If We Leave It Alone
Della pushed the basement door open. "Mama?" she called. She opened the door wider to let the light from the staircase spill into the kitchen.
It'd been an hour since her mother, Rita, had come home from the post office.
"What I tell you kids about cleaning your room?" Rita had shouted. "I work all day, walk a mile from the El, and then come home to this?" Her head shook as she yelled, "Get the trash bags."
Nine year old Mason had gone to fetch them, leaving Della to face the sting of Rita's belt.
"All those toys," Rita swept her arm in an arc, "since you can't keep them off the floor, they're trash."
The whiplash of the belt supervised the bagging of the toys. Mason had hesitated as he'd reached for a Batman figure given to him by a father he'd only met twice. "You'll get yours," he'd mumbled.
"What'd you say?" Rita's eyes were slits, her hand a frenzy of movement as the belt moved across their backs.
"No, Mama, he didn't mean it," Della pleaded.
"Get in the basement!"
"Please!" Della screamed, her tears dried by fear as Rita beat them down the staircase and shut the door.
Mason felt along the wall for the light, his hand finding the switch and flicking it. "You scared, big sis?"
"Mason, don't," Della choked out. "If we leave it alone, it'll leave us alone."
"Maybe I wanna see it again. Maybe I don't wanna be left alone."
Finally, Della's fear had sent her scurrying up the stairs. Mason's laughter followed her, making her eleven year old legs rocket into the living room. The television's flicker illumined her mother's bulk sprawled across the couch. One hand dangled to the floor, the belt an inch away. Rita's eyes were shut, but Della knew her mother wasn't sleeping.
"Mama?" she said, her voice frantic, "Mason's talking to something in the basement."
Rita's hand reached for the belt. Her eyes didn't open. "I told you to stay—"
"Mama, listen to me!" Della shouted. She looked over her shoulder, her eyes glimpsing a dark silhouette behind her. "We, we saw something and it got to Mason and—"
"I don't care what you saw down there!" Rita was off the couch in a flash.
Della raised her hands to block the blow that never came. Her mother's arm was frozen, her face contorted with fright.
Then everything went black.
Later, with their mother helpless in a hospital bed, the doctor gently told Della and Mason, "Your mom's lucky she survived falling down those stairs."
"Does she remember anything?" asked Della.
"No," The doctor shook her head. "Do you?"
Della knew something dark and cold had rushed past, something that had smelled of damp and rot. It had looked like her brother.
She shivered under Mason's watchful gaze. The welts from the belt ached under her clothes. Rita would never beat either of them again.
"No," she exhaled. "We didn't see anything."