Joe hated evenings after school. Every night re-wound to the night before; his drunken mother yelling at his drunken father with he and his younger sisters to stay cautiously out of the way as they threw furniture. Some nights were so bad he slept outside. Out in the middle of the country, who cares? Who’s going to see anything?
Mornings were better, because usually his father was gone already, and probably wouldn’t be back for a week or so after a big night of yelling. His mother was asleep, so after helping his sisters get ready for school, they jumped on the bus with smiles. As a star seventh grade football player, school was a good place. And the food wasn’t so bad.
He liked the girl that sat in front of him during homeroom. Her name was Sarah, and lived down the road from him. Sometimes he offered her a seat on the bus, and she accepted if there were no empty seats. She never spoke much to anyone, but she made A’s all the time and never took a book home.
One night while his parents were yelling he sneaked out and walked to Sarah’s house. He knew he’d get a beating if caught, but as drunk as they were, his parents were unlikely to notice anything. As he approached Sarah’s house at dusk, only a couple of lights were on inside. Outside the grass had grown up a least a foot deep with a rusted lawn mower buried in the front. The front porch had a broken swing and a rocking chair about to fall apart. Then he heard yelling from inside.
Frightened, he cautiously walked around to the side of the house and found a window to peek in. It was Sarah and her sister’s bedroom; both of them were in bed trembling with the covers pulled over their heads. He could hear the shouts of a man and the cries of a woman in another room. Furniture sounded like it was being thrown around somewhere in the house. As well as he knew yelling in adults, these people were not drunk. No slurred words and no stupid stuff, this sounded like hate.
The door to the bedroom burst open; Sarah and her sister sat up. A man threw the woman inside and shouted for all three to get in a corner. As they cowered helplessly crying, the man slammed shells into the magazine of the shotgun with so much ferocity he missed and some of them spilt onto the floor. Foam spewed from his mouth like an animal. Joe’s eyes widened as the man pointed the gun at the woman and the girls. Then he suddenly hesitated, dropped the weapon as he cursed, stomped out of the house, slamming the door and drove off.
The next morning Sarah sat in her usual place quietly, getting up first as usual to turn in her pop quiz. When the bell rang to change class, Joe said, “Do your parents fight?” She nodded. He said “Mine do too.” Not looking back at him, she picked up her books to go to the next class.