Michelle leigh author


surviving excerpt

     I press my ear to the door, hoping I can make out what is being said down the hall. Behind me my brother, Danny, is looking through a car magazine, unconcerned with the argument at the front door between our father and the two police officers. We had just gotten home from school moments before, when the police cars rolled to a stop in the front of our trailer. Our father threw us in our room and warned us not to make any noise. At the age of eight, my twin brother and I know not to disobey our father or there will be consequences. I can hear my dad’s angry bellow followed by the lower murmuring of one of the police officers. All I want to do is run down the hallway to the police officers and beg them to take us away from here; away from him.

     Before the last bell of the day had rung at school, Danny and I had been pulled aside by our teacher and quizzed about the various bruises on our arms. Even though we both claimed they were accidents from riding our bikes (which is the standard line we silently agreed to give if asked) we knew she wouldn’t believe us. As we boarded the bus earlier, we both knew something bad was going to happen. This is not the first time some save-the-world teacher has called the cops to our trailer. Our father is also well versed in what to say when this happens. He’ll no doubt tell them we have gone to our grandmother’s house in a different state. So far, we have found the police in this area don’t care enough to follow up with that lie.

     “Emma, get away from the door and start on your homework. It’s not like you can hear what they’re saying, anyway.” my brother mutters at me while flipping through his magazine.

     I sigh and turn away from the door, blowing my long bangs out of my face. My brother and I might be twins but we’re not identical. While we both inherited our father’s green eyes, Danny has dirty blond hair that always seems to need a trim and I have bright red hair. Even at such 
young age I’ve started to get jealous that my brother got the blond hair while I got the ugly red, complete with freckles on my nose. Danny tells me that when I get older my hair will be darker like our mom’s was, and the freckles might even go away. He’s annoying sometimes, but he is a good big brother (older by three minutes, he always tells people). I grab my dirty and torn red backpack and climb onto the bottom mattress of the bunk bed I share with him. He says that he gets the top one because he’s older.

     “Do you need any help with your math today?” Danny asks as he glances over at me.

     I shake my head. 
School is always so easy for my brother; he gets good grades without even trying. Needless to say, he helps me with my homework all the time. He usually does his homework during lunch or on the bus so he doesn’t have to do it at home. On the days our father is in a really bad mood, we may spend the whole day hiding out in the woods behind our trailer and won’t have time to get our homework done. We usually wait until we know he’s so drunk that he has passed out before we crawl back through our bedroom window. Days like today are even worse. After the welfare checks, our father will usually start drinking the hard liquor instead of just beer. When that starts, we typically have a good hour before we need to hide out. Sometimes it doesn’t even take that long and we have no time to get away. Wintertime is the worst. We once had to hide out in the woods for three hours while it was snowing. I ended up with strep throat and couldn’t talk for three days. If it hadn’t been for my brother taking care of me, it could have been much worse.

     I drag my math book and homework out from my backpack and start working on my multiplication problems. Suddenly there’s a loud bang as, I assume, my father slams the front door shut. Danny and I both look at the clock next to the bed and mentally start our45 minute 
count down before we need to slip out through our bedroom window. While I pretend to continue doing my homework I can hear our father stomping around our small two bedroom trailer, searching for his Jack Daniel’s. After a few minutes, there is silence. In our home, this is known as the silence before the storm. Even though this is the most peaceful time we have here, it’s also the scariest because we know what will soon follow.

     After only fifteen minutes, we hear the sound of footsteps heading down the hallway toward our room. Danny’s head snaps over to me, and he motions for me to put my shoes back on. I think he hopes that if our father can’t hear us then maybe he’ll forget that we’re there, waiting, like little lambs for the slaughter.  I don’t even have time to put one of my shoes on before the door to our room crashes open, surely putting a hole in the wall behind the door.

     Danny jumps from the chair he’s sitting on and rushes over to the side of the bed where I sit, frozen. It looks like this is going to be one of those times Daniel and I don’t make it out of the window in time.

     Looming in our doorway, our father’s face is contorted into a mask of pure fury. His face is red with rage but his eyes are what scare me the most. The dark green of his irises are hidden by his overly large pupils. He must have finished off his Jack Daniels quickly because he is well into ‘drunk daddy’ and it has only been a few minutes. I notice he’s wearing his usual outfit of dirty white shirt and jeans – but my gaze zeroes in on his belt. For us, a belt is not a clothing item to hold his pants up, but a convenient traveling weapon that we are both well acquainted with.

     “Those bastards think that they can tell me how to raise my own kids?! You belong to me. I can do what I want, when I want!” our father snarls at us as he undoes the buckle at the front of the belt. “Now, which one of you ingrates told someone to call the cops?” His eyes jump back and forth between Danny andI, looking for signs of guilt.

