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It's Not Your FaultTo Bryan Nally's previous piece

Someone Is Always Listening

No one noticed the door closing slowly and quietly under the guidance of an invisible boy. It came to rest against the door jamb as the handle turned slowly so that the latch engaged without a sound. The process was smooth and polished, having become increasingly more important over the last six months. For a moment is was dark, a darkness that would normally be scary to a boy like Taylor, but now it signified safety and anonymity. A beam of light two inches tall running the length of the door was the only connection with the world outside. Taylor sat crouched and stared wide-eyed into the blackness. He listened carefully, hearing nothing more than his heart and rapid breathing. His eyes remained wide as he searched the orderly row of seldom worn shoes and winter boots for the flashlight he kept stashed near the front of the five foot corridor, running along side of, and finally beneath the stairs.

Gripping the flashlight, he crawled towards the back, his head brushing lightly through a series of coattails. He emerged from the coats and clicked on the flashlight. A dim light cascaded across a series of boxes that lined the walls on both sides. Each box had words written on the side. He couldn’t read them yet but he knew meant something about Christmas because of the way the boxes smelled. Just beyond the boxes the corridor turned into a small area as wide as the stairs above. The floor was wooden and the ceiling sloped. It was his special place, a place where no one ever came but him, and even him only on special occasions. There were several blankets and a pillow arranged into a nest of sorts. He sat with his hands clasped together in his lap. His head hung low so that his chin touched the superman symbol dawning the front of his pajama top. Overhead someone stomped down the hall and slammed a door. Seconds later someone followed. The door opened and slammed again. The screaming was not far off, it never was. He looked up through the ceiling with x-ray vision and gathered his super powers.

He could hear muffled voices lashing out and sometimes overlapping in the bedroom overhead. They would pause and then abruptly start again. Each time he held his breath, almost as if they would be aware of him listening. He was careful to be silent and just to be sure he pressed a finger to his lips and whispered, “Shhhh,” at Joey his imaginary friend. Joey looked at him with sad eyes. “It’s not your fault, Joey,” he whispered in comfort. A door slammed, someone stomped down the hall again, and bounded heavily down the stairs. Taylor quickly slid down in the blankets and did his best to cover his body in entirety. He crafted a small peephole near his eye and wiggled over so that he could see the light coming under the door. A second rumbling came from overhead as the other person came down the stairs. A foot passed in front of the door, casting a black shadow through the beam of light. Taylor rolled backwards and closed the peephole tightly. In his mind he watched them move into the kitchen. He heard the dishwasher open as usual. He pictured his mother bending up and down, placing dishes into the cabinets, stopping periodically to lean on the counter and shake her head at his father, who paced heavily back and forth behind her, his face red, his hair sticking out madly in all directions.

He turned off the flashlight and moved, inch by inch, towards the door, focusing on the thin beam of light. Taylor eased down to the floor about a foot from the door. He began piling boots and shoes over his body and dug in deep with his legs towards the wall. He arranged his hands on the floor in the shape of a triangle, and placed his face in the middle. His eyes stared at the floor. He directed all his super powers to the ear facing the door and listened.

“…would it be better for you if I just fucking left? Is that what you want?”

“I don’t know what I want.”

“That the fucking problem. You…”

“You have no idea what I want.”

“At least I would be doing something, anything, anything but curling up in a God damn ball every night.”

“Its your smell, Tom. I can’t stand the smell. Do you think I am stupid? That I don’t smell the booze, smell your little whore girlfriend? I don’t even care about us anymore, just the kids.”

“Why do you always bring the kids into this? They have nothing to do with this. Nothing.”

A dish crashed onto the floor, “They have everything to do with this, you asshole.”

“What do you plan on doing, Tricia? Take them away? Run to your mothers and cry about Daddy being an asshole. What do you think that does to them?”

“They are too young to realize what is happening here.”

As the argument moved from the kitchen out onto the back porch, Taylor receded back into the depths of the closet. Rounding the corner in the back he clicked on the flashlight. He shined the light under the small shelf near the floor where he kept items of curious importance. There was a pen knife with a rusty blade. There was a comb that smelled like his father’s hair, no matter how many times he sniffed it. He kept a construction paper pad and several boxes of crayons, markers and a collection of ink pens that had long been forgotten. There was a pack of matches and an odd-shaped twig that had been a crude experiment in whittling. There was a ring his mother had lost and although he hadn’t taken it, he was afraid to give it back for fear of being punished. Now it was his magic ring.

He took out the construction paper and leafed through several pages of sketches to find a clean page. He took the box of crayons and dumped them into a pile on the floor. He positioned the flashlight so that it lie on its side and cast a beam of light across the paper and onto the crayons. He hummed a tune while rummaging for a black crayon and began to draw.

