Daddy swung the tobacco stick, and I listened closely as it splintered against my brother. His face rough and confused with each crack thrown his way. Rays of light breaking through his shadow with each rapid movement he made. We did not cry, neither Jonny nor myself.
Instead, we cheered our father on, begging him not to stop. “Again Daddy, again!” I chanted.
The old porch was worn with chipped and faded paint, the boards warped and tattered from age and weather, the nails rusted with a dull metallic. I sat on the rough swing that was as old as the porch itself. This was where I spent my summer days, floating back and forth through the muggy air, lost in a book with only sounds of the swing chain as it jingled and swayed.
“If you keep read’n like that, you’re gonna go blind,” Jonny said. I looked up at the screen of the porch’s side door. “But I like it,” I said and folded the corner of my page.
“You should be out there play’n, not sit’n here with ya nose in a book. School’s over fer now, ya know.” The door hinges squeaked. I watched the fluent movement of his legs walking toward me, and felt his weight level the swing. He reached over and tapped lightly on my leg.
“We’re all play’n ball this sevening. I’ll take you with me,” Jonny said. I pulled my book close.
“But Mommy said I can’t play with you boys any more. She says you all are gonna end up hurt’n me.”
My brother scoffed. “Awe, they ain’t gonna hurt ya. Hell, they’d be too afraid of the ass woopen they’d get.” He smacked my bare legs once more. “Go on and getcha shoes, Little Bit.” I knew my mother was right. The neighborhood boys played far too rough for a little girl, but I loved it. The girls my age were too prissy for my liking. They were too worried about getting dirty or staining their pretty sundresses.
My brother was only a few years older than me, and his friends did try to take it easy whenever I was around, but my mother was right, an eight year old didn’t need to be around a bunch of spitting, cussing boys. I ignored the thought of my mother screaming, “Laney Beth, I’ll bust your bare hide,” and went to fetch my shoes.
I laid my book down in the space between Jonny and me and scooted to the edge of the swing. That was another reason my mother didn’t like me playing with older kids. I was extremely small for my age. My hair hung long, curling at its ends, and my arms and legs were dangly, but I was strong thanks to the rough housing with my brother. Scrapes covered my knees and elbows, some scabbed and some new. I lowered my feet towards the porch, but stopped short. My gaze landed near the corner of the house.
I could see Cole staggering towards us. His arms searching for the outside walls of our home, to press his weight against. His feet moved slow and unsteady. He made little attempt to regain his balance. I sat very still, hoping I would be ignored though I should have known better.
The sickening scent that was him danced along with the wind towards our place on the swing. Cole’s eyes were a deep bloodshot red, and his face a sad shade of pale. I felt my tiny hands grip the wood beneath me. “Shit. He’s drunk again,” Jonny whispered. He placed his hand in the small of my back and urged me forward. “Go on in the house. I’ll go out into the baccer bed and get Dad.” Jonny said. I nodded my understanding and moved on.
Cole continued to stagger. I perched myself behind the screen door, believing that it would serve all the protection I would need. Cole was the oldest of my six siblings and the only one who seemed to become another person after a few drinks. It was as though he transformed, like the cartoon that came on every Saturday morning. He was Dr. Jekyll becoming his evil creation. I stood behind the netting and waited.
“Cole, you need to sit down a while. Don’t ya think?” Jonny asked. I was terrified of Cole, though I guess it comes naturally to fear a person who’s pulled your hair as many times as he had pulled mine, but I hated hiding inside while Jonny faced him alone.
Cole processed his words. He wore his intoxication all over his face. “What did you say?” I watched Jonny’s face change from bravery to fear. “I, I just meant that you didn’t look so good, that’s all.”
My drunk brother moved his hand along the grain of the house. His eyes drifted, unable to hold focus. Jonny stood waiting for a time to move, to run inside the house and join me. But Cole was too close now, and he knew what was coming. He knew how his brother was when the alcohol had gotten the best of him. Jonny shifted his eyes to me. “Go get Daddy.” My eyes widened, and my heart soared in size.
“What did you say, little man?” I looked once more at each of my brothers. Tears began blurring my vision. I nodded to Jonny, pushed myself off the facing of the door and ran. I zigzagged my way through the kitchen. I moved quickly around the table, not stopping to pick up one of my mother’s chairs. I ran through the living room passing the old tarnished coal burning stove and out the front door. The steps were steep, and my wobbly legs were weak, but still I ran. I knew Cole would hurt Jonny if I stopped. I knew that if I didn’t get Daddy Jonny would take a beating. So I ran. I ran around the edge of the house and up the small bank that led out to the opposite porch. The porch I left my brother on. I ran hard and fast, but I was too late. I heard Jonny cry out, and my big brother never cried. Never. It was at that time that I began to cry, too. But my legs were still moving.
