The screen door squeaked on its hinges before slamming shut. Angel willed herself to wake from her dreamless sleep. A fit of trembling shook her body, an involuntary response to familiar noises. She strained to hear.
Clutching the blankets around her neck, she opened her eyes wide. Her breath seemed to catch in her throat. Listening for the first footfall on the steps that led upstairs.
Something crashed to the floor. Glass, from the sound of it. Loud slurred curses followed. A door creaked open down the hallway. Angel pictured her mother belting the frayed blue checkered bathrobe about her waist. The vinyl soles of her mother’s mules slapped softly against the floor and faded.
Angel moaned in fear of what would happen next. Every Saturday night for as long as she could remember she awoke to the sound of the screen door and the voices of her mother and stepfather crescendoing in an impassioned duet of anger and frustration. It was only in the last year since she had begun to develop a young woman’s shape that the worst injustice started.
“No, Ben. Not tonight.” Angel heard her mother gasp out a terrified plea and her stepfather answer with an enraged growl. “Leave her alone. She’s only thirteen.”
Cowering now, uncontrollable shaking throughout her body, listening, listening. Grasping the covers so tightly that her fingers turned numb. The nightmare was coming and she could not prevent it.
And no one else would. In the last month, the attacks became more violent and Angel dropped clues about her ordeal. A creative writing course became her outlet, her hope for rescue. She thought her composition teacher, Mr. Minton, would question how a young girl like her knew so much about ‘those types’ of subjects. Her last short story received a high grade, but no comments. No questions.
No rescue from the terror that came in the night.
A dull thud from downstairs and the sound of feet clomping up the steps knotted Angel’s stomach. She silently repeated the Bible verse that gave her strength in the past:
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
She tried to focus on the words, the words that would deaden her to the physical pain she must endure. The doorknob rattled and turned.
The angel of the LORD . . .
A hulking shadow fell across the bed. She faked sleep, willed her eyes not to peek, not to squeeze so tightly that he would know she was only pretending.
. . . encamps . . .
He fumbled with his belt buckle. That, and the sound of a zipper, brought panic to her throat. With great effort, she kept herself from bolting out of bed or making any movement at all.
. . . around those who fear him . . .
She heard the thump of his boots as he removed them. An odor of sweaty socks assailed her nose. His belt buckle clinked on the wood floor. Every muscle in her body tightened for the assault she knew was near. The covers lifted from her and she heard a small chuckle and his tongue as it wet his lips.
. . . and delivers them.
There was a loud thump, a sound like saltines being crushed by a rock, and the covers fell back onto Angel’s body. A heavy weight dropped onto her legs and slid off onto the floor.
She sat up and squinted into the semi-darkness. Kneeling beside the prone body of her husband, Angel’s mother raised her face toward the ceiling. She let out a sound halfway between a scream and a groan. The hairs on the back of Angel's neck prickled.
Her mother, clutching the cast iron frying pan in one hand and covering her mouth with the other, moaned again.
She dropped the pan and scooped her husband’s head into her lap. Crying and laughing at the same time, Angel’s mother rocked back and forth and stroked his face. Blood soaked her bathrobe.
“Momma? We have to get away,” Angel begged. She rose to her feet and began tossing clothes and possessions into a grocery bag, then stopped and tugged at her mother’s sleeve.
Her mother shook her head and closed her eyes. Tears cascaded down her hollow cheeks. “Don’t you understand? I can’t leave him. I love him too much. He loves me.” She leaned forward and kissed his forehead. “You go. And don’t you stop for nothing.”
That night, with the Lord going before her, Angel left home and never looked back.
The Scripture verse is Psalm 34:7 (RSV).
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