As she watched him, she knew what he was thinking. The kids called out harsh names like retard, and stupid, while the adults used more dignified terms such as simpleton and challenged, but there was nothing slow about her. If anything the rest of the world slowed down before her heightened awareness. She took the world in through a silent filter and everything stood in its logical place. Nothing ever surprised her.
They called her simpleton because she didn’t play their games, talk in their ways, flash with their wit, or draw attention to the speed at which she guessed their every movement. Her mom knew why she didn’t talk, and the pain they shared was more easily dealt with in silence, so for this reason she didn’t push. She allowed her daughter’s withdrawal from the world, knowing that she had already walked a life that granted her the right to choose silence over silliness. But this common misconception, that her brain functioned less efficiently than her peers, made it easy for the man to do what he had done in front of her, and now he was checking her out, to see if she really was as ‘not there’ as everyone assumed.
Sarah knew that most kids would be screaming or crying by this point but that was just not her. She thought through every action before making it and she processed it all. Some might even call her cold, or insensitive if they knew her well enough, but that wasn’t it. Sarah never reacted. She responded. And at this particular moment in time, there was no correct response. Nothing in her life had prepared her for this moment, so she sat waiting, watching, processing, what would save her – and did she even want to be saved? Outwardly it looked as if Sarah was merely staring at him, but she was trying to wrestle back control.
Does he think that I don’t know who he is? His body language showed shame, but only at having been caught in the act, and by a kid no less. One second earlier he was a defiant monster, come to teach a lesson, but now he was counting his moves. Weighing what needed to be done over what he was capable of actually doing.
The man cleaned up his mess, trying to remove any trace of his presence in the house. Seeing the girls melancholy eyes forced him to even pick up the potted plant he had knocked over, as if that would somehow make up for what he’d done. The rage had passed and now life was ticking into that unknown decision making time. The time that isn’t already fated away by a mathematical prediction of predisposed motion. Staring at the girl he wiped up his bat and hid it away in his car.
Sarah watched him from her corner, every thought showing clearly on his face as he made his way back to the house to figure out what to do about her. She knew he was simple. He did what he wanted, when he wanted and never tried to hide the fact that he was arrogant because of his physical capabilities. Thick arms, broad shoulders, chest swollen, no one would dare mess with him. But that also made him careless, and passionate, and messy, and now he would have to figure out an escape plan. Sarah wouldn’t make it easy on him. He would have to look her in the eyes and give her the respect that wasn’t afforded to her mother.
Leonard had been sitting on his porch when Craig pulled up in that beaten down Oldsmobile – sun bleached and peeling red paint, passenger side window missing and replaced with duct taped plastic; could almost smell the neglect just by seeing it pass by. Leonard knew that nothing good would come of the next hour as there was only screaming whenever Craig arrived. But on this day Craig seemed worked up before he had even reached the front door. Usually Leonard would go and put his head phones on when Craig arrived as his parents fought enough; he didn’t need to listen to Sarah’s mother and her boyfriend going at it also. But, this time, it was strangely silent after Craig entered that house and that made him even more worried.
One of Leonard’s favorite pastimes was watching Sarah. They went to the same middle school, had studied together since kindergarten in fact, when they had truly been best friends. They used to stay up till all hours of the night playing chess and discussing which classmates they had secret feelings for. They would always bet on the games, with the looser having to share his feelings with his beloved, but they always seemed to keep playing until the score was even, and no one would have to relieve their troubled soul. They were a perfect match until about the fifth grade when she drifted towards the wanna-be academics and he drifted towards the wanna-be jocks. How early it all started, the splitting of friends into power groups; the fraternizing for status and ease of debate – the lines drawn, both seamlessly flowed into their new circles, not even realizing that they had fallen out of touch. That was until the tragedy. He watched from the outside as Sarah struggled with the day to day of getting on with her life. He should have been there for her but he had fallen through the cracks of her circle and now it seemed like they didn’t even know how to talk to each other anymore. The problem though, was that no one in her group knew Sarah as well as he did. They had spent so many nights debating, fantasizing, and romanticizing life that he knew how her mind worked. He just didn’t know how to be there for her when she needed it. So he watched from the outside as she struggled down that hole of angst and regret. Never telling how sorry he was. They never even made eye contact anymore. But Leonard always followed her movements out of his periphery. He was the one that knew her the best, and when the time was right, he had to correct his bad decisions.
