"You know why I have to do this," he says, and I feel like he must be trying to convince himself. Because I can't think of a single reason he has to do this.
He's holding the belt the way that he does when he's about to get serious about things. I wish I could tell him that I don't know why; I wish I could tell him that this has nothing to do with me. I wish I could talk to him.
Talking will just make it worse.
We have breakfast, sometimes. He cracks open my door, and the splinter of light that spikes its way across the carpet is brighter than any sunrise could ever hope to be. And his whisper might as well be a bullhorn declaration. "Are you awake?"
I always answer yes. The single word is sleep-slurred and barely audible, but he hears me, because that's how morning sound works.
"You want breakfast?" he'll ask.
"Yes," I'll tell him.
"We got ten minutes."
I can't get out of bed fast enough; I count the seconds as I pee, and I swear that only early-morning urination can take this long. I dress without paying attention to any of my wardrobe selections--half the time, my socks don't even match.
But I have never missed the deadline, not even when he cuts it short. I tell myself that it only happens every once in awhile, but deep down, I know it happens almost every time. And I tell myself that it's because he's got so much to do, he has to get a jump on the day, but deep down, I know it's because he's hoping that I'll be late and he can go without me.
Still, though, I know that part of him wants me to go, otherwise he wouldn't wake me in the first place. There's a lot I know about him, because I watch him and listen to him and do my best to be like him.
But right now, I don't know. I don't know why he has to do this. I wish I could ask him, but that will only make it worse--I know that. He's mad about something, but I don't know what--I never do.
There are nights when he comes home smelling like smoke and whiskey, and he's all smiles and jokes, and he'll let me stay up past my bedtime, telling me stories or wrestling with me, ignoring my mom's disapproving looks and quiet objections.
Then there are nights like this, when his face looks like it has never formed a smile, and I can't imagine the man with the belt ever making a joke. On these nights, my mom doesn't give him disapproving looks--she doesn't even make contact. And she doesn't dare make objections, quiet or otherwise.
I wish I knew. I wish I knew what it was that turned him into this thing. If I knew, maybe I could fix it, maybe I could help. I've tried to learn.
For some time, I thought it had something to do with where I put my bicycle when I got home from school, but that theory was disproved months ago. It doesn't have anything to do with how clean the house is, or what day it is. It doesn't have to do with what was for supper, or lunch, or breakfast. It doesn't have to do with what time he woke up, or what time he got home. It doesn't even have to do with the smell of whiskey and smoke.
This, I know.
What I don't know is why he has to do it.
I start to cry, out of fear and out of frustration. I know I shouldn't. When I cry, it makes it worse, sometimes. Sometimes, but not always. I can't tell when, so I try my best not to cry before he begins, just in case.
"Stop it," he says, and the anger in his voice hurts almost as much as the belt cracking across my arm. "You know why I have to do this."
I don't. But maybe someday I will.
Posted under Short Stories on 9/12/15