I remember the last time I saw muh’ daddy. He was ascared’ more ascared than ever i’d seed’. That was one of the day’s that seemed like it’d never end it just kept on getting longer and darker and it wasn’t the dark of night that came granny’d said the darkness of the soul is the greatest darkness there is and she was right to say it cuz that day I saw muh’ daddy might have been the darkest day I ever lived.
It started like a lot of days do, half the house was still asleep on a Wednesday mornin’. That should tell you a little somethin’ about the Robert’s household. We weren’t early risers. Hell only one of us held down any kind of work and none of us were going to school, we couldn’t really. Me, I had just turned 10, and my sis, Erin, she was only 6, we had to take turns with the baby. Frank was my oldest brother and he was the only one that had a job to speak of, he was the evening part time manager at our local hardware store, this gained him no status in our family however, in fact it made Pa’ just hate him somethin’ fierce. Tammy my oldest sister she was 16 the last time I saw her, people round town said she had a job too but it wasn’t a very good job and they didn’t speak kindly of her, they called her all sorts of names that I wasn’t allowed to say. Then there was the baby, Maggie, she was 2 and just all over the place, me and Erin pretty much raised that youngin’ They was 5 of us youngin’s livin’ under the roof of that three room shack there was never a day I could say it was comfortable. Ma’ and Pa’ didn’t seem to care too much. Ma’ just barely ever moved out of her easy chair that was in the living room she didn’t say much neither, it was kind of like she was stuck someplace else, she would respond but it was always like she was someplace far away. Pa’ kept to himself in his room most of the time, he’d come out of there smelling like he worked at a bar. Neither one of em’ seemed too terribly bothered by the state of the house, it was filthy and Ma’ nor Pa’ was doin too much about it. It was always too hot, too cold and there was always the faint smell of rot in the air. We didn’t know where that was coming from for the longest time but I reckon’ we’d eventually figure it out.
Frank was good to me, he was more my daddy than Pa’ was. I about hated to see Pa’ comin’. Frank, every now and then, when he had a little extra money from his job would slip me a pack of baseball cards. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I straight hated baseball, it was the idea he was doing something nice fer me. Under my bed was a shoe box full of unopened packages of baseball cards, I didn’t care about them but I’ll be dogoned if you could have ever took em’ from me, I’d have fought you for em for sure.
I had Caleb and Caleb was all I really had, he cared about me and I cared about him. I kept Caleb in the basement of the house down where the furnace was. I don’t think anybody cept’ me even knew he was down there. He didn’t need much, he only ever asked for food when there was meat in the house, that’s how dog’s think I reckon. Caleb is a special kind of dog though, you know them dogs you see on television where the master had taught them how to speak a little, that was what Caleb is, he can kind of talk but he only ever says one or two things at a time mostly when he’s needin’ food. He would look at me with his big deep eyes and say K’lb Hngrt, I believe what he was trying to say was that Caleb is hungry, that’s when I’d bring him a little plate of food and we got along well because I fed him and he kept me company, he was all I truly had, I love my brother’s and sisters but I have to tell you there was just something special and unspoken between me and Caleb.
That Wednesday would turn out to be the last day I’d ever see my Pa’ and it didn’t start to awful good. It was about 11:00 or so when we heard a knock at the door. Pa’ was still sleepin’ and Ma’, well I told you about Ma’. More often than not it was either me or Erin what got the door and deflected visitors. Pa did not like visitors. I went to the door and answered to a man who introduced himself to me as Mr. Bufford. He’d been here before, he was with child services and he had took one or two of us to go to foster care when we hadn’t been in school that much or sometimes he said it was the house and the state of it that made us get took. He said that he was there to do a follow up visit and I told him the lie that Pa told me to tell him about how they was out workin and wouldn’t be back until late. Pa knew that Mr. Bufford couldn’t come in unless at least one adult family member was there… who was of sound mind. Mr. Bufford after several previous visits had come to understand that my mother might well be catatonic. I’m not oversellin’ this to you, she literally almost never moved. Mr. Bufford leaned down and talked to me the same way that people talk to babies when they come out of the hospital, I don’t think he had kids of his own. Mr. Bufford said “Lil man I ain’t buying that story again I’m here to help you youngins, I’ll be back at 4:00pm and whether he here or not I’m comin in and this place better be up to snuff”. Had I not heard this speech about a thousand times before I’d have been a little nervous, plus going to foster care was sort of a vacation for us children.
