End of the road.
He collapsed, winded and rain-soaked, down on to the pile of broken beer bottles and rock, leaning against the hulking roots of a windfall pine and staring up at the patches of grey as the sky fell wet and heavy around him. He didn’t look at his hand, but he knew it was bleeding. He could feel the swelling already. One knuckle had been dislocated by the blows; the others were mashed and skinned and bloody and he knew he deserved it. He’d fucked it up. It was all gone now. It was all fucked up.
And nothing made sense.
He couldn’t stop the flashes, the memories, from flooding his head. They were all too fresh and too raw, filling his eyes with splashes of blood and broken teeth and screaming. The splintered coffee table when it had exploded with their combined weight, crashing down on it. The broken mugs, the ashtray, the candy dish he’d made her in grade five, all of them turning to shards and scattering. There’d been no sound. No sound but the screaming. He hadn’t known where it was coming from right then, but it was her screaming. Crying and screaming and trying to pull him off Ed.
He’d just kept hitting him. Holding him down, his nails dug in to the skin around Ed’s windpipe, his whole hand tight like a fist, wrapped nearly around it like it was separate from his neck and breaking his other fist against that ugly face, mashing the pieces together until the blood came, spraying and seeping through the hair. And then more. No stopping. Not even when his mother hit him.
He kept wailing into him, just glanced up for a second to look and her face was etched now in his mind, her left eye swollen shut from the night before, the sad attempt at makeup smeared and running with her tears, as if anything could hide what that cocksucker had done to her.
There’d been no sound. No sound but her screaming, even when she wasn’t screaming. He could see her lips, trembling and blubbering and pleading through the tears for him to stop hitting him, but she didn’t understand. It was all the same. Just the same as the junk. She was addicted to him just the same and he was only ever going to kill her in the end. There was no happy ending with that shit begging for her veins, and none with that asshole, always drunk, always high, bringing it to her?! This would just keep happening and it would only get worse.
This was the only way. Quitting was hard but it had to be done.
This was the only way.
And in that moment, though she didn’t know it, Nathan was doing it all for her. Whatever happened, whatever consequences came from killing that fucker, he was prepared to accept them.
Because she’d be alive. And that’s all he wanted. It was all he had left.
So despite whatever reasons she had this time – all of it bullshit, none of it mattered – there were zero logical, rational reasons to stay with someone who would beat you and kill you – despite whatever she was saying and pleading, this was what had to be done and Nathan was doing it. So he put his head down, he put his shoulder into it and he broke Ed’s jaw, probably the orbit of his left eye, and blood was gushing into his mouth and he was starting to choke on it, eyes rolling back in his head, shaking and gripping the hand clenching his throat and suddenly, Nathan lurched to the side.
He wasn’t sure what had happened for a moment. The view had changed and he was staring briefly up at the ceiling and when he got to his feet he realized she’d hit him in the head with the butt end of a shotgun. Ed’s shotgun. He had a puzzled look on his face for just a moment and then she’d turned the gun around and was aiming it at his face.
Honest confusion. He knew she would resist; knew it seemed harsh, but it had to be done. She just didn’t understand that it was all for the best. He would do it, he would take his anger and finish this – finish him. It wasn’t nice but it had to be done. And when she looked down for a moment, bent down to touch the broken, spurting mess she hovered over like a bear, bending down to roll him on his side so he wouldn’t choke to death on his own blood and vomit, Nathan took a half step toward her and she fired.
The sound came back then. It came back sharp with the little dry-fire click of the unloaded gun somehow not lost in the keening wail of his mother as she bawled over the coughing, gurgling half-corpse and then she leapt to her feet again, aiming the shotgun at him and shaking and spitting like a mother cat.
“DON’T YOU FUCKING TOUCH HIM! I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU I SWEAR I WILL! I LOVE HIM YOU FUCKING BASTARD HE’S MY HUSBAND AND I LOVE”
Her voice died in a wail and a sob as she hurled the gun sidelong through the air in his direction, missing him by a wide gap, though it didn’t matter. It couldn’t have wounded him as harshly as the sight of her hands on Ed, cradling him where he lay. Protecting him. Caring for him and holding him in her arms and whispering as her tears fell on him, telling him everything would be alright, much as she had done when Nathan was a baby, and the bottom fell out of his anger then, the pith of it collapsed into shock and despair and tears, and he saw what he had done.
What he had forced her to do.
He’d stepped into his shoes, pushing out the door and down the steps, not looking back, not looking at anything, unable even to think and not realizing his hand was damaged and shaking. His eyes had unfocused and he’d walked and when he’d looked up from the mud, unsure of how much time had passed, he’d found himself running. It was all he knew to do and he didn’t stop until the road ended and the trees surrounded him.