I submitted two stories … I wish I knew which one actually won … I’m really hoping its this one …
He picked up the discarded sippy cup from the carpeted floor of the one bedroom apartment and set it back on the table by the pull out couch. Nestled there was a little girl with a hair full of curls that could be no more than two. She was cuddled up to her older brother, a boy of five, already so much older than any boy in school twice his age. The boy had his arm protectively around his little sister, her own personal hero.
He watched the children in silent wonder. He understood that instinct all too well. It was that very instinct that allowed him to progress. No matter what was thrown his way, he would see the hero in himself and vanquish the enemy.
It was remarkable how far he’d come. He, raised by a single mother on the street, found a way to survive. He navigated the twisting roads of abuse and pain to find himself standing here. No drugs. No alcohol. He refused to be afraid of the darkness. He emerged from the ugliness of the world on his own. A hero.
He turned his back on the piles of dishes in the sink and the almost empty take-out boxes that never made it to the garbage. There will be time for that later. Instead, he ran a hand along one wall of the hallway as he walked towards their mother’s bedroom. The worn carpet quieted his steps, as they always had whenever he walked this hallway in the dark. The pictures on the wall weren’t framed images of a happy family, but drawings made of crayon, adhered to the wall with blue painter’s tape, four feet from the ground. They weren’t particularly talented drawings but there was a purpose to them.
He used to do that at that age too. It was his job to give his mother a reason to keep going. He would sing to her. He would tell her stories. He would draw pictures. He would be her reason. It was what he did when he was too young to be her hero.
There was only one door at the end of the hallway. He twisted the knob with deliberate silence and stepped inside. He didn’t wish to wake her yet.
There she was bathed by the yellow light of the slightly ajar bathroom door. She had the blanket wrapped tightly around her, effectively spinning herself a cocoon of cheap 100 thread count bedding. Even in sleep, there were permanent carvings of worry between her brows. Her jaw clenched with every other breath.
This single mother, looking very much like his own had.
It was not the shoulder length brown hair that the two women had in common. It was more the tinge of gray that had invaded her once, glorious mane. It was the unkempt nails and a clean face devoid of any make up. It was the starkness of her person.
So much like his own mother.
He slowly coiled the wire around his hands, leaving enough slack. Just enough. He felt the bite of the metal even through his gloves. Everything he did was silent. As if the volume had been turned off around him.
He sat next to her on the bed. She stirred in her sleep, reluctant to open her eyes. Doing so would only mean another problem that needed solving. So she resisted. Her troubled dreams were still preferable over the responsibilities of reality.
He stroked her hair out of her face. Her eyes flew open.
She scrambled away from him, but the sheets that she had wrapped around her for comfort, now tightened like a trap. She couldn’t move. Half breath escaping her lips before he gestured a command of silence. He met her frightened look with one of steady confidence.
A few more breaths between them. He didn’t waver. She blinked repeatedly. She whimpered until her eyes revealed nothing but defeat. He circled behind her. She did not move.
He wrapped the wire around her neck slowly. She closed her eyes, shivered, but did not resist. She had no spirit left to fight. She had nothing left.
“Please … please …” she begged, opening her eyes one last time before she felt the tightening of the cord. “Don’t hurt my children …”
“I won’t,” he promised, finally speaking. She hadn’t expected him to answer but because he did, she believed him. She had no choice. It was better to believe him. Tears streamed from her closed eyes and he tightened his grip until the heavy weight of her lifeless body freed her soul. She didn’t even cry out.
He laid her back in the bed gently. He took the time to frame her hair around her head and tuck her in as if she was just sleeping. This time her face was free of worry. Her jaw no longer clenched. She was finally at peace, saved from the consequences of living.
He made his way to the couch, walking past the undisturbed drawings on the hallway wall. He recoiling the wire in his hands like a snake ready for its next strike. He walked without hesitation. He walked with purpose.
He wouldn’t hurt them.
They hurt every day. Every day they wake up with a hunger they are all too familiar with. So hungry that it echoes emptiness in their heart. Every day they listen to the anger and hopelessness of their environment. Every day they learn less. They love less. Targeted by the very people that should be helping them. The world unites its efforts into making their existence a struggle. They are used as ammunition by politicians. They aren’t seen as people. They aren’t seen as children. They are only a sickness for the rest of society.
There is no salve to heal the hurt in their souls. No pills that would ease the hurt of living this curse of a life. He knows. He knows first hand. No one should live that way.
He stood at the foot of the couch, admiring the spirit of the little boy and feeling the burden of his duty. The wire between his hands had just enough slack. Just enough.
He won’t hurt them. He’s a hero.
He’ll save them.