Thunder claps in the distance as a heavy fog covers the moon. Dogs howl and bark, answering the sounds of the sirens from the next street over. A sole working lamp post on Cedar Street reflects light off the brown beer glass fragments on the sidewalk. The brick apartment complex remains dark, except for a single window on the second floor.
Emerging from the small room in the hall, Sally glances back into the bedroom one last time at the two tiny figures lying asleep. One clutches onto his purple blanket in an armadillo position while the other sprawls out across the bed, drool seeping from her mouth.
She closes the door, pivoting towards the living room where she sees Jack lounging in the chair. His eyes fixate on the TV screen and his hand instinctively raises a beer bottle to his cracked lips.
Sally huffs inwardly as she tiptoes to the side small table by Jack’s feet, picking up the four empty bottles.
“Maybe I wasn’t finished with those.” Sally freezes and lays the bottles back on the table. She’ll let Jack clean up later.
A boom of thunder and a flash of lighting shadows a crumpled up newspaper on the floor by Jack’s feet. Sally wonders if she should ask for more shifts at the diner to make up the difference for rent since Jack refuses to look for a job. Releasing a defeated breath, Sally turns from the room to the bedroom.
With a flick of the lamp, the light dimly illuminates the grey smoke-stained walls and Sally as she shuffles through the dirty clothes on the floor to lie on the greasy queen mattress in the far corner. Facing the window looking out to the street, Sally watches the light drizzle hitting the glass before she falls asleep.
Sally jolts awake when the bedroom door suddenly slams open, indenting the wall. The clock on the floor reads 3:36 a.m. Sally screams in her head: you useless piece of trash. Could you be any louder? Do you want to wake the kids? Sally’s body remains alert, stiff, but she feigns sleep.
“Umph.” Jack collapses on the bed and releases a spit covered burp before falling, sleeping. Sally remains numb, eyes frozen open to the wet window as tears drip down the window panel, down her cheeks to her pillow.
Sally walks to the kitchen table, spoons eggs onto Ashley’s and Tommy’s animal-shaped paper plates, then dishes herself some before she sits down next to them, smiling.
Jack, wearing a wrinkled light blue shirt and dirty jeans, storms in and bangs on the table as he takes a seat, serving himself to the food in front of him.
Sally thinks about what it would be like if she took the kids away from this place. “Ashley, why don’t you take your brother and get dressed.”
After a few minutes, Sally finally asks, “May I borrow the car?”
“No,” Jack says.
Sally takes a deep breath, remembering to use her calm voice. Even though she’s furious as Jack never uses the car and doesn’t allow her to ever use it.
“The kids want to go to the park on the nice side of town. Then I’ll have to go to S.N.A.P.—”
“I told you no. And no means no!” Jack’s eyes fix on the water ring on the table.
Panic starts to rise in Sally as scenarios of the kids not eating because there isn’t any food in the house form in Sally’s mind.
“You can take the bus. Unless you want me to. Then I get to be late to my interview. You want that? Hm?” Jack whips his head towards Sally, challenging. She averts her eyes to the ground, jaw tense.
“R-r-ready M-m-mommy,” Ashley says, wearing their oversized jackets and peeling sneakers. Sally takes one more look at Jack, but he keeps his head down. Giving up, Sally stands, grabs her purse and ushers the kids out the door.
A large square fence surrounds, separating the sidewalks and its bystanders from the playground. Laughter overpowers the air as children run around, race down slides, and touch the dark blue sky with their feet on the swings.
Four mothers sit on the long bench off to the side, keeping their kids in sight while gossiping.
“My little Jonney brought me a wonderful drawing yester from his art class. His teacher has told me that every day she sees growth in Jonney,” Helen gushes.
“Oh, how exciting! I bet Jonney will have a real talent. I can see him doing great things when he’s older,” Tamera, who sits in the middle, feeds into the praise.
Sally’s head stays in the direction of Tommy in the corner of the playground, only half listening to the other mothers.
“Lillian’s representing her dance studio at a competition. Her first solo,” says Nina.
“You and your husband must be so proud!” Helen says.
It took all of Sally’s willpower to keep from jumping off the bench and storming away from the mothers in annoyance. But she might if the mothers continue with their bragging.
“Yes?” Sally turns her head to face the mothers, a smile plastered on her face.
“How is Ashley doing in school?” Tamera asks.
Sally wanted to say that school is getting worse for Ashley. That her teachers won’t help her with her stuttering. “Oh, you know. She’s doing really well.” Sally nods her head almost too enthusiastically.
“And your husband, Jack, wasn’t it? How is he liking… what does he do again?”
“Oh, I think he was working in construction,” Nina says.
“Yes, how is that going?” Tamera asks.
He lost the job three days after he started, but Sally couldn’t say the truth. “Really well. He was even given a promotion.”
“I’m so glad things are starting to work out for you. I know things were rough a couple of months ago. Didn’t you have to ask your mom for a loan to pay rent?” Helen asks.
“Yeah, I did. Listen, ladies, I love sitting here and chatting with you.” Even though Sally didn’t. “But I promised the kids I would get them ice cream before we went home. We’re going to go before it rains. Bye.” Sally sighs as she walks over to Tommy, picking him up before calling for Ashley.
The sky is dark and sprinkling when Sally opens the door to let Ashley and Tommy, both with ice-creamed covered faces, inside. They pull off their soaked coats, dropping them by the door.
At the kitchen table, Jack, with his disheveled unbutton shirt, entertains three of his friends with beer and poker.
Sally groans softly at the three morons. “Kids, why don’t you go to your room and clean up. I’ll be there soon.”
“How did the interview go?” Sally asks once the kids leave the room, hoping Jack wouldn’t be irrational with friends over. A low rumble sounds from outside.
Jack doesn’t bother looking up from his cards. “How do you think it went.” He picks up his beer, takes a swig while throwing chips into the pile in the middle of the table. His friends snicker.
Sally inhales slowly before excusing herself, already planning on when to call her mother to see if she can help pay one more time. She refuses to let Jack see her stress and cry. She never allows him to have the satisfaction of knowing he affects her.
When Sally reaches her room, she doesn’t bother changing and instead plops to the bed, defeated. Sleep never finds her as she listens to the laughing and shouting from the other room, hoping they don’t wake the entire neighborhood. Sally really doesn’t want someone else calling in a disturbance.
It’s 2:36 a.m. when Jack’s friends finally leave with a slam from the front door. Sally could hear the sounds of Jack’s heavy boots stomp through the bedroom. He lowers himself beside Sally and a long breath escapes before it evens out and he falls unconscious.
Sally still can’t fall asleep. The only question invading her mind is, what does Sally have? Nothing. Sally had nothing but a sad excuse for a husband, kids who depend on her since they won’t get anything from Jack. Sally can’t live like this anymore, she had to do something.
Sally waits a few moments. She sits up and turns back to Jack, making sure he doesn’t wake. She puts on her sneakers and creeps towards the door, opening it. Jack still doesn’t move as Sally walks out and closes the door.