"Blood Is Thicker Than Water"
It was dark underneath the house and smelled like old dirt. It made me want to sneeze. I thought about crawling out long enough to look up at what was left of the sun, long enough to finish off that wishy-washy sneeze. But I was scared, so I sat on a pile of damp dirt and caught my tears with my dirty hands.
Why couldn’t Daddy just die? If he wasn’t around, we'd make out all right. It wouldn’t be long before I was old enough to get a job. Annabelle got one and everybody knows she doesn’t have the sense God gave lettuce.
When she gets paid, she lies about the amount; thinks nobody knows she’s giving most of it to her boyfriend so she won’t have to bring it home. If Daddy finds out he’ll knock her teeth down her throat and dare her to swallow them. If you ask me, Annabelle is about an inch away from running out on all of us. Ever since she started working and silly old Floyd started sniffing after her like a dog in heat, she’s been the devil to be around. I wish she'd hurry up and get it over with.
I was in the middle of asking God to consider taking Daddy back so he wouldn't hurt us anymore when I heard Pearl, Lonnie and Rusty racing up to the house. Before I could call out to them, I heard their loud footsteps on the porch and then the sound of the screen door banging shut behind them.
“I won. I won,” Rusty yelled as other feet stomped up the wooden steps after him. Pearl laughed when Lonnie called Rusty a big, fat cheater. Then there was total silence up above me.
It was too quiet. I figured they'd found Mama dead. Daddy had finally killed her with his mean old temper and hard fists. Something inside of me wasn’t a bit surprised. Hadn’t he already murdered one innocent person? I would always remember Orville J. Tinsley, the ugly Bible salesman, even if Daddy did forget all about him.
I knew my sister Pearl inside and out, so I pictured what she was probably doing up there in the house. In my mind’s eye, I saw her tending to Mama. It made me feel some better to think that our mother was getting attention, if she was still alive, that is.
Right about then, I heard Daddy roar like a bellowing bear at my sister. “You want me to give you some of what I just give your mama?”
“No sir,” she said. “But she’s hurt bad, Daddy. Look at her. She’s bleeding. We got to do something for her. You can see that, can’t you, Daddy?”
I heard heavy footsteps pounding the floorboards above me. There was a scrambling noise and I figured it was Pearl trying to get away from Daddy.
“Don’t you run off from me, young’un,” he yelled. “You git your sorry ass over here right this minute. I’ll teach you to sass me and try to run off like a rat. Git over here, I said.”
There was a storm of loud sounds then. Lonnie and Rusty were both crying out and Pearl was yelling for Daddy not to hit her. I covered my ears and squeezed my eyes as tight as I could. It didn’t begin to muffle their cries and it didn’t keep the new tears inside of me either. I heard the first crack of Daddy’s belt even with my hands closed over my ears. Pearl was getting the might of his wrath. Lonnie and Rusty somehow managed to sneak back out to the barn so I didn’t hear any more out of them.
After Daddy hit my sister every which way and twice as hard on the way back with her sobbing steady through it all, things got real still. Pearl quieted down while Daddy took a breather. The last sound I heard was squeaking bedsprings which made me fear that he had drug Pearl’s skinny little body out of the kitchen and into his bed. Some birthday present, I thought.
I thought about Mama telling me and Pearl that blood was thicker than water. But then as soon as the word blood came to my mind, I saw Mama plain as clean glass lying on the kitchen floor with blood all over her face. I believed Daddy had killed her, so blood being thicker than water didn't make sense. I thought and prayed, thought and prayed until I fell asleep.
When I woke up, light was creeping through the ragged foundation boards of the house. I had hid under there for eight hours, nine maybe. After I didn’t hear any movement above, I steeled myself to go up there and find about Mama. If she was not dead, then she was hurt bad and I needed to help her.