Leonard wandered into the kitchen where his mother, Martha, was boiling up some richweed for her husband’s laryngitis. Bastard wouldn’t have a sore throat if he’d kept that mouth closed a little more often, she thought. Martha had married young, and some say died young. She lived only to move from moment to moment, restless by her lack of purpose. She hated to gossip, as she was a good Christian woman after all, but couldn’t control herself, and she hated the fact that she couldn’t find a reason to. Actually, Martha didn’t even believe in God anymore. How many mosquitoes she had squashed without any reverence for their lives? Slowly, over time she had come to think of herself as nothing but a mosquito waiting to be squashed, randomly, by some speeding vehicle or organ failure, or tripping down her front steps and smashing her head against the side walk. It was always waiting to consume her, death was. It was always waiting for her but there would be nothing on the other side. That much she was becoming sure of with every passing moment. When she would be squashed like a mosquito, everything would go black and life would be over, and she would truly rest in peace forever. But, her identity was that of a good Christian woman, so she kept her thoughts to herself, and served her bastard husband until her time was complete. Even Leonard was a strain on her. She gave up her freedom at eighteen and now what? It was all about entertainment now. Whether it was gossip or t.v. or if it came to it, picking up one of those dusty books off her just-for-show bookshelf, she was just passing time.
“Hey Sweety,” said Martha as she caressed Leonard’s cheek. She tried because she knew that he needed it. Even if he was a strain, even if he marked the nail in the coffin of her freedom, Leonard was still her son and he needed a mother after all.
“Awfully quiet at the Fullerton’s,” pushed Leonard.
“Well let’s thank God for that at least.” Talk about a stain on the neighborhood. There was nothing decent about the Fullerton’s house. The constant crying and screaming, from the mother, and that deaf and dumb girl just getting in the way. Why this constant fascination with that damn girl? Martha thought. Enough is enough, already.
“But, Craig is there,” Leonard warned
“So, I’m worried.”
It’s none of our business what goes on over there, Lenny.”
“But, what about Sarah?”
“I told you not to mind that girl didn’t I? She doesn’t even register it.”
“She does register, mom.”
Martha wondered what the point of her constant advice was if it was never even taken into consideration. She was constantly reminding herself that it was better if she just kept silence. They wouldn’t miss her talking and she wouldn’t need to waste her breath. Annoyed she motioned to Leonard that he should go amuse himself in his room. Why did I get you that damn X Box if you’re going to continue to grate on my nerves all day?
“Go,” said Martha as stern as she could muster.
Craig was staring into Sarah’s eyes trying to figure her out. He hadn’t even noticed her when he’d come for Rachel. But now, as Rachel’s daughter was unwaveringly looking into his own eyes, he realized that he’d never even heard her voice before. God, you idiot, in front of the little girl, what were you thinking?
Craig wasn’t interested in the family thing. He and Rachel used each other for blowing off a little steam. They would get a little high, and then they would get a little dirty. Rachel always made sure that Sarah was away in her room and it didn’t really matter none to Craig. He didn’t want a family. He just wanted a little distraction. He had his own proper girlfriend at home, but Sarah made him feel worthwhile again. It wasn’t that anything was wrong with Grace, she was great, but give me a break how long can you go on about the way I woke you up in the morning? That you need to be gently nudged into the world or it ruins your whole day. I am not responsible for your whole wasted day, like you have anything to do but sit around and watch reruns anyways.
Rachel was Craig’s relief. Unfortunately for both of them Rachel had crossed the line. Craig knew that it was Rachel who had dipped into his stash and he just couldn’t let that go. It’s not enough that I come and get you hi but you need a fix all day long. Where is the appreciation? I work hard for my money and you take it like I was your actual husband or something?
He had expected as much for some time now. It wasn’t so much that Rachel acted like she was better than him, as Craig new that he was taking advantage of her and her present situation. Had she not been on her own, Rachel never would have found herself involved with someone like him. But her life fell apart and he knew it. He had hunted her like prey. He could see in the slump of her shoulders that she would be easy taking, and he was bored, so he took her. He wrapped her around his world until she believed that she needed him. He fed her drugs, yes, but it was he who would become the real drug needling his way into her life until she couldn’t live without him. It was not hard as she needed to be free of the constant nagging of her own mind, and he was ready to give her that freedom. He made himself what she needed; something to get excited about again.
