I had never been treated like that before. Sure, I had been spanked, I assumed all kids had, and the spanking put a fear in me, and made me listen more closely to what I was told, and be careful not to defy my parents in loud or annoying ways. But this was different than a disciplinary spanking. I hadn’t done anything wrong, or deserving of any real punishment. Maybe a stern talking-to, but never anything so violent. My own mother had been turned against me. She never would have hurt me like that before.
After a while the pain subsided, and I sat on the floor, and thought about what I could do. Ms. Cleary couldn’t help me. I was by myself, and completely alone. If I did nothing, nothing would change.
I had to get out of that house. If I could somehow escape without my uncle noticing, I could make a break for Ms. Cleary’s next door. Then she would know what to do. Then she would help me.
I waited in my room, and played the part of the defeated child. I laid down on my bed, and read my book, and I was quiet as a mouse. I did not try to leave, and I did not so much as sneeze. Dinner time came and went, and I was certain that my uncle was testing me, waiting to see when I would cave, and come out, demanding food. My stomach gurgled and clenched, telling me to eat, but I ignored it. I was not going to let him win this waiting game.
Dinner time came and went. I could smell what my mother had cooked, but I couldn’t pin down exactly what it was. It smelled like so many delicious things. I waited another hour. I could no longer concentrate on the words on the page. All I could think about was food. Greasy cheeseburgers and golden-brown french fries, piles of mashed potatoes and pounds of spaghetti. My mouth watered. I could not wait any longer.
I opened my door and crept out into the hallway. The television was on, and I could hear explosions and gunfire. Some action movie, probably. My uncle was still sitting on the couch. There was a pile of cigarette butts laying on the ground, and the air was hazy. My mother sat curled up next to him on the couch, her head resting on his shoulder. She looked up as I entered the room.
“Sweetie?” she said, raising her head. “What do you want?”
“I’m hungry. Can I have some dinner?” I tried to look as sad and remorseful as I could, and kept my head down, eyes lowered, and clasped my hands behind my back.
My uncle spoke up, “You’re too late. We already ate. You don’t just get to eat whenever you want to in this house. We eat together, as a family.”
“I’m sorry,” I managed. I had to force the words out. “I thought that I was still in trouble, and not allowed to have dinner.”
“You are,” he said. “And you wouldn’t have been. But I’ll tell you what.” He stood up, and stepped into the middle of the living room. “I’ll let you have some dinner. All you have to do, is come here and give me a hug. Ask for your dinner again, and call me dad.” He smiled at me, but I could see that his eyes were still hard as steel. They twinkled, turning his innocent smile into a callous smirk.
He knew what he was doing. I had missed lunch too, and my body was screaming out for food. I knew that I had to lower his guard, to make him think that he had won. So I walked over to him, slowly, and I did a thing that made me want to cringe and run away. I hugged my uncle. He crouched down to my level, and embraced me, squeezing me hard against his soft flesh.
“Can I have dinner now? Dad.”
He stayed crouched low, released me from the hug, and held my shoulders, looking me in the eye. “Yes you may, son,” he said. “But there aren’t any leftovers. I ate them all. You’ll have to go make yourself a sandwich, or some cereal.”
“Okay.” My legs felt like jelly.
My uncle stood up again, and returned to the sofa. “Oh,” he added. “Don’t forget to wash the dishes from supper. There are pots and pans that need scraping, too.”
I turned and went into the kitchen. I wanted to punch something. I wanted to take those dirty pots and dishes and smash them on the floor with a great clanging sound until they all broke. My hands were clenched into fists, and my fingernails dug in my palms until I could feel them cutting into my skin. I placed my hands on the counter, and took some deep breaths, arms stretched out and leaning, face staring down at the linoleum floor.
Again, hunger was the thing that moved me to action. I opened the cupboard, grabbed the bread, and fixed myself yet another peanut butter sandwich. I grabbed some grapes from the refrigerator, a jar of peanuts, and poured a glass of cold milk. I didn’t even take my food to the table, but stood there at the counter where I had prepared it, and inhaled the sandwich as fast as I could. I hardly tasted any of it, but soon enough, it was all down.
It is amazing how much clarity a full stomach brings to the mind. I instantly regretted calling my uncle dad, and hugging him as well, but there had been no other way. I could have pleaded to my mother I suppose, but she would have denied me as well, with one word from my uncle. But at least now I was fed, and I could think more clearly. I knew how I was going to escape.
I took my dishes to the sink and put them in with the rest. Then I turned on the faucet all the way. The gushing water filled my ears, and splashed loudly in the metal sink. I put the stopper in the sink, and squeezed dish soap into the slow-rising water. Between the noise of the running water, and the sounds coming from the TV, they would never hear me leaving out the back door.
The biggest risk would be the moment I left. The back door was next to the dining room table, and could be seen from the couch in the living room. I would have to somehow sneak out without being noticed by either my uncle or my mother. The TV would give me an advantage. Their eyes would be glued to it. But I was not sure how perceptive the boggart was, or if he suspected me to try anything.
I decided to play it safe. There were still some dishes left on the table, and when I went to pick them up, I stole a glance into the other room. They were both sitting there, as they had been, staring at the screen.
They hadn’t noticed me looking. Now was my chance. I left the dishes on the counter, and creeped toward the back door. I turned the handle. It was locked, and made the infuriating clicking sound that all locked doors shared. I turned raised lock on the handle, unlocked it, and slowly pushed the screen door open. It usually squeaked, unless you either opened it either very fast, or gentle and easy. I chose what I thought to be the safer road.
The door had opened just enough for me to stick a foot out, when I heard a voice behind me.
“And just where do you think you’re going?” It was my uncle’s voice, and I knew that when I turned around he would be standing right there. So I didn’t. Instead I bolted out into the back yard, slamming the door behind me, hoping to hit him with it and slow him down.
I heard him yelling something at me, but I was already heading straight toward Ms. Cleary’s tall wooden fence. The door slammed, and then I heard it open a second later, and then slam again. Then I heard my uncle moving in the yard behind me. It wasn’t dark yet, and he could see me clearly. There wasn’t anywhere to hide.
As I approached the fence I realized that trying to climb it would be impossible. I would not get halfway up before my uncle pulled me down again. I turned my head from side to side, trying to decide which way to run. To my right was the hedge, tall and thorny and dense. To my left at the back of the yard was our own smaller, metal fence. I could hop over that, if I could reach it.
Left it was. I veered away from Ms. Cleary’s wooden fence. My uncle was right behind me, but hadn’t expected the sudden change in direction, and fumbled for a moment. I blew past him, sprinting as fast as I could.
Our yard wasn’t that big, and I reached the fence in a matter of seconds. My breath was coming in gasps. I put both hands on the top bar of the fence, and hiked a leg up and over. I paused at the top, one hand still holding onto the rail, in between the folded wires that poked up, and glanced back.
My uncle was sprinting towards me, moving faster than a man his size should be able to. He was charging like a rhino on a warpath, and I had to get down and away, quick.
I hopped over the fence, and was yanked back by a tugging on my sleeve. It was caught on one of the wires on the fence. My uncle was still running, very close now. I panicked, and yanked at it, trying to rip the cloth. I couldn’t get it loose. I started trying to take it off, but was at an awkward angle. My eyes welled with tears.
My uncle slowed to a trot as he reached the fence, breathing heavily. Then he reached a hand over, and grabbed my arm like a steel clamp, and I knew that it was all over.