By Michael Gigandet
The boy cries and bites his fist; he doesn’t think he is making any noise, but he knows he is crying. His sisters are hysterical, locked in a clawing embrace, their sobs dry and hacking.
The children huddle between the sink and the refrigerator. They cry in different registers of agony like a dysfunctional choir in a nightmare and shudder as their parents scream from each end of the kitchen, their words sweeping over the children like a thunderstorm, gusting winds of red anger, lightning flashes of malevolent words so physical they hurt like fists and slaps. It happens so fast the children cannot decide who to look at, so their heads snap back and forth except for the littlest sister who has shoved her head into her sister’s chest. She is mewing like a wounded cat now. No escape is possible. There is no place to run like that time when they hid in the closet until they were dragged out by their ankles.
The family is assembled for the purpose of demonstrating which parent has the higher claim to custody, another skirmish in a custody battle that has erupted in the kitchen of a ranch-style house in an unremarkable suburban neighborhood.
Each parent screams at the children to come to his side of the kitchen. Every sentence contains a command or a threat of retaliation if disobeyed. Come to me! Don’t you dare go to him! (Or her. Their scripts are identical.) I’ll spank if you do! Come here!
The children flinch with each gusting gale, twisting themselves tighter each time a parent commands, threatens. Do they think they can disappear by making themselves smaller? It doesn’t work of course. Any movement unleashes new torrents of rage.
There was a time when the boy thought he could disappear if he stood still enough next to the refrigerator. His mother would pretend not to see him and would call out: Martin? Where are you? I can’t see you. He places his hands over his face and covers his eyes; he can’t see them. His parents add Look at me! to their script of screams.
When will it stop? Hang on. Just hang on. The futility must tire them.
This time it stops when the boy wakes up. He has never done this to his own children.
Did his wife nudge him awake? She sometimes does that when he makes sounds. He thinks about checking on his son and daughters but is afraid he’ll wake them from their sleep. He knows that they are safe and wonders what they dream of when they sleep.
Michael Gigandet is a lawyer living on a farm in middle Tennessee. He has been published by the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Reedsy, Spelk Fiction, OrangeBlushZine and Potato Soup Journal. He recently had stories published in story collections by Palm Sized Press, Pure Slush and Down In The Dirt.