When the man opened the door, Sky and Kyle stared in shock for a moment. Sky was out of her chair, and was squatting down behind Kyle’s with her back to him, trying to get his wrists untied. She hadn’t made much headway, if any.
“Mom!” Kyle yelled.
“What did you do?” Sky screamed at the man.
“Get back in that chair,” the man snapped. As Sky did as she was told, the man shoved Maggie hard, and she fell to the floor a few feet from the table. She managed to land mostly on her left side, and to protect her face from another slam, but her right side screamed at her and she wondered if he’d broken one of her ribs, or if this was just what it felt like to take a boot to the torso. She didn’t know she was going to pass out until she did.
When she came around, she was on her back. Her hands had gone numb, but her wrists hurt from her weight pressing them against the wood floor, and she rolled herself partly onto her left side again. A few inches from her face was an already slightly tacky pool of blood about five inches around. Rooster tracks ran into and out of it in several places.
Maggie curled her body a bit so that she could see the dining room table. The kids’ feet were still in front of their chairs. Beyond them, the man’s boots paced from the dining room table to the kitchen counter several times. Maggie struggled for a moment, but finally managed to sit up. Her side protested, and she could have sworn she heard something creaking inside of her.
She scooted over and back a bit on her butt, until she could slump back against the back of the couch. The kids watched her over their shoulders, and Maggie tried to give them some kind of reassuring look, but she doubted it had come across that way.
“Are you okay, Mom?” Sky asked. Maggie managed a nod.
“Shut up!” the man barked.
Maggie looked over at him. He’d stopped by the kitchen counter and was pulling a cell phone out of his back pocket. Maggie watched him dial and wait for an answer. Apparently, he didn’t get one, because he disconnected the call. He smacked the phone down onto the counter, then slammed his palm down on the countertop.
“What’s going on?” Sky asked Maggie, twisting her neck to look on Maggie’s direction.
“His truck won’t start.”
“Y’all shut up,” the man said.
Sky turned back around and looked at the table. “Too bad my Dad’s keys are in the creek,” she said.
“Get in my face and you will be, too,” he said, his voice quieter, but menacing.
Sky gave him an insolent look, but then shifted in her seat and stared at a spot on the front door.
For the next hour or so, Maggie and the kids listened to the rain pounding the tin roof, and the wind rattling at the boarded windows. Every now and then, something would scrape or bang up against one of the house’s pilings, or into one of the boarded windows. If it had been any other time, Maggie and the kids would have sat around the table, talking about past storms and wondering if the garden would be okay.
They watched the man pace around the house like an outside dog that had been forced to stay inside. He wandered around the living room and kitchen, opening cupboards, turning his head sideways to read the spines of the books that almost filled one wall. He didn’t look at Maggie or the kids very often; he almost seemed to avoid it, and that worried Maggie.
He tried placing a call several more times, but never spoke to anyone. He didn’t leave a voice mail, either, and Maggie wondered if his cell service was out.
Every now and then, Maggie heard whining coming from underneath her door at the end of the hall, and she knew that Coco had her nose pressed into the crack at the bottom, as she used to do when Maggie was still married, and she and David would close the bedroom door behind them.
The man finally settled down a bit, and leaned up against the counter, drinking a Dr. Pepper he’d pulled out of their fridge.
When Maggie opened her mouth to speak, she had to clear her throat. She could taste blood in the back of her mouth. “Can one of us please give my dog some water?”
“No,” he said.
“She left you alone,” Maggie said. “It’s hot in there with the windows boarded up. Please just let her have some water.”
“You thinkin’ I’m gonna untie you, or one of them, to give your dog a drink?” He grinned at her like she was stupid.
“Then you do it,” Maggie said.
“Let me tell you somethin’, lady. You treating me like an idiot isn’t gonna help you much.”
He drained his Dr. Pepper and, as he lowered it, caught Kyle’s eye. His lip curled a bit, and he turned away to toss the empty can in the sink. Then he grabbed a small mixing bowl from the drainer and filled it half full from the tap.
Maggie watched him walk down the hall to her bedroom, and heard Coco’s low growl from under the door. The man bent and poured the water under the door, then came back with the empty bowl.
“You happy now, boy?” he asked, and dropped the bowl onto the counter.
“You’re a regular Shriner,” Sky said.
“Keep runnin’ your mouth, girl,” he said.
Sky looked away from him, and he resumed his pacing.