When Rachel saw Craig’s Oldsmobile pulling up her heart sunk. She never liked his visits but normally he came like clockwork; she feigned love, they got hi, they argued and he left. It was the routine that they had settled into; the routine that she could live with to get what she needed from him. He was anyways satisfied believing as he did that he was the man – reject good for nothing pusher – come to save her from her worthless life. So she let him believe. It was business. Anything for you, Sarah.
But, this was not his normal time, still being dealing hours, his brother always replaced him for the night shift – a real tight business – should be paying taxes they were so together – and he kept business to business hours – playing house was always done on personal time.
He knows, she thought.
Craig’s brother was the night crawler; older, stronger, a beast of a man. The brother used to go by Cats, because everyone wanted to let him think that he was cool, but when he came back from prison, he was just Jimmy. Jimmy as a name seems harmless enough, but not when you understand all that it entails. Cats was an imitation pimp, looking up to the old school idealization of what a street runner should look like. But Jimmy was a man that knew himself; hard, cold, and unwilling to let his life be compromised by the mistakes of others. If Jimmy felt that Craig had let him down, there would be no filial buffer for his wrath. Rachel could see that Craig was here to make things right.
Rachel had met Jimmy once. He had asked to meet her, so Craig brought her over for a regular family dinner. Jimmy had completely taken her apart.
“What’s a good suburb chick doing with the likes of fiend like my brother? You think that I trust you because you’re using? There are always ulterior motives with your kind. Your kind ain’t never did nothing for the streets. Your kind don’t even see us in your world view. We’re just like cracked paint on an old building – you just pretend that it isn’t there.”
On that night, there was nothing that Rachel could say; she knew that it was all true. Jimmy was much smarter than Craig, so she just kept her mouth shut, as if she were shy, and let Craig defend her. Craig anyways wanted to be the man, to Jimmy. Craig was older by a couple of years, but his softness made him seem inferior. So he let Jimmy lead the show. Jimmy had done the time. Jimmy had the peoples respect. Jimmy had the fear factor that was needed on the streets, and Craig just tried to keep up with it all.
Rachel wanted a better life for her daughter. And if that meant selling a little bit on the side and putting up with clowns like Craig, she was willing to do it. Her daughter needed to get out of the city.
Sarah hadn’t spoken a word since her father died. It was parent’s night at the school when all the kids would wear their best clothes and listen as the teachers would give some motivational speeches before the kids would end the show by doing this sign language routine while singing Kumba Ya My Lord, Kumbaya. The parents would eat it up every year – year after year the same routine. But this time, when Sarah’s father stood up to applaud he had a massive heart attack. Everyone stared at him as if they didn’t know what to do. Even the teachers were shocked. No one even tried CPR. They just stared for what seemed like half an hour before the ambulance came. But he was dead. And everyone would look at Sarah from then on out with that pity face; that poor girl that lost everything in front of everyone face.
When Sarah’s father died Rachel was left with an un-payable mortgage and no family to turn to. They were alone in the world and Rachel would do anything to keep Sarah safe; even allow Craig to believe that he was the man so that she could sell a bit of his stash on the side. She needed a new life. Sarah needed her to succeed in this at least.
Now as Craig rushed to Rachel’s house, Rachel could see that it was his own respect that was on the line. Craig wouldn’t live it down, having a chick skimming off of him.
“Here’s your tea babe,” Martha tried with all the love she could muster, knowing that he just didn’t care anymore.
Jeff just sat there on the bench sipping his light beer, and watching the house across the street.
“I told you before, that girl is too young for you.”
“Something’s going on over there,” Jeff said, immersed in his own world.
“You and Lenny are both just infatuated with those girls, huh?”
“Maybe you should go check on them?”
“Me? What?” Martha was the one that pretended to stay out of others’ business.
With a glare of irritation, Jeff picked Martha’s bobbysocks up off the porch with his toes and flung them at her. “Go have a look.”
