“Mommy?” His voice hardly a squeak from the back seat, Abram clasped and unclasped his hands. Reached to his mother as she drove erratically. Victoria’s mind was elsewhere as she weaved through the traffic. Never meeting Abram’s eyes in the rear-view mirror as he called to her. Her mind was watered down with worry and drowning depressions as the car neared the courthouse.
“Why aren’t you entertaining him, Mom?” Victoria snapped at Evelyn in the backseat. She glanced back to glare at her mother, but a honk demanded her attention forward again. The sidewalk came dangerously close, causing her to swerve to regain control. Evelyn looked to the baby, and his car seat wavered on the brink of tipping. Victoria had rushed to get the car seat loaded into the rental car. Her vehicle in the shop, held until payment was received, which Evelyn knew all too well, she would have to cover.
“Slow down and pay attention to the road, Abram and I are fine,” Evelyn turned her attention to her grandson. There was only so much she could do to help her daughter. Financial help was easy enough, but she couldn’t help the anger or frustration that came out of her.
Abram kicked his feet, happy to have his grandmother’s attention. “You ten, gee-ma? I’m pour!” He held up three fingers, and Evelyn chuckled, ruffled his wavy red hair.
“My birfday,” Abram waved the three tallest fingers of his hand proud.
“Yes, sweet pea, you’re four now. Two weeks ago, was your birthday,” Evelyn used her elegant fingers to lift his four little fingers. “Four,” this quieted him for a moment before he counted them under his breath.
“Mommy cry,” he added casually at the end of his counting. As if the number four brought out the failed attempt at his birthday party.
Evelyn kissed him on the cheek, closed his fingers around a candy she stuffed in his palm, and hoped Victoria hadn’t heard him. Abram often said: in the grocery store lineup, in the playground as he sat at the top of the slide and even during PlayDo time with friends in the neighborhood. “I hope not,” she commented but was sure today would be just the same as the birthday party. It was too fresh in her mind.
Evelyn shuddered at the memory, the disastrous outcome from her trusting Victoria would manage the party even though such a deep depression was apparent. Evelyn needed the time to clean the barns. The horse’s care had been sliding as of late with how much time Victoria demanded of her mother. The last great love she had, other than the curly redhead next to her, was her horse, Spirit.
It was the phone call from the neighbor that brought Evelyn, but it was the juice on Victoria’s shirt alarmed her on arrival. She sat, hair half hanging out of a ponytail. Her cheeks stained black from mascara tears, and her eyes dead straight forward. Evelyn was forced to walk past her as she couldn’t snap her daughter out of the trance-like state, and the house was still full of children for Abram’s birthday.
The cover story for the crying children was there was a clown on his way, and Evelyn paid triple for the first clown listed online. It was worth it for the children when they left two hours later and not a single mention of the unsupervised time.
It killed Evelyn to see Victoria this way, but no matter the counseling or medications, she seemed to continue further downward.
Today, they would finally deal with the last of divorce court, and Vic and Abram could finally be on with their lives.
Evelyn had spent hours curling Victoria’s hair to look presentable, to stand in front of the judge, and explain how she was a good mother. Even with no job, no money, and weeks of deep depressions, Evelyn was sure Vic would pull through and get her life back in order. This was just the last hurdle.
“Mommy,” Abram tried again, his mother’s hair flapped viciously from the open window. The curls flattened knotted and twisted, but she kept the shutter open for fear of hyperventilating from anxiety, “Mom, mom.” Abram called louder. Victoria finally looked in the rear-view mirror at her son. Annoyance written on her face, she wrinkled her nose when she smelt what his displeasure must have been.
“Dammit! I don’t have time to change you. Why can’t you just shit in the toilet?” She snapped, but the moment the words escaped her lips. She regretted them, and anger felt worse once expelled. The car in front of her jumped to the next lane and suddenly exposed a long line of vehicles stopped. Her foot slammed the brake pedal, her heart jumped in her throat, and the car seat her son was strapped in snapped forward and hit the passenger seat.
“WaaaHHHhh,” Abram wailed, face inches from the passenger seat. His car seat is hanging half over the space, the top of the car seat pushed against the cloth seat in front of him.