     “We didn’t tell anybody to call the cops. One of the teachers at school must have done it.” Danny answers while puffing out his chest, trying to look bigger than his puny eight years will allow. Danny is standing in front of me so I can’t see how our dad is reacting to that news, but I can hear the tell-tale sounds of his belt coming out of its loops in one long pull. Daniel will usually stand in front of me when my dad is around, to try to take more of the punishment than me. This plan rarely works and seems to just make our father even angrier.

    “Mrs. Marsh asked us about some bruises we had on our arms earlier today. Maybe she was the one who called them.” I added that in a smaller and 
more timid voice than my twin. Danny might want to take more of the hits for me, but that doesn’t mean I’ll let him.

    “Emma!” my brother quietly admonishes for bringing our father’s attention to me.

    “These interfering assholes at your school make me sick, sticking their nose into our family business.” my father growls, more to himself than to us. He absently whacks the belt against his leg, making my brother and I flinch. “You two won’t be going to 
school any more. I don’t need my home invaded by cops every time one of you has a runny nose.” After another moment, he focuses his green eyes on us again. He stalks towards us, glowering at me in particular. That’s as good as an announcement that he has decided I will be the focus of his attention for the evening. Recognizing this look, my brother moves himself over a little more so he is standing directly in his path. Without even breaking stride, our father backhands him across the face, sending Danny sprawling to the floor. I barely have time to register this before he raises the belt over his head and delivers the first devastating blow to my side. I collapse sideways onto my bed. Before I have time to feel the pain of that initial hit, he starts rhythmically striking me with his belt in the same spot. I think he knows it hurts more when it’s in one spot rather than distributing the pain all over.  After a few more blows I can hear my brother groaning and I see him stand back up. He turns toward our dad and rushes forward, trying to tackle him to the floor.

    “Daniel, no!” I yell at him. Unfortunately, our father hears me and is able to prepare himself for the hit a split second before Danny reaches him. He hauls his arm back and punches my brother right in the face. My first thought is that my father must have put most of his weight into that punch because Danny immediately crumples to the ground, unmoving. My second thought, after I squint at my brother for a moment to make sure he’s still breathing, is that I no longer have someone to help me. When he’s satisfied Daniel won’t be getting up again, my father turns his 
focus back on me. With no one left to stop or distract him from me, I endure the full force of his anger for the next few interminable minutes. Besides his belt, my father also uses his fists on my face. He’s probably celebrating because he no longer has to worry about us hiding the bruises at school. And, just as suddenly as the beating started, it stops. Breathing heavily, he walks out and disappears down the hallway.

    Over the next couple of minutes, while I wait for Danny to get up, I try to calm down and figure out which part of my body hurts the most. I don’t think anything’s broken but my head and side hurt really badly. I notice Danny start to move around and groan on the floor which means he’s waking up. . I’m happy to see he’s okay but I’m also in so much pain I can’t get up to help him. Danny slowly sits up and looks around, probably making sure our father is gone. His lip is split and now his nose is bleeding as well. It looks like both of his eyes will end up with black circles around them by morning. Then his green eyes settle on me.

    “Oh my God, Ems!” my brother croaks as he slowly gets to his feet. The look on his face tells me all I need to know about how I look. I can feel the blood running down my face from a gash on my forehead and the swelling of my eyes, indicating the beginning of my own pair of black eyes as well. I usually slip into the bathroom as quickly as I can, but I can’t move for the pain radiating down my side because of the belt. I know it upsets my brother when he sees me like this, but I also hate the sight, smell, and taste of blood so I always try to get it off of me as quickly as I can. Danny walks over to me and picks up a discarded towel from the floor next to the bed. He starts cleaning my face and his own while trying to pretend like his eyes aren’t wet with unshed tears as he listens to me cry. My brother has been taught from an early age that crying, under any circumstances, is not what a real man does. Even I’ve never seen him cry.

    “On the upside.” I whimper as he gently wipes my face with the towel, “at least we don’t have to try to come up with some lame excuse this time.” I give him a small smile that I suspect looks more like a grimace because of the amount of pain I’m in. Danny either doesn’t hear me or is choosing to ignore me.

    “As soon as I can, Ems, I’m going to get you out 
of here.” he whispers fervently to me as he stops to stare at the window on the back wall. “I swear, someday we are going to leave and never look back.”

   “You promise?” I ask him in such a small voice I don’t think he can hear me.

    “Promise.” he replies as he reaches under the bed for the Band-Aids hidden there.

                                                               ****

    I waited so very long for him to be able to fulfill that promise. Eight years later, we finally got our chance.....