Alan Caldwell


His hands were huge and his knuckles were thick with scar tissue. They felt like leather gloves packed full of number fifty-seven limestone gravel.

There was always a queasy feeling in my stomach when they were fighting. I guess fighting wouldn’t be the correct term. It’s not as if she would even argue, or assert herself in any real way. Generally, she would do or say something that made him angry, or he would already be angry and blame her for it. The causes were so ephemeral that I can only recall a few. In one instance, she asked him why there was a tiny scratch on her piano. It wasn’t as if she even accused him of scratching it. He called her a stupid bitch and told her to shut her goddamn mouth or he would backhand her. I suppose his reaction amounted to a tacit admission of guilt.

Though he didn’t really beat her, he did often shake her like a proverbial ragdoll, and I did seehim drag her around by her hair a time or two. I suppose if he did actually hit her hard with hisgravel knuckles, her skull would have broken like a sixty-cent bag of ice dropped on theconcrete.

They had established their pattern long before I was born. He would get angry and curse or shake her. She would then run to their bedroom, lie on top of the chenille bedspread and wail. He would ignore her. Eventually she would arise and follow him around, room to room, often on her hands and knees, begging for him to forgive her. When he had seen enough of her supplication, and it might be hours, he would order her to, “Get up and fix us something to eat.”

Make-up supper was always the best: casseroles, fried chicken, black-eyed peas, peach cobblers.

By the time I was eight or nine years old, I would go outside and play in the yard as soon as the chenille wailing began. There was always a queasy feeling in my stomach when they were fighting.

The piano incident happened in November of 1978. I still remember running my tiny fingers over the scratch, then slipping out the back door. I still remember the muted sounds of wailing wafting through the closed window.

I found the rake, the big one with the long steel tines and the spring. I remember my pile of leaves, as large as our puke-green Plymouth Fury. I remember covering my ears with my hands and falling backwards into my work. I could no longer hear the wailing. I fell asleep there, my body covered with the reds and yellows of autumn.

When I awoke, it was almost dusk. The wailing was over, and I knew supper would soon be ready.


Alan Caldwell has been teaching in Georgia since 1994 but only began submitting writing in May 2022. He has since been published in over two dozen journals and magazines, including Southern Gothic Creations, The Backwoodsman, You Might Need To Hear This, Heartwood Literary Journal, and many others.