His Light in the DarkBy: L. A. Fiore
I was hungry. My tummy hurt. I sat on the top step holding my belly, but I feared going downstairs because Daddy got mad if I came downstairs when he had a friend over. I tried really hard to not think about the pain in my belly, but I ate when I woke up and now it was almost bedtime. Maybe he wouldn’t see me if I was really quiet and walked on my tiptoes.
At the bottom of the stairs, I heard a funny noise and when I peeked into the living room, I didn’t see Daddy, but there was a lady and she didn’t have on any clothes. She was the one making the funny sound. I got scared, was she sick? And then her eyes opened and she looked right at me. She put her hands up and turned from me.
“Carl, you have a son?”
Daddy’s head popped up. He was mad, so mad that he wasn’t nice, moving so fast the lady almost fell off the sofa. He didn’t have anything on, like how I looked when I got into the tub. When he walked to me, I couldn't stop my body from shaking because he looked really, really mad.
He yanked my arm so hard it hurt more than my tummy. “What are you doing downstairs?”
“My tummy hurts. I’m hungry.”
He dragged me into the kitchen, but I didn’t see what he grabbed before he pulled me back up the stairs. He pushed me into my room, but I knew I wouldn’t sleep if I didn’t fill my belly.
“But Daddy, I’m hungry.”
He tossed something on my bed. It was crackers. I loved crackers. Before I could say thank you, Daddy moved closer and hit me, his big hand against my cheek hurt so bad I cried out as I flew backwards into my bed.
“Don’t fucking ever come downstairs again when I have someone over.”
The door slammed closed. Pee wet the front of my jammies and dripped down my leg but I was afraid to make a sound and bring my daddy back upstairs, so I curled up into a ball—my face hurting so bad—and cried for so long I fell asleep without ever filling my belly.
I learned a lot after that night. I learned how to be invisible, even in a crowd of people, I could go completely unnoticed; I learned the way to handle conflict at school was with my fists; I learned that I wasn’t so very different from my dad because every time he hit me, he stoked the flame in my gut that had started that first night—the need to hit him back. But mostly I learned that no one gave a shit; not my teachers, or the parents of the kids at school, the grocery clerk or even the doctors and nurses who had tended to more than one broken bone of mine. In this great big world, there wasn’t one person who gave a shit if I lived or died.
We had to move. The old man pitched a fit when the landlord handed him the eviction notice. Even at twelve, I knew you had to pay the rent or you’d get tossed out. Apparently my father didn’t think the rules applied to him. We came from Camden, and landed in South Philly—an older neighborhood in Packer Park—so we didn’t go far. Not sure how the man swung this, the place was sweet; even though we were attached to our neighbors, the houses were spaced nicely, the steps up to the front doors added privacy and we even had actual grass and a few trees. Not far from us were a big community park and the sports complexes. As nice as it was, our place wouldn’t stay that way for long because my father didn’t know the meaning of the word clean.
Wasn’t sure how he afforded the move since the man didn’t work, was out on disability, and constantly bitched about not having money. Of course, there was always money for beer and whiskey. He was inside talking to some woman, probably the landlord. He ordered me to stay outside and so as I sat on the front steps of the row house, I took in the neighborhood. Gardens, brightly-colored, were worked into the small plots of grass that graced the front of most of the homes. Stoops were decorated with flower pots or chairs, people waved in greeting to their neighbors. It wouldn’t be long before the whispers started about the noise coming from this place, neighbors being careful to avoid eye contact or the looks of pity directed my way. I guess I kind of understood why people didn’t want to get involved, risk having my dad’s wrath turned on them, and still it made me angry every time a neighbor turned a blind eye.
The sounds of a little kid’s laughter pulled my attention to the next-door neighbors just as a little girl, dressed as a princess with a crown and everything, came running down her front steps. Just behind her, was her dad; the man was huge with tats down his arms, but it was the expression on his face that caused a pang of envy. He was grinning as he chased his daughter; a man who actually liked being a father and more, he didn’t have a problem with showing it. Just watching them, I couldn’t help my own grin because it was so natural, the affection between them. He grabbed her and tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of flour; her squeal of laughter carrying down the street. It hit like a freight train, nearly bringing tears to my eyes.