by Emily Wood
Hattie May Ford stood in the front room’s pale light, wiping down canning jars and waiting. Her husband, Albert, sat on the front porch in the rocking chair, creaking back and forth. Their son, Willy, should have been home by now.
Headlights beamed into the windows of the front room. Hattie peeked out the window leaning over the old couch across from the bed where she and Albert slept. Willy’s figure tumbled out of the car, stood up, and brushed off. He walked toward the house. The car pulled away. Willy staggered through the front door.
Hattie recognized the signs. She used to see them in drunk men who visited her grandpa’s land. When the men showed up, Grandpa took them across the field to a secret shed in the woods.
Willy leaned toward his father. “Papa, I need the keys to the truck.”
“I’m not givin’ you the keys so you can go and kill yourself in my truck. Besides, you mess up that truck, we ain’t got another one.” Albert crossed his arms.
Hattie stepped around Albert. “Where do you think you need to be going at such an hour? You need to be at home.”
“I just need to go somewhere. That’s all.” Willy wouldn’t look at his mother’s face.
“You better not be goin’ over to that old girl’s house.” Hattie put her hands on her hips.
“So what if I am?” Willy moved to face Albert again, looking over his mother’s head. “You two wouldn’t have treated Arthur like this. He would have gotten to go wherever he wanted.”
“Willy, Arthur never came home drunk.” Hattie touched Willy’s arm.
Willy shrugged away from his mother. “Well, either way, he had the right idea when he left.”
Albert stepped around Hattie closing the gap between himself and Willy. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Willy’s breath increased. His face, already reddened by drink, turned deep crimson. Hattie looked from face to face. Willy to Albert and back again.
“And just who’s gonna stop me, old man?” Willy puffed up like a rooster getting ready to fight.
“I am.” Albert stared hard at his son.
Willy laughed. Slapped his knee. Balled up his fist and punched his father in the jaw. Albert stumbled back.
Albert punched Willy in the face. The ribs. Wherever the blows could connect. Willy tried to defend himself. Fought back. Held his hands in front of his face. Hattie grabbed Albert’s shoulder and tried to pull him back. He shoved her aside. Kept punching.
“Stop it, please. Stop, please please. Albert, stop. Albert, you’re gonna kill him!” Hattie reached out to Albert. Was shoved away again.
The other children came running out of their rooms to see what their mama was yelling about. Hattie pointed toward the bedrooms. “Get back in there. Don’t you dare come out.” The kids backed into their doors. Poked heads around each other so they could see what was happening.
Hattie’s face was wet. Each time a new smack of fist hit Willy’s skin, Hattie thought she could feel the pain inflicted on her son’s body. He’d started a fight he wasn’t able to finish. Albert beat the mess out of the boy.
Hattie watched Albert push Willy deeper into the front room. With one last lick, Willy was forced back onto the bed. He fell full weight on the old structure. A loud crack. The slats holding the mattress splintered into pieces breaking the bed down to the floor.
Albert stopped when the bed snapped. He stepped back. Willy lay gasping for his knocked-out wind. He sat up. Wiped blood from his nostrils. Reddish purple splotches already popped up on his face and arms. He looked at the blood. Then at his father.
“You son of a — ”
“Don’t make me do that all over again, boy. You will respect this house. And your mama. And me. So long as you live under this roof, you better learn the rules that go along with it.” Albert turned to walk away. Flexed his fingers.
“I’ll be gone tomorrow. You won’t have to worry about what rules I’m followin.’ ” Willy struggled to sit up straight.
“That’s just fine, but in the meantime, get up from there, get out to the barn, and fix that bed. I ain’t sleepin’ on the floor.” Albert walked onto the front porch.
Hattie knelt by her son still sitting on the ruins of the bed. The bed where Hattie had lain with Albert and made their children. All ten young’uns squalled their way into the world. Each one a new burden wrapped in a blessing. She ran her hand over the curved footboard. Time and many moves had worn the finish away. She shifted to get up and offered to help Willy.
“I don’t need any help.” Willy grunted. Stood slowly like his bones had turned to steel. “He oughtta get in here and help fix this. I didn’t break it by myself.”
Hattie withdrew. She sunk down to the floor next to the mattress. Her face sopped with tears. She looked up at Willy. He avoided her glance. Limped into the kitchen to get the tape measure. After measuring the frame, he left through the front door, letting the screen slam behind him.
Albert returned to his rocker. Creaking back and forth. Hattie imagined the way an old rocker sometimes moved sideways while it swayed. What might Albert do if he creaked his way right off the porch? She shoved herself up from the floor with a groan. She was more than exhausted. The cotton-pickin’ kind of tired. She wished she could just crawl under the pieces of broken bed and take a nap. She grabbed the mattress by one corner pulling it out of the debris. Hattie cleaned. Albert just sat and creaked.
Emily D. Wood was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountain area of Alabama. Having spent most of her life in a place called Sand Mountain, she gains inspiration for some of her stories from family histories. She received a degree in English from Troy University, is a former intern with Deep South and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Writing at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. Read her work on Deep South here.