This is another I wrote. I actually submitted it for a writing jounral on the urging of my teacher. It didn't get accepted, but I'm still pretty proud of how it came out in the end.
An Animalistic Instinct
“That summer never seemed to end/ And if I had the choice/ Yeah, I’d always want to be there/ Those were the best day of-”
Freddie turned off the radio with a soft huff. The last thing she wanted to hear was Bryan Adams waxing poetic about summer during a year that he hadn’t even been old enough to fully experience or appreciate, especially when she was currently driving through slowly thickening snowfall. Covering her mouth to hide a yawn, she looked up in the rearview mirror to check on her twins, Claire and Jack. Each child was leaning against a door and staring out into the dark, snowy night.
“You two okay back there?” she asked, giving them a weak smile. “Need me to turn up the heat?”
Jack only gave a half-hearted shrug while Claire murmured, “No thank you, Momma.”
Her children’s subdued behavior filled her with a mix of sorrow and rage, but all she could do was tighten her grip on the steering wheel. Claire was usually inquisitive and Jack was mischievous, but in the past year or so, those aspects that she loved dearly in her children had become muted in the face of their father. George had come from a hard home with an emotionally distant mother and a drunken and abusive father. Never a strong student, he barely graduated high school and joined the Army as soon as he could. Freddie had met him about three years after his joining and within a year of their meeting, they were married. She knew of George’s past and his present vices, but being young and foolishly idealistic, she believed she could change him for the better. If only she could have known how her children would suffer because of that idealism.
Freddie parked her car in front of the home of her childhood best friend, Sarah Roberts. Her son Seth was Jack’s best friend, but even that prospect had not roused Jack from his melancholy state. As she carefully climbed out of her car, mindful of the icy street, Sarah greeted her with a wave from the front porch as she opened the door and stepped outside, little Seth looking out from the cracked door. Freddie returned the wave before moving to the trunk and unlocking it. She opened it and pulled out their bags as Sarah reached the car and helped the kids out of the car. Shutting the trunk, Freddie gave her friend a grateful smile and moved toward the trio, taking Claire’s small hand.
“Thank you for letting us stay with you, Sarah,” Freddie said as they made their way to the house. “I really appreciate it.”
“It’s no problem at all,” Sarah replied, although Freddie could see questions in her friend’s eyes.
They reached the front door and the two women hurried the children inside, Seth eagerly greeting Jack, who could only muster a soft reply. As Freddie helped Claire and Jack with their coats, hanging them in the hall closet, Sarah took the bags and set them down in the living room. Sarah’s husband Joseph came down the stairs and knelt in front of Jack. The corners of his eyes crinkled as he smiled and remarked, “I thought I felt a troublemaker enter the house. How’s it going, buddy?”
Jack leaned into Freddie’s side, which made her heart ache. She gave Joseph a sad smile and replied on her son’s behalf, “Not so good, although we’re hoping a sleepover with Seth will help some.”
Joseph nodded, standing up and stepping to the side, and Seth urged Jack and Claire upstairs, which they did, albeit slowly. Sarah waited until the children disappeared from sight before asking, “Okay, what the hell is going on, Freddie? You haven’t been at work for the last three days and those kids look like zombies.”
“Let her sit down first, babe,” Joseph chided gently, motioning for them to move to the living room.
Freddie smiled at him, and Sarah sheepishly apologized. The trio entered the small living room and Freddie took a seat on their couch, slipping out of her shoes. Taking her hair out of the tight ponytail she had been wearing all day, she massaged her scalp and sighed, “I don’t even know where to begin. Things have been moving so quickly these past few days, I feel like I’ve barely had time to process it all.”
Sarah sat down on the other end of the couch from Freddie, pulling her friend’s feet into her lap. “Whenever you’re ready, hon. Do you want a drink?”
“Maybe some coffee?” Freddie suggested. Sarah motioned to her husband, who stood and went to the kitchen. Before he rounded the corner and out of sight, she called after him, “And make it Irish!”
The two women sat in silence for a moment and Freddie picked at a frayed hole in the hem of her shirt. Her heart began to race as she stated, “I’m leaving George.”
Sarah sat up straighter. “Does this have something to do with what’s wrong with the kids and why you’ve been missing work?”
“It does,” Freddie confirmed. Worrying the hem of her shirt even more, she continued, her voice shaking, “You know how George has been struggling since he was dishonorably discharged from the Army?"
“Yeah, but that was almost two years ago. I thought he would have adjusted by now.”
Freddie shook her head. “He hasn’t. He’s always had his demons, but losing that sense of structure after so long…fractured something inside him.”
Sarah squeezed her ankle. “Freddie, you’re scaring me. What haven’t you been telling me?”
