I breathe only when I have to, eyes shut, and listen.
I strain my ears so hard I can’t tell if the creaks and sounds are in the house, or if my brain is making me hear it to assure my ears that they still work.
The door opens and boots crunch dirt on the hardwood floor.
I listen and wait, Eyes shut tight as I watch the sounds.
The thud of the front door, The snap of the lock.
A step, then another.
Bathroom door closes. The flick of the light, the hum of the fan.
Piss hitting water— flushing.
Sink turns on, Sink turns off.
Stomp. Stomp. Stomp
I take the lightest breath I dare.
The silence echoes from the kitchen.
I don’t hear the light switch. I don’t hear a teaspoon against a mug. I don’t hear the rumble of the kettle.
I hear breathing, swaying in every breath.
Boots hit each stair, shaking the floors, echoing like a declaration of war.
I stiffen in my bed and listen.
The crack of the top stair as the floor shifts. Breathing.
Left or right? My brother’s room, or mine?
One step, and another.
And then another.
And I know.
Door thrown open, Light spills from the hall onto the floor,
and I lie, unbreathing.
Hoping silently that the glow of the clock is loud enough to cry out how late it is, but quiet enough to not reach my face.
Either way it’s not enough.
A guttural snarl, and a desperate wish to vanish into my sheets. All that saves me from the pressure of cold, calloused knuckles is an invisible micro-movement backward. Then there’s slurred and torn yelling.
The light flicks on.
I plead— It’s 3 AM. I was asleep. I’m sorry.
Shouting booms. My ears turn off.
I wait for silence.