“You never heard the thunder, either?” Victoria stirred the baby mush in the bowl, tried to cool it with her breath, and she felt short of it this morning. The microwave had been too loud, the coffee too bitter. The look on her husband’s face called her ridiculous, and the irritation was growing by the second. Abram was spitting the food out rather than swallowing it, and the mess of Victoria’s life grew larger. The feeling of teetering on edge was too much today. She just needed reassurance from Thomas, if only her husband would hug and kiss her and tell her, “that’s too bad you had a crappy sleep.” But he didn’t, and her rage grew by the second.
Thomas claimed to have never heard the thunder, “I’m usually a light sleeper, Vic! Maybe you dreamt it?” and with how he dismissed her, she refused to mention anything about his own body appearing possessed. Too many nights, she had woken up to a strange sensation, something was off, and the nightmare of the monster in her room, dug deep today.
“I just don’t understand. It was huge, and it shook the house. The lightning, like it, came through the window. The rain was so heavy…”
“The driveway is dry,” Thomas pointed out as he peeked through the kitchen window.
Victoria tested the temperature of the baby food to her lip and attempted to feed Abram again. His small hands preoccupied, his mouth slammed shut, refusing the food.
“Maybe you dreamt it,” Thomas turned and winked at Victoria, infuriating her. Her nerves were already so shot, and she forced herself to swallow the snappy comment she had. Thomas didn’t appear to notice the heat rising in his wife’s face, the shake of her hands as her anger took her over. He poured the last cup of coffee into his travel mug, “Oh, I forgot to mention I have to work late tonight.” He threw in casually to avoid conflict.
The boiling rage Victoria had to simmer, spilling over, testing another touch of baby Abram’s food to her lip burnt the skin, she dropped the spoon, and the bowl spilled on her lap. She jumped from the heat of the food, kicking her knee against Abram’s high chair, and her baby son began crying.
“Dammit, Thomas!” She snapped, picked up the bowl of food, and threw it against the wall. She whirled toward him, and he cringed from the wild glare in her eyes. She stepped past him and grabbed the dishcloth off the sink, “when will you be home?” She growled as she attempted at cleaning the steaming oatmeal off the floor as Abram continued to cry.
“I don’t know Vic, maybe after dinner.”
“Maybe? How can you not know? Who are you with?”
“I’m at work, working overtime. I’m not with anyone! I work, to pay bills, you know. What you don’t do,” Thomas regretted the stab at Victoria as soon as it was out, but he was also sick of being accused of being with someone else. He had never done anything to give her reason to believe this, and it had been her choice to quit her job. He never questioned it, no matter the strangeness of her suddenly coming home day in a daze and stating she quit her job and wouldn’t be working any longer. Things had never been the same. She had been on the edge of losing herself since, and Thomas was sick of walking on eggshells.
Even his mother-in-law, Evelyn, couldn’t tell Thomas what happened with Victoria, she just sorts of lost it. “Where does all this overtime go?” she continued, each word raising her voice louder, “how do I know you’re even…”
“Dammit, Vic, that’s enough.” Thomas slammed his travel mug of coffee onto the counter and turned to leave the kitchen.
“Tell me the truth then.”
“I did it! You just don’t believe me.” Thomas stepped to Abram to calm his son, he gave a quick kiss on his cheek and tickled his toes to pull his one-year-old son’s attention away from the flailing anger of Victoria.
“You’re lying,” Victoria snapped, and she threw the cloth into the sink, causing water to splash up and onto the floor.
“Now you’re just dramatic, stop the craziness. This conversation is ridiculous. I’ve answered you several times. There wasn’t even a mention of a thunderstorm anywhere online,” Thomas’ voice was raising, his patience had run out. Abram was happy once more, kicking his chubby toes away from his father’s tickling. He turned his attention to the flaking varnish on the wooden hand-me-down high chair. Spider-like cracks showed through the thin layer of tacky brown paint, and his tiny fingernails fit underneath easily. He pulled slivers off and dropped them to the floor, ignoring his parents’ yelling match several feet from him.
Thomas left his son content and his full travel mug on the counter as he hightailed it to the back door. Victoria stepped in front of him, blocking him from leaving the house. The glare of anger still fresh in her eyes. Her face flushed made her auburn hair appear dark as blood. Thomas sighed, he glanced over at Abram again, “Not in front of Abram,” he requested. Exasperation made the sleep deprivation bags under his eyes appear darker, “I don’t need this today, Victoria.”
It made her angrier when he called her Victoria. He never said her name with passion anymore. He looked to her like she was just the housewife now. Her eyes grew dark, and Thomas knew there was no way to prevent this bombardment anymore. He couldn’t bear to say to her this was the reason he worked later hours, these fights were wearing thin on him.
“You say you’re working?” Her voice grew louder, and Thomas shriveled back from her wrath. “What do you do at the shop at eleven at night? How can you work when it is pitch-black?”
