Thursday, February 20, 2014
HUNGER STRIKE (Revised Version)
Amy Larson’s husband had not laid a hand on her in over six months. Not so much as a pat on the back or a kiss on the cheek. And though she took this lack of affection as a personal insult, she was relieved he hadn’t raised his hands to her either.
Six months ago, if Amy had so much as spilled a drop of water, Dennis would’ve blackened her eye faster than she could grab a towel to wipe it up.
But Dennis Larson was too preoccupied with Roscoe to even acknowledge his family’s existence beyond the dinner table. Amy would swear that her husband loved that dog more than he did his own wife and son.
Roscoe was a Saint Bernard that Dennis had rescued from the Greenville animal shelter; looked just like the dog from the Beethoven movies. The week he brought Roscoe home, Dennis spent over five hundred dollars on a doghouse, bed, food, and personalized collar.
While the family was scrounging and scraping to survive, Roscoe was treated like royalty. When they drove to the store or rode down to the beach for the day, Roscoe rode shotgun. While the family dined on macaroni and cheese, Roscoe chomped on raw sirloin. There was nothing too expensive for that adorable little mutt.
Dennis let Roscoe roam free whenever he pleased, which angered some of the neighbors. But they were too afraid of Dennis’s awful temper to speak up. When it rained, Roscoe would track mud in the living room and shake himself off, soaking the furniture or whoever was unfortunate enough to be standing in his way. Dennis found this to be adorable. Amy found it to be a pain in the ass seeing as she was the one expected to do the cleanup.
It was a grey December afternoon when Evan Larson strolled in early from school. His brown jacket was stained red, his knuckles skinned down to the bone. He had been in another fight. Ten years old and he was already taking on kids twice his size.
Evan used to stay up late to watch amateur boxing on the sports networks. He loved it so much that on his ninth birthday Dennis bought him gloves and a punching bag. He figured wailing on a heavy bag wouldn’t hurt anybody and might help work all the aggression out of his boy. But the bag didn’t quell Evan’s rage; it only seemed to feed it.
This recent incident involved a young boy named Ronnie Henderson who pegged Evan in the back of the head with a dodge ball during gym glass. Evan leapt over the dividing net and threw the first punch, which crushed poor Ronnie’s nose. Kids were going around school saying when it was over Ronnie’s face looked like raw hamburger meat, all mashed and bloody. The verdict was in on Evan: Permanent expulsion. The doors of Greenville Middle School were closed to him forever.
“What were you thinking?” Dennis shouted, his face turning beet red. Roscoe got so worked up over his master’s fury that he started barking along with Dennis’s screams. “Do you know how hard it’s going to be to find a new school? And what about the kid you sent to the hospital? His parents are probably going to sue us.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Evan shrugged it off, shaking his hands to alleviate the pain from his throbbing knuckles.
“You can’t go around beating people up. It won’t solve your problems.”
“It seems to work on mom,” Evan remarked. That snide comment sent Dennis sailing over the edge. Amy was preparing supper in the kitchen and heard the crinkle of leather as Dennis slid his belt from his jeans.
“Boy, I’m going to whip the skin off your ass.”
Amy turned her back in the kitchen, fearing that Dennis would belt her too if she interjected. As Dennis raised his belt, Evan planted his fist in his father’s gut. Roscoe jumped up and sunk his teeth in Evan’s forearm. Shaking Roscoe off, Evan swung again. This time Dennis was prepared and as he ducked, Evan’s tender knuckles smashed against the wall.
Dennis’s belt cut through the air and snapped across Evan’s back. Roscoe backed away as Dennis lashed his boy again and again until his son’s back was as raw as his knuckles.
“Now get your worthless ass upstairs, boy. If you thought that was bad, let’s see how you like going to bed without your supper.”
“You can’t starve me,” Evan protested.
“Like hell I can’t. Until we find you another school, you’re going on a mandatory hunger strike. Now move it!”
Defeated, Evan retreated from the living room without further resistance. Dennis kneeled down and petted Roscoe behind the ears; then fetched him a milk bone as if to say thanks for helping.
In the kitchen, Amy trembled like the last leaf on a dying tree. Dennis and her son had their disagreements in the past, but it never came to blows before. As many times as Dennis raised his hands to her, he never raised his hands to his boy.
Evan rearranged his room looking for a source of food. A stale bag of chips or stray candy bar he had brought up and forgotten about. A whole day and night without food and even the church shoes in his closet were starting to look appetizing.
Dennis retired that evening with a big smile plastered across his chubby face. His son had stepped out of line with him, and he had remedied the situation in his own savage way. Was it any wonder where Evan got his anger and violent tendencies from?
