I'll Become the Sea Online - Rebecca Rogers Maher

Part I

Prologue

Voices rushed up the staircase, a shot of bubbles from deep under water.

“Tell me where you were.”

The door at the bottom of the stairs shook open. Jane’s clock glowed red on the nightstand.

“I have a right to know!”

Jane sat up in bed.

“You don’t have a right to shit.”

“Dennis!”

“Shut your mouth, Linda.”

His heavy work boots echoed across the kitchen floor. Jane pushed aside the blankets.

“I know you were with that whore.”

She ran down the stairs.

“I said shut your mouth!”

Jane stumbled out the door as his open hand shot out, cracking her mother across the face and knocking her down. He lunged forward and kicked her hard in the ribs. Curling into a ball, Linda shrank into the tile. Dennis sank his boot into her stomach, forcing the air out of her lungs.

“Dad!”

“Stay out of this, Jane.”

He kicked her mother’s face into the stove.

Jane grabbed his shirt, heaving against the bulk of his body, and he sprawled backward, shoving her into the wall. The plaster cracked where her head struck, crumbling and scattering on the floor.

Regaining his balance, he jabbed a blunt finger into her shoulder. “Don’t you lay a hand on me, little girl.” He breathed into her face and she tried not to recoil. He was sweating and the smell of him was nauseating.

She held up her hands. “Okay, Dad.”

He stopped to survey the scene before him—his wife on the floor, his daughter cringing—and nodded, satisfied. “Okay. Yeah. It’s her, you understand that? She doesn’t want to listen.” He used a forearm to wipe the sweat out of his eyes. “You go on back upstairs.”

She shook her head. “No. It’s all right. I’m awake now. Let’s sit down and we can talk about it.”

Her mother pushed herself upright against the stove. She held her head in one hand and with the other reached for a cigarette burning in an ashtray on the counter. “Yeah, sit down, Dennis. Sit down and tell your daughter where you’ve been for three days.”

He twisted away from Jane. The back of his hand was out before he’d even fully turned. He struck her mother hard across the face, sending her crashing into the kitchen table. She fell, the table overturning on top of her, a full glass of soda sliding off the edge and shattering next to her on the floor.

“Dad!”

“I said stay the fuck out of it.”

Wrapping his mottled hand around Linda’s throat, he dragged her out from under the table. Once she was clear, he straddled her, his whole weight bearing down on her, both hands around her neck. Linda’s arms flailed out, struggling to push him off, to wriggle out from under him. Her face began to darken, to purple.

This couldn’t be happening, and yet it was happening. Time felt at once hideously sped up and slowed down. For an instant, Jane was paralyzed, pinned against the wall.

From a great distance, she watched herself get down on her hands and knees. Crawling over the broken glass, she shoved her body between theirs, half falling on her mother. Bracing her knees against the floor, she arched her back, lifting up and outward, jabbing her elbow into the joint of Dennis’s arm and dislodging his fingers from her mother’s throat.

He fell backward and slipped on the spilled soda, landing scrambling on the floor.

“Goddamn it!”

Shaking, Jane rose as he grabbed the counter and hoisted himself up. She stood between him and her mother, holding her arms out in front of her.

“Dad.”

Linda’s breathing behind her was shallow, whimpering. Her cigarette lay drenched in the leak of soda on the floor beside her. He started to come toward them.

“Daddy, please. Leave her alone.”

He wasn’t a big man, or particularly strong. Sober, he read his paper in the morning, shut himself in his room and kept quiet. But when he drank, he became something else. Someone who didn’t know them, and didn’t want to.

“Please. Dad. Just leave.”

She’d washed his laundry just that morning. He’d taken her for her first driving lesson. Yet he looked at her now as if he’d never seen her before. His eyes flat and dilated. His face unrecognizable.

“Fuck you both then.” He stood and walked out, grabbing his keys off the peg by the back door.

Her mother tried to rise, to follow him. The screen door slammed in her face.

His car started up in the driveway.

“What did you do, Janie? What did you do?” Linda brought her hands to her face, wincing when she touched the place where he hit her. She slumped down