A stick man began to take shape. The head was round and the body a slim black line extending off in four directions, eventually coming to resemble limbs. Next to the stick man he drew another smaller figure. Then he drew another next to the small one that was bigger than the first two. All three characters formed a line and he connected them at the hands. He took a brown crayon out and colored the hair on the two large figures. The smallest figure was given yellow hair and blue shirt. His attention diverted from the characters and he began to insert the background of the picture. Returning to the black crayon he drew a box in the corner that was several inches taller the figures in the front. On top he put a triangle and a tube that had squiggly lines coming out. The house had a door directly in the center but no windows. Next to the house he drew two lines out to the side of the paper, and then in red, between the lines, he placed a car with large wheels. In the sky he paced several large gray clouds that partially covered a yellow sun that was nothing more than an empty yellow circle. He finished the picture by drawing small black eyes on the stick figures and finally straight lines for mouths, with the exception of the small one, that seemed to curve slightly down at one end.

He sat up and stared at the picture. He leaned over and asked Joey, “Do you like it?” Joey nodded in agreement. “Do you want it?” Joey shook his head from side to side. “I’ll leave it for Daddy so he won’t miss us and be sad when we are gone.” Joey smiled. He tore the page from the pad leaving a jagged edge across the top and put it to the side. Suddenly the back door flew open and his parents came into the house. Their feet were moving fast and in many directions. He could not be certain exactly where they were going or which one was who. He grabbed the blanket and fashioned it into a shroud over his head. He crawled to the front, careful again to only expose enough of his face so that he could barely see.

His mother and father convened several feet from the closet near the front door. “Where the hell do you think you are going? This conversation is not over.” The front door was thrown open.

“I’m getting away from you,” his father replied. His voice muted suddenly from having stepped outside of the house.

“You bastard. Run away, why don’t you.” Something bounced off the porch wall and clamored down the porch steps. His mother stepped out on to the porch. The screen door closed behind her but the main door remained open.

“If you leave I swear to God I will not be here when you get back.”

“Make sure you take the kids cause if you leave them, it’ll be the last you see of them. I’ll see to that, you crazy bitch.” His father’s voice elevated to a scream. Taylor winced, having been at the other end of the scream before and very adverse to loud voices in general. The car door slammed and the engine started. It backed out of the abruptly with squealing tires. Taylor could hear the car accelerating down the street, squeal around the corner and drive out of range. Suddenly it was very quiet. He held his breath and listened. His mother wept just outside the door. Taylor covered his head completely and tried desperately to remain silent as a tear rolled down his cheek and his chest began to spasm from deep inside.

No one noticed as the door opened slowly and a small boy emerged from the closet into the dark hallway. It came to rest against the door jamb as the handle turned slowlyb,so that the latch engaged without a sound. The process was longer than usual and jerky under the influence of the small, shaking arm. Taylor got down on his knees at the bottom of the stairs and placed one hand after the other up to the next level, testing the hold for creaks before moving. He pulled him self up one step at a time using his elbows for leverage. His belly pressed flat against the carpet. His legs dragged behind. He continued on around the landing and up the final ten stairs. He stopped at the last stair allowing just his head to go over the top. At the end of the hall his mother’s door stood ajar. She was lying in the bed in the lamplight talking on the phone. Her words were muted with sobs and sniffles. He watched for several moments before dragging the rest of his body up off the stairs.

He crawled like an alligator down the hall, stopping every so often to look up and see if he had been spotted. His mother remained curled up on the bed cradling the phone. He slid through the door and underneath the footboard to the side of the bed opposite of his mother and remained still. For several moments she said nothing but continued to weep. The bed shook under the influence of her sobs. Taylor reached up and pressed on the thin white covering of the box spring. His finger left an impression and upon pressing again, it pierced the covering making the faintest sound. The bed creaked as his mother shifted positions above. He rolled onto his side and hid his face in his hands.

After a few moments of silence he turned back over to examine the hole. He gently pushed his finger through five different holes, unable to determine which one was the most recent. Up above his mother finally spoke into the phone, “I don’t know why he stopped loving me,” and began weeping more intensely. Taylor slid to the outer edge of the bed and fanned at the comforter hanging over the side. He pulled it out, stuck his head underneath and carefully climbed up onto the bed. He crawled up to his mother’s side and curled himself into a tight ball. “I just don’t what to say to him anymore, like it would matter, no one ever hears me anyway.” He reached out his arm and placed it around her waist. She jumped and whisked the covers off the bed. Taylor looked up at her with teary eyes then pressed his face into her back. “Are we leaving again Mommy?” He asked.

“No, honey,” she said and rolled back over, “Go back to bed and I’ll come tuck you in shortly. Mommy is on the phone right now.” He pushed his face deeper into her side and gripped her nightgown tightly in his small hand as he mounted a force field around the bed, using up all the superpowers he had left for the night.

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