"I'm sorry,” she whispered, voice hushed, knowing even that small statement could set him off again.
"Just what are you sorry for, you worthless piece of shit?" Robert asked in a deadly calm voice.
Esther swallowed and looked around the kitchen, having trouble remembering what had happened to set him off this time. There have been so many things over the past few years and her head throbbed, making it difficult for her to concentrate. Her eyes landed on her oldest daughter, Marilyn, who was holding a bowl of spaghetti and waving it from side to side. Esther barely nodded, but Marilyn caught the movement and put down the bowl as quickly as possible. Marilyn knew if Robert caught her helping, she would be the next one feeling the sting of his fists. Esther looked down at the floor and quietly answered, "I did not fix the noodles the way you like them. They were too soft. I know I need to be punished. I will go into the bedroom and wait for you."
Esther did not move yet. She could see Robert's hands, clenching and unclenching, she knew if she moved before she was given permission, he would hit her even harder. She heard the heavy exhale of breath she had been waiting for and saw Robert's hands slowly unclench. She knew the worst was over. He may still slap her again in the bedroom or throw her onto the bed and get a little rough with her, but the danger of severe injury had passed.
"Fine. I'll see you in there," Robert said.
Esther hesitated briefly, as Robert normally followed right behind her, breathing down her neck as she walked as quickly as she could to her room, but she didn't question him. Not now, her ribs still hurt from the last time he had used her to release his anger and her head was throbbing so much she was beginning to feel sick to her stomach. Esther just nodded and hurried off, leaving Marilyn to deal with the mess of dinner.
As Marilyn watched her mother go, a sick feeling crawled from her stomach to the back of her throat. This wasn't normal. Robert always wanted to get right to the punishment. He loved the punishment. Mom didn't know, but Marilyn knew that Robert liked to humiliate Esther in the bedroom. The things he said to her and did to her could be heard through the paper thin walls of the trailer. Marilyn always made sure the girls were listening to music on headphones when the noise started, but Marilyn only had two pairs that worked, and she could handle things better than the twins could. Marilyn wasn't sure what she should do, keep still or begin cleaning the kitchen. She would get yelled at if she chose the wrong thing, but knowing the kitchen would need to be cleaned before she could go make sure the twins were okay, she began picking up the fallen plates and forks.
They had all been sitting at the table when Robert exploded, so most of the dishes were on the floor and the drink glasses that had been tipped over when he shook the table and pushed back his chair, were dripping water all over the floor. Luckily it was water and not lemonade. Then she would have to mop again, prolonging the time it would take for her to get back to the twins. Robert was watching her as she moved around the kitchen, not making a move to stop her, but making her nervous by how hard he was staring.
The knot in her stomach was getting worse. This behavior was not normal for Robert and Marilyn had the feeling that something really bad was going to happen. Something worse than what had ready happened in the past. Something that would change her life forever.
It took Marilyn twenty minutes to clean up the mess. It was dark outside and she could feel tiredness creeping up on her. She knew the twins were hungry, as the argument started at the beginning of supper, not the end, so they had not been able to eat. Marilyn knew she would be hungry if she wasn't so scared, but Robert was still in the kitchen. He had moved to the table, sitting down at the head and slouching into the chair like he was going to stay there forever. His legs were kicked out in front of him, spread apart, and his heavy work boots still on his feet. They had been difficult to clean around, but Robert had not moved them, even when Marilyn had to crawl on her hands and knees under the table to wipe up the water.
Marilyn kept her eyes on the floor when she finished the dishes and turned towards Robert. "Is there anything I can get you before I go to bed?" Marilyn asked quietly. When he didn't respond, Marilyn risked a quick look at Robert and her mouth dropped open in horrified surprise.
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