My feet stepped light and quick and I was at the bed and I raised the bat and I started down with it. Mama’s eyes popped open.
“Shasta!” Mama threw up her arms, and the bat hit them and not her head. I raised the bat again, but before I could bring it down, Mama reached up and grabbed it and yanked it out of my hands. Then, quick as a cat, she scrabbled up on her knees. Her arms straight and stiff, she held the bat out between us like it was a cross and I was a vampire or something. “What are you doing?”
I had to get it back. I had to stop her. I had to kill her!
I lunged for the bat, but Mama jerked it aside. I fell flat on my face into a cloud of bedcovers that smelled like lavender bath salts. And then the smell was all around me as Mama rolled me and wrapped me and I could hear her crying and saying my name over and over again. I couldn’t move my arms or my legs. I could barely breathe.
Then over the sucking noises I was making and the sniffling noises Mama was making, I heard Joey. Crying.
Mama went dead quiet like she was holding her breath. I felt the bed jiggle, then go still. Then from a ways off—I think out in the hall–“Joey…”
I felt a sharp tug and I rolled and rolled, out of the bedclothes and onto the floor. Tock loomed over me, a frown pulling down the corners of her mouth, allowing only two long fangs to poke out. Boy, did she look mad.
“Get up,” she said. “Go after her.”
“But she’s got…” I swallowed a lavender-tasting lump in my throat. “The bat.”
“But you’ll have this. “Tock smiled, exposing a cave of needle teeth, and held out Mama’s butcher knife. Light winked happily along its sharpened edge. “Now go, slice her open like a watermelon. I wanna see guts.”
Boy, sometimes she could be so gross.
She reached out her other paw and I grabbed it and she hauled me to my feet. Then the knife was in my hand and I ran up the hall, dodging Minute Hand and Second Hand, who were loop-de-looping around my feet, to my bedroom.
Mama was in there with Joey on her hip. Her eyes got as round as Joey’s when she saw me.
“Slice her, dice her, chop her,” Minute Hand and Second Hand chirped.
“Do it,” Tock said from behind me. “Do it, or you and Joey are fish bait.”
Not fish bait, but snake bait. Mama was gonna chop us up and feed us to the snakes. Mean Mama. Bad Mama.
I raised the knife high and stepped through the doorway.
“Shasta, you stop this right now.” Mama backed up a little. “Put the knife down. Now!”
Joey’s crying turned into wailing. What was she doing to him?
I felt a shove against my back and heard a raspy: “Go.” And I ran toward Mama. I had to stop her. I had to save Joey.
I brought down the knife, aiming for Mama’s heart—and pain shot through my hand and crawled all the way up to my shoulder. The knife dropped out of my numb fingers. Mama had hit me with the bat! And she was raising it again!
I spun around, looking for Tock. But there was no Tock. Gone. Like she always was when things went wrong. And then something walloped me across the shoulders and knocked me down on my knees. I didn’t have to look to know that Mama had hit me again. She’d never hit me before. Why was she doing it now? And she was screaming. And cussing. And crying.
What was wrong with her?
The bat banged against my head—boy, did that hurt—and slid down the side of my face, ripping at my ear before smashing onto the floor beside me. And I knew if I didn’t get out of there fast she was gonna kill me. Squash my head as flat as a pancake.
I scrabbled on my hands and knees toward the door, the bat thwacking the floor behind me, and grabbed the knob and pulled myself up. I looked back. Mama was right behind me, holding Joey on her hip with one hand and swinging the bat with the other. And she was still yelling. No words that I could make out, just crazy sounds like the twitchy man in the wheelchair behind us in the checkout line at K-Mart had made. Her eyes were kinda like his had been too: glassy and wild and not all there.
Mama was crazy. Crazy as a bedbug. And she had my little brother and he was screaming at the top of his lungs too. But he wasn’t crazy, just scared.
I was scared too.
The bat whistled past my head and I dodged back, then took off running. I had to get out of the house before Mama splatted my head.
Down the hall I ran, the bat banging and Mama yelling and Joey crying right behind me. Across the living room to the front door, grabbing the knob and twisting—thanking Jesus it wasn’t locked—running out on the porch and into the yard.
Mr. Mason was pushing his lawnmower alongside the white-picket fence that separated his yard from ours. I raced toward him. He was bigger than Mama. He would keep her from smashing my head.
When I was about halfway across our yard, he looked up and saw me. He let go of the lawnmower handles, jumped the fence and ran to me. He pushed me behind him and faced my screaming mama.
Mama tried to go around Mr. Mason, but he moved with her, staying between us. She kept swinging the bat at me, hitting Mr. Mason’s legs, but not very hard ’cause I think she was getting tired.
“Stop it, Eloise!” Mr. Mason said. “What in the hell’s got into you?”
“Get…out…of…my…way,” Mama said between gulps of air. “I’m going to…kill her.” She swung the bat underhanded, and when it bumped Mr. Mason’s knees, she dropped it. Then she just sort of melted like the Wicked Witch of the West. Holding tight to Joey, she puddled out right there in the overgrown grass. And over Joey’s crying and Mr. Mason yelling for someone to call the police, Mama said: “Before she…kills…me.”
Nobody heard her but me, though. Not Mr. Mason, who reached down and picked up the bat. Not Mrs. Mason, who had both hands over her mouth as she stared wide-eyed at Mama. Not even Miss Delia and Miss Lucy, who stood out on their front steps, their white heads close together, whispering, their beady eyes fastened on me. Their mouths were scrunched up like they had eaten sour persimmons, and both wrinkled faces were pulled down in saggy frowns. And I could feel them beginning to scratch around my hairline.
“Stay away!” I turned my back on them and wrapped my arms around my head and squeezed my eyes shut.
Mr. Mason patted my shoulder. “Don’t be scared. I won’t let her hurt you.”
He was talking about Mama, but it wasn’t her I was worried about ’cause she was all blubbery like she’d drunk a whole bunch of Coke and rum. It was Miss Delia and Miss Lucy’s knitting needles that scared me.
“Are you all right, Shasta?” asked a soft voice that went with the soft arms that circled me. The yeasty smell of baking bread tickled my nose. I didn’t have to look to know it was Mrs. Mason. “Did she hurt you, dear?”
I shook my head. “No, ma’am.” I did hurt, though. My head and my back and my arms—Mama had hit me about everywhere except my feet. But Mrs. Mason would hug me even tighter if I said so, and hugs were yucky things.
I let her squeeze me for a minute—big people acted funny if you didn’t let them hug you. Mama never hugged me though ’cause she knew I didn’t like it. She was nice that way.
I eased out of Mrs. Mason’s arms and turned around. Mama still sat in the grass, but now she wasn’t making any noises. Her head hung like she had fallen asleep, but I knew she wasn’t sleeping ’cause her hands pulled at the grass on either side of her legs. Joey still sat in her lap. And he was quiet now, too.
Mama didn’t say a word a little while later when the police took her away. Joey did, saying, “Sassa,”—that’s what he called me—just before a woman policeman picked him up and got into a car with him.
Then another car driven by a tall, skinny woman came, and I was put in the back seat. But before the woman got in, while she was still talking to Mr. and Mrs. Mason, Tock squeezed in the open door, climbed over the front seat, and plopped down beside me.
“Time to get this show on the road,” she said, her toothy grin stretching out below bouncing red-rubber-ball eyes. She rubbed her front paws together. “You ready for the show, Shasta?”
I figured I might as well be ’cause Tock wanted a show, and Tock always got what she wanted. One way or another.
I wondered whose head she would want me to squash next.
“Yeah, I’m ready.
Photo from Pixabay