In the corner of the smallest apartment in the most run down building in the ghettos of Los Angeles, sat a brother and a sister. They shared a single thin blanket to shield them from the tearing winter air that cascaded through the cracked window opposite them, half covered by flapping, tattered, putrid green curtains. They had only each other. The lumpy couch, Mothers. What little food was in the fridge, Mothers. The empty glass bottles scattered through the room, also Mothers. Even the blanket they huddled under was their mothers. But she wasnt home.
A young, muscular boy named Alex wrapped his arm around his little sister, he was her guardian. Her eyes still viewed the world with the magical filter of youthful innocence. She was the princess, he was her protector, and their life a dungeon to escape. Naivety was not a luxury he could afford. His focus was on the door, and his gaze piercing. A shiver from his little sister jolted him back to reality.
Go to sleep, itll be warmer in the morning, he said, pulling her tight to his side. Her light brown hair draped across his chest as she looked up at him. Bruises around her eyes from past outbreaks of their mother were still fresh.
Its cold, her voice as sweet a spring thunderstorm. Will Mommy come back soon?
I hope not, he whispered. Alex kissed her forehead and began to stroke her hair, prompting her to drift to sleep.
Their home was not a home fit for humans. The dark room was stained with the scent of cigarette smoke, and the remnants of crumpled life. The cracked, faded pink wallpaper. The rusty sink dripping water. The mouse droppings. A single light bulb hung from the ceiling. Trash and dead bugs covering the dirty, worn grey carpet. A neighbours screaming muffled through the walls. The heavy odour of mildew leaking from the ceiling, riddled with large brown water stains.
Then, the silence was broken by rattling of keys on the other side of the door. In an instant, he instinctively began to feign sleep. The door opened and light poured in from the hall, and their mother followed it.
She stumbled in the room, rambling incoherently to herself, kicking bottles out the way as she dropped another one on the floor. Stopping before the couch, she looks confused as if she cant remember where shes put something, tired, bloodshot eyes finally coming to rest one her children.
His eyes half open, Alex began to cringe, but she only leaned over and snatched the blanket from them. She was beautiful once, but her light brown hair was dry and her porcelain skin sagging. The stink of alcohol was on her breath, muttering insults and curses; she turned back towards her couch.
Alex couldnt let this happen, but what choice did he have? Does he let his little sister go another night in the freezing cold? Fear of his mother had paralyzed him. She was so strong and full of rage, he knew the consequences if he dared speak up. Then his sister coughed lightly onto his arm.
With sudden resolve he stood up and faced his mother. His little sister looked up at him curiously with her large innocent eyes. He had to do this.
Mom, give me that back. Your daughter needs it, since you cant afford medicine to fix what youve already done to her, he said, accusingly.
Whatd you say to me, you little brat? her voice heavily slurred, You better shut your mouth fore I shut it for you.
Knowing what was about to come, he approached her.
Without hesitation, she swiped at his face and knocked him to ground. Adding the bruises she had given him.
Ungrateful little bastard, how dare you? she snarled. To his horror, he saw his little sister run up towards their mother, begging for her to stop. With a kick, the girl was back into the corner. You little shits need a lesson.
After pulling a small handgun from her purse on the couch, she pointed it at the little girl in the corner. Her hand wobbly, eyes unable to focus, but she was drunk enough to fire.
There was no choice now. Alex pulled small kitchen knife, which he kept hidden, from his shoe. With little effort, he jumped to his feet.
She turned towards him; her wild eyes caught the glint of the knife he held in front of him.
Put away the gun. His voice shaking with desperation.
Her face tightened as she raised the barrel, turning back to her daughter. Then he charged, tackling her to floor. As their bodies hit the carpet, a shot rang out.
Alex! she screamed, running over to them. He rolled off his mothers body clenching his chest, the knife deep in Mothers neck. Blood poured from between his fingers. He looked into his sisters tear filled eyes kneeling beside him.
Dont cry for big brother, okay? I dont want to see you sad anymore.
She shook her head and tried to wipe away the tears with her sleeves, but did so unsuccessfully.
I wont be with you anymore, but neither will mommy. After tonight, youre going to go live with someone who can protect you, feed you, and keep you warm.
Where are you going? she asked.
Im going to die, he said, the words like stones in his throat.
She wrapped her arms around his chest and squeezed.
Go to the restaurant across the street and get help, he said, pushing his blood splattered sister off of him, though he wanted to hold on to her until the very end. Nudging her towards the door, he forced a smile at her through the pain.
Youre safe now, he said. Seeing her run out the door for the last time, a tear began to form in his eye.
Youll always have my love, Peggy.