I stood on my toes and stretched forward as far as I could when suddenly a male’s voice vibrated in my ear.
“I’ll get that for you.”
I froze, too frightened to turn around. I tried to move, but just couldn’t.
“I can wash your back.” He continued as liquor vaporized from his breath.
I turned around and without looking I kneed him in the groins.
“What is wrong with you?” Robert roared at me, doubling over in pain.
I scrambled, trying to cover myself with a towel from the second shelf of the closet. My back slammed against a wall as I gulped, struggling to slow my breathing. “I thought you were out of town.”
Clutching himself and grunting in pain, Robert shouted, “Well, I’m not! Who did you think I was … a burglar?”
I stared as he writhed in pain. “I … I…” My words just wouldn’t come.
Robert looked at me and then back towards the floor as he stood bent over. He grunted a while longer before straightening up to fling a bar of soap in my direction. I flinched as it landed several inches in front of me.
“Next time, look before you act.”
My eyes dropped to the floor as his steps diminished away from me.
I crawled into my bedroom and curled up in a corner clinging to the towel. I pulled my thighs up to my chest and braced my forehead onto my knees. I thought it was all over. I just knew it was over. I hadn’t felt this way since I left for college when I was seventeen.
I used to endure nights of confusion, wondering if this was normal. As time went on, I pretended that nothing was going on just to keep peace in the house. I had to look out for my brother and make sure that it wasn’t passed down to him. I kept my mother at a distance, not telling all that went on because she’d never believe me.
I jumped when I heard a knock at my door.
“What?” I yelled.
“Can I come in?” It sounded like my younger brother.
“Brian? I’m not dressed. Can we talk tomorrow?”
He was quiet for a while. I think he knew more than I gave him credit for. I used to push him out of my room after Robert left. I knew he would recognize the smell of sex sooner or later. After the first few times, I had already learned to hide my underwear from my mother. She did laundry on Saturdays and always used to ask me if I wore the same panties more than one day in a row. I had to lie and say that I did. But the truth was that I had to wash some of them myself, because most had blood stains that I couldn’t let her see. I did this until the school taught us about little girls getting their periods. I lied two years before I actually got mine.
“Nia, you all right?” Brian asked.
I smeared tears across my cheeks and answered, “Yeah,” while trying to cover my quivering voice.
“Look, I’m staying at my friend’s tonight. Ma told me you’re out of here on Saturday night. Make sure we talk before you leave.”
I looked up at the clock. Six-thirty. All I could think of is getting out of the house before my mother got home.
“I will, Brian. Have fun tonight.”
An uncomfortable moment of silence preceded the echo of footsteps tapering away from my door. My stifled tears felt safe enough to return. After twenty minutes of feeling sorry for myself, I buried my pain once again, crawled up off the floor, and packed an overnight bag. I have to get out of this house.
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