"Well, we can't just swan through life, after all."

I looked up at her through curious, squinted eyes. She was smiling in the general direction of the ceiling fan.

"What do you mean by that?" I said, pain leaking through, as persistent as a dripping faucet. "You almost sound happy about it."

Her eyes grew misty as she replied, "do you know what it's like to love your failures, Anna?"

I frowned. "No."

"Then you're not going to understand what I mean. You will, sometime," she said, an attempt at reassurance, only serving to anger me further.

She braced her hands on the table, wincing as she rose up from the kitchen chair. Her cotton dress stretched tightly across the broad length of her back, and I considered her steadily swelling ankles with disdain. She quickly reached for the counter, leaning a good portion of her weight on it. I turned away, unable to look at her, a mixture of fear and disgust mingling somewhere in the center of my chest. Then, I heard it: the steady grinding of the garage door opening. My mother whirled around with surprising agility to face the sound.

"Get upstairs," she commanded, eyes darkening.

Panic flooded around me in a drowning torrent. "I can't leave you here," I said, terrified.

"I can take it," she said, her voice distant and indistinct at once. Her face wheeled to me sharply. "Go."

I took the stairs two at a time, shutting my bedroom door with a soft click in perfect synchronization with the harsh slam of the door to the garage down below. I ran to the heat duct in the floor by my window and pressed my ear to it. Their voices rose to my ear, in slow echos, circulating and winding up the narrow passageway.

"Hi." It was my mother. The ancient hesitancy was gone from her voice; she had no desire to test these waters anymore.

Several seconds passed, as I tried to force a clear picture of my father's movements to my mind. My musings were interrupted by the echo of a loud thud followed by my father's voice, low and mumbling.

"For later," he said. Must be a case of beer. It seems like he's dropped the pretense as well.

Suddenly, the eruption: words and shrieks that blended together in a boundless cacophony, unified only by the anger I sensed in their tones. I got up; I had no need to scramble to hear their words now. I crawled underneath my bed and attempted to drown them out instead.

Mom's voice still was pleading; it was pleading him to open himself, to shatter, to break down. It would never end. A few silent moments passed.

My door was shoved open violently; mom stood there looking for me. I looked at her through the slats in the wicker of my bed.

"—Anna–?"

I savored the gap in time, the fear on her face; it was my one instant of control now, here.

"I'm here," I said, crawling out from underneath the bed. Mom grabbed me by my upper arm, clenching the exposed skin hard.

"We're leaving," she said, a determined scowl on her face.

I understood. We were escaping again. For an afternoon, an hour, a few minutes. It didn't matter; it was always stolen time. I feigned interest.

"Where are we going?"

"I don't care," she said, "for a drive."

"But it'll end here, Mom. It always does."

She didn't say anything. We walked down the stairs. Rounding the corner to the kitchen, mom pushed me behind her. I saw him, though, sitting at the table. His eyes weren't angry, worse; they were dull, unfocused, dead. An opened beer bottle and his toolbox sat next to him on the table.

"We're leaving," she said to him, her voice quivering. Those corpse's eyes settled lazily on her. I felt her shiver. He didn't budge. We walked towards the garage door. Mom jerked it open and slammed it behind her. The abrupt silence afterwards was shattered again by splintering glass, falling in a painfully delicate rain over us, raking my flesh open, lodging in my skin. Then, something with the force behind it of a Mack truck hit me square in the center of the back. I hit the concrete floor of the garage, but the bliss of unconsciousness did not settle over me. Instead, I felt flaming pain consume me as my nervous system blazed in reaction. I heard my mother's panicked voice shrieking my name. I opened my eyes; my hand came into focus as lying on the floor next to my face. Then, I saw—a screwdriver? The toolbox. He threw the toolbox through the door at me.

§

"... but sometimes they had to ... and ... she said, smiling at him, 'where did you find it?' ... The clouds were perfect white that day ..."

My thoughts overlapped a story that my ears insisted that I was hearing. Was ... was mom reading to me? I opened my eyes. She was there, book propped in her hands, sitting by my bed. She looked at me, and then looked quickly down, blushing–?

"I—suppose I was doing that more for myself than for you ... I had to tell myself that you could hear me—somehow," she trailed off gently, then continued, "you're not hurt, honey. I thought you were, but it turns out you're not injured at all."

"Was I at a doctor's?"

She broke eye contact again. "Well, no ..."

"Then how do you know I'm not hurt?"

She began to cry. She looked at me through blurred eyes. "Are you?"

I felt everything go dark inside. It was as if someone had flipped a switch. Somewhere, far away, and being pushed farther away still, a voice screamed at me to be honest.

"No."

"Well, good," she said, a hesitant smile emerging on her face.

"I want to go to sleep," I muttered, rolling over towards the wall before she could respond. I heard the door close softly a moment later.

As is the tendency with dreaming, time slipped by unnoticed. I awoke to the sound of urgent, angry voices not far from my bedroom. I got up and opened my door in time to hear my mother say definitively, "Fuck you." A moment passed, and I heard her footsteps on the stairs. I ran out into the hallway just as she entered her bedroom. I followed her. She turned and locked terrified eyes on me.

"We're leaving, honey. Maybe the drive will still end here after all, but not in the way it always has."

I said nothing, but walked over towards the bed. I watched mom with interest as she started throwing both her clothes and mine into a bag.

Hoofbeats on the stairs. My eyes flew to mom. She was right by the door. My lips attempted to form words, only to be silenced by the ripping open of the door. He stood there, teeth bared, eyes blazing. Mom turned first to me, then back to him. He settled a glare on her.

"Get the fuck out of my way."

"Don't you fucking touch her, asshole."

He kicked her square in the ass, sending her falling face first into the floor. He turned to me. I felt the air vacuumed from my lungs and the blood drain from my limbs. He was across the room in one leap, and I scrambled across the bed towards the wall. He leapt onto the bed after me, and gripped my throat in his hands. He shook once, twice, and slammed my broken body against the corner.

"I'll show her what real life is," he said, aloud to the demons which circled him.

I felt my lips pucker outward, opening and closing like the bloated mouth of a fish. My cheeks began to balloon, and I felt a popping, straining sensation in the tendons of my neck as he squeezed each one tighter.

Suddenly, I was involuntarily drawing breath in one icy gasp; I thought at first that I was dead and that was heaven — a brief, refreshing breath of air to a choking girl. Instead, my vision came back in bursts; I saw that mom had thrown him off of me somehow. She stood over him, eyes blazing, fists clenched. He scrambled off of the floor, running for the bedroom door. Several moments later, I heard him tear out of the driveway.

I was too drained to cry; mom did the honors for me. She scooped my huddled little heap of a body from the corner and sat me on the edge of the bed. She tilted my head to look her in the face. I frowned in curiosity; this was not a woman I was used to seeing. The resolve ...

"We're outta here."

§

"Did you get enough to drink, Anna?"

"Yeah, I'm okay mom," I said, enjoying the feeling of the wind rushing through the open windows of the car. She reached over and took my hand. I looked at her, seeing the wise reflection of resolve again that would later become as familiar as her laughter.

"We're going to be okay, honey," she replied, smiling. I returned it, and looked out at the fields shooting by my window as I shot by them.

My mother once told me, "Don't polish a turd. People don't change. You change." You teach what you have to learn. Despite that, her advice was sound. And our drive would never lead directly back to that house. We travelled in a spiral, sometimes intersecting it, other times brushing by it like a stranger in a crowd. But it will always be there; wherever I move, somehow, it stays stationary.

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