Greetings, fellow indie writers and readers! I am Beem Weeks, author of the historical fiction/coming-of-age novel JAZZ BABY and SLIVERS OF LIFE: A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES. My goal in life is to promote the indie movement to the world. I can be found on Twitter @VoiceOfIndie and @BeemWeeks. I enjoy indie films, loud music, and a well told story. Lansing, Michigan, USA.
Slivers Of Life
Friday night again.
Fridays always got there too fast.
The shuffling outside of her bedroom door told on him, ratted him out the way she’d never be brave enough to do. He’d be in there soon enough. Too soon, you ask her.
Lying in bed, Jamie tossed onto her back, pulled up an image from summer past, to the time when she’d stayed out to Grandma Sweeney’s farm, way out in the country, away from Stanley and his stupid drunken self. At least at Grandma’s there weren’t any boys or men to say what’s what about how things were going to be—like it or not. Green fields filled with alfalfa—those were the best recollections. All that country air scented with tilled earth and fresh-cut grass!
Couldn’t get that here in the city. All the city offers is dirt and stink—and stupid old Stanley.
The bang of his work boots put the man just outside her door. He’d wait a moment, testing the air, seeing if he might get away with it just one more time.
She told Mother Jen once, back when it first started.
“Just be glad you have a roof over your head, Miss Priss,” is all Mother Jen had to say on the subject.
The loose doorknob gave up a familiar jiggle; the door yawned just wide enough for Stanley to peer inside the room. Greasy yellow light leaked into the moment from somewhere outside—that old streetlamp out front, maybe.
His boots came off in the hallway.
Mother Jen’s specter stepped into that puddle of light, her lips met Stanley’s ear. “Leave her be tonight, Stan,” she whispered into his head.
Stanley’s protest stank of lies. “I ain’t never put no hand to that little bitch, Jen. God’s truth.”
But Mother Jen, she knew better—though she’d never lift a finger to put a halt to the goings-on beneath her own roof. She needed Stanley the same way she needed that extra money the State of Wisconsin paid her to look after foster kids like Jamie.
“Well I won’t compete,” Mother Jen swore, “—not with no kid, I won’t.”
“Ain’t nobody saying you have to.” Stanley followed her back toward the living room, dropping low-intentioned words along the way. Even with his departure the room still reeked of whiskey and his sweat.
He’d be back, though, just as soon as Mother Jen left for her midnight shift at the Gas & Go.
In her mind’s eye, in that safe place she’d constructed since the accident took her mother and little brother, Jamie would get to stay with Grandma Sweeney all the time—and Stanley would go to jail forever.
But that couldn’t ever happen—not as long as Mother Jen kept custody.
* * *
It’s the wood smoke that woke Jamie from that brief piece of sleep she hoped would carry her through to the morning, unaware of whether Stanley had bothered with her or not. Wood smoke, not the usual smell of the oil-burning space heater Mother Jen kept in the living room during the cold winter months.
Jamie’s bare feet found the chilled sting of the floorboards. She dared a peek past that worthless bedroom door that did next to nothing to keep her safe—until tonight.
Through the smoky haze her eyes found that lazy shape passed out on the sofa.
Angry flames licked paint from the walls around him.
Stanley would die there without Jamie waking him from his stupor.
But Jamie’s own legs wouldn’t allow her to save the man. They simply carried her to the window, sent a message to her arms, convinced them to push open the glass, thus granting arms, legs, and the attached girl, a means to escape.
* * *
The fire department determined the blaze started when that oil-burning space heater ignited the curtains, delivering Stanley and the entire house to the flames of hell.
Mother Jen, well, she found solace in knowing Stanley probably hadn’t suffered much. All that whiskey, the medical examiner claimed, had pretty much rendered the man comatose before the fire had engulfed the house.
Even so, Jamie’s dream never did come to pass. The State of Wisconsin deemed Grandma Sweeney too old to care for a young girl of Jamie’s age. Not all was lost, though. Children’s Services removed her from Mother Jen’s custody, placed her in the care of a nice family from up near Green Bay.
She could have saved Stanley, sure enough; a well-placed slap would have yanked the man from his slumber. Jamie knew it in her heart.
But that’s water under the bridge.
She’d never shed a tear for that man.
The loss wasn’t hers to lament.
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