By that time, Joe came back into the living room with a mug of coffee, “heavy on the Irish” he teased gently. She took the drink with murmured thanks and took a sip as Joe sat down in his recliner. After taking a few more fortifying sips, she lowered her mug into her lap and said, “On Monday morning, I came home from work like I always do and George hurried out in a huff, complaining that I had made him late getting on the road. I tried to ask about the kids but didn’t get a response. So I just assumed that meant he let the kids sleep in and left getting them ready for school up to me, which he has been reluctant to do lately.
“As it turned out, the kids were out of bed but I could tell something was off,” Freddie told them, her voice cracking as her mind went back to that day. “Claire didn’t greet me with her usual hug and kiss and Jack wasn’t bouncing off the walls. Both of them were curled up on the couch, watching cartoons and still in their pajamas. When I tried to tug Jack off the couch, he…he let out this little yelp. He tugged away and that was when I saw a spot of dried blood on the back of his shirt.”
“Oh God,” Sarah whispered, realization spreading across her face.
Freddie nodded, a tear sliding down her cheek. “Apparently that night, after I went to work, the kids were being their usual rambunctious selves and not going to bed easy. In response…George beat them with a belt.”
Sarah cried out, covering her mouth in shock, while Joseph inhaled deeply through his nose, his jaw tightening as he gritted his teeth.
“That’s what I’ve been dealing with for the past few days,” Freddie explained, setting the mug of coffee on the table in front of the couch. Sarah moved to clasp their hands together and Freddie squeezed them, taking a moment to breath before continuing with, “I took the kids to a different hospital to assess the damage. Both of them have welts and bruising along their lower backs, bottoms, and thighs. Jack must have caught the belt buckle because the doctor found a small cut on his right shoulder. I’ve filed a police report and CPS has interviewed the kids.
“But that isn’t all of it.” Freddie paused, removing her hands from Sarah’s grasp. She picked up her mug and took a fortifying sip of coffee.
“What more could there be?” Sarah exclaimed, Joseph moving to sit on the coffee table closer to them. “Has…has George hit you too?”
Freddie realized too late how that sentence sounded and said quickly, “Oh no! He’s never put his hands on me, and to my knowledge, this is the first time that he has ever hit the kids.”
Sarah let out a rush of breath, her relief palpable. Freddie looked down at the mug in her hands, unable to look either of her friends in the eyes as she finished her story.
“When George was kicked out of the Army, a friend of his got him that job driving big rigs. During this past week, I have been going over old conversations and interactions with him in my mind, trying to see if there was something I had missed. His behavior over the past few months had been erratic, so I went through his things. I found syringes and burnt spoons and turned them into the police. They’re pretty sure the residue is from some kind of amphetamine.”
“How long ‘till they find him?” Sarah asked shortly. “Until that happens, I don’t want you or the kids in that apartment by yourselves. You can stay here with us.”
Freddie broke down. Sarah’s words and offering snapped the stranglehold Freddie had kept on her emotions ever since she saw the marks on her children’s tiny bodies and she doubled over into her friend’s lap. She cried for her children and all that they were going to lose: their innocence, their father, and maybe even their home. She even cried for herself and that naïve girl from so long ago who just wanted to be a good wife and mother.
After a while, Freddie straightened up and looked Sarah in the eyes, asking in a broken voice, “Is this my fault?”
“How could this possibly be your fault?” Sarah asked. “What could you have done? How could you have known what he was up to?”
Freddie shrugged helplessly. “Because I grew up around drunks and drug addicts? I remember seeing my older brother strung out and stealing from my parents to score his next fix. I remember being yanked out of bed by my dad and beaten with a belt for no reason whatsoever. I remember all the pain and suffering and bullshit I went through and swearing to myself that that would never happen to my family. But I fucking let it happen anyway! I married a man just like my father, and now my children are the ones paying the price.”
“Now you listen to me, Winifred Bailey,” Sarah snapped, her voice steel. “This is not your fault. George is the one who got himself kicked out of the Army, who did the drugs, and who hurt Jack and Claire. He is the one responsible for his actions and the one who will pay the consequences for them. There is nothing you could have done to prevent what happened, short of having the ability to see the future.”
“If only,” Freddie sniffed, wiping off her cheeks. She picked up her mug of coffee, taking a few sips, and leaned into the cushions of the couch. She studied both of her friends and said softly, “Rationally I know it isn’t my fault, but I just…you know.”
“When it comes to your kids,” Joseph finished for her, “all rationale goes out the window.”
“Exactly,” Freddie confirmed and Sarah nodded silently in agreement.
Freddie finished off the last of her coffee, feeling a sudden rush of exhaustion flood her body, as though through the emotional bloodletting, she could finally allow herself to relax. She handed the mug back to Joseph when she felt herself starting to drift off and said softly, “Thank you, Joe. That hit the spot. I really needed this.”
“No problem at all,” he replied, taking the mug from her. “And I second Sarah’s offer from before. You three should stay with us until George has been arrested. There’s no telling if he might show up, and I don’t want him hurting the kids any more than he already has.”