“I told you, we have spotlights, and I’m working toward a promotion,” he put his hands on her arms. He felt her physically relax under his palms, but her face remained red, streaked with emotion, and her eyes brimming with tears. There was nothing he could do to help her, she was overreacting and the best thing for both of them, was for him to leave. “You have to trust me, even when there isn’t extra pay, I’m still working. That’s how you go up in the company. It will get better, but I need you to trust me. I have to go now.” He applied a little pressure to her arms to move her away from the back door. He would be late if he stayed much longer.
“Stay home with me today,” Victoria pleaded, he sighed and picked up his wallet and truck keys.
“I need you here!” Victoria’s voice grew louder, echoed through the house, but Thomas turned and left. He caught the glance from his son, Abram had stopped picking at the peeling paint for a moment to watch the commotion.
Thomas sat in the truck, the keys in his hands rattled from his nerves. Upended and scorched from Victoria’s behavior. How much more of this could he take? His boss had already noticed the bags under his eyes, and it killed him to see the look on his infant son’s face as he watched him get berated. Victoria had turned nasty, the beautiful soul he once knew was ugly and twisted. They were supposed to be shaping a young man, raising him with good morals, but instead, they fought in front of him endlessly.
They had a courthouse marriage with two witnesses, no family, and no rings. Their relationship is volatile even on the best of days. Thomas had considered not returning home, but he couldn’t bear to leave his son. It tore him apart, remembering what Victoria had been. She had been a beautiful woman hair made of gold dust streaks in a burgundy river. Her eyes had sparkled at the birth of their son, and her features pretty enough she needn’t wear makeup.
That didn’t stop her, though, she had a natural talent for makeup application. Lack of sleep never showed on her face. Even when Abram was only a few weeks old, she would still shine like an angel. Makeup hiding the deepest of sleep deprivation bags.
No, it wasn’t the face or hair which made her ugly. It was her personality. It created a nasty taste in Thomas’ mouth when he even thought of her now, how their marriage had twisted and contorted to a misshapen, trust voided hole. Victoria had taken on a repulsive undertone to her nature. When Abram was first born, life seemed complete. Thomas had a perfect son, Victoria was healing wonderfully from labor, and there were no problems. After her short stint of attempting to return to work, life coiled downward fast.
Victoria would cry when Abram cried, and she wouldn’t get out of bed some days until supper. She wailed of a monster everywhere, even at the grocery mart. Thomas had received phone calls from family friends worried about her mental state.
Thomas spoke to Evelyn, and she claimed it must be post-partum depression. But it wasn’t until nearly Abram’s first birthday when Victoria had abruptly quit her job. After nursing for three years at the local retirement home, and returning to work early stating her patients needed her. It was abrupt she quit, and she never even mentioned her unhappiness at work with Thomas. It completely blindsided him. Then the fights began.
She used to speak of how lucky they were, how sad it was when families had sick children. Victoria used to say it was a gift to be graced with a perfect son. Ten toes, ten fingers, and a giggle used to make her smile for hours.
Something changed, under Thomas’ nose. A change in Victoria made her resent Abram. She would make stabs at Thomas, stating he had to take care of the baby, “I carried him for nine months already! It’s your turn,” she would hiss as she would nearly throw his son into his arms when he got home from work. Evelyn reassured him it was normal, but it felt darker. Thomas felt like Victoria wasn’t herself anymore; she no longer held the love and compassion she once did.
She would burst into tears when the baby cried, shake him when he would not stop crying, and then lock herself in the bathroom for hours. Not answering the frantic knocking from Thomas, not even when he threatened to call the police would she answer. Thomas was forced to take over the primary responsibility of raising Abram, and he nearly lost his job several times. Lunch breaks were a frantic rush home to ensure Victoria was at least feeding the baby. His life turned into a nightmare very quickly.
Thomas was sad for Victoria, but she refused to get help. She wouldn’t tell him what the problem was other than, “it’s the not monster.” She would sob.
He shook his head from the sadness the memory brought on, and he had to get to work. He still had a job to do, and it was necessary for the whole family.
The door opened, and light-filled Abram’s room stirred him from his slumber. Fat baby hands rubbed at his eyes as his face lit up to see his father walking in. Thomas smiled as Abram stood and began bouncing in his creaky off-white crib. The joy in his son is what made it all worthwhile. Thomas thought to himself as he picked his son up and got his morning cuddles. The warmth of the embrace faded as Victoria came storming up behind him.
“Why do you continue like this?” Thomas wished she had stayed asleep when he came up the stairs. The bedroom door had flown open as if she had been sitting on the other side, waiting. “I did come home last night, I tried to wake you, but you were too drunk. So, I slept on the couch.” Thomas answered reluctantly, and he hated replying to her jealous accusations, mainly after he worked a sixteen-hour day and had to go straight back to work.
