bag. Take some toys or pictures or something. Not too much, because you're going to have to carry that bag around wherever you go.” He nodded again. She sighed.
“Second, don't let anybody make you do anything you don't want to do. I don't know who they're going to give you to, and there are some nasty people out there. This goes for lawyers too. If you don't want to get up in court, you don't have to.” She looked pained. He grabbed her hand across the table, and she looked at him for the first time.
“Ma,” he murmured. “I'm going to do everything I can to help you, even if that means testifying. I won't let them put you away.”
She almost smiled. There were tears in her eyes. “Oh, angel, that's not really up to you. But thanks.” She squeezed his hand. “Third, try to blend in. Kids will go after you if you stand out too much.”
“I think I'll be good at that,” he joked, thinking about how insignificant he already was in the world. Would not having parents make him even more invisible?
“And last, remember that no matter what, from here forward, I love you. I love you so much.” The tears in her eyes threatened to overflow. He scooted his chair over to her side of the table and held her. She seemed small and breakable all of a sudden.
He wondered how much time they had left. Seeming to read his thoughts, his mother said, “I called them five minutes ago. They'll be here soon.”
Over her shoulder, he saw his father lying on the floor, stiff and cold. A large brown spot surrounded the place where his head would have lain, had the buckshot not blown most of it off.
He remembered the front door slamming. He had wandered down the hall, hoping to find his father sober and happy to be home. When he saw the man stumble and lurch into the living room, his heart had fallen. He tried to quickly back out of the room, but his father had seen him and started toward him. “Where you goin', boy?” he had shouted.
His father had grabbed his shoulder and shaken him. He knew better than to struggle, but it was a knee-jerk reaction. His father had hit him six times. He had gone limp and pretended to be unconscious. That had only made his father more angry. He threw him to the floor. He didn't know if it had been his father's intention for him to hit the table, but he had. Then everything had gone white. His mother had screamed, and there was a bang that must have shaken the whole house. Then it was quiet.
His mother's sobs brought him back to the present. He was still staring at his father's body. He was tempted to put a blanket over it. It looked cold.
He hugged his mother tighter. His arms hurt and his head hurt and he was starting to get scared. A car pulled into the driveway, flashing red and blue.
He smelled her, sweat and coffee and the speckles of blood scattered like stars over her nightgown. His body began to shake.
Then there was a knock at the door.