The crickets chirp, tickling my puffy eardrums, and I wonder how the babies are still sleeping. The single Miller Lite I sipped with a straw after putting the girls down has my body buzzing, and the hand-me-down flannel sheets stick to my skin like they’re being vacuum sealed. Our double wide doesn’t have AC, and the windows barely open.
I lay on my back as sweat beads roll down the narrow sides of my face and look up at the ceiling titty, what Eddie and I call the bubble that’s sinking and bound to burst, spewing water and guck. We gave it the name one night after finishing a case of beer and swinging one another around to John Denver, barefoot on our stuffy living room carpet. I hope my daughters know their dad as the man on beer, dancing with mama to the radio and bringing home stray puppies.
I roll to my left side and toss the sheet off me. It’s pitch black in here, but I imagine the pale skin of my legs gasping for air. I don’t know the time, but it’s gotta be at least one in the morning. I roll to my other side and flip my pillow over, praying the bottom will be cool. It’s not.
I hope I remembered to throw food out for the dogs earlier, sometimes I forget. For a moment I consider getting up to check, but I don’t want to turn on the porch light and let the moths in. The dogs will live.
Eddie should have been home by now, even after his usual, couple-hour stop at the bar. I toss and turn for a while, drifting in and out of a half-sleep that lets me rest, but keeps me awake enough to overthink all the sounds around me.
As I begin to doze off again, my eyes finally heavy enough to stay closed, I hear the low rumble of a truck engine coming up the drive. I open my eyes and see headlights shining through the window. Jesus Eddie, I whisper to myself thinking, it’s probably nearing three by now. My heart starts thumping as I hear the tires getting closer to the house, crunching the gravel of our dirt front yard. It usually takes around two minutes for him to make it up the drive. The brakes squeal to a stop and I envision the dust getting stirred, caking the outside of the trailer. The truck door creaks open, hesitates, and then slams shut. Two more slams follow. Did he bring people home?
I hear deep voices laughing and drunken feet shuffling outside the thin walls of the house. The dogs start barking low and loud, thank God we don’t have any neighbors. I close my eyes and pray the girls sleep through the ruckus.
“Damnit Elaine!” I hear Eddie yell, before the heavy clink of stainless steel tells me he kicked the dog bowl and sent it flying. “How hard it is to feed the damn dogs!” he shouts.
My heart thuds faster and my breath snags, caught in my throat and whirring, like a flooded engine failing to start. I know this is liquor Eddie. I silently scold myself for not jumping up and throwing out food when I thought about it earlier. I grit my teeth and take a deep breath.
I hear Eddie fumbling with the front door and the slurred voices outside are drowned out by something else now. The babies are awake and screaming. I squeeze my eyes shut so tight it hurts. My sweat turns cold. I wish I could sink into the little frayed holes in our mattress and be gone, like spilled chili soaked up by an old dish rag.
He gets the front door open, and I hear it bang back against the wall as he drops his keys on the floor and kicks off his boots. The babies are crying so loud now I can hardly make out the sounds of what he’s doing. He’s indifferent to their exhausted distress. If he knew I was awake, he’d be indifferent to mine too.
“Hey darlin’,” Eddie slurs, “Glen and Clint are gonna stay outside a while, told them they could hang here ‘til mornin’.” I listen to him shrugging off his coat and shuffling towards our bedroom door.
His heavy feet get closer, and I can feel the trailer vibrate as he leans against the walls of the hallway for support. My hands are clammy and my straight brown hair clings to the back of my neck. I stay on my side, curling myself into a makeshift fetal position. I tug on the quilt, pulling it up until it’s brushing against the bottom of my chin.
His friends will pass out in the lawn chairs and be gone before the girls are up. He’ll come in and it’ll be quick and he’ll fall asleep and the babies will stop crying and go back to bed. The dogs will stop barking and I’ll feed them in the morning. The dogs will live.
His feet stop moving and I can hear his heavy, staggered breathing through the crack in the bedroom door. As I listen to him reaching for the door handle, twisting the knob to come inside, I do what my mother told me to do after this happened last time:
“Just pretend to be asleep,” she had said.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233
Callie Crouch is an undergraduate English major at Saint Joseph’s University. She is the current Editor-in-Chief of the university’s literary magazine, the Crimson and Gray. She enjoys writing and playing guitar, and spent last summer studying travel writing abroad in Rome, Italy. She is originally from Florida, but currently lives in Philadelphia with her plant pets.