“If you were just at work, you could have texted me back!”
“Do you even hear yourself right now? I was working,” Thomas laid Abram on the floor to change his diaper and put fresh clothes on. He only had a short time before he had to get back to work, but knew if he didn’t change Abram, he possibly would sit in the same clothing all day. The thought forced an involuntary glare at his wife. “Besides, there was no emergency. You didn’t need to text me, Victoria. You need to pay attention to our son, not texting. Victoria.”
“You say my name like it’s poison in your mouth!” She screeched and stormed storm down the stairs. Her feet slammed the old stairs dramatically. The small two-bedroom low-income townhouse echoed her frustration. With both bedrooms and the only bathroom upstairs and the main floor having only the living room, kitchen, and a single closet, any anger thrown through the small home heard easily. Echoing to the neighbors through the thin walls.
Thomas rolled his eyes and blew a raspberry on Abram’s belly before pulling a brown bear onesie over his head. He stood his son on his feet and hugged him again and ignored the banging of cupboard doors below him. Abram stepped back from his father and ran his pint-sized hands over the beige circle on his belly. Lifted his brown enclosed toes and giggled, “baa baa baa,” he pointed and smiled up to Thomas.
“It is poison when she acts like this,” Thomas muttered. Grabbed Abram’s hand and the two walked down the stairs reluctantly.
“You want some cereal, buddy?” Thomas sat Abram on the counter when they entered the kitchen. Keeping his back to Victoria, he hoped to feed his son, pack some lunch, and get out the door before the argument escalated. But as he moved to open the cereal cupboard, Victoria put herself in the way. The air in the room darkened immediately.
“He needs to eat healthier so he can be better than you,” Victoria snarled, opened the cupboard, and tossed the box of cereal onto the counter. Thomas sighed and hung his head, his hands tensed on the counter, turning his knuckles white.
“Stop him from being a liar like you,” she spat her words in Thomas’ face. He tried to ignore it, and he had a big day ahead at work. The boss was coming to inspect all the changes he had worked on at the tire shop last night. All the paperwork filing, reorganizing, and cataloging setup.
“I never lied to you. We’ve been over this,” Thomas pulled a bright orange bowl from the cupboard and filled it to the brim with Captain Crunch cereal. Abram’s baby fingers were instantly in the bowl, shoveling the beige sugar squares into his mouth. Thomas chuckled and stuffed his hand into the box to pull out a large handful. Stuffed the too large a handful of dry cereal into his cheeks and grinned. Half chewed pieces falling out, making Abram giggle and spit out his pieces. Thomas nearly choked on the cereal as he started laughing too, soggy chewed cereal falling all over the counter and the floor. His baby son picked up a half-wet piece and pushed it into Thomas’ mouth and laughed even harder.
“Look at this mess!” Victoria snapped the box away and picked Abram off the counter. “You need to clean this before you leave for your dirty whore!”
“That’s it!” Thomas shouted through his mouthful of half-chewed cereal. Putting Abram on the floor and swallowed his food furiously before he turned to leave. “You’ve lost your shit! I’m done with you and your psychotic thoughts! I’m not cheating on you, but I might as well have been. Then at least I would’ve had a reason for your goddamn treacherous jealousy!” He threw on his jacket and left the house before Victoria could get another word in.
Shocked, Victoria sunk to the floor. The backdoor half-open allowed a cold breeze to blow in, but she didn’t notice. Victoria cried hysterically, Abram stood watching with his large blue eyes. Her chest convulsed hard with sobs, the tears soaking her nightshirt, and she began rocking.
“Mama?” Abram stuck his hand out to her, but she shook her head and cried. Her hair soaked from dripping emotion, cereal bits were strewn all over the floor. Abram sat crossed legged in front of her, turning his head to see under her curtain of hair, “mama?”
She pulled her knees up to her chin and cried harder, ignoring her son pining for her attention, “he’s gone,” She wailed to Abram. He looked to her without understanding then stood to walk away. She never looked up, her head between her knees and her arms tightly wrapped. Abram walked to a drawer and pulled out a sippy cup, turned back, and pushed it into her rib cage. She never even flinched, her face damp with tears but her eyes down and seemingly elsewhere. He pushed the cup harder into her side. When she didn’t respond, he wound up and smacked her head with it.
“Oh!” Victoria looked up from her hysteria.
“Doose,” Abram pushed the cup harder into her chest. Victoria’s face long from the frown she held, her eyes heavy and streaked with red lines. Vic wiped her nose with her shirt and stood. She walked without a word or glance to Abram, the cup in her hand. She opened the fridge and poured his juice. Setting the cup on the floor in front of him and repositioning herself against the bottom drawers. His first sip spilled drink down the front of his onesie. Victoria didn’t even bat an eye.
“That’s it,” she sobbed again, “I guess it’s just you and me now.”