They were sitting at the cramped table of their little Coachman travel trailer, eating a dinner prepared by Ryan’s irritated hands by dim yellow light. Gabriella was squished into her usual spot, between the window and Ryan, a spot he had chosen for her so that he could punish her whenever she acted up.
Ryan was in a particularly foul mood tonight. Probably due to some argument he had been having with Gabriella’s heavily pregnant mother, Linda. Their fights were so frequent that Gabriella could count on one hand the days he went without yelling. Ryan served dinner, ranting about something or another. In all of the knowledge she had gained in her 6 years, Gabrielle hadn’t quite figured out how to defuse her stepfather when he went on a tirade. However, she did know that the best bet for staying out of harm’s way was staying silent and tuning Ryan out.
Suddenly she felt those bulging blue eyes focus directly on her. “Slow the fuck down, little piggy!” Gabriella flinched, accidentally twitching a pea off of her plate. She set down her fork while watching the pea roll into her mom’s plate.
“And you too! This is why you’re so disgusting! You’re ruining your daughter’s life by teaching her how to be fat, too! Look at her chubby little arms,” he continued, pinching the side of Gabriella’s arm.
“Ow!” she yelped. She quickly looked around at all of the plates on the table. Linda and Gabrielle’s plates were half-eaten, while Ryan’s was barely touched. She attempted to make peace. “I don’t think it has anything to do with being fat, Dad. You’ve been y- talking ever since you sat down and we’ve been eating.”
Ryan froze. Gabriella looked at him for a long moment, terrified of his reaction. At first, it appeared that he was about to continue eating as he picked up his fork slowly off the table. Then he struck. Gabriella heard her mother shriek. She looked down at her arm, momentarily confused. There were four red dots slowly growing, bites from the fork still gripped tightly in Ryan’s hand.
He stabbed her. With a fork. The thought persistently rattled around in her brain until she noticed a strange sound. It sounded like a vacuum cleaner with a hole in it. She realized that she was making the sound, a shocked, strangled inhalation before she let out a grotesque, screaming sob. She clapped her hands to her mouth to muffle the sound as her body convulsed with the force of her tears. “Mommy, I need a Band-Aid!” she whimpered. Linda glanced at her daughter before going to get the first aid kit, helplessness in every waddling step.
During this, Ryan continued to eat his dinner in angry, guilt-sodden silence. Linda handed the bandage to her daughter, too afraid to ask her husband to move for fear of making the situation worse.
“Ryan, she wasn’t criticizing you. She was pointing out an innocent fact. You talked while we ate. That’s why you had more food on your plate,” she said, trying to make him listen to reason.
“If I had known that’s what she meant, I would have done it harder. I just gave her that little prick to make her mind her goddamn business,” he countered.
She tried threatening. “This is child abuse, Ryan! Do you know what the neighbors would think if they saw those marks? You made her bleed! On purpose!”
“Keep your fucking mouth shut or I’ll shut it for you!” he screamed, taking a menacing step towards her. Linda put her hands instinctively on her belly. He stopped short, spun around, and left the trailer with a slam.
Linda looked at her first child, torn and worried. Gabriella glowered at her mother. She wanted to be held and comforted, but she was overwhelmed by anger. “How could you marry this monster? Why didn’t you stick up for me sooner!?” she bellowed. “He stabbed me,” she suddenly whispered.
“I know, baby. I’m so sorry.”
“Take me away! Make him go away! I hate him!”
Shaking her head, tortured tears creeping down her face, Linda gave her a long hug. “We’ll get out of here someday, I promise.”
Gabrielle set down her pencil, finally finished with her Memoir class assignment. She sighed heavily, her vision swimming with unshed tears. “I wish we had gotten out of there, Mom. I really wish we both had.”