Copyright is held by the author.
DOUBLE-DOUBLE, black. Double-double, black. Quickly pouring the coffee into takeout cups, Kerri twisted the cups into a cardboard carry-out tray and swung around to face the customer. “That’ll be $3.75.”
“Keep the change,” the man replied with a smile, handing her a $10 bill.
Kerri buttoned up her shirt again. She hated the burgundy and white striped uniform that always gaped across her chest. Yanking the plastic filter holder from the coffee machine, she grabbed the edges of the wet filter, ready to dump the used grounds into the garbage can. A flash of light on the metal coffee maker dazzled her and she paused.
“Hey Kerri, are you all right?” asked Jennifer, the other waitress working the morning shift. “You’re kind of zoning out there.”
Kerri shook herself out of the stupor. “I’m really beat. Marshall had me up three times last night. It’s his two-year molars coming in, I think.”
“You need to get that sorry ass man of yours to take care of the baby. Rob knows you gotta go to work early. Why doesn’t he get up through the night sometimes?”
“You know guys,” Kerri said with a laugh. “They seem to think only women can take care of kids. Rob’s a great help, except with the diaper thing. I’m lucky he even stuck around at all after the condom broke.”
She had brought up the subject of engagement once, but Rob had just laughed. “Sure, I’ll get you a big honking ring,” he’d said, popping open a fresh can of beer. “One of those cubic zirconiums.”
Kerri’s eyes pricked with tears. She quickly wiped them away but it was too late. “What? Cubic’s not good enough for you?” Rob asked. “What are you, some kind of rich bitch?”
Kerri shook her head quickly.”I don’t really want a ring anyway. I was just shooting off my mouth again.”
Rob took a deep gulp of beer, his dark eyes glittering in anger. “That’s right. Your mouth always gets you in trouble.”
She could hear Marshall crying as she climbed the fire escape up to the apartment after work, her right hand dragging along the brown brick as she steadied herself. A rusty, metal handrail was on the left side. She didn’t trust it. Pushing open the screen door, she saw Rob sitting on the couch, drinking a beer, and watching television.
“About time you got home,” he said, turning up the volume. “The kid’s been bawling forever.”
“I’m sorry I’m late. It was crazy busy today.”
Hurrying into Marshall’s bedroom, Kerri instantly knew what was wrong. “Oh honey bunny, did you make a stinky?” Lifting the toddler out of his crib, she placed him gently on the hardwood floor and quickly changed him. She could tell by the weight of the diaper that he had been in the same one all day. “Really, Rob? He desperately needed a change”
“You know I don’t do shitty pants. Why the hell isn’t he using the toilet yet, anyway? He’s two. He’s old enough.”
Kerri carried Marshall into the kitchen to get him some crackers. “Dr. Jackson says it’s perfectly normal…”
Rob grabbed her arm, his fingers digging deep into her flesh. “So the doctor knows more about my kid than I do? Is that what you’re saying?”
Kerri shook her head and stammered. “No, babe. Of course not.”
“You think it’s fucking easy sitting around this hole all day, watching him while you’re at work? It’s a waste of my time.”
She wanted to say that if he would just get a new job he wouldn’t have to babysit anymore. But she didn’t dare open her mouth.
Rob glared at her. “You care more about him than you do me. You baby him. No wonder he still shits his pants.”
He grabbed Marshall, pulling him from Kerri’s arms and flinging him to the kitchen floor. The top button popped open on Kerri’s uniform blouse. “You slut! Have you been flashing your tits to all the guys at work?”
She squeezed her eyes shut and tried not to cry as he slapped her. The tears always made it worse. The door slammed a moment later. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Even this slight touch made her flinch.
She needed to get away for a while, out of this house and into the sunshine even though the laundry was still hanging on the line and she hadn’t figured out what to have for supper yet.
“Do you want to go out for a walk Marshall? We could go to the park.”
“Swing! Swing!” Marshall chanted.
“Okay. Just give me a minute to get ready.”
Kerri peered at her reflection in the bathroom mirror and convinced herself the mark wasn’t all that bad. She pulled out an almost empty tube of concealer from the bottom drawer of the vanity and dabbed some on the redness.
She pushed Marshall along in the stroller, taking the long way home from the park. Marshall pointed and laughed when a small, yellow butterfly fluttered nearby.
“Bird, bird,” the boy chortled, trying to grab the butterfly before it flew away.
“Careful, sweetheart. Gentle touches.”
Rob was home again when she got there, the screen door wide open and letting in flies.
“Where the hell have you been? I’m starving and you haven’t even started supper yet.”
Kerri set Marshall down with some toys and then hurried into the kitchen. “I’ll get it going right now, Rob. It’s still early, don’t worry.”
“That fucking kid again. What was I supposed to do, cook my own dinner?”
“I said I was sorry. What more do you want?”
Rob’s face hardened, the muscles in his jaw clenching. “You know what I want? Somebody who’s gonna put me first, instead of a whiny, bawling brat.”
“He’s a baby, you asshole! He can’t take care of himself. You can!” Kerri shoved past and ran into the bathroom, locking the door behind her.
“Open this door, bitch or I’ll fucking kill you!”
The doorknob rattled. Rob shouldered his way in and grabbed Kerri by the hair, forcing her to her knees. “Look what you do to me!” he said, pounding her head on the tub.
She could feel blood running down the side of her face. Saw it drip onto the cracked porcelain. Just shut up and breathe. Just shut up and breathe. Rob let go of her hair suddenly and she fell back against the tub. She heard the screen door slam.
Struggling to stand, Kerri held her head, her hand smeared with blood when she pulled it away. “I’m not a quitter” she sobbed, grabbing handfuls of toilet paper to stop the bleeding. She heard Marshall crying but she was too tired to move. She knew he deserved better, just as her mother had known 20 years before.
She remembered her mother honking the car horn, urging her to hurry. Grabbing a duffle bag full of clothes and toys, Kerri had taken one last look at her father, glassy-eyed and swaying. The car horn honked again. Her mother was waiting.
“Yeah, you go,” her father yelled after her as she slammed the front door and ran down the steps. “Get the hell out of here. You’re a quitter! A quitter!”