by Monique Berry
Carol watched the morning shadows stretch through the window blinds, and waited for her best friend to return to the phone. She looked at her watch — 7:20. Viv, hurry up. Bill is about to wake up.
Moments later she whispered, “Oh, good. You’re back.” Carol looked around to make sure she was alone. “The boys will be down soon. But thanks for the support.”
Carol heard Bobby’s feet shuffling across the creaky flooring. It was time to start breakfast.
Her mumbling husband walked into the kitchen while she started making coffee. Carol shook her head. Another morning of ‘argue cereal’ for breakfast.
“I am so sick of waking up to this every morning. We hardly discuss things anymore. When we do talk, it always—”
She turned around and saw her son standing outside the kitchen door. Her stomach sank when she looked at his flat, unsmiling eyes. He pursed his lips and walked through the continuing verbal assaults.
Bill’s face darkened with defiance.
“Why should I talk? Or even listen, for that matter? It’s nothing but complaints.”
Bobby joked to lighten the mood. “Hey, Dad! Did you hear about the boy who—”
Agitated, Bill gave a vicious glare at his son and then got up to pour himself a second cup of coffee. The abrupt movement caused the chair to tip, which sent a howl through the kitchen. He didn’t see the dog sitting at his feet.
“You stupid dog!” Bill rubbed the back of his neck. “This discussion is closed. I have to finish dressing. And don’t forget. I’m meeting an important client today. You better hope it goes well, for your sake.” Halfway up the stairs, Bill yelled, “Oh. Make me a tasty lunch this time. They’re always so boring.”
Bobby got up to follow but his mom put a hand on his shoulder. “Aren’t you going to eat breakfast this morning?”
Carol sensed that he wanted to tell her something.
“Uh, no, Mom,” he replied. “I gotta get going. Not hungry anyway.”
While the guys were upstairs dressing, Carol stared at her disheveled reflection in the cracked mirror above the sink. Two helter-skelter strands of hair toppled onto her forehead. Even my hair is exhausted from arguing. I’ve had it with walking on eggshells. I’ve had it with being bullied. I’ve had it with being afraid.
A sudden calm replaced her angst. She felt as though her soul had suddenly been unlocked—she had a plan and would see it through. Tomorrow would never be the same.
While Carol took out the ingredients to make their lunches, Bobby ran down the stairs.
“Mom, you shouldn’t make such big lunches. I don’t usually eat everything, anyway.”
“Don’t worry about it, Bobby. I’d rather see you full than being hungry all day. There. Finished.”
Bobby picked up one of the lunch bags sitting on the counter, and yelled, “I’m gonna be late for the school bus. See ya, mom.”
Afterwards, Bill walked into the kitchen. She greeted ‘Goliath in a shirt and tie’ with a smile.
“You’re right, dear. This conversation is finished. Have a good day.”
After the bus doors open, Bobby walked to the back and kept his head down—past the expected giggles and snickers. He wanted to see if Bulldog Sergio was on the bus but didn’t dare. Once it was in motion, he closed his eyes and held tight the lunch bag with his short, stubby fingers.
Suddenly, the giggles stopped. Bobby opened his eyes. It was Sergio! The human serpent was slinking a path right to him. Bobby’s hands shook.
“Hey, lookie here,” taunted Bulldog. “It’s Bobby Sloppy! Did you come to try to learn something today? Or did you need help with adding a few lumps to that peewee brain of yours, huh? What’s this? Cat got your—”
Bulldog’s eyes narrowed in on Bobby’s lunch bag. He yelled to his girlfriend, “Hey, Gypsy girl. You bring a lunch today? No?”
Bobby sank his teeth into his lip. Not wanting any trouble, he surrendered his lunch even before the bully took it. Sergio rummaged through the bag like a snarling bulldog, and then stepped on everything except the sandwich.
He flung it toward his girlfriend. “Here you go, Gypsy. A present for ya. Vivian wouldn’t want you going through the day hungry.”
All the kids laughed.
Carol was drinking tea at the kitchen table when Bobby came home.
“Hi, Bobby. How was your lunch?”
“It was good,” replied Bobby.
His rapid blinking and lack of eye contact confirmed her suspicion that Bobby was lying. He went to the sink, washed his hands and took a deep breath.
“Mom, I didn’t eat my lunch today. Sergio always picks on me and takes my lunches. If I don’t give them to him, he punches me and doesn’t stop.”
A phone call interrupted his confession.
“Vivian! Slow down.” Carol placed her hand over her heart. “What? I’m so sorry. Is she alright? What’s her condition?”
At the same time, she heard approaching footsteps.
Carol’s favorite teacup fell through her shaking hand to the floor.
“Mom? What is it?”
Bill walked in and put down his lunch.
This isn’t possible. He should be dead.
“Carol. Remember the meeting I told you about? I was going to treat you to a dinner but—”
“D-didn’t you eat your lunch?”
“No, I didn’t. It looked like the same boring lunch as usual. Besides, that brilliant boy of yours took the wrong one to school. I ended up getting a bag marked Bobby instead of Bill. Why?”
“Hello? Carol, are you there? I have to meet Gypsy at the hospital…”
Carol slumped back in her chair and whispered, “Oh, God!”
Monique Berry is a writer and the founding editor of three magazines: Halcyon, Praise Writers, and Twisted Endings.