Reflecting the Fire
"Where is that boy?"
The voice is gruff. Griffin knows immediately it is Father, back from work. It's not a good sign, because he shouldn't be home this early. Ten o'clock is early for his parents, and past Griffin's bedtime.
He tugs the blanket over his head, trying to even his breathing. He needs to make it look like he's sleeping, but Father can probably hear the beat of Griffin's heart through the thin walls of the house.
The door to his room opens, and a wave of panic sweeps over Griffin.
Father is not fooled.
"Stand!" Father demands, his hands clapping together. It sounds like a gunshot.
Mother stands in the doorway meekly, licking her lips in a nervous habit.
Griffin crawls out of bed and puts his feet on the cold floor. He stands, his nightshirt catching on a burr on the bedframe.
Father grabs him by the back of his shirt, and it takes everything in the boy not to whimper. Father is in his work coveralls still, smelling of oil and dirt and alcohol. His nostrils flare, and his bushy eyebrows hide the glint in his eyes.
"Have you taken money from me?" Father's tone is dangerously calm.
Griffin squeaks in alarm, his feet scrabbling for purchase as Father, with his great strength, lifts him into the air.
"Have you taken even a goddamn penny from me, boy?!" The room rattles as Father yells. Mother tugs at Father's arm.
"No," Griffin chokes out, clawing at the neck of his shirt.
Father tosses him to the ground, and Griffin skids across the floor, colliding loudly with a shelf. A book tumbles to the ground, and another one hits him painfully on the ear, and an hourglass shatters next to his foot.
Sand pours out, filling the cracks in the wooden floor.
Mother kneels next to him, tugging on his ear. "Griffin, you tell him the truth now," she says evenly. He breathes in the scent of her: firewood and earth and lavender lotion.
Griffin eyes his mother, and she nods at him. He remembers when he was nine, and he'd bought her a periwinkle from the flower girl on the street. She'd been angry, but he hadn't understood, because it was just one coin. And he'd earned it. Running a letter across town.
But money wasn't meant for him, it was meant for her. For Father.
"I--" Griffin started, but his throat closed up.
Father yanks him to his feet, takes a fistful of his hair, and pulls him from his room. When Father lets go, they are all three in the kitchen, the fire sparking in the corner still. Griffin shades his eyes from the flames, his eyes not adjusted for the light.
Father smacks the kitchen wall loud enough for the crack to echo in Griffin's head. "Don't you dare lie to me."
Mother presses her thumb sharply into Griffin's collarbone, which might afar look supportive, but from up close feels very uncomfortable. Griffin looks into her face, and she stares grimly back at him.
His body shudders as he realizes what he must do.
He did not take any money.
"I took the money."
All Griffin hears then is the ringing in his ear as his Father takes his first hit. He forgets everything else after that. The only things he can't forget is the soft padding of Mother's feet as she leaves the kitchen and climbs into bed, and the way the blood from his mouth drips onto the floor in a sticky, fire-reflecting puddle.