Cole’s hands were around Jonny’s small neck, holding him high against the wall of the house. I fell to my knees. “Stop it, please.” I searched for something, anything that I could throw.
Jonny’s face was wrinkled with pain, his eyes staring at me. His feet scrapped at the porch straining to press his weight. “Go tell Daddy, is that what you said?” Cole asked in a slurred raspy voice. “Let him go!” I screamed again. “Daddy’s not here, is he?” Cole said.
Still I searched for something.
I saw my brother cry and my heart ached. I didn’t have time to get help; he was going to choke him to death. I reached for the book I left on the swing. It was thick and hardbound. I grabbed it and swung with all my might. “Get off him. Get off him!” I held on to the book, placing the edge to the center of his lower back, hitting him over and over. He swayed with the intoxication and the pain from the hard cover.
“I said stop it!” I screamed. Jonny slid down the length of the wall, his feet catching his fall. I moved quickly off the low end of the porch. Cole staggered toward me. I ran onto the grass. My oldest brother stood in a slow manner. Jonny reached for his neck and rubbed.
“I’ll beat your ass, little girl.” My tears were gone. I knew I could out run him. I knew that my father was only half an acre away.
“Then do it,” I said. “I’m not scared of you.” He stood, and I prepared myself to run. I stood there waiting for his attack. His eyes were angry, but if I ran before he regained his stance he would go back to Jonny. I stepped closer, stood above him and smiled. He looked up at me, his eyes cloudy and glazed. I gathered all the spit in my mouth, drained it from my cheeks.
When I was satisfied with the pool on my tongue, I spat it at his face. The warmth plopped lightly between his eyes. I knew it was time. I saw how his muscles twitched.
“I’m telling Daddy,” I said. He sprang upward, grabbing at me at the same time. I began running. I turned my head to focus on the ground in front of me, and pushed forward.
I heard Cole fall just as quick as he stood. Once his feet had planted on the boards beneath him, they were kicked away. His face bounced from the hard wood below as he landed, smacking with all his weight. My body, too, slammed against something hard. The breath rushed from my chest. I fell back, stopping short of the ground.
I looked upward and a rush of relief settled within. There was Daddy, his eyes burning bright with anger. “Daddy, I was coming for you. I was, I was a running…” My words lacked air. He leaned down and kissed the top of my.
“Sissy girl,” he said. “I want you to go on in the house, and rest up a bit before supper.”
I knew he wanted me inside because something was about to be said or done that I wasn’t meant to see.
“Bub, you alright?” Daddy asked Jonny, though his eyes rested on Cole. Jonny moved his hand from his throat and nodded. “Go on inside then. You and the baby get yourselves a snack.” I stepped over Cole, still lying on porch and knelt down to Jonny.
“Come on, Bubby.” I reached him my hand, and we did as our father said. Daddy cleared his throat and walked over near the porch. “Cole, come on over here.”
Cole smirked, allowing a low laugh to escape. My other brother and I watched from the window in sheer joy. It wasn’t until then that I noticed the narrow piece of wood in my father’s hand.
“Boy, you’re already get’n the beat’n of your life, don’t make it any worse by cause’n me to repeat myself,” Daddy said. “Damn shame, a grown man hurt’n two youngens that can’t defend themselves.” He clicked his tongue against his teeth. “I’ll bet, though, after today you’ll think twice about drink’n.”
Daddy swung the tobacco stick, and I listened close as it splintered against my brother.
Cole’s face rough and confused with each crack thrown his way. Rays of light breaking through his shadow with each rapid movement he made. We did not cry, neither Jonny nor myself. Instead, we cheered our father on, begging him not to stop. “Again, Daddy, again!” I chanted.
Years later, I stood in the weeded yard, gazing at the place in the sky where the hilltops met.
The house still remained, along with the memories. But Daddy was gone and Mommy wasn’t doing well. My brothers and I still came around, along with the rest of the kids, and I still liked to read on that old splintered swing. I remembered that times were always tough in that house, that lessons were learned but never the easy way. But somehow that swing brought comfort. Here I was, that little girl with her Daddy always there to save her.