After Betty had left, Sharon carefully cleaned up the kitchen. She made sure that there was no sign that Betty had ever been there.
After she had finished, Sharon sat down on one of the kitchen chairs. She just didn’t see a way out. She took the card out of her pocket and studied it. She knew that Betty was mostly right.
But, Sharon was afraid. David seemed so strong and powerful. He was the one who worked. He was right, if they got divorce the judge would give him the boys. She couldn’t support them. She had no skills, no education. David was right, she’s worthless. He was always right.
Sharon put the card back in her pocket, then stood up and wandered aimlessly upstairs to her bedroom. She sat down on her bed, looked at herself in the bureau mirror and cringed.
At 33 she looked more like 50. Her eyes were sunken and the eyeliner on made it worse. She was still thin, at least, just the way David liked it. Betty thought she was too thin, but David liked to weigh her and make sure that she was never over 100 pounds.
Maybe I should take a shower, she thought. She realized that Dr. Bollen’s card was still in her pants pocket. She it out studied it again. Eva Bollen, Ph.d, Psychologist. Her office was up north in Great Neck about 30 minutes from the house. Though Sharon didn’t for a minute consider calling her, for some reason she couldn’t bring herself to throw out the card. Instead, she placed it in her lingerie drawer, and then took a shower.
David was calm when he came home that night. He came in at 7 just as the twins were finishing up their dinner, so the meal was still warm.
David sat down at the table without a word. With trembling hands, Sharon got a plate out of the cabinet and some utensils. Conscious of his eyes on her, she quickly set the place for him. Then she cut him a portion of the meatloaf from the dish on the table, giving him a portion of mash potatoes and covering them with gravy.
As always, when David was silent it unnerved her more than the yelling. At least when he was yelling, she knew what was happening. Turning away, she went to the refrigerator to get him a Coors. She’d made sure that there were at least two six pack cooling.
After she carefully popped the top, she placed it before him and then retreated to stand with her back to the sink, waiting to see if he needed anything else.
David looked down at his plate. As he shoveled in each mouthful, she thought that he chewed so mechanically, so devoid of any pleasure. He ate like it was chore. She watched almost fascinated how he could take such a simple task and suck all the emotion out of it.
When they first dated in High School, she had felt so lucky. All of her girlfriends, except for Nikki, were jealous. He was so good looking.
Now looking at him as he ate, Sharon was overwhelmed for the loss of the girl she’d been.
When he was finished, he left the plate on the table and then went to the refrigerator for another beer. She took it for a good sign that he didn’t demand that she get it.
As he popped the top, he looked like he wanted to say something. Sharon cringed, like a dog waiting to be hit. But, he just turned away and went to the living room.
Sharon sagged against the table in relief. She waited until she heard the television go on, and then she quietly made her way upstairs to the boys’ room.
When she opened their door, Ryan started guiltily. He was in the act of hiding something under his pillow.
“It’s ok,” she smiled and closed the door behind her. Ryan smiled and retrieved his comic book. David didn’t approve of comic books. Sharon let Ryan read them, but on the understanding that she’d throw them out when he’d finished.
Hunter was playing a game on the Xbox with wireless headphones. He preferred the headphones Sharon suspected because it allowed him to shut out the world.
She walked over and tapped him on the shoulder. Unlike Ryan he didn’t startle easy. He turned his head around and looked at her.
“Five minutes and then showers for both of you.”
She sat on Hunter’s bed and waited for the allotted five minutes to run. She thought back to Betty’s visit today. While they had variations of this conversation before, this was the first time that Betty had suggested a therapist. She wondered what it would be like. She worried that maybe the therapist would think she was crazy. No, she thought, I definitely am not going to see a therapist.
Looking at her watch she saw that the five minutes were up. Hunter was still playing some game that involved shooting some kind of monster. “Ok, boys, time for showers.”
Without turning around, Hunter said, “Ryan goes first.” She always marveled that Hunter could hear what he wanted and ignored everything else.
Ryan was already coming off his bed and heading out the door. Sharon watched him go. With a pang, she missed washing them. For years, she’d put both in the bath then she’d sit on the edge of the toilet seat and watch as they played. Now, they were too big to take baths together, or for their mother to wash them off.
She loved them so much. That’s why she stayed. She couldn’t leave her boys.
Lost in her reverie she didn’t realize how much time had past until Ryan had returned to the room wrapped in a bath towel. Respecting his privacy, she got up to leave so that he could change into his PJs. “Come on, Hunter,” she said, “it’s your turn.”