“Why don’t you go get some rest?” Sarah urged gently when Freddie began to doze off again. “I made up the guest room for you. My mother’s old quilt is on the bed. Go curl up under that and tomorrow morning, you and I will sit down and work out a plan.”
“Sounds good,” Freddie replied and the two women stood, Sarah pulling her into a hug. Freddie smiled and kissed her cheek before pulling away, only to be pulled into another hug from Joseph. Pulling away from the hug, she told them goodnight and shuffled up the stairs. Reaching the second floor, she peeked into Seth’s room and found the boys sitting on the floor, playing with Legos, and Claire asleep on the top bunk of Seth’s bunk bed. The boys turned to look at Freddie and she asked, “You guys having fun?”
Seth nodded as he picked through the tiny plastic bricks. “We’re trying to make a giant tower.”
“I see that,” Freddie responded and leaned against the door. “Just be sure you two don’t stay up too late, okay?”
Seth and Jack nodded, and Freddie turned away to head up to the third and final floor of the house to the guest room. The door squeaked as she opened it and entered the room. She smiled at the sight of the quilt, remembering cold nights just like tonight with she and Sarah curled up in the living room under the quilt and watching movies. She left the door cracked in case one of the kids needed her and pulled back the quilt, climbing into bed. The material was just as soft as she remembered, and she laid there, cocooned in its warmth, and traced the patterns on the various squares. She could hear the wind whistling from the storm outside and Sarah and Joseph talking from their room on the second floor.
“Momma, are you awake?”
Freddie jumped slightly and sat up in the bed, seeing Jack standing in the doorway. She reached over to the bedside table and turned on the lamp, asking, “What’s wrong, honey?”
Jack looked down at his feet and said softly, “I can’t sleep. I keep hearing scary noises outside.”
She knew what it was that her son wanted without him having to ask her. She lifted the quilt with a soft smile and he rushed over to the bed, curling up against her chest. Letting the quilt fall back down around them, she kissed the top of his head and stroked his hair, murmuring, “It’s gonna be okay, sweetheart.”
He stayed silent for a moment and she thought he had drifted off to sleep when she heard him ask, “Momma…am I a bad boy?”
“Of course not,” Freddie admonished. “Why would you say that, Jack?”
“’Cause that’s what Daddy said,” Jack replied, his voice wobbling with emotion. “M-me and Claire didn’t mean to ma-make him mad, we were only playing Star Wars! But Daddy said we were being ba-bad and had to be spanked.”
“Oh, honey,” Freddie rasped, her own throat tightening with tears. Jack buried his face in her chest and cried, his little body shaking with each sob. She rubbed his back, taking care to be mindful of his injuries, and pressed her lips to his forehead. When she found the strength to speak again, she insisted, “You and Claire did nothing wrong, sweetheart. Your daddy shouldn’t have done what he did to you. He was the one that was bad, not you. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, Momma,” Jack replied.
Two days later…
“Sarah! Open this goddamn door right now! I know she’s in there! Those are my fucking kids too!”
The sudden banging and shouting from outside made everyone in the living room jump. They had been watching a movie, Freddie and Sarah curled up on the couch with Claire and Seth in their laps respectively while Jack sat with Joseph in his recliner. Freddie knew it could only be George outside, and a potent cocktail of fear and rage began to course through her veins. She turned off the television while Jack climbed out of Joseph’s lap, hurrying to Freddie’s side, his body already quaking in fear. Joseph stood and said firmly, “Freddie, Sarah, take the kids upstairs and call the cops.”
Freddie nodded and ushered the kids out of the living room and towards the stairs, hearing Sarah cautioning Joseph to be careful. Climbing the stairs to the second floor, she led the kids into the master bedroom and grabbed the house phone from Sarah’s bedside table. Thankfully Sarah quickly followed them up the stairs as Claire and Jack both started to break down. As she entered the room and began comforting them, Freddie dialed the number of the detective working their case.
“Detective Jones?” she began, moving to the window where she could see George and Joseph arguing. “Yes, this is Winifred Bailey. My husband just showed up at my friend’s home, and he is out of his mind.”
“Thank you for calling, Mrs. Bailey,” the detective replied. “Do not approach or engage him. I’m sending a unit over right now to arrest him. The best you can do is to stay with your children.”
Freddie gave him the address to the house before hanging up the phone and joining Sarah and the kids on the bed. The two women tried their best to remain calm and distract the kids from George’s shouts from outside. Eventually those shouts were joined by the sounds of sirens. Freddie got up from the bed just in time to see George being slammed onto hood of the police car and handcuffed. That part of her brain that was filled with the animalistic instinct to protect her children wished he would have resisted and been taken down a peg or two with a few hard knocks from the police baton. Serves you right, you son of a bitch, she thought viciously as she watched the officer muscle him into the back of the squad car.