The three porch steps are a blur under my feet. My heart is a wrecking ball in my chest. And then I hear the baby’s cry.
I was born in 1972 to a vacant shell of a mother and a drunk father who followed the stereotype to the letter. I saw red, swollen faces across from my Cheerios, and I learned the exact position to hold inside the closet with my baby brother so as to be unseen and unheard. And I knew the cry of a beaten child by heart.
This is one of those cries.
The door is already open and the police I am with try to hold me back on the porch. I understand where they’re coming from – this is a dangerous situation for all of us. But when that baby’s voice cuts off, nothing can restrain me.
I barge into the small house and am assaulted by the odor of infection and vomit. A skeletal boy cowers behind the sofa, out of his father’s sight, and I wish I could’ve shared my closet with him.
The baby gasps and readies for the next scream as the man raises his arm back up over his head.
The roar that escapes me is carnal, ferocious. ‘No!’
He spins to me, doesn’t pause to see the pistols aimed at him and punches me in my left jaw. My body flies across the tiny room, crunches against the wall. Dust and bits of sheetrock flutter down over me and I hear two shots ring out.
The man shouts over the baby’s cries as the police move to apprehend him, not caring to be gentle with his limp and bloody arm. I move toward the baby and feel soft crackles vibrate through my shoulder, the broken bones numbed or overshadowed by the need to calm and caress.
I lift the baby to my chest. He is soiled and hot as the sun. I hold him closer, gently as I can, and coo into his ear. I sing the song that used to calm my brother in the late hours of eternal nights. The baby screams louder, but I continue to sing, my voice breaking and tears streaming down my face.
Something touches my leg and I look to see the boy from behind the sofa clutching himself to me, watching his father being dragged out of the house in a violent burst of profanities. He looks up to me and his large, terrified eyes are a silent ‘thank you’.
I wish I could lie to him, tell him that these things never happen, that his case is the worst I’ve seen. But I can’t.
I can only sing.
Rebekah Hay is originally from Louisiana and is living in Australia with her husband and four young boys. She writes poetry, short stories and flash fiction, novels, and screenplays. Her work has also been published in The First Line.