Pa’ must have heard cuz’ he came shambling out of his room with nasty look on his face.
“That pin head Bufford ain’t leavin’ us alone for a second, is he youngin?” rhetorically enquired Pa. “No, sir” I replied while looking down at my feet. “When was the last time you and Erin made it to school?” Pa asked. “Hit was back before christmas I think pa.” I replied. Then without warning the back of Pa’s hand made a vicious impact across the left side of my jaw, I went to the ground hard. This was nothing new, but you still never new when Pa was going to hit you, it was random, some days you could tell what to say and what not to say but more often then not you could not tell when the man was going to blow up all over you. Today was one of those days. “I told you little bastards that you needed to go once a week at least to keep the heat offen us… shit now I gotta try to clean this place, unless you want to do it you old whore.” Pa replied as he looked at Ma’ with contempt. She’ made eye contact for a moment, did not say a word and then went to sleep. Didn’t say a word, didn’t try to defend us. Nowadays you’d say she checked out. Erin rushes into the room slapping Pa in the stomach and begging him to quit hitting me. This never worked out well for Erin because she would get the backhand too. She was a lot smaller than me, so Pa’s big rough, nasty hands would fall on her like a mountain, while the hit felt more like getting kicked by a horse. “I’m going to have to go out and get some supplies to get this place straight before that pencil neck comes back later.” Pa grumbled as he walked to the door. He had been wearing the same clothes for the last several days and I’m sure that he had not washed them. Pa was a man of about 50 years of age, he was balding in a very unattractive way. He had a perpetual three day beard no matter what day of the week it was. Pa was pretty much the idea you get in mind of what a slob must look like when you hear the word.
Once Pa’ left to obtain “supplies” (by the way supplies was code for liquor, he might bring back a bottle of pine sol if he remembers to after he leaves the bar he would end up at moments after leaving) this was our directive to clean things up and try to conceal as much of the mess as possible. I helped Erin up from the floor and gave her a hug, brushing away the tears taht were racing down her reddened freckled cheeks, framed by the chaotically curly hair that spun round her head. She didn’t cry as much as she used to when this happened, there was still some sorrow in her heart for Pa’. Like most children they expect their parents to love them and cherish them, to us, all of us this had become a distant fairy tale. “It’s all going to be ok.” I lied to her, I knew it wouldn’t be, this would never get better no matter how hard we prayed we just couldn’t escape this hell.
Erin cleaned the kitchen and started supper. We called supper anything you could stick in the microwave and eat pretty quick. This time though Erin took a notion to cook up a chicken that had been given to us through a church outreach a couple of weeks ago. A child’s idea of cooking is what they learn from cartoons, so what Erin did was take the chicken out of it’s plastic wrapping and netting and simply tossed it in a pot of water which was set to medium on the stove and just left it there. Erin kept walking about the house picking up loose trash and stuffing clutter into closets and bed rooms when and wherever she could. I was doing much the same, just trying to hide the mess that this family was both inside and out.
Frank had woke up, I could hear him getting ready in his room. He was the bread winner for our family and it was a small piece of bread shared between seven people. He wore a look of calm on his face that was a mask for outrage and despair. “Hey squirt, you okay?” Frank inquired while rubbing my head a little harder than he should have been. “It won’t be like this forever ya know, it can change.” lamented Frank. He didn’t believe the words coming out of his own mouth and neither did I. Frank reached into his back pocket to retrieve the pack of baseball cards he had gotten me the night before. “Listen kiddo, I may not be back for a while after tonight, I think I might have found us a way out, but I have to go away for a while.” Frank said. This utterly terrified me to hear, sometimes Frank was the only person in the house that would get between me and Pa when things got bad. “No you can’t leave Frank, what’ll I do if Pa comes home mad like he does sometimes, what then?” I said in a fearful tone. “Keep your head down, don’t give him a reason to deck you, hide if you have to. I will come back for you and the others”, replied Frank. Frank never came back, it was the last time I saw him right before he went into work. Last I had heard Frank was living with a group of college students and was working 3 jobs to keep the bills paid. I hated Frank for that but I understood it, everyone in the house understood what Frank done and at the end of the day no one could blame him for wanting to get out.
