Bradley comes home, the side of his face thick with dirt and spit, the taste of blood behind his two front teeth. The door creaks on its hinges no matter how slowly he pushes it. Dad moves in his armchair and Bradley flinches out of instinct. He lurks in the doorway, poised like a cat, watching the figure at the end of the room. The TV cackles.
When he's sure Dad isn't moving he takes the lightest step forward— crack! Dad throws his bottle into the floor as hard as he can and Bradley screeches and covers his face. Dad's laugh is much louder than the TV people's chuckling. Stupid kid. Bradley runs two terrified paces toward the stairs and then stops himself. There's something he's gotta do today. "D- um, Dad?"
"What," Dad hoists himself up and leans across his chair to look at Bradley, "the fuck do you want, huh?"
"I…" He takes a deep breath. "Can me and Lisa go out when she gets home? 'Cus- 'cus it's sunny and all?"
"Get the fuck upstairs and say your prayers, Bradley." Dad's voice is quiet, which is scary, and he's out of empty bottles, which is scarier. Bradley stays where he is for twenty brave 'Mississippi's but then Dad starts to get up from his chair, very slowly, and Bradley runs up to his room as fast as his legs will carry him, heart pounding in his ears, dragging the nightstand Mom picked in front of the door in case Dad is after him.
But there are no footsteps, not even when Bradley presses a filthy glass against the door to hear better, like the people in those midnight spy movies do. Then the front door shrieks, and Lisa's tiny timid footsteps sound from below until there is a slapping sound.
". . .your face, baby?" That's Dad in his syrupy sweet talking-to-Lisa voice, but Lisa is whimpering. "Hey, come here. . ."
Bradley drops the glass and kneels next to his bed and says his prayers. His fingers are in his ears not curled for God but maybe that's okay just this once. Ave o Maria piena di grazia il Signore č con te.
"You aren't supposed to want me anymore!" That's Lisa clear as water why isn't this house thicker, why does anyone have ears, Tu sei benedetta fra le donne, e benedetto č il frutto del tuo seno, Gesu. Blessed art thou.
"Vera, ti amo Vera. . ."
Pray for us in the . . . darn it, now and in the hour della nostra morte. Amen. Lisa is quiet.
Bradley is about to say it all again when Lisa's tiny steps sound up the staircase. He counts an hour on his battered Power Rangers watch, like always, and then opens her bedroom door. Her bed, pink and soiled and with railings, is the only thing in the room and she's white and curled up on it. He steps closer but she won't face him. "Lisa."
"I wanna help, Lisa." Frustrated, Bradley pulls on her arm to roll her over. She limply lets him. He brushes the hair away from her face and gasps. Red reams cross her face everywhere. The skin looks raw and sticky. "Who did this?" he hisses.
"I did. It didn't work."
"Lisa! You don't have to hurt yourself. Come on." He tugs her from her bed. Her legs are still shivery, so he carries her to the bathroom to wipe away the blood.
"Why do you always help when it's too late?" Lisa mutters sleepily while he works. Bradley says nothing.
Fuck, warm beer is awful. Brad finishes the can quick and then chucks it down the hill, where there used to be a shitty little pond. Then a shitty little dried-up hole. Now it's basically a landfill for all the good-for-nothings who hang out here—him included.
This is. . .the second can, probably. There's a six-pack on the ground next to him, but there's no good in coming home to Dusty all shitfaced. Kid's taking to the fifth grade like a fish to water, might have some homework or something that needs doing. Brad can barely spell his own name right, but Dusty has fun teaching him. "This way it's fair. We can teach each other!" God, he doesn't deserve the kid.
Marty that old bastard still lives in his shack on the next block. It's the Joy talking but God damn it he should pay the old man a visit and fucking beat him to pulp.
Lisa's whispering always lets him know when he's losing it. Brad takes a breath. Be the bigger person. He'll die alone in the dark and you won't pay for the funeral. The thought doesn't help for shit. He fights the urge to just drop off the hillside and see what bones break.
The sun fades down the horizon, which always reminds him what a shithole Olathe is at dusk. One more can, then. Hail Mary.