*Disclaimer: Use of harsh language and triggering subject matter*
"Hon, I think I'll check on Bea and then go sit on the porch a bit."
"Quit your yammering, bitch, and bring me another beer."
"I just want a little fresh air, is all."
"What'd I say? Don't make me come in there and black and blue your ass."
This was pretty much the way the conversation in Theehouse went night after night after night.
Sometimes Theeman made good on his promise to "black and blue" Theewoman but mostly he just passed out in his La-Z-Boy-knockoff recliner, legs sprawled wide, mouth open emitting sour breath and jarring sporadic snores. His beer bottles were stacked off to one side, drained perfectly dry, except that final one. The one that could make or break the situation.
If Theewoman "mouthed-off," the bottle would likely wind up shattered on the increasingly sticky linoleum floor after smacking the wall. Hard. The wall with the brown watermark—well technically beer-mark—and chunks of paint and plaster chipped away, highlighted the sheetrock in stark contrast to the Daffodil Yellow paint. These were the areas the bottle hit "just right" and "next time it would be her head" if she "provoked him again."
If Theewoman "kept her big trap shut," that last beer would sit half-empty wafting its dank, yeasty smell long after Theeman passed out in his worn chair. It was a good night if the wall with its yellow paint and Theewoman went unscathed.
I remember the happy day Theewoman, well technically Theebaby, chose the paint color. She was young and so lovely. Full of youthful passion. An idealist. Poor soul thought she could change the world. That was before Theeman had "knocked some sense" into her one too many times and it wasn't his fault, "she made him do it." It was "for her own good."
It was always a happy time when the big-red-truck was not in the driveway—sometimes for a lot of days in a row—because I was allowed inside Theehouse the whole time with my person. When Theeman was home, I was allowed to be inside as long as I didn't "get under his fucking feet" or make Theehouse "smell like a fucking dog."
During better times when Theeman was "feeling generous," he gave Theewoman some money to "fix up this shit-hole of a place" as long as she didn't "waste the money on junk like that fancy baby formula" and she promised to "come straight home from the Walmart" and she better not get "all dolled up like a whore like she did the last time" he let her "take the truck." He would keep Bea home, WITH HIM, so she didn't get any "funny ideas" about "pulling a disappearing act."
Theewoman made the promises like she always did and then left in the big-red-truck for a while. She never left Theebaby home with Theeman for very long because it would make him angry that "Bea cried the whole fucking time," and "What took so long?" and was she "flirting with that fancy faggot at the cash register again?" because she "knew what happened last time," as he unbuckled his belt.
On the happy day when the paint was chosen, I was cuddled against Theebaby on the pristine (the nightly beer had been mopped clean, hours earlier) linoleum floor. She was "goo-goo-ing" and "gaa-gaa-ing," like babies do, while Theewoman shuffled through a stack of those cards—vaguely resembling the color of the paint each represented—she brought home from the Sherwin Williams. She spread a few out, poker-hand-style, in front of Theebaby and asked which one she liked. Theebaby dotted a sticky finger on one with a determined, "Dah!"
"Daffodil Yellow," Theewoman said, and she smiled; "Just like your hair, little one."
Things went downhill fast after Theeman lost his job, all because "that candy-assed college boy had it in for him from the start" and "who did he think he was with his la-dee-da suit and tie?" The drinking got worse and I was banished to Theeyard forever while the yelling got louder, and the slaps got harder.
I would sit in Theeyard night after night after night. Watching. Waiting for my cue to make my move. When the light upstairs would turn off, Theeman was down for the count. And so I would creep, stealthy like a thief in the night, to the porch to lie and wait for my person.
Theewoman always came out when Theehouse was dark to sit and get the fresh air her body craved; her nightly reprieve from the hellhole that her life had become.
She would sit down beside me—quiet for a while—rubbing the top of my nubby head, dampened by her tears. Then she would talk, telling me of her dreams. Dreams of a better life for Bea. Dreams of escaping with Bea and her kind and gentle friend, Shadow—that was me—the three of us finally being free.
I hear her light footsteps as she tentatively, so as not to wake Theemonster, turns the doorknob, softly pulling the door inward, to step down into the moonlit night. In her arms is a bundle that is Theebaby, fast asleep; on her shoulder hangs an overstuffed backpack, and in her hand, the keys to the big-red-truck...and my purple leash.
It is never too late to change your world.
By Lisa H. Owens
Winner of Round-One in a Reddit June 2020 Picture Prompt Contest