Colin scratched at the wooden wall with a pocket knife, adding a deep vertical line to the collection of marks. The wind billowed and whistled outside and Colin could feel the clubhouse shaking all around him. Setting the knife down, he wrapped his arms around his legs and rested his chin on his knees. He glanced at the wall. He added a mark to it every time his mother sent him out to play when she and her boyfriend faught; the wall was getting full.
Yesterday, Colin was fighting dragons in the backyard; today it was too miserable to do anything. He’d already read all of the comic books and ate all of his squirreled away snacks.
A gust of wind shook the clubhouse hard enough that Colin thought it was going to fall right out of the tree. He was scared; he didn’t want to be out there anymore. What was more dangerous - to be out in the clubhouse during a storm or to go back into the house while his mother and Rich were fighting? Another strong gust of wind made his decision. Colin quickly climbed down the ladder and ran to the house, nearly being carried away by the wind. He hesitated at the door before entering; he could still hear shouting coming from inside. As soon as he opened the door, the voices stopped. Colin tried to sneak by to his bedroom, but Rich called out.
“Boy, is that you?” he shouted.
“It’s stormy outside...thought I should come in.” Colin tried to make his voice sound normal and uninterested.
“You don’t know how to listen, do you?”
Colin’s heart hammered as he heard heavy footsteps coming toward him.
“Rich, please...it really is storming out there. He should be inside.” Colin’s mother’s voice was thick from crying and shouting and it hurt his heart to hear it.
Colin held his breath and waited for Rich’s reaction; it was always a toss up but most days veered toward negative and violent reactions.
“Fine,” Rich finally said and Colin breathed a sigh of relief. He quickly went to his room and shut the door quietly. Turning on his tv, he turned on his video games and kept the volume just high enough that he couldn’t hear the words being hurled around in the next room. Colin used to cry when these things happened, but he’d since learned that it helped no one when he did. So instead, he would choose an activity and try to drown out everything else.
A couple of hours later, the house went dark. Colin’s tv went black and the faint whir of electronics disappeared, The only sounds he heard were the torrential downpour of rain and the howling wind. Suddenly, Colin’s stomach growled; he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Grabbing a flashlight from his nightstand, Colin gingerly opened his door. When he heard nothing, he made his way to the kitchen to look for a snack. As he was heading back, a voice halted him.
“What’re you doing?” Rich asked from the living room.
“Um...getting a snack,” Colin answered.
“Get in here,” Rich demanded. “Bring a beer with ya.”
Colin grabbed a bottle from the unlit fridge and hurried to the living room. Rich was sitting in the recliner, bottles and caps littering the floor around him and his mother sat on the couch staring down at her hands. Colin stepped just close enough to Rich to pass him the bottle, then he joined his mother on the couch. He got a quick glance of her face before she wrapped her arm around him, hugging him tight. He could have sworn he’d seen a dark spot on her cheek through the drape of hair.
Colin wanted to say something but he knew better. It wasn’t a good idea to taunt Rich or to call him out. He learned that a long time ago. Colin couldn’t understand why his mother would want to be with a man like him, especially after Colin’s father. His father was a police officer that had died in the line of duty; he was a good man. Colin’s mother fell apart after his death and after a string of “winners”, she’d settled for Rich.
The three of them sat silently in the living room, the air thick with tension. Votives burned on the coffee table, lending just enough light that they could see one another. Out of the corner of his eye, Colin could tell that RIch was staring at him. Even when the beer bottle would reach his lips, his eyes never strayed. Rich had hated Colin ever since the first time he’d tried standing up for his mother. That particular act had ended with a backhand that had Colin telling stories of accidentally running into his door to his friends and teachers. Rich wanted Colin’s mother all to himself and resented Colin for being around. He hated kids. Of course, his true colors hadn’t shown until after his mother decided she loved him. Over time, the alcoholic came out and the violence worsened.
Colin missed when it was just him and his mother. When the power went out, they would gather up board games and play by candlelight and make grilled cheese on the tiny propane camping stove. Now, they sat in a loaded silence, waiting for the power to return. Colin didn’t even open the bag of chips he’d grabbed; he didn’t want to make any noise.
