A girl's home should be her sanctuary; her parents should be her protectors.
Jenna poked him with the stick. She couldn't stand to look at his beefy face any longer--to stare into those unseeing eyes.
He was heavy. His body bobbed a little, and his shirt rose in the water, exposing his gelatinous, hair-covered gut. She could still feel those hairs tickling her cheek, and she wiped the repulsion away with the palm of her hand.
She was nauseous. She poked at him again until, finally, he rolled over. He floated there; face down, the empty beer bottles undulating around his lifeless corpse like some irreverent halo.
It was getting dark. The clouds were rolling in, and Jenna thought it might rain. The dock rocked gently back and forth beneath her; the rhythmic motion soothed her. She pulled her jacket tight around her scrawny frame and looked over her shoulder to the secluded lakeside cabin she'd shared with her parents. It looked so inviting. The fireplace was visible from where she stood, and she could smell the smoke in the crisp evening air. She imagined snuggling up next to her mom in front of that fire, sipping cocoa and reading stories together. I'm an orphan now, she thought. Mom last year, now ... him. Jenna glanced once more at the man floating near the pilings beneath her feet. Who will go with me to my parent-teacher conferences?
She thought about how her life had been turned upside-down over the past nine months. She thought about how she'd been devastated when her mother died in the car accident last year, the day after Jenna's twelfth birthday. She thought about how her father had taken up drinking after her mother died. She'd tried so hard to take care of him; it made him happy to come home from work to a home-cooked meal. She shuddered when she thought about the night all the madness started--the night her father slipped into her bed and called her by her mother's name. The shame, the revulsion, the hatred she felt for him after that night consumed her.
She thought about how this evening had started.
"Jenna, girl! Bring me another beer!"
Jenna stood at the kitchen sink washing the dinner dishes. Her iPod blared I Been Redeemed by Flame in her ears, and she didn't hear her father's request.
I'm bout to snap
Man this feeling's medicinal
This redemption's got me flipping
I can feel it in my physical
It's like adrenaline venom
It's got me feeling so missional
Something made her look up, and she watched as her father set an empty bottle on the end table. It teetered off the edge and fell to the floor, rolling under the sofa.
"Jen!" he yelled, causing her to jump. She knew what he wanted. It was what he always wanted. She grabbed three bottles from the fridge and placed them on the coffee table in front of him. She always brought him beers in threes. Four was too many--the last one always got warm before he had time to drink it. Three was just right, and it minimized the amount of time she had to be near him.
He grabbed her. "Come 'ere and gimme some sugar."
"I need to finish the dishes. I have homework...."
He jerked her arm violently and she fell to her knees. "Is this part of your homework?" he asked, pulling the ear buds from her ears and tossing the iPod across the room.
"Ow! You're hurting me!" she said, trying to pry his fingers from her wrist. "Please don't."
"You're such a good girl. Mom would be proud." He opened the beers and tossed the caps onto the table. "If it weren't for you.... I love you so much."
He reeked of alcohol. Jenna knew it wouldn't be long before he spiraled down into that dark place, before he reached out to touch her, before he used their shared grief against her.
She heard her mother's voice in her head clearly--as if she were in the room.
"Get back here!" he yelled, grabbing his beers and stumbling behind her.
Jenna could hear his heavy footfalls closing in. She grabbed her jacket and threw open the back door. She had no idea where she was going or how she would escape him. The woods were too dense, too dark this time of day. They had no neighbors she could run to for help, and town was over a mile away down a gravel road.
She was on her own.
Her heart pounded in her ears. The adrenaline was too much. She quivered; her legs wobbled under her. Her breath came in sharp, shallow gulps, and for a moment fear paralyzed her.
"I said get back here, you little bitch!"
That was enough to get her moving--first one step, then another. She glanced down the hill to the lake below. The ominous clouds were reflected there, and she ran toward them. Gotta get to the lake. I'll be OK if I can get to the lake.
She winced as she tripped over roots; the sharp stones and pinecones that littered the path dug into her feet. She wondered if she was dreaming. Dreams don't hurt, she thought, looking down at her bare feet. Dreams don't bleed.
There was a loud thud, and Jenna turned to see he'd fallen. He held two beer bottles in his right hand and one in his left, and although most of their contents had spilled onto the ground, he held them tightly by their necks as he rose to his feet.
Pick up that stick! She'd reached the dock and was about to step onto it when her mother's voice echoed in her head. There, Jenna. That one to your right. The big one. Pick it up.
Jenna grabbed the stick and turned to face him. She backed up as he approached.
"You've been a bad girl, Jen. Very bad." He walked too close to the edge. The dock pitched violently to the left, and she stumbled precariously before righting herself. "What do you think happens to bad girls, huh? I think maybe I need to take you over my knee and paddle that little behind of yours. That's what I think."
He tossed one of the bottles at her, but his aim was off and it splashed into the water beside her. He threw another--she ducked out of its way and gasped as her feet reached the end of the dock. There was nowhere to go; nowhere to hide.
He laughed. "Well, well. Looky here. You think you're so smart. Whatcha gonna do now?"
He lunged at her. The drinking had slowed him down, and it was easy to dodge him. "Oh, you just wait till I get my hands on you," he said, unbuckling his belt and slipping it from the loops. "I'll show you who's boss."
Jenna lifted the stick and swung. It whooshed just inches from his face, and he stopped his advance.
"You better pray to God you don't hit me with that, girl."
She swung again, this time snagging his shirt at the waist and ripping off a button.
"Put down the stick, Jenna."
Don't do it, her mother warned. It's keeping him three feet away and out of arm's reach.
His face changed. He was angry; determined. He'll hurt me if he gets hold of me. He squared his shoulders and charged. Jenna screamed as she jumped left to avoid the tackle. As he passed Jenna swung the stick as hard as she could, hitting him in the back of the head. The last beer bottle flew from his hand as he flailed his arms in an attempt to catch his balance, but it was too late. He fell into the water.
"Ugh! Oh, God...."
Why would God help you? she thought. Jenna watched him thrash, watched him attempt to tread water. The alcohol disoriented him, and he wasn't a very good swimmer to begin with.
"Jenna, I'm sorry. Help me, honey."
She stood there watching him. Eventually his gesticulations slowed and his head dropped below the water's surface as he fought for every breath. She knew it wouldn't be long.
"Please honey," he sputtered. "Help me."
"Goddamn you, you little...." He reached for the dock, but she pushed him away with the stick. Thank you, Momma.
The night fell silent around her, as if nature itself was rendered speechless by what it was seeing.
His movements ceased. Jenna tiptoed to the end of the dock and peered over the edge. He didn't appear to be breathing. She raised the stick and pushed on his body, dipping it under the water. She held him there until her arms were too tired to hold him any longer. His body bobbed to the surface. No one can hold their breath that long.
She closed her eyes. The trembling started again, and she began to cry. The sobs racked her body until she was too weak to support herself, and she dropped to her knees in despair.
The water lapped gently at the dock's pilings. The only things louder were the beating of her heart and Flame's passionate voice in her head:
Yea, what a relief it is
His wrath is satisfied
And through belief in this
I'm bought by Adonai
And when I think on this
That since the Master died
I'm redeemed, and His
I just break down inside
"Oh, God. What have I done?"
Written for the March 2009
I Been Redeemed lyrics, copyright © Flame/his co-writer(s) if any/their publisher(s). All rights reserved.
For more information on Flame, please visit http://www.flame314.com/