“Shit!” Victoria peeked over the wheel to see the rental’s front bumper had screeched to a stop a mere inch from the vehicle in front.
“Victoria!” Evelyn yelled, her inertia put her into the back of the driver seat. She didn’t mean to put more emotional turmoil on her daughter, but as she picked her grandsons to face off the passenger seat, she cringed, thinking it could have been much worse. She fumbled with the seatbelt as the toddler screamed in her ear, her daughter’s eyes on her in the rear-view mirror, but she wouldn’t feed into her need for reassurance.
“Assholes!” Victoria screamed out the window, ignoring the fact they were all stopped at a red light, “all good, Mom?” When the seat belt clipped back into place and Evelyn produced a gumdrop for Abram, the drama in the car settled down. Abram had not a mark on him, and slowly the traffic began to move with the green light.
A woman from a flashy red van next to them honked, fingered, and sped off. Her menacing eyes glared at Victoria, her hair soccer mom perfect, and her gestures worthy of something completely different.
“Yeah, we’re good,” Evelyn reported. “Look, I know you have a lot on your mind…”
“Not right now, Mom,” Victoria refused to meet her eyes in the mirror.
“I want to help you, but have you thought this is all getting a little out of hand?”
“Dammit, Mom. Not right now!”
“He did nothing wrong…” Evelyn’s words were cut short with the snarl from the front seat.
“He was cheating!” Victoria growled the words stung when spoken out loud. The memory when Thomas didn’t return, the feel of burning his clothing, she could still smell the thick smoke. As though she had just set fire to the last thread of her marriage, the muscles in her jaw set firm as the memory deepened. It was months later when the courier brought the divorce papers and nearly a year before she saw Thomas again. When he knocked and asked to visit Abram, she was tempted to turn him away, but the need for a break from the demand of the baby was intense, she obliged, and the court started from there.
Victoria tried to shake away the drowning worries in her mind, but the waves came faster these days. The ritual of bagging the ashes of Thomas’ belongings was cleansing at least.
The nosy neighbors from the Johnson Hole townhouse complex would poke their noses over the fence if Victoria sat in the backyard. She was only safe to cry on the front step or the bathroom. Then at least Abram wouldn’t see or hear her. Her cell phone didn’t survive the wall when Thomas had called to say he wanted to take Abram every weekend. Victoria’s chest grew tight as she drove, her shoulders pulled into her neck. She couldn’t relax, not as the street signs grew closer to the courthouse.
“He never even told me who he was cheating with,” she continued her rant into the car. “Even when I gave Thomas what he wanted, the bastard still lied to me!” All she wanted to be the truth, she thought he would give her that much, but no, he stuck with the story
“Sweetheart, I saw his apartment, there was no…” Evelyn appealed to her daughter, but Victoria wanted none of it.
“Mother! I don’t need you to take his side. Not in front of the baby,” but her subconscious reminded her of Thomas throwing up his hands and yelling, you’re losing your shit.
Victoria wondered if she was losing her mind, the monster appeared almost nightly. Even during the day, sometimes when her breathing was labored and her mind dizzy. He would appear in the slants of daylight and threaten to materialize. She could snatch the phone and call her mother over, stating she was tired and needed sleep only to hide in her room with her eyes wide open.
“I’m not taking anyone’s side, but have you listened to yourself?” Evelyn probed as she watched Abram’s wide eyes go between the two conversationalists.
“NO!” Victoria blurted, “he was a cheating asshole bastard, and he still is lying to ME!” Abram began to cry again, and Evelyn turned to look out the window. She held her grandson’s tiny hand as the vehicle moved more erratically.
A quick turn and they arrived in the courthouse parking lot. She slammed into the parking stall so fast, Evelyn had to hold the car seatback. Abram’s cries filled the car, but Victoria was lost. The venom of her last sentence was received, and the car sat in silence. A silent tear rolled from Evelyn’s eye. She had to fix this; she knew it even without liking the idea.
