Saturday, July 18, 2015



By Daniel Skye

            “These hamburgers are overcooked,” Dennis Larson bitched to his wife.
            “No, they’re not,” Amy said, minding her tone of voice. She wanted to remain as diplomatic as possible. Dennis has a short fuse. So short that Amy wasn’t even sure if fuse was the applicable word. It was more like a wall switch he could flip on at any given moment.
            “Yes, they are,” Dennis fired back. “I feel like I’m munching on charcoal. The thing is like a frigging hockey puck.”
            “They taste fine to me,” Amy said in her defense. “And I thought you liked them well done?”
            “Not this well done. This is super well done. Well done isn’t even the correct term to describe it.”
            “May I be excused?” their son, Evan, requested.
            “No, you may not,” Dennis growled. “Finish your food. Your mom says it’s fine. Then it’s fine. Now eat.”
            Evan’s head sank and he stuffed a few golden brown French fries in his mouth, hoping it was appease his father enough to excuse him from the table. He had already eaten his burger and he couldn’t tell what his dad was complaining about. It tasted fine to him, but he didn’t dare argue over it. Evan knew better than to intentionally provoke his father’s wrath.
             They finished their dinner in silence, with the exception of a sporadic sigh or groan of disgust that came from Dennis as he paused between bites. When they were done, Evan placed his dish in the sink and dismissed himself as he headed upstairs to his bedroom.
            “Can you believe the nerve of that boy?” Dennis asked when Evan was gone. “Asking to be excused during dinner.”
            “It’s that computer of his,” Amy said. “He spends his whole day on that laptop.”
            “Well, he better be talking with some girls on there or I’ll belt him good. Kid’s fourteen years old and he doesn’t even have a steady girlfriend. I’m beginning to wonder about him. Not to mention that frigging laptop cost me a fortune.”
            Amy offered no rebuttal, but instead turned her attention to the dishes in the hopes that Dennis would end this conversation. Sure enough, he lost interest and wandered off to the living room, where Roscoe was just waking up from his nap.
            Dennis had not touched Amy in 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 also relieved he hadn’t raised his hands to her either.
            Six months before, if Amy had spilled even a drop of coffee on the carpet, Dennis would’ve blackened her eye faster than she could grab something to clean up the stain.
            But with Roscoe added to the picture, Dennis was too preoccupied to acknowledge his family’s existence beyond the dinner table. Amy would swear her husband loved that dog more than he loved her or Evan.
            Roscoe was a Saint Bernard that Dennis had adopted from the Greenville shelter; looked just like the dog from the Beethoven movies. Basically he went down to the shelter and made the cheapest donation allowable to take Roscoe home with him. But Dennis preferred the term rescue dog. He liked to think that his actions made a difference and that he was a hero of some kind, at least in his own mind.
Roscoe was an enormous dog with a thick coat and a bushy, broad tail. Every time Dennis returned from work, Roscoe would slide across the floor in excitement towards the front door and slobber all over him. The week Dennis brought Roscoe home from the shelter, he spent over five hundred dollars on a doghouse, bed, food, leash, toys, and a personalized collar.
Dennis often let Roscoe roam free, which angered some of the neighbors. But none of them came forward. They were too intimidated by Dennis and his awful temper to voice their grievances. When it rained, Roscoe would trot in with mud and grass clinging to his tousled coat. He’d track mud all over the floor and shake himself off in the living room, soaking the furniture and whoever was unfortunate enough to be standing in the vicinity. Dennis found this act to be adorable. And Amy found it to be a pain in the ass considering she was the one expected to clean up the mess.
Amy finished the dishes and contemplated joining Dennis and Roscoe in the living room. But she thought better of it, grabbed a book she’d just started reading, and headed off to bed.
* * *
            It was a grey October morning when Amy Larson was called into the principal’s office. Evan was sitting on the bench in the main office. His brown jacket was stained red, and his knuckles were raw and crusted with blood.
            Amy knew what this was about before the principal even had a chance to open his mouth. Evan had been in another fight. Fourteen years old and the boy was already taking on kids twice his size.
