“He’s evil.” The admission somehow felt right and wrong to Paul. We was relived to have said it, but he felt guilty about it.
“There is no one who is good,” Nobody said.
“Mom’s not evil!” Paul kept his voice to a harsh whisper, but he’d die before he let anyone say something about his mother, even in some roundabout way.
“I see a distinction between evil and not good,” Nobody explained. He stood and made his way back to the backpack he’d left on the floor. “You know you could report your father, but you haven’t. She could also report your father, and you know that. And a part of you is angry at her for it.”
Paul opened his mouth to deny it, but the lie wouldn’t come. A tear rolled down his cheek. He endured the pain of each lash of his father’s belt, but a single thought that he held any anger for his mom broke him.
“I know you love your mother,” Nobody said. “And I know she loves you.”
Nobody opened the bag and rummaged around. The moonlight peering through the window wasn’t enough to see well in, so Paul couldn’t make out what the man was retrieving.
“How do you know? What do you want? Why are you here?” Paul wasn’t sure which question was more important to him.
The man came back to the bed. “Lie down on your stomach,” he said. “We need to dress those wounds.”
Paul stared at him. If the man was here to hurt anyone, he could have by now. Screaming would only wake his father, and then someone would definitely die. Running off to call the police would only bring them to Paul’s house, which would again wake his father and get someone killed.
As Paul considered what to do, Nobody held out his hands, which were filled with bandages.
“I’ve already told you I’m here to help, and I know what I know because I was very much like you once.” Nobody gently guided Paul down. “Be ready for the sting.”
That’s what mom always told me when she used to patch me up.
Paul focused his thoughts and started to breath deeply. As he sucked in a third breath of air, one of the wounds on his back seemed to light afire. Nobody was using peroxide to clean the cuts. Paul reflexively let out his breath. He used to cry out when he felt pain, but he learned not to after the only time he managed to wake his father from a drunken stupor.
“Tomorrow,” Nobody said while cleaning another cut. “He’ll come in, right?”
Paul waited for the sting of Nobody’s efforts to pass before answering. “He’ll cry and say he doesn’t know why he does it, or he’ll try to explain he only does it because mom and me make him so angry. But he’ll get all weepy and beg us for forgiveness. He’ll buy mom some stupid present and talk about me like I’m the world’s greatest son. Then he’ll ask us to give I’m another chance.”
“How many chances will you give him?” Thankfully, Nobody had finished cleaning the cuts. Paul felt what had to be adhesive bandages being pressed along his wounds.
Paul thought about the question even as Nobody worked. “I don’t really forgive him,” he finally said. “But I’ve come to expect it from him. It’s just what he does. And Mom just lets him do it.”
“Doesn’t she try to take on the brunt of his beatings?” Nobody pressed another bandage into place.
“She can’t handle it! Dad almost killed her last time.” His justification for why he stands in his father’s way confirmed the reason he had to do it in the first place.
“And if he kills you?”
Paul realized Nobody was finished. He turned and sat up. Nobody was already back on his feet. He reached back in the bag to pull out some sheets.
Paul could only shrug. If his father killed him, at least the beatings would be over.
“Reporting him wouldn’t be a betrayal,” Nobody said. “It might change how people look at you. It might change how people look at your mom. It would absolutely get your dad in trouble, but it might help him.”
“Prison doesn’t help anyone.” Paul said. He’d heard people talking about tall the horrible things that happen in prison.
“Stand up so we can make change those sheets,” Nobody said. He continued even as Paul started to help. “Maybe bad things will happen to your dad in prison, but just a few minutes ago you were hoping I was here to take him away, so you’ve clearly thought about this.”
Every minute of my life. Every time he hits me. It’s all Paul ever wanted, someone to come take his father away. But Mom says losing Dad would kill her.
They pulled the bloody sheets off the bed. “If your father goes to prison, it might hurt your mom. She might get sad. I doubt she’d die. It would not be easy. The real question is how many more beatings do you think either of you could take?”
Nobody tossed a corner of the fitted sheet across the bed for Paul to put into place. The naked mattress had several blood stains. Not all of them were fresh. “As many as I have to.”
“And if I call the police?” Nobody asked as he positioned his portions of the sheet around the corners of the mattress.
“I can’t stop you,” Paul said.
Nobody’s masked head turned toward him. “So you want me to do something you know needs to happen. You want me to do it, so it’s not your fault it happened.”
“You’re the grown up!” Paul said. “You just appear in my room. You patch me up. You help me make my bed.”
Nobody tossed the top sheet across the bed and tucked in his side as he spoke. “I’ve helped you do things you aren’t able to do.”
“Then help me with my dad!” It was getting harder to keep his voice down. Years of beatings made him too afraid to shout, even a situation as crazy as this.
“No,” he said. “I wont’ help you because you know what you need to do. You don’t need me to make this call. But I will tell you that you can. In this situation, you know the right thing to do. You just have to do it.”
They finished tucking the sheet in, and Nobody bundled up the discarded bloody sheets and shoved them into his backpack.
“How do I ever know I’m doing the right thing?” Paul asked. He wanted to. He wanted his mom to be safe. He wanted the beatings to stop. He wanted his father to be nice. He just didn’t know what to do to make all of those things happen. Isn’t the right thing the thing that will make everything right?
Nobody turned from his backpack and dropped something onto the bed. Paul stared at it until he could make it out.
It was a Bible.
…to be continued…