I rented out a room in the last house at the end of the street. A tired older woman with deep lines on her face lived there with her only son, a chubby little boy who was about six years old. His brown hair was always slick and smoothed to the side as though his mother was constantly combing it. He would often stare up at me as I climbed the creaky stairs to my room. Whenever I was late with the rent, whenever I had rowdy friends over making too much noise, whenever I came stumbling in at two in the morning and woke this woman up, she would take her anger out on her son. She would hit him and beat him for anything that I did.
Once, she burst in on a poker game that I was having with my friends and found us all puffing away on cigars, which she had strictly forbidden. She marched the boy into the room in front us and made him hold out his right hand. She made us watch as she took his fingers and broke them one by one. We could see the boy trembling as she started with the thumb. There was a loud snap and he cried out in pain and fidgeted all about, but he didn’t even try to run off. She held him firmly by the wrist and moved on to the index finger. She took each finger systematically in turn. The boy’s lip quivered as she took his pinky and scowled at us. We sat there still. Even the cigar smoke didn’t seem to stir.
It went on like this for weeks. She hurt the boy in nearly every possible way. Finally, I came down the stairs one day and she brought him in from the dining room in a wheelchair. She had crippled him for life for the things that I’d done. The boy sat crumpled and broken in the chair. I looked up at the mother through my tears. “How can you do this? He never did anything. I did all of it. Why does he have to pay for it?” Her face went red. She didn’t say a word. She just slapped the boy as hard as she could across his cheek. His head rolled from the blow but he didn’t even seem to hardly feel it. He slumped in the chair and stared off blankly at the wall.
I knew then that I had to leave. I went to my room and got my things. I made up the bed and put everything just as it was when I had moved in. I straightened the table and chairs and fastened the window latch. I wanted to leave this woman no cause to complain. On the walk out front, I took a long deep breath of fresh air. The woman had wheeled the boy to the front window and I could see him there, watching the rain drip from the tree in the yard, watching me as I went.