…continued from Part 1
We sat on the sofa, all of us, Tatum paging through a family photo album on her lap. Pictures of vacations with the deadbeat boyfriend, of her during various stages of her pregnancy, of her and deadbeat holding a newborn Lee and later with Tatum holding a newborn Stacie while deadbeat lurked somewhere in the background. A life well documented.
Tatum told me how difficult things had been. Deadbeat had developed a drug habit and came around under the guise of seeing his children only to beg off some money to score and if that hadn’t worked, he stole things to sell or threatened to take the kids.
One time when Tatum refused to give him any more money, he made good on his threat and Stacie and Lee were taken from her by Child Services because of alleged abuse charges. She described the hell she had to go through to get her family back.
As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. It was deadbeat, whose Christian name was Oscar, most likely coming around again to score. She spoke with him in hushed tones through the space in the door allowed by the security chain. When his shouts turned to raged kicking on the door, I stepped up behind Tatum so that he could see me. “Everything all right, Tate?”
Gasoline on fire. He lost his mind and no manner of reason calmed him. I showed him my cell phone, made sure he had seen me dial 911 and only then as he weighed the options in his mind did he leave, but not before he made his threats. He would be back, to get his kids and make her pay.
Tatum convinced me not to involve the police but only after she agreed to let me stay the night in case Oscar decided to return. We tried to salvage the rest of the evening for the sake of Stacie and Lee but deadbeat’s presence lingered in the air.
The sofa was made up for me as comfortable as she could have managed, but sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. I was afraid that Oscar would return, afraid that I wouldn’t be much use since I wasn’t a violent man. All I could have done was to block his attack while Tatum grabbed the kids and made their way to safety. And if that was what it took, then so be it.
When I started drifting off, as the tension of the evening released its grip, Tatum came to me. Her nightgown slid off her perfect skin. Why hadn’t I ever noticed just how perfect she was before? She stood there, naked and beautiful in the moonlight that poured in from the window, and I knew than and there that I would have done anything for her. Smiling, she climbed on top of me and it was paradise.
After we were done, after all the love I was capable of making had been made, after the pillow talk in which things were said that were sweet and emotional and ultimately meaningless, Tatum gathered her nightgown and went back to her bed. I understood her not wanting the children to find her in arms in the morning, but a small piece of me was sad.
My head swam with a million thoughts, my heart filled with far too many emotions, and that combined with the feeling that something wasn’t right, meant there was no sleep for me tonight. I was so preoccupied that I hadn’t heard it at first. The sound. The jingling of keys.
I went silent, straining my ears—moments passed. It couldn’t have been him with a set of keys. Surely Tatum would have changed the locks. Then it happened again. The sound of a key sliding in a lock. I sat bolt upright on the sofa, eyes scanning the darkness for a weapon. Remote controls, game console controllers, DVDs—the candy dish! It was no gun, but glass and solid enough to damage a skull.
I stared into the dark hallway from the living room entranceway. The sound of the doorknob turning. The door opened a crack and light spilled in from the apartment building hallway. An arm slipped in through the crack. It held something wire-like. A hanger? The tip of the hooked wire scratched at the door until it found purchase. The handle for the security chain. It slid across the groove slowly until the chain fell away.
I should have acted then. I should have rushed the door, slammed his arm in it, put my full weight against the door, held him there and called the police for them to cart him away. But I was held in place by a tense moment that locked inside of me. Instinct had taken over. So had the fear.
The intruder’s silhouette appeared in the doorway before the door clicked shut behind him, plunging the hall back into darkness. Footsteps, slow and deliberate. The floorboards creaked as if they were screaming a warning.
Then I heard a rustling come from the kids’ room. Had they heard the noise? Were they coming to investigate? Something snapped inside me. This bastard wasn’t going to harm the kids!
I charged into the darkness until I collided with the intruder. But as angry and determined as I was, it was no match for his explosive violence. He heaved me into the air and threw me on the floor, punched and kicked me and I had no defense, I put my arms up but they blocked none of his attack.
He wrapped his hands around my throat and I flailed spastically to get him off me as I gasped for the air that had been cut off from me.
I was overcome with fear but my body was overcome with instinct. My limbs simply tried anything they could to free my throat so I could breathe. But the intruder was having none of it. He slammed my head against the floor in a violent demonstration of his control over me as I gasped my last remaining breaths.
Then light flooded the room. Tatum and the children stood at the end of the hall, staring at me. My emotions were mixed. I wanted them to go away, I didn’t want them to see me like this. I wanted them to get to safety, but on the other hand, I wanted them to help me. I didn’t want to die.
But there was something in the way they looked at me, something that told me things weren’t right. And I looked up at the intruder—
Who was no longer there. And now I understood why they were staring at me. Here I was lying on the floor with my own hands wrapped around my neck. It took some effort for me to loosen my grip. I staggered to me feet and tried to explain how Oscar had come back, how he had a key and he broke in and was going to do something terrible to them, but they didn’t understand.
Who was Oscar? they kept asking and, What’s wrong with Daddy? And I told them to stop that, it wasn’t funny anymore, I’m not their father and the looks of genuine hurt danced across their faces. And I ran into the living room and grabbed the photo album for proof and flipped through the pages of—
Tatum and I on vacation. Me posing with her during various stages of her pregnancy. The pair of us a newborn Lee and later with holding a newborn Stacie while Lee lurked somewhere in the background.
I had no recollection of having taken these photos, yet they existed.
And I looked at Stacie and Lee and they were different again, now a mixture of Tatum and I thought I actually saw bits of myself in their faces. The kids asked Tatum what was wrong and she explained that I, Daddy, just had a nightmare, that’s all. She tells them that everything would be all right in the morning, everything back to normal.
And as Tatum ushered me to the bedroom, she grabbed the pillow off the sofa and a something fell onto the floor. It looked like a figure made of folded palm leaves but I couldn’t see it properly because she quickly brushed it under the sofa with her foot. I asked her what that was and she said it was just one of the kids’ toys and she would talk to them about picking up their things tomorrow, or she suggested maybe I should do it, after he got back from Tuesday morning shopping, because she wouldn’t have time since she was staring at a monster of a day down at the law firm tomorrow.
©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys