Thomas sits cross-legged on the faux wood tile floor of the kitchen. Mother’s sunflower dress drapes to her ankles and he caresses its soft edges against his cheeks. Her legs are smooth and golden and shine even in the dark. Mother’s looking older, Father always says, but Thomas finds her beautiful. The strands of gray in her brown hair only make her Mommy. Under the table it smells like the pages of an old book, the tablecloth brown with age and its edges frayed. Father is speaking, but Thomas cannot hear him. His voice is muffled and gruff. Mother never speaks when Father is talking, she only nods and agrees, hoping that today he’s calm. Father’s voice rises slowly throughout his speech. Thomas pretends not to hear. He buys his time with silence, but eventually it’ll run out. He stuffs his ears with his fingers and hums softly to drown out Father’s rant.
Martha feels soft tickling from her son’s fingers. She wants to scream she’s so afraid. Everyday she’s afraid. She awakes in the mornings with tears in her eyes. She wants to scream so bad, but she’s too afraid. John is starting to talk about fags being the fall of the nation. The world is ending and somehow it has to do with fags and niggers. While he talks he pounds his fist upon the dinner table and shakes the silverware and nearly breaks the wood in two, but he doesn’t even notice. Bits of mashed potatoes fling violently from his mouth. He’s getting fatter every year, but his head stays the same size. His voice is practically screaming, on edge and even cracks between his damning and convictions. She never speaks, though. She only nods her head and agrees between bites of chicken enchilada casserole and canned green beans. Sometimes she’ll give an Amen just to cheer him up. Nobody speaks their mind besides John. Thomas is sitting below her, playing with her dress, and Martha prays to a God she doesn’t believe in for him to just keep quiet.
Thomas wonders why he can’t go to school like the rest of the kids in the neighborhood. Monday through Friday at 4 P.M. the kids will march one by one from out the bus, while Thomas tearfully watches from his bedroom window and thinks of a differently phrased question to ask Father that will change his mind about everything. The kids gather by the Pine tree in the Bryant’s yard to vote on which games they’ll play today. They spend the evening laughing, chasing each other, and even sometimes they fight and scream, but Thomas doesn’t care. He’d love to have a kid scream at him if it meant he could have just one friend. He’d take all the abuse the world had to offer if he could just have that one friend. At sundown the kids disperse, and Thomas is left alone in his room. Thomas used to plead with Father to let him leave, just once and he’ll never ask again. Mother hushes him now before he has a chance to ask. She says there isn’t any use in stirring things up when it can be avoided. Thomas doesn’t understand. He only wants a friend. And so every day he sits beside his bedroom window and watches with a heart so empty it’s almost dry.
Father is screaming now. Not even two stuffed ears and a soft hum can drown out the noise. Thomas hears it all: the fags, the sinners, the niggers, hell. Every bit of it seeps into his vernal brain and soaks. Thomas begins to believe him, even respects him. At night when he closes his eyes he sees his father’s face alive and real in front of him. His Christian eyes and Baptist tongue piercing his only son’s heart. He’s a punisher, a reckoner, and a sculptor. And Thomas doesn’t know anything else but to love him.
“And I tell you what, Martha, Jesus ain’t gonna take this for long. No, sir. He’s got plans for this nation, I can promise that. Sinners keep gettin’ the best of this world and God wants it back. To Hell with this world, I say. I say all these fags and nigger lovers can take their seat in Hell as quick as they please. Now where’s Tommy? Tommy where in the hell are you boy? You under the table again? Get your ass out from that table boy before I kick your teeth straight into sand. What’d you say boy? Did you say something? Get your ass back here. Get your ass back here right now, you little hellion. Martha, go get my belt. Daddy gonna teach you, boy. Quit your cryin’ and get my belt, you know damn well where it is. No, not there damnit, not there either. There you go, right there. There it is. Yes sir, Daddy gonna teach you. Now hand it over. Jesus eyes are all seeing, you cannot escape His wrath. Where you at, boy? My eyes are one with God’s, you know better than to run. Get back here, boy. Imma teach you what happens when you get smart with me, a man of God, a man of strength and power, I am your father, boy. That’s right, boy. Now pull down your pants. You heard me. Pull em down. No, to your ankles. Yeah, just like that. Now touch your ankles. Imma teach you to mess with Daddy. Oh, did you want some too, bitch? Get your ass outta here before I beat you. That’s right, boy. Daddy gonna teach you.”
If only Thomas weren’t alive she could die in peace. Thomas needs to go, Thomas needs to leave. It’d be better for him anyways. That’s right, it’s for the better. Thomas needs to go, and then she can die in peace. She can die in peace when Thomas goes.
DIE. DIE. DIE.