Amongst the knickknacks littering the mantle in the main living room, an ornately beautiful yet insignificant clock chimed every hour, on the hour. It sat near the helm of my maternal grandfather’s boat, the only piece of Lily’s Hope salvaged after it caught fire on the river one Fourth of July. My dad gave the clock to my mother several years before they married. I never understood why she kept it after she left him.
She left him when I was thirteen years old. My oldest sister was six; the youngest, four. They barely remember him. And, I can’t forget him.
One day after school, I came home to find a U-Haul parked in our driveway and two burly Mexican men shoving my mother’s favorite wine-colored chase lounge into the back of the truck. When I walked inside, two more men and three women hastily packed and organized our belongings as my mother instructed them on what went where.
Four hours later, my family minus my dad piled into our RV and traveled from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Nashville, Tennessee. One of the movers and his wife drove our RV. Two of the other men drove the moving truck. When we arrived in Nashville, we moved our things into storage and the movers left. My mom rented an SUV, went back to the storage facility and retrieved the clock. She cradled it in her arms as she drove us to Atlanta, Georgia. A year after our arrival she married him—her impish, evil second husband James.
Every day when the clock struck three o’clock, the vibe in the house shifted from calm and loving to tense and fearful. The clock reminded us all of the control my mother no longer had. It reminded me of my absent father. Nothing in our lives before the move predicted that our family would be broken, my dad missing in action and my mom married to another man.
She met him while jogging in Piedmont Park exactly three months after we moved. She introduced him to us four months later. During our first encounter my sisters asked about Daddy. The flint in James’ gaze could have broken the spell he held Mom under had she seen it. She only saw the man she wanted him to be—my dad. That day she told us that they were getting married.
The wedding was beautiful. It made the local society pages. Mom appeared nervous when the wedding photos landed in several national magazines. Deep down inside, I prayed that Dad would find us. Two years later, we’re still lost and at James’ mercy.
When the clock strikes four, I can see the panic and frustration in my sister’s eyes. My mom’s eyes fill withlonging and dread. She learned too late that James is not the man he appeared to be. Mom should have looked deeper. She would have seen that his eyes lacked life.
By five o’clock, instead of sounding like a beautiful chiming of considerate reminding music, the noise from the clock blared into our house like the warnings from a barge approaching a bridge. The mood within the confines of our four walls cut through all of us and filled us with terror. Knowing that anything could set him off, we did our absolute best to make sure the house was clean and we were quiet. The quietness amongst us made the clock’s ticking louder.
Every second that passed was a second closer to James coming home. If we sat still or cleaned or watchedtelevision for the next hour, the ticking clock taunted us. At times, it seemed as if the clock smiled knowingly at me, like it knew something I’d never know. Often, I prayed that James would die on the way home. It never worked because low-down people lived forever. I wondered if my mom hoped he’d die or disappear like Dad. Other times I wished that time would stand still for just one day. We needed peace. We all needed to go to sleep without the fear of being awakened by his rage.
No matter how much I prayed or what I wished, nothing changed. He always came home. My time would have been better spent peeing in my hands. On the surface the act would be a waste of time since I can’t hold that much liquid in my hand. At least my bladder would be empty. No matter what anyone did, the ticking clock reminded, no threatened us that he was on his way. Time kept moving, inching each of us closer to his arrival. No amount of time management could prevent his return.
When the clock struck six, my sisters started to cry. Neither of them could control themselves enough to stay out of his way for a little while. They were beyond fearful of him. His presence made them beg for death. My mom use to feed them so they could already be asleep when he came home. That only worked a little while. He took absolute pleasure in our torture. It didn’t matter that they were girls or so young when we arrived. The only thing that mattered was him feeding off our pain.
At exactly 6:06 p.m., he walked into the house. When I looked at him, I knew today was my turn. He could leave scars because no one visited us. He made my mom home school us. If we left the house everyone would know so staying home kept our secret. We, another man’s family, belonged to him. Because we belonged to another, he hated us.
When he walked to me after his shower, my mom begged him to leave me alone. He walked towardsme and raised his hand to slap me across my face. Before his palm touched my skin, I saw a man who looked like me standing behind him.
As the clock struck seven, my dad snatched it from the mantle and smashed it across James’ head.