By Amy Moschkau
It was routine. Mom burned the pancakes, and Dad never made it home for supper last night. Or breakfast this morning. My fingernails weren’t clean enough, and Victor was crying because he spilled his juice.
I stood on a stool at the kitchen sink with a pink bar of soap, the color that reminded me of sidewalk chalk so much that I could taste the powder in my mouth. Victor cried louder, and Mom had tears running down her face before she blotted the artificial cranberry flavoring out of the carpet.
The phone rang. If there was anything in the world I hated more than their fighting, it was their fights over the phone. There was something about only hearing one side of the argument that made me feel extra uneasy. I’d rather know the truth. I’d rather know the truth because my imagination can always come up with something far more terrible than reality.
“Where have you been?” she wanted to know. “Why didn’t you call?”
He could have said so many things, but I’d never know what response he sent back through the receiver.
Her crying turned to sobbing and the vodka came out of the cupboard so fast I thought it must have been on the table the entire time. She took a long, hard swig from the bottle and looked me directly in the eyes.
“We’re not going to service today. When your brother’s finished eating, you can watch cartoons,” she said flatly.
“Will God forgive us?” I asked.
She stared at me for a moment longer, softly shrugged, and went into her bedroom. I heard the click of the lock and immediately understood. I understood what but not why. I think that’s the moment when I decided that I was going to go anyway.
I wanted to talk to God. I did not care so much as to why it kept happening, I just wanted to beg and plead for it to stop. I was eleven years old, and if I wanted to go to church, I could go by myself. But I’d have to take Victor.
I helped Victor down from his high chair and helped him put on the clothes Mom had already picked out. The button-up shirt, which had been mine when I was his age, was still too loose on him. The oversized hand-me-down made the size-too-small jacket hard to button, but I managed. I ended up having to dress Victor more than I got credit for.
I walked toward Mom’s room. I banged on her door for fifty-two seconds before I decided to leave a note on the table.
The front door felt heavier than it normally did. Maybe because it was the first time I left through it without permission. I squeezed Victor’s hand so tight that he made a funny noise. Our sneakers fell side by side as we started the twenty-block journey to church.
Victor wanted to know where Dad was, why Mom wasn’t coming, and why I was squeezing his hand so tight. I didn’t answer because I had no answers. It wasn’t until he wanted to know why the leaves turned colors that I started to loosen my grip on his tiny fingers. We’d have to walk faster if we were going to make it on time.