For an instant she thought that he was going to ignore her. Then she saw the words “Paused” fill the television screen. He got up and followed her out of the room.
Standing in the upstairs hallway, Sharon couldn’t hear the television anymore. She wondered and in fact hoped that David had gone out again. Hunter had barely put his hand on the door to the bathroom, when from the other end of the short hallway David exploded out the bedroom.
In just three strides he was standing before her. His right hand clenched in a fist and in the other hand he held a crumpled piece of paper.
He was glaring at her so hard that she thought his eyes would pop out of his head.
“What the fuck is this?” he screamed waving the paper at her. The lines in his neck were taunt and strained under his skin.
Taken completely by surprise, Sharon could only stare dumbly at him.
“What the fuck is this?” he repeated, thrusting the Dr. Bollen’s card into her face.
She tried to control her shock and answer him. But the fear was so intense that her mind blanked.
“You think I’m fucking crazy, is that it?” He demanded.
“No, no,” she said weakly. She was about to say that Betty gave to her, but quickly stopped herself. Ohmigod, she thought, if I mention Betty it will only get worse.
Before she could think what to say, she heard a sound like a crack and then she saw stars.
She slowly became aware that her head was lying on something soft and that a warm, wet cloth was moving across her face.
“Sweetie, are you ok?” she heard a voice.
She mumbled something.
“Don’t move. Just rest for a minute.” Now she recognized Betty’s voice.
“I’m ok,” she said thickly and tried to sit up. The first time it didn’t work, but she managed the second.
Sharon found that her head had been on a pillow and Betty was on her knees wiping her face with a wash cloth.
Still disoriented Sharon said,”Your knees. You shouldn’t be on your knees.”
“Don’t worry about my damaged legs, let me worry about you.”
Slowly Betty managed to get to her feet. Sharon saw that she was still in the hallway. Piece by piece the memory came back and with it the fear. “You can’t be here,” she said feeling the hysteria rising.
Betty laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. “He took off. Besides, in the mood I’m in, David should be afraid of me.”
As the world came back into focus she realized that Hunter and Ryan were in the hallway with them. Ryan was sitting with his back to the wall just staring at her. His eyes was red with crying. Slowly he stood up then ran over and hugged her fiercely.
Hunter stood next to Betty, his eyes blazing with a scary intensity. His face was red on one side. As she studied his face Sharon had trouble understanding what she was seeing. A large round red spot with five oblong red spots decorated his cheek. Dumbly she wondered where he got such a rash. Then realization burst over her.
“Hunter came for me after David stormed out of the house.” Betty explained.
Sharon reached out to Hunter, “What happened?” She asked still not wanting to believe the obvious.
“After David knocked you out, Hunter tried to protect you and the son of,” she stopped herself and looked at Hunter. “And David slapped him.”
With Ryan still clinging to her, Sharon reached for Hunter who at first pulled away, and then slowly let himself with engulfed in his mother’s embrace.
“You know you have to call the police.”
Sharon looked up at Betty in alarm. “I, I can’t have him arrested,” she stammered.
For the first time since she’d known her, Betty looked annoyed with Sharon.
“He hit you and worse, he hit Hunter.”
“But, it was my fault,” she wailed. “He found that card you gave me, he thought it was about him.”
“Goddamn it, Sharon, stop making excuses for him. He attacked you. He attacked Hunter, there is no excuse unless the two of you were coming at him with a knife.”
Sharon shook her head. “What will happen to us if he arrested? I’ll be out of the house and he’ll take the boys.”
“Sharon do you have any idea what’s going to happen tomorrow?” Betty asked sharply.
Confused, Sharon asked, “Tomorrow? When David comes home from work?”
“No, tomorrow when Hunter goes to school with this,” she said gently turning Hunter’s head from his mother’s waist to reveal the angry hand print.
“His teacher is a designed reporter. That means she must report cases of suspected child abuse.” Pointing again to the hand print, “This is child abuse. If you do nothing then you are at fault for letting it happen and not reporting it. The county will put both boys in foster care.”
Sharon felt like she was going to throw up. There was nothing she could do. She was trapped.”I can’t have him arrested,” she said again.
“Sharon it’s not about you anymore.”
“Is there anything else I can do without calling the cops?”
Betty was silent for a moment and just stared hard at Sharon. Why am I such a coward, Sharon thought. Betty despises me and David hates me. I’m less than worthless.
“Ok,” Betty said finally. “There is another way. Tomorrow, we’re, as in you and me, are going to drive the boys to school and meet with principal. You are going to explain to him what happened, and then our next stop is Family Court. You’re going to get an order of protection.”