A door slams, jolting little Tom from sleep to terror. A raised voice, a curse, a crash as something falls over. Oh no. Daddy’s drunk again.
Tom’s big brother, James, leaps out of bed and catapults down the steps. The old farmhouse has a narrow enclosed stairway. At the bottom is a door that opens in. James sits braced with his back to the door, feet against the bottom step. Tom scurries to his brother’s side, although at eight, his legs aren’t long enough to reach the step. He sits beside James for solidarity and because he’s too scared to stay in bed alone. Both boys tremble as the doorknob turns, jiggles. The door vibrates against their backs. A fist hammers just inches from their heads. Tom cries soundlessly.
Daddy says, “Dammit, you boys open this door right now. You’re gonna get the belt, you little bastards!”
James is crying, too, but he keeps his legs straight and strong – a human doorstop to keep Daddy out. Tom feels a rush of gratitude to his brave big brother, who is ten years old.
The hammering stops. Silence. Then Daddy is shouting a song.
“He’ll pass out now,” James says.
The boys crawl back upstairs and into bed. It’s over this time.
Tom is a strapping fellow, well over six feet tall with the muscles of a gladiator. He criss-crosses the American prairie in a gleaming silver truck that winks in the sun like the eye of God. His load? Whatever shippers care to send, mostly hazardous materials. It’s a dangerous job, but he’s a careful man.
Tom has a family, a wife and two little boys. He doesn’t see them as often as he’d like, but the trucking money’s good. His brother, James, lives close by and if Mandy or the boys need anything, James is right there. His father still lives somewhere around, but Tom has nothing to do with his parent. The old man is forbidden to set foot on Tom’s place.
He’s glad to be home early today. James has been out of town all week, and Tom’s felt uneasy about that. He picked up a couple of toys for the boys at the last truck stop and looks forward to surprising them, so he parks beside the road and walks down the long driveway.
Almost there, his ears are filled with the familiar roar of his father’s drunken anger. It’s coming from inside the house. Tom’s heart pounds and his breath quickens. He pulls off his belt, swinging the big metal buckle as he breaks into a dead run that will propel him through his kitchen door straight into the past. He knows exactly what to do.