Sarah saw Leonard peering at her through the window. She tried not to notice lest Craig would follow her eyes.
“Do you know who I am?” asked Craig
Sarah started to take note of her options. Any direction that she might try to run he would easily catch her.
“Do you know my name?” Craig pushed.
The lamp stand, the coffee table, the salad fork, the marble coaster, desperately Sarah searched for a solution.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Craig tried again.
“Run,” said Rachel as she watched Craig running up the drive way. “Run, now.”
But Sarah wouldn’t run. She wouldn’t even consider leaving her mother behind. And when Craig slammed through the door pushing her mother to the floor, she just watched. When her father had died that day at school, all she could do was watch. Now, again Sarah felt completely helpless. But she wouldn’t run..
One hit and her mother fell lifeless.
One hit and the life began to rush into Sarah’s veins as an anger that she had forgotten overtook her.
As Leonard peered in through the kitchen window he was desperate to get Sarah’s attention. She was just past the door in the next room. He could have sworn he caught her eyes for a moment but then she acted as if she didn’t see him. Leonard began to wave at her but she was intently staring at something.
Annoyed Leonard began to lightly tap on the window. Sarah started to shake her head, as if to say no, but then suddenly the action became violent. Her whole body juddered as if in agony. Leonard was about to run in to help her when he saw Craig stepping above her body.
Of course I see you there Lenny! Stop waving your arms! Stop he’ll see you! Sarah thought that she was obvious in her actions. Leonard should see that she was in trouble and should run for help. He should know that she was ignoring him on purpose.
Then Leonard started to tap and Craig flinched. No! Sarah involuntarily shook her head no, for Leonard to stop and Craig took notice. Sarah had to draw his attention away so she tried to turn her accidental head turn into a fake seizure. Leonard, go for help!
I knew this girl wasn’t right. “Snap out of it!” yelled Craig as he began violently shaking Sarah, trying to shake the fits out of her. Sarah let out a cry and that was the first sound that Craig had ever heard from her. Spooked, he threw her against the ground and turned to leave when he saw Martha, from across the street, standing in the doorway, mouth wide open, frozen in disbelief.
Jeff didn’t need to see her face. It wasn’t like he had any kind of extrasensory powers, he didn’t need them. He knew when his wife was freaking out by the way that the muscles in her necked constricted. He didn’t notice this on anybody else, but on his wife, even from across the street, he knew that there was trouble in the Fullerton house. Stepping inside his door Jeff reached for his shotgun.
As she took in the scene Martha knew that she didn’t have many options, the circumstances had already played themselves out. And even when Craig had turned to see her, she knew that she could still run. Jeff would hold down the fort at home. But then she saw him. Leonard, what are you doing here! Seeing the shock in Martha’s eyes, Craig turned back to see Leonard running towards Sarah.
What in the world are these people thinking? This was not what Craig was used to. In his neighborhood there was a strict hierarchy; people knew their place. When Craig walked into a house people looked away. But this was not Craig’s neighborhood.
Seeing that awkward boy from across the street running towards Rachel’s girl brought a twinge of sentiment even to Craig’s hardened heart. This was a family. They cared about each other. Craig was not interested in hurting children. And who is this woman in the doorway? Tell me it’s not his mother.
Looking back towards the woman Craig was thinking he could plead his case, but then he saw a determined looking man walking through the street towards them. Is that a shotgun? Are these people crazy?
As Jeff barged past his wife his face took on an albescent tone. His eyes scanned the room in disbelief. He had entered ready to fight but now he stood saddened.
“Leonard. Come here.” Heeding his father’s call, Leonard walked to the door.
Rachel heard the voices surrounding her. She tried to focus her eyes and saw her neighbors and Craig standing in the doorway. As she lifted herself up, leaning on her arms she saw her broken legs sprawled out lifeless.
The memories came rushing back to her; Craig running crazily through the door, the crack of that bat as it hit her knees. I must have passed out.
As Rachel’s vision returned, she saw horror in the eyes before her. Sarah!
Rachel turned to Sarah’s spot and saw her little girl lying motionless on the floor. The color drained from Rachel’s face as she watched a pool of blood spreading out from beneath Sarah’s head.
featured artwork by Aleksandra Kerzhentceva. Check her out at http://www.kerzhentceva.com/