Rich got up once when his beer was empty and returned with the case, setting it within reaching distance of the chair. After a while, his eyes began to close and Colin breathed easier. His mother’s breathing became deeper and more even and Colin could feel sleep calling to him as well. Suddenly there was a loud cracking sound followed by an impact that shook the house.
“What in the hell?” Rich jumped up from his chair, looking around wildly and swaying a little. His first instinct was to glare at Colin and his mother as if they’d done something wrong. Another thud had Rich turning his attention to the walls.
“Damn it. Sounded like something fell on the house,” Rich growled and stumbled out of the living room.
“Where are you going?” Colin’s mother asked, getting up off the couch.
“I’m gonna go check it out. Who are you, my mother? I’ll be right back.”
“Please Rich. Wait until the storm’s over,” she pleaded, disappearing down the hallway.
“Damn it, back off!”
There was a soft thud, this time from inside the house and Colin stared at the fire of one of the candles.
“Let him go,” he thought. Then the front door slammed. A few minutes later, Colin heard hurried footsteps and he got up to investigate. His mother was rushing down the hallway putting her jacket on.
“Mom, you can’t go outside,” Colin stated.
“Honey, I have to. I can’t let him go out there alone!” She glanced in his direction and Colin suppressed a wince as he got a view of the large bruise blooming against her cheek that he thought he’d seen earlier. He grabbed his mother’s arm and looked up at her, pleading.
“Don’t leave me alone.” Colin watched as his mother’s face changed while she internally struggled with the decision.
“It’ll be okay, Colin,” she promised but he saw worry in her eyes. “I’ll just be gone for a few minutes.” He hugged her tight.
“It’s dangerous out there,” he tried to persuade her. “I don’t want you to get hurt. Just wait. He’ll come back.” Colin hid his disdain as he said the last part. Maybe he wouldn’t come back.
Colin’s mother slowly removed her coat; she seemed sore and weary. “You’re right,” she sighed in agreement and hugged her son tightly. They went back to the couch and opened the bag of chips to share. They snacked and talked about school and Colin tried to ignore the worried looks his mother shot down the hallway toward the front door.
Finally, the two of them fell asleep together on the couch and by the time they woke, the sun was streaming in the window and all sounded calm outdoors. It only took a moment for Colin’s mother to begin to panic.
“Rich?” she called out. She glanced toward his empty chair then ran to each room of the house, continually calling out. When he didn’t answer, she ran outside without stopping for her shoes and coat. Colin quickly followed behind her.
As he followed his mother to the backyard, he surveyed the damage around them. Trees all over their property had been felled. One lay inches from the vehicle; they had been very lucky. Colin could see into the neighbours’ yards where he usually couldn’t because of the trees that normally bordered their property. Leaves and branches and garbage littered the ground.
Colin heard a loud sob and he ran toward the sound. He found his mother standing in the backyard with both of her hands up to her mouth, surveying the wreckage.
Colin’s clubhouse was no more than a pile of splinters and the tree it was housed in was broken and leaning against the house. Under the branches and leaves, he could see that it had dented the house and probably had done extensive damage. But when he followed his mother’s gaze, it wasn’t to the busted up clubhouse or the damage to the house, but to the ground. Colin took a sharp intake of breath as he saw a pair of legs sticking out from underneath the large, broken tree. Colin knew who those boots belonged to. Tears were silently streaming down his mother’s face and Colin tried to be sad with her but found that he couldn’t be. He was relieved. He’d wished for something like this many times and found that he actually felt a bit guilty that it had finally come true.
Stepping over to his mother, he wrapped his arms around her waist and squeezed. After a moment, she returned his embrace.
The bad man was gone. The clubhouse where Colin had been sent so often and marked his days as if he were a prisoner had been smashed to smithereens. It was as if life was giving them a fresh start. Sure, it wasn’t going to be easy, but Colin wished and hoped fervently that his mother would take the time to realize what had happened and allow herself to heal. He hoped she would let him help her.