Paper Bag

I woke with relief to silence. When I’d locked myself in my room the night before, my mother and her boyfriend were in the middle of an argument.  Something to do with drugs, as was usual with Mabel and Pete.  They kept me awake half the night and then, after they made up, went out to celebrate.  I rose slowly trying to get a lead on what day it was.  Sunday, it must be Sunday, I thought, as I heard some far off church bells float into the room.  It was hot and sunny, what some might call a nice summer country day, but I’d lost the meaning for the word nice.

I rolled off my mattress that lay on the floor and got on my hands and knees.  My head was throbbing with lack of sleep and food and after I rose unsteadily, I went into the kitchen.  Mabel and Pete hadn’t made it home yet, and if I was lucky, I still had some quiet time before they showed up.  I looked in the refrigerator, nothing but moldy bread and assorted condiments.  The cabinets weren’t much more fruitful, my best chance at eating was to get to my crappy minimum wage job at the McDonalds out on the highway. It was a twenty-minute walk, but I’d eat my fill when I got there.

I drank a belly full of water and washed my face.  I tried to avoid looking in the mirror, since I still had a bruise around my eye that Pete gave me.  When my father died, I was relieved that I’d have a break from the beatings, but then my mother went and replaced one abusive spouse with another.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  I got myself dressed for work and combed my thin brown hair.

Fifteen days until I was eighteen and then I’d be gone.  I’d thought about leaving so many times, but I knew my best chance would be after I was legal.  I didn’t have much money, or any training to get a job that paid well, but wherever I landed had to be better than this.

I went back to the kitchen to head out the back door and I noticed the cabinet under the sink was ajar. It looked like something was stuffed in there, something too big for the space, blocking the door from closing all the way.  I knelt down in front of the cabinet and opened it.  There was a big paper bag, full of something, the top folded down, shoved inside.  The cleaning bucket, that was usually the only thing under the sink, was shoved to the side, but there still hadn’t been enough room for this bag so the door hadn’t closed all the way.

I slowly pulled the bag toward me.  I knew I would get a beating if I got caught looking at something they didn’t want me to see, but they weren’t home.  It had some weight to it and I pulled it onto the floor in front of me.  I unrolled the top and opened it wide. Looking inside, I couldn’t see what it was at first, I thought it was some pile of scrap paper.  But as I reached my hand inside and felt the texture of it, I realized it was money.  I lifted the bag closer to me, why was it so heavy?  Something shifted underneath the bills.  I reached my hand down into to the bottom of the bag. I came out with a gun.  My mouth went dry.

Now, I don’t know much about firearms, but this looked like a good one. It was heavy and sleek and felt good in my hand.  I sat there on the floor with a sack of money in my lap and a gun in my hands.  The church bells started up again in the distance.  The air in the room was stifling.  My stomach growled.

Suddenly the screen door flew open.  I spun around just in time to see my mother and her boyfriend tearing toward me with their eyes wild and their fists raised.  I raised my own fists in defense forgetting that they gripped the pistol.  Instinctively I squeezed the trigger until the gun was empty.  Mabel and Pete fell to the ground with barely a moan.  My ears rang with the aftershock of the gunfire.

How had I not heard them approach?  They must’ve been passed out in the truck behind the shed.  I watched as blood pooled onto the kitchen floor.  I felt around inside my heart for remorse but only found relief.  What to do now?  Our shack was far enough away from neighbors to hope that nobody had heard the shots.  I could take the money and run.  Start a new life somewhere.  But why run away?  Wasn’t this self-defense?  Didn’t my body have enough bruises to make a good case?

I looked at the sack of money.  I could stash it and return to my status as poor abused teen and ride out this story to the end so I could start a new one.  Somewhere far away, a fresh start, free and clear from any ties to this one.  Who would argue that I hadn’t suffered enough?  Who would put me in jail for defending my life?  Maybe there were some who would, but I’d take that chance over running for the rest of my life.  I dropped the gun, got to my feet and walked over to the phone.  Honesty is the best policy, I thought wryly, and my truth was as good as anyone else’s.  I dialed 9-1-1.

Rosanne Limoncelli   Copyright 2011

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