“Winter 1974”

– an excerpt from “Beauty and Bloodshed” by Lorine S. Thomas

His room was ice-cold.  He was huddled underneath of his favorite blanket, the one with the dinosaurs on it.  He hated being cold.  He wished his mother had paid the gas bill so that their apartment would be warm and comfy.  It was the dead of winter in New York, and they had been without heat for the past several days. 

All of his friends, the few that he had, had heat and didn’t have to worry about it.  It wasn’t fair.  He’d even asked if he could go over to one of their homes, but his mom had said no.  She’d told him to stay away from them since their mothers liked to gossip about her.  It wasn’t his fault that she was so “loose” as he’d heard them call her.  Maybe, if she stopped having so many visitors, they would stop talking about her.

As if on cue, he heard the familiar sounds of adults having sex coming from his mother’s room.  Burying his head further under the covers, he tried to block out the racket.  Why did he have to share a wall with her?  Why did they have to make all that noise?  He’d asked himself those questions many, many times before.  Thankfully, it never lasted long.

He was reaching for the flashlight on his nightstand, when he heard yelling coming through the wall.  Quietly slipping out of bed, he eased open his door and tiptoed to his mother’s room.  He nudged her slightly ajar door further open.  He wasn’t sure what he was seeing, but it didn’t look like it was a good thing. And, panic struck him like cold air.

A large man was straddling his mother, with his hands wrapped around her throat.  She was struggling beneath him as she frantically clawed at his fingers trying to loosen them.  The man said something to her, but Tom couldn’t hear what he said.  He just saw the large man continue to squeeze until his mother suddenly stopped moving and her hands fell to her side, ending the struggle.

“Mom,” he called out in a tiny voice to get her attention.  But the man was the one who turned and looked at him. 

Seemingly frozen in place, Tom watched as the man jumped off his mother and lunged at him.  Reaching out his hands, the man grabbed Tom around his throat and roughly slammed him down on the bed beside his mother.  The sweaty man tightened his grip, and Tom twisted and kicked.  He couldn’t move very much against the man’s weight and started to slip away.

“What’s going on in there?!  Open up this damn door, Trisha!” called a voice from the front door.  It startled the large man, and he released his grasp.

 Scurrying around the room, he grabbed his clothes off the chair by the bed and quickly fled down the fire escape.  Gasping for air, the last thing that Tom saw before he closed his eyes was his mother, staring at him, with dead eyes.