Part 2

Christine awaited her friend's arrival. It was nothing big, just a night
out, have a few drinks, won't see you again 'til August and we might as well
have fun now kind of time.
"Sorry about being late- the babysitter got held up."
Brynn was a beautiful woman, no one could deny that. But careful observers
would notice little things. Such as, why is she so thin? Is that natural? (if
you have to ask, the answer's no.) And they were right to have suspicions. Her
life was not as perfect as the surface showed.
Even this night out should have been a challenge, but tonight Brynn had
decided she didn't care anymore. To stay sober was like trying to keep your
head above water in a raging sea. And when she used cocaine or drank, she felt
good. Yet she could not- or would not see that her actions dragged her
husband, Phil, and her two children under. They hadn't done anything, but were
being punished all the same. But if you told Brynn that she would do one of
two things: get completely drunk and high until she forgot the comments, or
lose her temper. She'd throw things. (and nothing little- lamps, pots, a chair
and frying pan once, and had broken every plate in the house. In fact, the
plates were now plastic in order to prevent this.) And if you held her back,
she'd use her fingernails to claw at your arm.
The true sadness here was that Christine knew of her friend's problems..
and did nothing. She ordered them both drinks, although most people question
the logic behind giving an alcoholic a drink.
"So, Brynn. How are things?"
"Getting better. Life hasn't been this good for a long time." Blatantly,
she picked up her friend's glass and took a drink (she'd been there five
minutes, and already had finished her own).
Brynn was mad. Mad at Christine for chatting on like nothing had happened,
mad at the bartender for ignoring it, and mad at herself for being weak. After
all, her destination after this outing wasn't home, but a person who peddled
happiness, for only 200 dollars a bag. But she wouldn't erupt now, that wasn't
her style.
That could wait until she got home.
It was 8:15.

Jenna sat at her desk, watching the night's blackness engulf her
neighborhood. It was a good place to live, her mother Gertrude often said.
Jenna had doubts on that- her mother worked as a drug and alcohol treatment
counseler in town. All who came were locals, and people still wanted the
center taken down because they "didn't want a bunch of junkies cluttering up
Encino." But they're already here, Gertrude remarked frequently. Was it a good
town?, she asked herself.
No one could give a satisfactory answer to that question. Kevin Adams,
Jenna's stepfather, had nothing but praise for the town. Ever since a
construction accident 10 years ago, Kevin had been paralyzed from the waist
down. But they found him another, better paying job- as a telemarketer.
"Then how come that's not what I think of?"
Jenna knew well why. The day was one she wouldn't forget. Actually, there
were many days, days that reminded her that money couldn't give you safety.
The first was after her mother married Kevin. While looking though letters
at their new home, Gertrude Adams noticed something. "Jenna, honey, can you go
over to the neighbor's house? The mailman gave us their mail by mistake."
The home was beautiful. Jenna feverently wished that someday she could have
the money to live in a house like that one day. If I was rich, she thought, I
wouldn't have to worry about anything at all.
As she approched the front door, she heard a voice scream "I know that
you've been talking to her! Don't deny it!"
"Of course. She's a friend of mine-."
"Don't give me that friend crap again. You are having an affair with her!"
As if the conversation was not disturbing enough, Jenna saw a sight that
horrified her. A child, a little girl, sat on the floor near the arguing
couple and whispered "Don't fight, Mommy. Don't fight, Daddy."
Jenna would've left, but the man noticed her and said "You must be
Gertrude's daughter. Kevin's mentioned you a few times. I'm Phil, that's my
daughter Birgen, and over there is my wife Brynn. Nice to meet you." Jenna
thrust the mail over. She had even more reasons to want to leave: the fact
that even from a few feet away she could still smell the alcohol on Brynn's
breath, and the long scratch running down Phil's arm, blood trickling. And the
blood on Brynn's fingernails.
"But why am I thinking of that now?" Jenna pondered. Could it mean
something in the grand scheme of things?
She heard her bedroom clock ticking, reminding her time was passing.
It was 9:10.
**************************************************************************
"And I got a six- that's it, I'm broke."
Phil, Sean, and Birgen were all playing Monopoly. Phil was losing, mainly
due to the fact he had no sense for the game. He always tried to get the most
expensive properties, spent all his money buying them, and others built hotels
on their properties while he morgaged Boardwalk. Birgen was second- she had a
better sense of strategy, but her math skills weren't that good yet, so she
often paid too much to others and gave herself too little. The best player was
Sean, who had just bankrupted his father. He bought the right properties and
always seemed to get the best rolls of the die.
Off a glance at the clock, Phil realized what time it was. "Hey! It's late!
You guys go up to bed and get your pajamas on, now!"
Sean and Birgen were obviously tired, since they went right upstairs and
didn't argue.