She threw open her door, leaving her crying grandson in the backseat. She ripped open the driver’s door and threw her arms around Victoria. Her daughter wailed, dropping her head against the steering wheel. Evelyn did the best she could between the deep soul-wrenching sobs. Threats to Thomas about how he ruined Victoria’s life. Evelyn simply rubbed her back and soothed her the best she could.
Abram slowed his tears, stunned at the sight of his mother crying. It shouldn’t have shocked him, but it did. He began kicking his feet, trying to free himself from the confines of the seat. His arms too short of reaching his mother, but he still tried. Slowly, the car silenced, and everyone’s tears dried up.
“Okay,” Evelyn pet her daughter’s hair back from her face. The elegant curls long are gone, and her auburn hair damps with tears and sweat. Her makeup so washed away it appeared only to sleep deprivation circles around her eyes. “It’s time.” She unbuckled Victoria’s seat belt and looped her arm in hers. Once she had her daughter out of the car, she turned her attention to pulling her grandson out. He had kicked off his socks, and all his toys were on the floor now. She was taking a deep breath to collect her nerves when she had a moment of hiding in the back seat.
“Let’s go play dinosaurs inside the building,” she painted a smile for Abram and picked up the toys before unbuckling him. Victoria was trying and failing at fixing her makeup in the door mirror. Her face stained splotchy red from emotion.
“Here,” Evelyn handed her a perfectly folded Kleenex. “Don’t worry yourself on appearances. To look hard done by might be a good thing today.” Victoria glowered and turned, black lined cheeks and all.
Abram held his grandmother’s hand as they walked behind his mother toward the large building. He watched the mess had become his mother’s hair swing back and forth across her back. A curious thought, maybe he should cut it for her? Went across little Abram’s mind, then she wouldn’t have knots. He wished he could get hair cuts, rather than his mother shaving his head. To sit in the tall barber chair, he thought to himself, and she might like it.
Abram waved gleefully when he saw his father approach from the opposite sidewalk. The grey was spreading fast in Thomas’ hair, wrinkles were deepening, and his shirts were growing tighter.
“Daddy!” Abram bounced and let go of Evelyn’s hand, and he ran to jump into his father’s arms.
“You’re looking bigger all the time,” Thomas remarked as he tussled his son’s hair. Abram tried to stand taller and puff his chest out to show how strong he was.
“Like hulk,” Abram giggled as Thomas poked his belly.
“Yeah, the big man now, huh.” Thomas’ eyes fell, “I missed you.” Victoria glared at him, but Thomas didn’t seem to notice. He kept his gaze away from her, and he knew she couldn’t accuse him of not trying. She destroyed the chance at happiness they had.
“Whose fault is that?” Victoria snarled as she crossed her arms.
“Jesus, Victoria, you couldn’t have at least put him in daycare today? Why would you bring him to a court hearing?” He put Abram back on his feet, and the boy bounced to his grandmother, curly red locks bouncing. Thomas shook his head at Victoria’s inability to reply and turned toward the building entrance.
Thomas hadn’t been sleeping, packing on weight too fast as of late. He wanted this done and over, not resting on account of your ex-wife was too much. He felt her watching him even when he knew it was impossible. He glanced back to his son, such a perfect parcel with thick dark eyebrows and a strong set jaw gave him a man face even as a toddler. Freckles covered his face from ear to ear but were soft, a light caramel. The hair was a mystery to Thomas, but the ice blue eyes his son had, were the same as his own. Seeing the joy in his son’s eyes calmed the storm in him.
“I can’t afford daycare with you not paying child support, douchebag!” Victoria replied with a tiff and turned toward the door. Being forever a gentleman, Thomas still opened the heavy entrance door.
“I only stopped when you withheld visits,” Thomas replied quietly, trying to keep the little ears out of the conversation. Abram bounced happily several feet back with Evelyn, Thomas found a strong memory as Victoria walked through the door he held. Her face, even shroud in layers of evil she had produced over the last few years, seemed to melt away for a moment. A glimpse of beauty appeared, and Thomas couldn’t help but taste their first kiss once more. The way it was there just as quickly as it was gone.
Thomas was 16 years old, living at home on an acreage. The cul-de-sac was a mini-community. Every mother knew every child, and all the men supported each other’s business’. The families took turns babysitting for date nights, and the children grew close. The kids would run from one field to another, causing mischief and even one time lit an old couch on fire in a barn.
Thomas was a shy boy; he stayed away from trouble and helped all the families with chores. He enjoyed earning trust and a few bucks on the side. While other kids were breaking windows out of houses were still being built, he would offer to clean the glass the next morning.
There was a barbeque, at the shared barn the community had turned into a town hall. It was complete with tables, chairs, a pedestal to speak, and proper light fixtures. Several families dragged their barbeques down the gravel street and set up to cook. Food smells were plentiful, and the children’s laugh echoed the whole community.
Thomas sat behind the coat check desk, helpful as always, as the other children ran around the barn playing hide and sought. He wasn’t interested in the game until he saw her.
She came with her cousin. Tall, beautiful, and confident. She walked in with her head high, her hair French braided with sleek straight bangs and her smile boastful. Those eyes of hers, though, were stunning, and when she asked him to join the game, he immediately agreed.
“Then you better get to it,” she had replied and closed her eyes to count. The little kids scattered quickly, bumping into each other, all running for the ladder to climb. Some threw themselves under tables as parents grumbled. Thomas knelt behind the coat check, thinking she will run off trying to find others first.
Thomas held his breath as the beautiful girl finished counting, “ready or not…” He waited to hear the infamous last words, but instead, her face appeared an inch from his. He was sure his body had been slim enough to camouflage in a place altogether. There was no way she knew he had been there, or had he made a noise as she counted? Her voice heavenly, each number had sounded more elegant than the last. Then, just as fast, she had been there.
She smiled, her teeth perfectly straight and white, but she closed her lips. Planted her soft kiss on the cheek, then whispered, “I got you.”
And she did, she had him, and they were together ever since. Until she seemingly lost her mind and brought them to where they were today. She was walking into a courthouse. He wondered what made her flip, what pushed her over the edge to loath him. The feeling was reciprocated merely on the fact it’s impossible to love someone who hates you.
“What’s the problem now? Are you chickening out?” Victoria snapped at Thomas when he lingered in the doorway for too long. Frozen in memory, he wished they could just go back. Abram watched him, impossible for his gaze to be so knowing. An old soul in a child’s body, Thomas thought and smiled as everyone entered in front of him.
“I’ll see you after buddy,” Thomas knelt and hugged Abram. Victoria had already stormed off and entered the large double doors to the courtroom. Evelyn stood behind Abram, her face long. She never wished any of this on Thomas or Abram, but this is where they found themselves.
Thomas held his fist out for his son, “later gator,” and met with a fist pump.
“Gotta go, Buffalo.” Abram squeaked.
Abram cuddled happily against his grandmother’s chest as the doors closed. Dark cherry red doors made from another world they seemed. Evelyn set the dinosaurs out on a small table next to the couch they sat on, but Abram couldn’t pull his eyes from the heavy doors. The hallway went quiet and seemed to echo the breaths of the last two people sitting there, Evelyn and her grandson. She stroked his curly locks, pulling him tighter into her chest.
“Daddy always said a knight’s job was to take care of the princess,” Abram began, “to open doors is a knight. To fight for love is a knight, and to kill the dragon is a knight.” Abram pulled back from his grandmother’s embrace, looked her straight in the eye, “but who’s the dragon?”
Evelyn let go of his gaze, dropped her eyes, and sighed. After a long silent moment, she spoke, setting Abram on the ground she asked, “Are you hungry, sweet pea?”
“Is the dragon in there?” He pointed to the heavy double doors.
“I’ll get us a snack.” She set Abram on his bum on the couch by himself. His legs couldn’t reach the end, and his body slowly sunk into the thick cushions. His head flinched back as he watched her walk. What about the dragon? He thought to himself then looked to where she was walking. The vending machine had large photos of Oreo cookies and Gummi Bears.
He smiled his scattered tooth smile to no one, “cookies?” he called after her.
“That sounds wonderful,” she waved back as she neared the end of the hall. Her hair was pulled back today, in a bun mirrored the one his teacher often wore. Mrs. Gunthia didn’t look as pretty as his grandmother, though. Her white bun was pure, and the dark strand of grey wrapped around the outside made it look original.
