Billy never was allowed to drive his truck on the kitchen table. For some reason today, his parents didn’t seem to mind. They were sitting on the other side of the round table, talking about something.
Billy didn’t much care what they were talking about — he was just happy to get the opportunity to drive his Big Truck on the table.
“Vvvroooom, vrrroooomm, VVVRRRRRROOOOOOMMMMMMM!!!”
Amy watched her son play with the toy on the small kitchen table. All around Billy were mixed reminders of the family’s modest financial stature: faded wood paneling on the walls of their nearly 50-year-old house clashing with brand new ceramic tile on the floor; here and there a water stain or a crack in the walls or ceiling, contradicted by a gleaming new granite countertop. And, of course, on that countertop, two maxed-out credit card bills.
Also all around Billy, however, were the unmistakable tell-tales of a loving family: photos on the refrigerator; crayon “art” hanging from the walls; colorful plastic cups in the cupboard on which Amy had carefully painted Billy’s name and little woodland creatures; and a well-used cookie jar.
Tom watched his son play and wondered if he had any idea or memory of what had happened.
“Vvvrrrrrrrrooooooooooommmmmmmmm!!!” Billy shouted in his high-pitched voice.
“He seems OK,” Tom ventured.
“But how could he be OK?”
Tom found the simple counter-argument difficult to refute.
“I have no idea.”
“Maybe we need to bring him to the hospital.”
“Yeah, that’s probably the right thing to do,” Tom replied, just as the doorbell rang.
Tom took another look at Billy before walking through the living room to the front door. Without a thought or pause, he opened the door wide. Something big flashed forward and a large, heavy object hit him in the chest and sent him soaring. Tom crashed backward into a cabinet. Heirlooms and wedding gifts smashed into one another, shattering to slivers.
“I MUST SEE THE CHILD!” the man yelled.
Jumping to his feet, Tom saw the man, about six feet tall, with wild hair and wilder eyes, scrambling to a standing position in the middle of the living room.
The demented look in the intruder’s eyes triggered primitive alarms in Tom’s gut, and he lunged for the man. Grabbing the trespasser by the midsection, Tom anchored his feet into the carpet and pulled the attacker toward the front door. The wirey, surprisingly strong man flailed and thrashed to shake loose, still shouting.
“I must see the child! I must see the child!!”
“Tom!” screamed Amy from the kitchen door.
“Amy, get out!” Tom yelled, struggling to gain footing and arrest the man’s sudden progress toward the kitchen. “Go out the back!”
“Tom!” Amy yelled again, not sure what to do to help her husband.
“The child! Is he here?” cried the man, head swiveling between Tom and Amy. “I must see him!!”
“I’m calling the police!” Amy screamed, holding the receiver of the old-fashioned wall phone in one hand. Frantic, she tried to punch the numbers 911, but in her panic, mis-dialed.
In the background, Tom heard Billy wailing, frightened by the noise and his mother’s reaction.
Meanwhile, Amy’s threat to call the police seemed to add fuel to the man’s fire, and with a burst of strength he powered himself to within just a few feet of Amy. Tom’s grip betrayed him, and he slid down the man’s torso, struggling to hold on.
The man’s legs pumped like locomotive pistons, and Tom took several hard kicks to the head and jaw as he lost his grip and fell to the floor.
The wild man was almost upon Amy before she could react. Just as the man reached for her face, Tom caught one of the man’s legs and knocked him off balance. As the intruder fell forward, Amy smashed the phone receiver down on the intruder’s forehead, gouging a fleshy trench down to the bridge of his nose. Blood spurted from the wound as he fell. Flailing, he snagged the phone cord and pulled hard, ripping it from the phone.
This was enough for Amy. She gave him a vicious kick in the face, then her head disappeared around the door frame.
Tom heard, with relief, chaos from the kitchen as Amy grabbed Billy and crashed through the dining room toward the back door.
The wild man recovered and scrambled on hands and knees toward the kitchen, trying to catch up with Amy and Billy.
Tom had been a district champion on his high school wrestling team, and
he let his instincts take over. He drove forward, landing on the back of the attacker, and the force of the lunge smashed the man forward into the floor. Still driving with his legs, Tom rammed his hands into the base of the intruder’s skull, and then straightened his arms. As he pushed hard with his legs, Tom rocked upward, his full weight pressing down on the man’s head. With a neat pivot move, Tom vaulted on straightened arms off the back of the man’s head and neck, landing in a crouching position in front of him.
With Tom positioned just inside the kitchen door, between the man and the rear rooms of the house where Amy and Billy had disappeared, the attacker finally focused fully on the family’s father. The look in the man’s eyes left no doubt that one of the two combatants would wind up dead or close to it before this fight was over. Although he didn’t stop to reflect on it, Tom experienced a surge of adrenaline, and a hardening of his determination that the wild man before him would not reach his family.
The man rushed toward the kitchen doorway. Almost instantly, Tom dropped his shoulder, planted his rubber-soled shoes against the new ceramic tile and thrust upward, lifting the man off his feet, and redirecting his forward momentum sideways.
Momentarily, Tom had the attacker high in the air, nearly balanced on his shoulders. Then the two men crashed down on top of the small, round kitchen table, which instantly collapsed. Tom scrambled to a ready crouch. The intruder, sitting on the destroyed tabletop, looked around, shocked at his sudden repositioning. Then he reached behind his back, rooting around the crushed table underneath him, and pulled out Billy’s treasured dump truck, now twisted into uselessness. The man examined the toy for a moment, then looked up at Tom with a homicidal smile before leaping to his feet and charging back into the battle.
Just before impact, Tom grabbed the top front of the man’s shirt and twisted down and away, dodging the main thrust of the blow like a bullfighter, and yanked the man’s head and upper body down toward the floor. The combination of the attacker’s forward drive and Tom’s downward yank resulted in a skull-splitting impact between the man’s forehead and the front edge of Tom’s granite kitchen counter. The attacker’s body folded against the cabinet underneath with his momentum, and then he slid to the floor, his forehead leaving a trail of dark blood.
The unconscious man spread out and across the kitchen floor like cooling lava. Tom was stunned by the terrific damage the man’s skull had sustained. A blood-red cross — the result of the bludgeoning from Amy and the impact with the countertop — welled up from the flushed and split skin in the center of his forehead. His eyes, although open, did not appear to be registering at all. Tom could see the man breathing, and he hoped, almost out loud, that the man was not dead or dying.
But there was no time for regrets — a brief honk from the family van sent him dashing for the front door. On the way through the yard toward the waiting van, Tom passed two more strangers sitting in the grass, adorned in multicolored robes. He didn’t stop to ask their business. In a few strides he was in the van, and Amy peeled out down Crystaldale Drive.
Tom turned to look back at his house fading into in the aging neighborhood — the home in which he had been raised and had planned to raise his family. As the house grew smaller, three more cars pulled up, and more strangers invaded his front yard. His hands began to shake from the post-fight adrenaline overload, but he did not notice. Overwhelming his mind was a profound sadness as he watched his home disappear behind him.
© Chuck Hansen - 2019