The day dripped by. Soon the door to the kitchen would slam open and Pa’ would make his grand, despicable, drunken entrance. Erin had actually managed to cook that chicken and it had actually made the house smell somewhat like it might be a home. Pa gestured with his nose inhaling deeply the smell of real food being brought to life in the kitchen, “Looks like you little bastards might be good for something after all.” slurred Pa. He had been definitely drinking and he didn’t even bring the obligatory bottle of pine sol to make the place smell cleaner. Erin anxiously grabbed a plate from the dishwasher and dried it off as best she could on her shirt, she then took two forks and lifted the chicken out of the water she had placed it in hours ago. Erin had to grow up far faster than any child should have to. About the time the plate hit the table the baby started to cry in the next room. Without a moments hesitation Erin left the room to tend to our sister (she would never turn down a reason to be out of the presence of our Pa’).
“Can’t even cut it yourself you worthless little shit. Fine, it’s not like I don’t do everything round this place by myself” bellowed Pa. “Where the hell is Tammy? She should be helping clean this damn place, that pencil neck will be here any minute now.” grumbled Pa. “She had a date last night Pa’, she probably be home later.” I said. “Who asked you, you little shit, I just want to know where my daughter is, she should be here.”, growled Pa. He spent a lot of time with Tammy, too much really, about a year ago Tammy started looking for any reason at all to stay out of the house and she was basically invisible in the Roberts family. All I knew back then is that Pa was hurting Tammy a lot more than he hurt the rest of us.
I started to make a plate for Caleb, I wasn’t hungry, I’d just go ahead and give caleb my supper. Once I had my plate together I started for the basement door. “Where you goin’ boy?” Pa asked. “I’m taking Caleb somethin’ to eat, he’s muh dog and I love him.” I responded. I’m not totally sure why I said it like that it just came out, I had to declare that something or someone in that house gave a damn about me. “You have a fucking dog in this house? In my house, where is the little shit, you tell me now boy.” bellowed Pa. “He’s in the basement, please don’t hurt him pa please he’s all I got.” I begged. Pa then snatched the plate from my hand and made for the basement door, “I’ll feed your fuckin dog and then you can watch me throw him in the river with a bag of rocks.” Pa exclaimed. “You, son of a bitch I won’t let you!” those words vomited from my mouth I had no cognition of having even said them. Less than a moment would pass when I would feel the cold hard hand take the form of a fist and hit me, it was the first time I can remember almost being knocked out. Pa continued to the door as I try to regain my footing to get back up and pursue him he was not going to kill muh dog.
Pa made it to the base of the stairs leading to the furnace area and saw Caleb for the first time. Caleb was a small dog, a mut no doubt but about the size of a mail box. “This Caleb? I think I might eat him after I take care of him and make you watch me do it you little shit.” Pa bellowed. Then he spoke I could hear him from the top of the stairs “K’lb Hngrt”, when he said it this time it was deeper like a person was saying it instead of a dog. When I made it down to the base of the stairs… what I saw is hard to describe. Caleb’s fur was melting away shedding from his skin to reveal a mix of fishlike and reptile scales, all the while his barking deepened and became less prominent as this change took place. A mass of tendrils spilled from what used to be Caleb’s mouth and he had grown to the size of a large man….. Much larger than Pa. I could feel the tingle of what I believe to be the flames of hell licking at my feet, I didn’t want to see what came next. Caleb told me so in my head, I turned and left yet before I did I saw the terrified look on my Pa’s face as I left and screaming that I never heard from a living soul before today and I haven’t heard since.
Returning up the stairs, Erin was eating some of her chicken, she was very proud. You could hear muffled screams coming from down stairs but those eventually faded. I went to check on the baby to find Ma’ had gotten out of her chair and was talking to Mr. Bufford. He had asked where Mr. Roberts was to which Ma could only reply,”Caleb’s hungry.”