Several minutes had passed as Phil entered his son's room. "Sean? Are you
still awake?"
"Dad! Of course, I'm almost ten, remember?"
"I'm almost fifty. You have nothing on me yet."
Sean smiled. "I know. Fifty is really old."
"Hey! I'm not ready for the old folks home yet!"
"Yeah. That'll be when you're sixty." Sean ducked as a pillow flew in his
direction.
A voice came from down the hall. "Daddy! You promised a story tonight!"
Phil stood up. "I have to go now. Night, Sean. See you tomorrow."
"See you tomorrow, Dad."
Birgen was wearing her new white nightgown. "The story," she demanded.
Halfway through, her eyes were drooping and she had trouble staying awake.
"Honey? Wake up now." Birgen had fallen asleep.
"Thanks for the story, Daddy. I love you."
"Love you too, hon. See you in the morning."
"See you in the morning, Daddy." Birgen was barely awake at this point.
Phil left quietly, to not awaken the sleeping children. He walked
downstairs, walking away from the most valuable treasures he had, walking into
eternity, never to return to those rooms, never to keep a solemm promise he
had made moments before.
It was 9:30.
**************************************************************************
"I guess I'll just see you later, then."
"I'll see you later, Christine."
The friends parted on those amicable terms. Not a word was spoken as they
approched their respective cars, heading home to whatever awaited them.
Or so it seemed.
It was 9:45.
*************************************************************************
Brynn cursed.
She was not a pleasant person to be around at this point. Her body was
beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol she had drank, and also the pain
of withdrawl.
"How could I have gone out with NO MONEY?!" Frustrated, she slammed her
hands on the horn. It gave her no satisfaction, for she missed and hit the
dashboard.
"Go home, get cash, leave. Go home, get cash, leave." Brynn repeated those
words like a mantra. All she had to do was hope Phil had gone to bed. But her
hopes vanished as she saw a light on in the house, deepening her rage. "It's
ten o'clock. Go to bed, won't you? I'm a big girl. I can take care of
myself."
Of course, she admited that if their positions were reversed she'd stay
awake until he came home, just to ensure he wasn't with another woman. That's
different, she thought.
The door slammed open, jaring Phil from the newspaper he was reading. With
Brynn, it was hard to know what to do. She could be mad he'd stayed up waiting
for her, but if he didn't she'd say he didn't care enough. He went over toward
the kitchen.
"It's good you're home, because I want to talk with you."
She had located what she needed and wanted to leave. "About what?" she
snapped angrily.
"It's about-."
"Spare me. I'm going back out."
"To where?"
"None of your business. You always pry into everything I do."
Phil let the comment slip. Suddenly, he smelled something. "I thought you
were going to stay sober. That was your birthday gift to Birgen."
"Shut up! How come my promises must always be kept, while you break yours
at will! I can't take it!" Grabing the nearby coffepot, she hurled it in
Phil's direction. Not only did it miss, it only made a loud noise since it was
metal (this had happened before). She ran for the door and closed it with a
bang.
The night was meaningless now, he thought. I might as well go to bed.
"Daddy?"
A small voice came from behind him. Birgen, clutching her stuffed tiger and
standing with fear in her eyes. "Mommy didn't hurt you, right? Why do you
fight?"
Phil couldn't answer her questions. Not good enough, anyway. "Tell you
what," he said. "Since you seem scared, I'll let you sleep in the big bed with
me tonight, okay?" This was a common practice. Sean had started it when he was
about three and it had continued until now, since, according to him, he was
almost ten and too big for that stuff.
"Thank you, Daddy." Birgen walked down toward her father's room, lying down
on Phil's usual spot, where he'd been reading the paper earlier. The already
warm spot, she though with a child's joy.
Tick. Tick. The bedroom clock, like a heart, reminded them of time.
It was 10:15.
*************************************************************************
Sean couldn't sleep.
Another fight had awoken him and although it was late, he lay in bed,
thinking.
Family, he thought. With your family you're supposed to feel safe and
happy, not scared and on edge. OF course, others had it worse than him, but
things were bad.
Sean wasn't sure when he realized that his family was abnormal. Maybe it
was the thousandth time he'd seen his mother lying sprawled on the couch with
a hangover, while his dad gave her an asprin. Or it could've been the times he
couldn't talk with her, because she was too high to carry out any
conversaion.
But the fights were the worst.
Shattering glass, broken plates, his father holding his mother's arms to
her side so she couldn't hurt him, or even the time she'd destroyed one of his
paintings. That had been bad, he thought. Dad's paints were all mixed together
and thrown on his canvas. She broke the brushes too.
