T. J. Butler
You’re planning your next move, your next defense, your the next time it happens I’ll… You’re filling in the blanks with something sharp and strong. You pick the next time it happens I’ll scratch her face and you do it. You scratch your mother’s face the next time it happens. Your little nails are so bitten down that you’re scratching like mittens. That’s not a good plan.
Then, the next time it happens I’ll rip out her earrings. Her hands are everywhere, shaking your shoulders, slapping. Your plan is a fireball moving too fast in your head, just colors, flashes, and pain. You no longer have words that mean grab earrings but something inside remembers hand to ear, and grab and pull.
Your hand is moving to her ear, so close, but it is a moving target in front of your face. Or, are you the one moving, reeling from a slap, shoulders thrashed between gripping hands? You’re trying to pull the bedspread up as imaginary protection with your other hand. Your grabbing hand snatches and rips at her ear. Maybe now an earring is in your sweaty palm, or caught in the covers on your bed.
Maybe it worked, somehow better than the mittens scratching. It is so hard to tell. Now it’s over, the mass of hitting energy that you asked for with your backtalk and messy room and talking on the phone too long. (There are one thousand other things you’re doing on purpose to bring this on yourself.) Earring out, energy depleted. She’s pulling away, fingers pressed to her earlobe, leaving. This is good heirloom jewelry, my grandmother gave this to me. Where is your younger sister? In her bed a few feet away, watching and crying? Maybe dry-eyed and glad it’s never her because she doesn’t backtalk. Her side of the room is clean. She doesn’t need to make plans. She would never make a plan except to climb into mama’s lap after one of your plans does or does not work.
Now that you’re alone, you’re sitting up in bed among messy blankets, reading a book. The plan worked because the whole thing is over probably never happened. There’s only flashes and fear. She does not leave bruises. You’re waiting it out with your book, then getting a drink from the fridge. Later, there’ll be dinner, TV, and homework.
You’ll try to recall these scenes when you’re old enough to wonder if you want to cultivate your new gray streak, or if it’s time to start dying your hair. You’ll remember that the plans never worked. You’ll remember running to your bed for safety. (The bed was never safe.) You’ll remember that you needed new plans until the day the police came for the last time. You never needed plans again.
But right now, with your book, and your bed, and your plans, that day with no plans is a long way off. They never work twice. Weak kicks from your knobby colt’s legs and your hair-pulling are like dreams of running from danger through quicksand, except you’re awake, and the quicksand is your mother.
The next time it happens I’ll break her necklace. The next time it happens I’ll rip her clothes. You have plans and plans and plans.
Today’s necklace is freshwater pearls, a gift, this is good heirloom jewelry. It’s always an antique, passed down, been in the family, inheritance. Your life is built around the will, the estate, a legacy. There are countless objects you may or may not inherit, but you have no idea what they are or who has the will. You want all these things so badly, the most important items from your family that you’ve never seen.
So easy to reach out and touch her when her hands-fists-palms are so close to you, in front of you, over you in your little twin bed that has been in the family for a generation. Your own hands react as claws or fists, a tiny blur of hitting back. The pearl necklace is just out of reach of your snatching-breaking hand. Your safety hand protects your face, grasps for the covers, always useless against her bigger hands that hurt and hurt. Your bedspread matches your sister’s, with pink and yellow watercolor flowers amid a swath of green brushstroke leaves. Your mother is not the kind of woman who has things that do not match. The curtains match the bedspreads, a set from your grandparent’s old beach condo where you spent summers when you were too little to know about making plans.
Your snatching hand is breaking the necklace. It’s over like lightning. This plan worked. This is good heirloom jewelry ison aknotted string. There are no freshwater pearls loose in your bed, caught in your clothes, rolling on the floor. The next time it happens I’ll and you’re already making a new list, earrings and necklace crossed off. What soft parts are next to grab, snatch, try to hurt back? Your plans are like pressing an off button when they work. There is no button to press when they don’t.
What are you doing in your little twin bed on this broken necklace day as she’s walking out? Maybe for a moment, you’re crying, or numb and panting like the 50-yard dash in PE class. Now you’re looking at a thick horizontal line that you drew behind the books on your inherited wooden bookshelf with an aqua Crayola, a line like a growth chart. This one measures how old you are. Your thick line is age 20, the demarcation you believe will mean your own apartment and the boundary between today and leaving.
Now you’re picking up your book and trying to read. Soon you’ll go to the fridge to get a drink. Later, there’s TV and dinner and homework, and plans.
T. J. Butler lives on a sailboat with her husband and dog. She writes fiction and essays that are not all fun and games. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and an occasional contributor to Tiny House Magazine. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Levee, New Plains Review, Flash Fiction Online, Tahoma Literary Review, New South, Barren, and others. She has completed a collection of short stories, “A Flame on the Ocean.” @aGalWithNoName; www.TJButlerAuthor.com.