Mom hadn’t said much. Ellie had stopped crying, now giving off contented murmurs thanks to the music on the radio which sent her off like warm milk.
The muted roar of the road was soothing in its own way, but questions kept me awake.
‘You must be tired, Momma.’
She sighed, then hiccoughed. I reached over and touched her face, shocked at the warmth of her tears.
‘I’m okay baby. Just watching the road.’
My jaw still throbbed when I swallowed and I sunk back into the seat.
‘Will we stop soon?’
She sighed and switched the radio off.
‘Are you hungry, baby?’
I winced, putting my hand to my jaw and she bit back a sob.
‘We’ll find a drugstore. Does it still hurt?’
It did. But I had learned the difference between hurt and pain early. The way walking into something makes your shins bark or the bright flash of a burn. That is pain, the best teacher a blind boy can have.
Hurt is what Poppa taught me.
When it was only me, him and momma, things weren’t so bad. Seldom heard or touched by him. My world revolved around Momma and her scent, baby powder and oranges, the thick oil of her hair and her skin, always soft and warm. Pain came later, and she wept each time for me.
When Ellie was born, I held her. Shocked at how delicate and tender she felt, the milky fragrance of her skin and how piercing her cries could be. Another baby should be a time of joy, even if it meant she needed more of Momma. But it twisted something inside Poppa.
His voice changed at first. Then other sounds.
Ellie was a year old when he first struck me. Alone with him in the house, Momma had taken Ellie to the doctor, and I was reading one of my special books whilst hearing him argue with his old boss. He had slammed the phone down hard. Asked me what I was staring at.
My breath flew from my lungs, and I only managed a strangled cry. His breathing sounded harsh, and he swore before promising me ice cream. All the ice cream I could eat if I didn’t tell. After two years, my stomach rolled from the scent.
Tonight he had forgotten his end of the bargain.
She saw it all, and I sprinted from the room. Desperate, terrifying screams surrounded us while I held Ellie until I heard a thump louder than God. A silence followed that was thicker than the screaming. Momma opening drawers and the soft crush of packing. Grabbing us both and telling us it will be okay.
She told me there was a drugstore ahead. I knew we had a long drive before we would be safe.
I forced away what my senses brought with me.
The smell of blood.
I wanted to ask her something else, but a sound made me stop. It was faint in the car, but growing louder.