            This latest incident had occurred during gym class, where a boy named Ronnie Henderson intentionally pegged Evan in his lower back with a football. Evan got right back up and threw the first punch, which crushed Ronnie’s nose. When the gym coach and several other teachers were able to pry Evan off of Ronnie, thy discovered he had beaten the boy unconscious. Kids were going around school saying that 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 High School were closed to him forever. The principal informed her that no amount of detention could correct or make up for Evan’s actions and that this was the only option. And the principal couldn’t promise Amy that the Henderson’s wouldn’t press charges either.
            Evan Larson had his mother’s pale green eyes and rosy cheeks, but he had begun to inherit his father’s uncontrollable temper as well. Evan would stay up late on Saturday nights to watch amateur boxing on the sports network. He had taken such an interest in the sport that on his thirteenth birthday, Dennis treated him to a punching bag and a set of gloves.
            Amy preferred him wailing on the heavy bag as opposed to wailing on his fellow classmates, and she hoped maybe the exercise would work all the aggression out of her son. But it had quite the opposite effect. The bag didn’t quell Evan’s rage, it only seemed to amplify it.
            “What were you thinking?” Dennis screamed at the top of his lungs, getting right up in Evan’s face. He was ready to blow a gasket when he got home from work and Amy had the unfortunate duty of telling him what their son had done.
            “What made you think you could pull a stunt like this and get away with it?” Dennis continued his tirade. “What the hell were you thinking? Where do you get the balls to pull something like this? Do you have any brains at all? I should’ve smacked some sense into you years ago.”
            Dennis could not restrain his anger and his tone was sharp and vehement, and Amy feared the neighbors might overhear. So she went into the kitchen and made sure the windows were closed as they were in the living room, and then she started working on dinner, trying her best to remain neutral in this scenario.
            “Do you know how hard it’s going to be to find another school now?” Roscoe was getting so worked up at the sight his masters fury that he started barking up a storm, his barks accompanying Dennis’s screams. “And how about the boy you sent to the hospital? His family could sue us. Did you think of that?”
            “It’s not that big of a deal,” Evan shrugged it off, shaking his hands to alleviate the throbbing pain in his knuckles. “I’ll enroll in another school and everything will be fine. Besides, that kid’s a pussy. He’s not going to press charges or let his family sue. He’ll be a laughing stock if he did.”
            “Watch your language around here, boy,” Dennis chided.
            “What, only you get to curse in this house?”
            “Listen to me and listen good, boy. You can’t go around just beating people up. That won’t solve all your problems.”
            “It seems to work with mom.” That snide remark finally pushed Dennis into the red. Amy was still preparing supper in the kitchen when she heard the crinkle of leather as Dennis slid his belt from the loops on his pants.
            “Boy, I’m going to give you the thrashing of a lifetime. I’m going to whip the skin right off your ass.”
            “Just go ahead and try,” Evan dared him. Amy turned her back in the kitchen and pretended she didn’t hear a thing, fearing that Dennis would belt her too if she tried to interject.
            As Dennis raised his belt, Evan landed the first punch, planting his fist in his father’s ample beer belly. Dennis dropped to one knee and Evan struck him again, this time catching him with a right hook to the jaw.
            Roscoe growled, biting and tugging at the leg of Evan’s pants, which distracted him momentarily until he was able to shake himself free. In that time, Dennis had made it back to his feet. Evan came swinging again, but this time Dennis anticipated it and ducked. Evan missed and mashed his tender knuckles into the wall, letting out a brief grunt of pain.
            Dennis raised his belt overhead and brought it down across Evan’s back. Roscoe backed away as Dennis’s belt whipped through the air again and snapped across Evan’s lower back.
            “That’s two,” Dennis snarled. “Eight more to go.”
            Evan took ten lashes from his dad’s belt. When it was over, the skin of his back was as raw and swollen as his knuckles. But not once did Evan scream. He wouldn’t give his father that satisfaction. He took every lash in silent apathy.
            “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 send me to bed without dinner,” Evan protested while trying to mask the stinging pain of his wounds. “I’m starving.”
            “Tough shit. Until we find you another school, I forbid you to eat anything inside this house. You want food? Go out and buy some…oh wait, you don’t have any money because you don’t work and you depend on me for everything. Well, this’ll teach you a listen you’ll never forget. Now move it! Upstairs now!”
            Defeated, Evan retreated from the living room without further resistance. When he was out of sight, Dennis kneeled down to pet Roscoe and give him a treat for coming to his aid.