“You’re a sick bastard! That was never true!”
Abram jumped at the sound of his mother’s words. His grandmother never turned to look, and he pulled himself off the couch. It sounded as though she stood just behind him. The double doors remained closed to the courtroom. There were a couple of older boys sitting on another couch, and they hadn’t reacted as if they heard anything either. Abram stood, looking up and down the hallway. The pain in his mother’s voice blanketed him in a cold invisible sweater. But it seemed to pulse sound toward him.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
Her words came again, and they knocked Abram down to his bottom. He turned to call his grandmother, but she was inspecting the vending machine thoroughly and hitting the top of the glass cabinet with the palm of her hand. He didn’t want to jeopardize his cookies.
The boys spoke to one another, they were old enough to be seniors in high school and looked full of trouble, but still, they seemed unaffected by Abram’s mother’s yells. The desperation of her words affected even young Abram. The sobs smacked him as hard waves then the pullback of the emotion dragged him toward the double doors. His legs were compelling him forward, no longer thinking. He was just being.
“I am NOT crazy!”
Agony weighted her words so heavily they materialized. Abram saw the letters squeeze through the dark spaces where the doors latched. The letters were ghastly white and wobbly as though they were just born of his mother’s anguish. They crumpled and fell to nothing more than the tile floor below his feet as he drew closer. Too young to be fearful, Abram walked closer to the letters sneaking out of the courtroom. Propelled by his mother’s screams, “I am capable!” He covered his ears to stop the sound of her cries, but they came anyway. The materialized words poured out faster from between the doors and forced their way into his emotional being.
The horror of Abram witnessing his mother’s hurtful words tore at him. It ripped him to pieces. Abram’s cry stifled by a sudden out of body experience. The letters came faster to Abram, and he could no longer see his hands or feet or feel his body. All he could see was the bright of the white letters melting into the darkness, which seemed to bleed from between the doors. His being moved toward the darkness as it stretched into a welcome mat, rolling under his presence and enveloping him as a dark curtain. It clouded his vision until all there was blackness with sparkling outlines left from the letters. A star just on the outside of his image. When he looked to it, it disappeared and further away, pulling his being further into the darkness.
Abram felt himself come up and away from the tiles. A dark tunnel formed, the swirling of the letters swirled down into the end. Swirling of peripheral stars into the black void, he was pulled through an invisible entrance. White letters disappeared, and the color of the courthouse left him, and all that was left was darkness. He wanted to cry, but he could faintly hear his mother still. He found himself crawling as an infant, new to this dark world toward the sounds of his mother. When he looked down, he couldn’t see his hands, only darkness but reassured somehow it would hold him. There was no drop and no void, the black matter around him created a walkway for him. To find his mother.
Abram followed the sense, the unspoken direction toward the whimpering sounds of his mother. They grew louder, and soon he saw an outline in the black abyss. The silhouette of his mother crumpled on the floor, which should be invisible to Abram. He saw only her form retching from sobs, doubled over, and tears poured from her face. He felt his heart drop but was sure his heart wasn’t with him. He wanted to reach his hand to her but couldn’t. He didn’t have one, not physically anyway. He opened his mouth to call to her, to make her stop crying because he was here for her, but his voice wouldn’t work either. The blackness was all there was, surrounding his mother like a jailhouse, but it was one dimensional, and he couldn’t help her.
“Abram!” He heard his grandmother’s voice. It broke through the black curtain, surrounded his mother, and dissipated it into stars. Like a television screen when the programming over, the black and white stars vibrated until the blackness overtaken by a flash of bright whiteness, Abram found himself standing with his hand near touching the closed courtroom doors.
He blinked several times. The sounds of yelling and his mother sobbing faintly through the door, but they remained shut.
“Sweet pea, I got us cookies,” Evelyn bent to pick Abram up, he held his arm out toward the doors still as she walked him to the opposite end of the hallway. There was no chance he could have heard what was happening; she thought to herself; those doors are soundproof and ultra-thick.
“Yes, she’s in there.”
“I saw her.”
“She’ll be done soon, let’s have a cookie.”