J.A. SERRANO - SHELTER
Screaming comes from inside a threadbare, split-level home as the lights in the kitchen expose the mother and father to be the participants of the shouting match. Out of the window, the mother throws a liquor bottle and it rolls around in the concrete path where it lands.
In a room on the second floor of the house, twelve-year-old Oscar plays with his action figures. The commotion causes his attention to turn to the door as his younger sisters, Elizabeth and Samantha, freeze where they are.
“Do we hide again?” Elizabeth asks.
Oscar gets up and takes Samantha, hiding her under the bed. Elizabeth joins her.
“Sam, Eli, remember,” he says, “don’t come out unless I say so.”
“Ozzie, can you hand me Mr. Snuffles?” Samantha asks.
Oscar snatches the teddy bear from the floor and hands it to his sister. She grabs it and embraces it.
Oscar stands and tiptoes to the door as the racket downstairs continues. He opens the door and peeks outside.
Plates are thrown. Promises are broken.
The mother hustles up the stairs and Oscar lets her in. She comes in the bedroom with her hair unkempt and a red imprint of a hand on her cheek. She takes Elizabeth out from under the bed and Samantha runs to her arms.
“Oscar, the bags,” the mother says. “Elizabeth, with me.”
Oscar runs to the room closet and digs through it. He finds two medium sized bags filled with clothes and carries them.
The mother turns to the children.
“We go to the car,” she says. “Stay away from your father at all costs.”
“Mommy, what about my—” Samantha says.
“Sam, we have to go,” the mother interrupts.
The four of them make their way down the creaky, old stairs and dash for the door. The father continues roaring. The whiskey odor is more prominent downstairs.
“Oscar, take your sisters to the car,” she orders.
The mother puts Samantha down and she grabs Oscar’s hand. The three children run to the car parked in front.
The mother stays inside and grabs the car keys on the kitchen counter. The father grabs the mother’s shoulder and spins her around to face him.
Oscar, Elizabeth, and Samantha wait outside with the bags.
“Oz, what about our books?” Elizabeth asks.
Oscar stares inside and sees their mother and father quarreling through the window.
“What about Mr. Snuffles?” Samantha asks.
The shouting match intensifies.
Oscar looks to the open door.
“Stay here,” Oscar says.
He rushes past the kitchen, avoiding his father, and to his bedroom. His hands reach for Mr. Snuffles under the bed, then grabs two books from the desk. He hurries down the stairs. The creaks of the old wood compose a symphony amidst the violence. He reaches his sisters.
“Mr. Snuffles,” Samantha exclaims as she hugs her teddy bear.
“Thank you, Oz,” Elizabeth says.
Oscar kisses Elizabeth on top of her head.
The mother and father exit the house. She pitches the car keys to Oscar who catches them. He unlocks the family wagon, puts the bags inside, and his sisters in the worn backseat.
He sits in the passenger’s seat and waits for his mother.
The father grabs her by the arm, and she wrestles out of his grip.
“No more,” the mother says.
The father grips her again and smacks her across the face causing her to fall down.
“Momma,” Elizabeth and Samantha yell simultaneously, slamming the back-door window repeatedly.
The red imprint of the father’s hand visible on the mother’s cheek. She shakes while she lies on the concrete grit.
Oscar surveys the interior of the car. A nearly empty bottle of Johnnie Walker lies at his feet.
He grabs it.
The mother drags herself away from the father, staining her pastel yellow dress. The father staggers toward her as Oscar marches up to him, whiskey bottle shaking in his hand.
“Get your ass back inside, boy,” the father orders him while pointing toward the house.
Oscar smashes the bottle across his face. His father falls along with the bottle. Crimson blood blends with the golden whiskey.
Oscar helps his mother to stand and walk to the car, leaving his father on the ground yelling into the void.
The mother grabs the keys. They tremble in her hand as she slides them into the ignition. The car starts and they drive away.
The mother looks at Oscar, who is staring out the window. She grasps and holds his hand, gaining his attention. She smiles through the pain and so does he.
Elizabeth rummages under her seat. She digs up another bottle of whiskey. She rolls her window down and chucks the bottle out onto the street. The bottle rolls around until it comes to a halt and the gold inside leaks unto the black asphalt.
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