The sound of plates shattering against the wall woke Shay from a sound sleep. Her parents screamed at one another in an incoherent nightmare of accusation and assault, and she pulled the covers up over her head in the hopes that somehow the blanket would deafen the sounds. It was her thirteenth birthday, and she’d hoped tonight would remain peaceful and calm. She breathed heavily as she remembered their last fight, which ended with a trip to the hospital, her father’s arm broken by the impact of a cast iron skillet hurled awkwardly from across the kitchen.
The sounds of screaming broke for a moment, and Shay pulled back the covers to hear what was happening. “Dead silence”, she thought, and then her heart began to thump in her chest as she considered-what if it was silent because someone had died? An uncontrollable swell of tears burst from her eyes as she threw the covers aside and put her feet softly on the cold tile floor.
“Mommy?” she whispered with a tremble. “Daddy?” she called in a near inaudible voice. Shay cried softly to herself, afraid of the screams that had come before, terrified of the silence that had swallowed her now. She was torn in two as she wished alternately for the soothing peace of silence or the comfortable familiarity of angry, bitter screams. All her life her parents had fought like this, and somehow Shay knew it was her fault. She was too strange, too much of a reader and a weirdo, and she shared very few of her parents interests. “If only I were more normal things would be better” she had often thought.
Tommy’s stomach rumbled as he perched precariously on the narrow brick wall that separated him from the dumpsters behind McDonald’s. He had not eaten today, but as he helped his sister Kristin scramble up to sit beside him, he was no longer sure that he wanted to. “I hate this” he said as Kristin twisted herself around to a more stable position. His heart pounded in his chest as he surveyed the scene. Cars drifted by on the street just fifty yards from where he sat, and he was glad of only one thing: the evening was dark and the lights behind the restaurant remained unlit. He breathed as deep as he could in the warm night, but he felt the light rasp of his airway not quite expanding enough, and he hoped that tonight would not see another asthma attack. His father had decided the entire thing was just an act and refused to buy his medication; it was now three weeks since he had run out.