AT WIT’S END
Lydia sat in the rocking chair and stared out the window onto the dark snow-packed streets. Gray wisps of snow swirled on the asphalt, and the wind howled around the house. She rubbed her hands on her thighs, and rocked slowly. Headlights appeared in the distance, Lydia leaned forward. The car rounded the corner in front of the house and continued up the street. She sat back and began rubbing her thighs again.
“Stephen still not home yet?” The voice came from across the room, and Lydia turned to look at the silhouette of her husband, Robert, in the doorway.
“No.” She answered and turned her stare back out the window. “This is the third night this week he’s broken curfew. I don’t know what we’re going to do with him.”
“Have you tried his cell phone?”
“Of course,” she spoke. “It goes straight to voice mail.”
Robert leaned against the doorframe and sighed. They were both silent for several minutes before they were interrupted by a ringing phone. Lydia sat upright in the chair as Robert rounded the corner to answer it. His muffled voice drifted into the room, and the few minutes he was gone seemed like an eternity. She saw Stephen’s body lying in a ditch, right next to the crumpled metal that had once been the car. He was face-down in the snow with his arm twisted at a ninety-degree angle the wrong way behind his back, and one leg was twenty feet from the rest of his body. Lydia just knew it was the hospital calling to see if they could come and identify a body. Robert came back to the doorway.
“That was Officer Pelos,” he said.
Lydia sucked in a deep breath and felt the sting of tears in her eyes.
“Stephen is all right, but we need to pick him up at the station.”
As the breath escaped from her body, all the worry and heartache drained with it, only to be replaced with an overwhelming sense of anger.
“If you want,” Robert said softly, “I can go get him.”
“No,” she snapped. “I’ll go.”
She stood from the chair and walked toward the stairs. Robert grabbed her gently by the arm. She turned abruptly and stared into his brown eyes.
“Why don’t we both go. I’ll call Ed and see if he can sit with Ben until we get back. You go get dressed and we’ll go together.”
Lydia nodded and headed to the bedroom for her clothes.
* * *
It was 2:30 a.m. by the time Lydia and Robert left the police station. She noticed that Stephen was pale and his coat was torn, but she was so angry she didn’t want to know what had happened. She was using all of her power to stay calm and not scream in his face. Or worse yet, choke the life out of him. When they got into the car, Stephen kept silent and stared out the window. Lydia sat in the passenger seat and flipped down the visor so she could stare at him through the mirror.
“I hope you realize how much trouble you’re in, young man.” It was the only thing she could say without raising her voice.
Stephen shrugged and made a small grunting noise.
Lydia felt the anger rise in her chest and turned in her seat. “This is the third time,” she held up three fingers. “The third time this week that you’ve broken curfew. And now, you might have criminal charges brought against you for assault. Do you know what that means? You could go to juvie.”
Stephen whipped his head around and Lydia saw anger flash through his eyes. “I didn’t do anything.”
She grabbed the edge of her seat and squeezed for several seconds before turning around and facing forward. “That’s what you always say.”
“I didn’t. It was Lou and Sam. They’re the ones who beat the guy. I tried to stop them.”
Lydia huffed. “It’s always their fault isn’t it? I told you not to hang out with them. I told you they were a bad crowd.” She had lost all control and started yelling. “You’re the one who got arrested. Not Lou and Sam. You’re the one who’s going to pay the price.”
Stephen slammed his fist against the window, and yelled back. “I was trying to help the guy!”
Robert slammed on the brakes, and the car tentatively slid to a stop. He turned to face his son and pointed a finger in his direction. “We got the report from the police. We know what your statement is.” He glanced from Stephen to Lydia. “We’ll just have to wait and see what the prosecutor wants to do. Until then, shouting is not helping.”
Stephen averted his gaze back out the window, and Lydia folded her arms across her chest. Robert turned back to the steering wheel and put the car in drive. The rest of the trip home was silent.
* * *
Lydia was sitting at the kitchen table thumbing through the phone book when Stephen woke the next day at two in the afternoon.
“Why did you put a lock on my door?” he asked.
“Oh, good, you’re up.” She grabbed the toolbox that had been sitting at her feet and headed to his room.
He followed and watched in horror as she started nailing his window shut.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Lydia stopped pounding and turned to him. “I’ve tried everything else, and nothing seems to work. I’ve taken away your TV, your computer, and your stereo, and you still insist on disobeying me. I figure if I lock you in your room, there’s no way you can break curfew again.”
Stephen smirked and folded his hands across his chest. “What happens if there’s a fire?”
She pounded in the last few nails, gathered up her tools, and headed out the door. She turned to face him before going down the steps. “Well, I guess you had better hope I can get the key in the lock fast enough.”
* * *
Stephen was locked in his room that night at seven. Lydia began to have second thoughts about putting the lock on his door. What if there was a fire? What if he had to go to the bathroom? It was difficult for her to sit still after dinner, and Robert noticed her pacing the house, so he offered to take her out to calm her nerves. They found a sitter for Ben and headed to a bar. Robert ordered them a scotch and water, and they found a table in the far corner. They sat silently through the first round of drinks, and by the second, Lydia had dug a faded picture out of her wallet. Robert leaned over to see what she was staring so intently at: it was Stephen when he was two. He took the photo from her and smiled as he thought about what a sweet little boy he had been.
“Where did we go wrong?” Lydia whispered. “What did we do to push our son away?”
Robert sighed and handed the picture back. “We didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just a phase.”
“A phase my ass. It’s those other boys, Lou and Sam.” She picked up her glass and finished the drink. “Sometimes I wish something bad would happen to those two. Something that would take them out of his life forever.” She stared at her husband. “Does that make me a bad person?”
Robert averted his gaze to his glass and stared at the tan liquid. “No,” he spoke softly, “it makes you human.”