Why? All other kids at school would say things like "My parents fought and
Mom slept on the couch." Or "They didn't talk to each other all day." What do
I say, my mom broke a window when she threw the frying pan at Dad? And then
she left and came back with cocaine and when Dad mentioned this she tore a
gash in his arm? "I want a good family."
To Sean, his parents seemed so unhappy. A picture of them one Christmas
showed what they were really like. Phil, holding Birgen in his lap, both
trying to distance themselves from a stoned Brynn. And there was Sean, looking
away from everyone. But the thought of divorce was bad also. He knew that on
several occasions his dad had said that if he divorced Brynn, he was afraid
that the anger she took out at him could be directed toward the kids.
Sleep claimed Sean from his worried thoughts, carrying him toward his
dreams of a happy family, where Mom didn't drink, use drugs, or hurt Dad.
Tick. Tick. Even in his sleep, the bedroom clock ticked on.
It was 10:45.
**************************************************************************
It had been somewhat of a long day for Ron, and he was finally getting to
relax. Although few would call his profession good, or even work, he had no
qualms about what he did. People used coke, he'd say, and I sell it to them.
Not my problem what they do once they have it. I've got to get cash, like
everyone else. Admittedly, a pathetic excuse, but an excuse nontheless.
DING DONG! Suddenly, a sound jarred Ron from Letterman and lifted him to
his feet. The doorbell was broken, and one had to practicly hit it to get it
to work, and when it did, it was worse than standing next to a fire alarm when
it went off.
"If you aren't someone I want to see, I'm slamming the door in your face,"
he grumbled. Soon his irritation changed to pleasant suprise as he gazed at
the woman in his doorway, looking like one who has been told something they
did not want to hear.
"Brynn! I didn't expect you! Come in, come in, I'll get you a few lines. On
the house," he proudly stated. "What's up?"
"I went through the third degree at home, because I had a few drinks
tonight. Frankly, why does he care? I'm happy with a drink in my hand."
"Honestly, Brynn, Phil just doesn't understand you. For all you know, he
spends all that time out of the house seeing someone else."
"I bet. Who does he think he is, telling me what I should and shouldn't do?
I have a mind to tell him I won't go on vacation with him and the kids. You
know what else I found out? Our vacation spot is near some rehab center. I
think that I might have to go there."
"Here you can do what you want. I respect you and understand your wishes.
It's not your fault he doesn't."
"You're right," said Brynn, inhaling the line Ron had given her. "Phil
doesn't understand. The kids love him more anyway."
"Well, if you want you could divorce him. We could move across the country
with the kids. Just ship 'em off on a plane to visit their dad once in a
while." This was a usual conversation between the two. Brynn would make
statements, and Ron would back her up and increase her building anger. He
never got any of it- it was shown at home.
"Thanks for listening."
"Anytime. You want to stay for a bit? I think that I can make the time
worth your while."
She smiled her aproval. The televison in back of them announced the news,
indicating the world traveled on.
It was 11:30.
**************************************************************************
It was almost midnight, yet Phil could not sleep. Birgen lay next to him,
her small breaths and shifting offered comfort at that point.
Wasn't your spouse supposed to be the person you felt the most safe
around? Was there something he did wrong, something that he had to know
in order to help Brynn? Or was the help she needed unvailible?
Phil often found himself in a position of aiding friends through their
problems and trials. Could you give help to others if your own life was in
shambles?
His mind wandered toward an event in the recent past, only a few
months old. What had their fight been about that time? Was it Brynn going out
at night (this would not have been a problem if she didn't come home drunk
afterwards)? Or was it him spending too much time away from her? It didn't
matter, what mattered was afterward.
Under the kitchen table had sat Birgen, his little girl, trembling with
fear. Phil had picked her up and they sat on a chair together, just being an
anchor for a child. Sean had needed that first, and now...
No! It was too much. Birgen had not only been afraid, she had expected it
to occur again. And it did. Ten, almost eleven years down the drain. After
each binge, after each outburst the words came: "It won't happen again."
It did, every time. Without fail.
What, though? He was tired, a good night sleep would do him good. Then
where? His brother John lived nearby, tomorrow they'd pack their bags and go
there. He'd call his lawyer, hating the whole process, but the kids shouldn't
go through this anymore.
He slipped into sleep while barely noticing the tick of the bedroom
clock.
It was 11:50.
**************************************************************************
Brynn awoke in a haze-like state, wondering where she was. Remembering in
a flash, she felt the affects of the cocaine already wearing off. She got up,
and grabbed a pair of pajamas she had at Ron's house for times
like this. She inhaled the coke gratefully, glad for a reprive from
everything.
"where're you going" murmmered Ron sleeply.
"Home. I'll come by this weekend, though."
"bye"
A sudden movement from Birgen rowsed Phil. Insticivly, he wrapped his arm
around her, and she calmed right away. He fell back into slumber, unaware,
waiting.