By midnight, Evan gave up hope of having supper and went to bed feeling both famished and defeated. He can’t starve me forever, Evan thought. Can he?
The following morning, Amy hesitantly brought up the idea of filling out applications for private school. The scowl on Dennis’s face was enough to nip that thought in the bud. She knew realistically that private school wasn’t a luxury they could afford. Not with the way Dennis was spoiling Roscoe.
Roscoe was beside his feet, chewing on stray strips of bacon that Dennis would pass him under the table. He turned his head and growled when Evan entered the kitchen, his flappy ears curved past the sides as he showed his teeth.
Evan’s skin was purple and welted. Dennis admired the bruises of his son the way an art connoisseur might admire a significant painting or priceless sculpture. He was disturbingly pleased with his handiwork.
Evan sat at the table and watched his father scarf down eggs, ham, sausage, and bacon. His stomach was rumbling, crying out for food. He’d have taken the scraps Roscoe was eating off the floor at this point. Halfway through breakfast he asked if he could be excused.
His father banished him with a dismissive nod. He marched up the stairs to his room while he rubbed at his tummy anxiously. Dennis Larson was a firm, strict man. But he could be a sensible man, too. And Evan was certain he’d break before it went too far.
He was starting to see red. He felt the rage boiling inside of him, ready to bubble its way to the surface and be unleashed. He wanted to punch holes in every wall of his room. He wanted to smash his computer and desk to pieces. He wanted to hurl his TV straight out the window.
And he didn’t have a clue as to why destroying his own possessions was even a thought. It just felt good to think about it, picture it mentally. It provided an odd release to his tension, an outlet for his aggression.
But what he really enjoyed visualizing was knocking his dads lights out. Giving him the thrashing of a lifetime. Bashing his face in like he had with Ronnie Henderson.
Above all else, the thing he envisioned the most was a steaming plate of food in front of him.
Another day passed and another day without so much as a crumb or speck of food for Evan to digest. He had been rejected or turned down by every public he had applied to. Once the school districts got wind of the Henderson incident, Evan was branded as a liability and finding a school that would accept him now didn’t seem probable.
The lack of food made him weak, exhausted. He spent most of the day curled up in bed sleeping. Waking only once when his mom barged in without knocking and removed a chunk of tinfoil from her pocket.
Wrapped inside was a ham sandwich on rye.
“Don’t say anything,” Amy whispered. “Just take it and don’t tell your father.”
Before Evan’s taste buds could gear up to devour this offering, Dennis barged in; his hands clenched in fists of wrath. Roscoe trotted in behind him, flashing his teeth again in Evan’s direction.
He stormed across the room, snatching the sandwich from Amy’s hand and stomping it into the carpet. His hand raised to the air and his palm came down across Amy’s jaw. She recoiled from the slap, both hands pressed against the stinging side of her face.
Evan sat up in bed, defenseless. He couldn’t raise a hand to his father again without gaining further punishment. He couldn’t even chance speaking up for his mother. He just had to bite his tongue and pray silently for his father to disperse.
“Let this be a lesson to both of you. Don’t cross me again.”
Amy lied awake in bed, reading quietly. The palm of Dennis’s hand was imprinted across the side of her face, leaving one solid red streak that had begun to swell. She never once mentioned the incident. She didn’t even bother to ask Dennis why Roscoe wasn’t planted at the foot of the bed like usual. She just enjoyed the silence, took it as a brief reprieve from the misery that had become her life.
She was reading the latest copy of People, her one guilty pleasure. She relished in the celebrity gossip and the photos they threw in of shirtless hunks were just a bonus. She often fantasied about being married to the likes of George Clooney or Brad Pitt.
But this illusion was shattered anytime she glanced over at Dennis and saw his bloated beer belly and bulging chipmunk cheeks. The revolting sight made her want to throw up in her mouth a little, and made her question on a nightly basis what kind of man she had married. As if the constant abuse wasn’t enough to make her ask these valid questions.
Evan’s room was next-door to his parent’s bedroom. Dennis pressed his ear to the wall, expecting to hear his boy snoring away. Instead, he could hear Evan chewing softly, slowly. His taste buds savored every bite of the tender, succulent meat.
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Dennis yelled, making Amy twitch slightly. “I think he’s eating in there. I’ll teach him, that little bastard. Where’s my belt?”
“What the heck could he be snacking on?” Amy wondered. “There are no leftovers. And there’s nothing else in the fridge. I haven’t been shopping since Sunday.”
Dennis Larson’s eyes widened. “Roscoe,” he whispered, and a single tear sprawled down his cheek.