In the kitchen, Amy trembled like the last leaf on a dying tree. Dennis and her son had their squabbles in the past, but never before had it come to blows. As many times as Dennis raised his hands to her, he never once raised his hands to Evan. Not until that night. And though she had seen Evan throw the first punch, she believed Dennis to be the true instigator.
This fight had been brewing for quite some time. Amy had noticed the looks of disgust and disappointment Evan would make every time his father cussed or raised his hands to her. She knew it was only a matter of time. She just hadn’t mentally prepared herself enough for it.
And once the fight had concluded, the silence was so unsettling Amy found herself humming nervously just to fill the void of sound. The worst seemed to be over, but that knot forming in her stomach told her otherwise. It told her the worst was yet to come.
* * *
That night, 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 night without food and even the church shoes in his closet were starting to look appetizing.
By midnight, Evan gave up any hope of having dinner and went to bed feeling both famished and defeated. He can’t starve me forever, Evan thought. Can he?
The next 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 money they brought in and not with the way Dennis was spoiling Roscoe.
Roscoe was lying beside his feet, chewing on stray strips of bacon that Dennis would pass him under the table. Roscoe turned his head and growled when Evan entered the kitchen, his flappy ears curved past the sides as he showed Evan 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 and wash it down with a tall glass of orange juice. 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 this 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 everything in his room to pieces.
And he hadn’t the first clue what all this would accomplish. 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 teeth in. Giving him the beating 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. Evan wrapped his hands, put his gloves on, and started working over the heavy bag, but stopped five minutes in. The lack of food was already starting to have an adverse effect on him.
He was losing his strength and his focus. Amy toyed with the idea of sneaking him some food, but she didn’t want to chance it. If Dennis found out, he’d be furious.
Dennis was off that day, and drove Evan to several schools to try and enroll him, but it didn’t look promising. Especially after Evan’s most recent incident. The Henderson family was already talking about suing not only the Larson family, but Greenville High School as well.
            Dennis sent him off to bed that night without his supper again. How much longer will he keep this up? Evan wondered.
* * *
            On the third day, Evan didn’t bother to join his parents at the breakfast table. He knew nothing would be waiting for him and he wasn’t just going to sit there and watch his dad stuff his face and feed Roscoe under the table. In fact, he barely had the energy to roll himself out of bed.
            Dennis made sure to taunt Evan about how delicious breakfast was when he sauntered past his room. “Glad you enjoyed it,” Evan said through gritted teeth.
            When dinnertime came, he could smell the food all the way in his room. It was maddening. Three days without food was enough to drive most people insane. And Evan was starting to crack.
* * *
Another day passed and another day without as 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 seemed improbable.
The lack of food made him weak, exhausted, disoriented. Soon his body would begin the process of devouring itself, consuming his fat, muscle, and connective tissue. But Dennis wouldn’t let it go that far, would he? Not even Amy was certain.
Evan spent most of the day curled up in bed sleeping. Waking only once when his mom barged in without knocking and removed a hunk of tinfoil from her pocket. Wrapped inside was a ham sandwich on rye, one of Evan’s favorites.
“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 rage. Roscoe trotted in behind him, flashing his teeth again at the sight of Evan.
Dennis stormed across the room, snatched the sandwich from Amy’s hand, threw it down to the floor, and stomped it into the carpet. His hand raised to the air and his palm came down across Amy’s cheek. She recoiled from the slap, both hands pressed against the stinging side of her face.
Dennis then snatched Evan’s Lenovo laptop from his desk and snapped it over his knee, splitting the screen and the keyboard. He tossed the remains aside and stood tall over Amy, almost daring her to get up and tempt him again.
Evan sat up in bed, defenseless. He couldn’t raise a hand to his father again without gaining further punishment. He couldn’t even risk 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.” He stomped out of Evan’s room and Roscoe followed.
“I’m so sorry,” Amy said, holding back the tears.
“Don’t be sorry,” Evan told her. “He’s the one who’s going to be sorry.”
* * *
Amy sat 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.
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?
Evan’s room was right 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 he took.
            “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 eating?” 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 and his lower jaw sank. “Roscoe,” he whispered, and a single tear sprawled down his cheek.

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