It was 1:45.
**************************************************************************
It was a long drive home, or at least it felt that way for Brynn. Her mind
was hampered by all the drinks she'd had and the cocaine. Her feelings
whirled, sadness, guilt, fear, anger.
In the end, only anger won, and she gripped the steering wheel tighter.
She was mad at Phil- why was life easy for him? Why did the kids love him
more? Why did he get sucess while she got nothing. She was livid with rage by
the time she pulled in the driveway.
Nevermind, she thought. I'll go in, go to sleep, and tomorrow.. But she
didn't get that far.
She opened the front door and walked down to the bedroom.
Shock. What was that?! Phil, lying fast asleep, his arm around a second
sleeping form....
"Bastard," she whispered. "I'll kill that bitch, and you too. I knew it. I
always knew it."
The safe in their home was unremarkable on the inside. Some cash for
emergencies, and two loaded handguns. Brynn had never fired one before, but
her rage was so deep it seemed simple. Very easy.
She moved toward the room again.
It was 2:25.
**************************************************************************
Birgen could hear something. The girl opened her eyes to see a form moving
in, mumbling "You bitch." That's Mommy, she thought. Her eyes widened. What
was her mother doing? What did she have? Why was she mad (again)?
"Mommy?" she uttered in a barely audible whisper. "Mommy?" she repeated,
horrified.
Phil heard his daughter's voice. "Brynn, is that-." He broke off mid
sentence. His wife was aiming a gun at their child. Why? echoed his thoughts.
If I don't do something- He rolled over on his side, shoving his little
girl away. Cold metal touched the center of his forehand.
BANG thwack. A sound reasonated throughout the room. It was loud and why
was Daddy crying?
BANG thwack. Make sure they die.. You'll pay for this..
BANG thwack. More wet stuff. Birgen heard her mother race out of the room,
slamming the front door, and her car starting.
The clock's tick was slient compared to the gunshots of a moment before.
It was 2:30. Zero hour.
**************************************************************************
A banging sound roused Sean. Trying to shake off the weariness that
covered him like a blanket, he heard it again. BANG thwack. And again. Silence
followed, which was nerve racking. Sean knew his parents were having some kind
of fight, but why wasn't his dad saying anything?
Light filled his room as a car started and drove off. It must be Mom, Sean
thought.
A sudden need to go check on his sister filled him. Birgen always got
really scared after a fight that was in the middle of the night. She'd want
someone to be there. Part of him wanted to just go back to sleep- maybe Dad'll
go in to see her. But another part said that something was wrong, and he
should check up on her NOW.
Sean slipped out of bed and walked toward Birgen's room.
"Daddy?" whispered Birgen. She had done nothing for around five minutes,
and now was trying to awaken her father. "Daddy, please, I'm scared."
Phil did not respond to his daugter shaking him.
Something was on her arms and hands. Birgen didn't know what it was- she'd
thought Phil was crying, but the stuff was drying and it was sticky. She
touched her face. Yes. Sticky, like your hands if you spilled soda on them and
didn't wash it off. Something else now bothered her. Her face felt different
from her father's. Birgen touched him. Cool. Herself. Warm. Warm, cold. Warm,
cold.
"I'm scared, Daddy," she whispered again.
Sean knew something had happened. His sister was not in her own bed. The
covers were pulled back and one of the almost twenty stuffed toys she slept
with (her favorite, the tiger) was missing.
"Birgen? Sis? Where are you?" Sean moved downstairs, not turning on lights,
just going by the moonlight.
"Sean?"
"Birgen! You're safe! Where- Birg, your arms!"
She looked at her arms and screamed. They were covered in dried blood, and
there was a stain on her nightgown, near her shoulder. "I'd better wash my
arms," she stammered. "I don't know what happened to them." But Sean was going
toward the master bedroom. They'd need Dad if Birgen had cut herself bad.
Birgen didn't hear her brother's gasp as she washed. And her arms had no
marks on them- not even a little scratch. "I'm okay, Sean," she called out.
Sean didn't hear her. Not really, as he stared in horror at what he'd
found. He knew the truth- Birgen wasn't hurt, the blood wasn't hers. It wasn't
just on her arms, the bed was covered in it, steming from too many sources. He
knew- the person who loved them most in the world- and who he and Birgen loved
just as much- could never laugh with them over some joke, never put another
picture Sean drew on the refrigerator, never take them to the zoo or to get
an ice-cream-cone, never..... Tears blurred his vision. He didn't notice
Birgen. She said "Let's get out of here, I'm scared."
They left, but Sean was still thinking. How come his dad couldn't be there
to hold his sister, she was still little and needed taking care of. Why.. he
couldn't even begin on this question.

"Why'd you do this, Mom?"

It was 2:50.


Part 3