Luck of the DevilBy: Meghan March
Twenty-five years ago
My busted arm hung limp as I sneaked through the towers of shipping containers stacked like the Legos I was stupid enough to ask Santa for when I was six. That was when Uncle Ruben had found the letter I’d written, and had laughed so hard he cried as he read off my requests.
Boots, soxs, warm coat, and Legos.
Also, can you give Uncle Ruben something good so he stops hurting Aunt Dora?
Uncle Ruben’s laughter had cut off and his eyes turned mean when he got to the last part. The moment played in my mind vividly as I scooted around the corner to hide from one of the dockyard workers.
“You show anyone this?”
I’d shaken my head once before his arm swung and the back of his hand connected with my face. I’d staggered to the side and he lashed out again, this time hitting me with a closed fist that knocked me to the floor.
“Don’t you ever fucking ask me for another thing. The world doesn’t give shit to kids like you. You’re a waste of space. Fucking worthless, just like your whore of a mother.” He’d looked down at the blood pooling beneath my cheek on the linoleum Aunt Dora scrubbed weekly on her hands and knees. “Clean that shit up before I kick your fucking teeth in.”
That was the first time he’d hit me, but it wasn’t the last. I became his favorite punching bag after Dora was unconscious every night.
But never again.
Aunt Dora was dead. We’d put her in the ground this afternoon, and as soon as we got home, Ruben had found the bottle.
He’d cried. He’d screamed. He’d cursed God. Then he came outside to find me in the shed where I tried to stay out of his way. Now that I was fourteen, I was getting stronger, and most of the time, I was quicker than him. But not when I was cornered, and he was in the nasty, superhuman stage of drunk.
When Ruben’s knuckles had crunched against my jaw, I’d sworn it would be the last time. He will never fucking put his hands on me again. I’d chanted that promise silently to myself as he landed hit after kick after hit.
I’d lain bleeding on the dirt floor, trying not to breathe or move, hoping he’d finally go away if I played dead. After he’d lost interest in jamming his boots into my ribs, Ruben had stumbled out of the shed and back to the house.
Afraid to move, I’d stayed there, breathing in the scent of musty dirt and coppery blood for fifteen minutes. Then I’d stood up slowly, trying not to puke up the potluck food from the ladies at church, and grabbed the bag I’d stashed in there two weeks ago, knowing that my time was coming just like Aunt Dora’s, God rest her soul.
Dora’s cancer had eaten her up from the inside out, and every single day, as she got weaker, she’d begged me to run. Save yourself, Jericho, she’d say, but I couldn’t let her die alone with Ruben. No one deserved that. Especially not my aunt. She smelled like cinnamon and gave good hugs until her arms got too weak for her to lift them.
As she’d taken her last breath, I’d held her hand and told her she was going to a better place, and I meant it. Nothing could be worse than the hell she’d endured.
Now it was time for me to do what she’d asked. Save myself.
I slipped my jacked-up arm through the strap of the backpack and forced down the urge to cry as my shoulder burned like someone had shoved a hot fire poker into it.
No more tears. Not ever. I wouldn’t give Ruben the satisfaction.
As I tiptoed out of the shed, I took one last look at the house. All the lights were on, but no shadows moved. Ruben had to be passed out drunk by now.
More than anything, I wished I had the balls to take the gas can from the shed and light that bitch up so Ruben could roast in hell, but I couldn’t. Dora wouldn’t want it.
She was the only good thing that house had ever held. I didn’t remember my mom, but Ruben hadn’t let a day go by without telling me what a piece of shit she was for leaving me there and taking off.
Maybe she and I had something in common, because I disappeared into the darkness, and I was never going back.
With every piece of me screaming in pain, I made the four-mile trek to the docks where Ruben worked. I knew how to sneak and where to hide in the stacks of cargo, because sometimes he used to smuggle shit out and made me help.