The Awakening

by Anonymous

Illustration by Marty Riskin

After the upstairs door slams, the screaming starts. There are a few "Oh, yeahs?" and a couple of "Screw you's," then a thud, some crying, another slammed door, and the angry pounding of sneakered feet down the stairs into the basement. From the kitchen, Liz hears the dryer door slam (Mandy slams the door, Beth leaves it open) and then an even angrier, deliberate pounding on the stairs, fists on the door, and more screaming, "Let"

Liz pushes wisps of hair out of her eyes, and calmly removes the stems from the mushrooms. She washes the caps and carefully cuts them into orderly slices, pushing them to one side of the chopping block. The commotion upstairs agitates her, but she goes on to the peppers, slicing their bellies wide open, exposing the empty green cavities to her knife.

Her daughters' bickering reminds her of her parents'. And then she remembers that it had always been the stark-naked familiarity of his slap, his skin on her mother's, that had usually awakened and jolted her from her little bed. Running down the hallway to the master bedroom, she had tripped on her first grade primer. "See Jane Run." She remembers helplessness.

The imbroglio upstairs ends as quickly as it began. Then the phone rings and the stereo blares and the hair dryer hums. Liz can hear her ten-year-old daughters' laughing and the rhythmic thumping on the floor directly above her head. The noise gives her a headache. However, she goes on to the onions, chopping and dicing. Then she collects the composed pile of vegetables in her hands, placing them into the sizzling oil. A splash of hot grease splatters her top lip. Annoyed, she wipes it away, adding clumps of red hamburger to the noisy mixture in the pot. The smell of the raw meat mingling with the oil is rich and heavy.

She was only seven when she had first smelled fear. She never got used to it, no matter how many times she burst into that bedroom. Her father was so large, his hands so big. She hadn't reconciled how the hands that had patiently built her tree house and oh-so-gently soothed her scraped knees could be so fast and brutal with her mother. When she sees his hands, even now, she remembers fear.

Mandy slides into the kitchen in her stocking feet, mumbling something about being thirsty. After pouring a tall glass of lemonade, she races out of the room, splattering sticky citrus on the floor, slipping and knocking over the trash barrel and all of the contents of last night's dinner onto the kitchen floor. The cat clamps the last pickings of the chicken carcass in his teeth and scampers behind the hutch, leaving a trail of grease and bones and pieces of soggy skin all over the floor. Liz calls after Mandy to pick up her mess, but she's out of hearing distance. Liz cannot leave the almost sauce.

She opens the first can, preparing to pour the kitchen-ready tomatoes into the pot, but her fingers retain traces of oil and she drops the can to the floor, unleashing a red geyser on the white appliances and flesh-colored floor. Liz turns off the burner, wipes up the mess, scoops up the remains of the cat's bonanza and returns to her brew, reigniting the burner, opening another can, this time, carefully pouring the contents into the deep metal container, stirring the ingredients together. She adds salt and basil, peppercorns and mint and opens the final can of tomatoes, plopping the rich red pulp into the pot.

She had still been groggy when she had run into that bedroom, but the crimson drops of blood on the pristine white carpet had awakened all her senses.

"Stop it, Daddy! Stop it! Not again, Daddy. Don't hit her anymore, please."

"Get out of here, Lizzie. Get out, now."

"No, don't go, Liz. Stay and look at me. Look at what he's done to me this time."

Liz ran to her mother, cowered in a corner of the room, lying on the rug, holding her head in her hands, her face bruised and purple, her mouth bleeding and swollen.

"Don't go, Liz," she slurred, her breath - pungent and sour. "Don't leave me alone with him."

"Oh, Mom," Liz sobbed, cradling her mother's head in her flannel lap. "Daddy, please, no more. Leave her alone, Just go out of here."

"Stay out of this, Lizzie. This isn't your concern."

She remembers anger.

The sauce simmers and stews, vegetables, meat and spices conjoining with the red, the acids and and the sweetness blending and blurring into one delicious aromatic sauce.

"Dinner's ready," Liz yells over the stereo, over the phone, over the cat, over the laughing. Mandy and Beth run down the stairs and into the kitchen. Beth sits down, pushing her sister into the table all set for dinner: napkins, silverware, plates, Italian bread, salad, and the container of grated cheese. Two of the water glasses topple into the salad bowl and the glass jar of cheese, spilling water down the sides of the table, soaking the table cloth and the basket of bread, and disfiguring the clean plates with expelled clumps of parmesan cheese and chunks of cucumber.

Liz's eyes narrow to dark, lean slits. Her chest heaves with the intensity of her long determined strides. She uproots her child from the chair by grabbing a fitsful of her hair, slamming her against the refrigerator, slapping her child's freckled face, repeatedly, without mercy.

"Stop it, Mommy! Stop it! Not again, Mommy. Don't hit her anymore, please."

However, the cries are too late. The rush of satisfaction, the rousing that comes from exacting control again liquidates her rage and gorges her agitation like a spaghetti dinner to a famished soul. She calmly steps back from her sobbing daughters.

But something is different this time. The familiar verve of power that follows her artificial peace is tarnished with her recognition of helplessness, fear, and anger in her children's eyes. The tiny threads of a resolve knit together. Liz gently touches Beth's quivering shoulder and is rejected.
But it's a start...isn't it?

ED.NOTE: In Marblehead, like many upscale towns, the one crime category that continues to rise, resistant to education and income levels, sadly is domestic violence.