Rudy Miller sat in a small, plastic bathtub inside his parents' cramped trailer, playing with his Superman toy as it soared in and out of the foamy bathwater. The harsh clanging of pots and pans and a torrent of profanities from his mother in the nearby kitchen went unnoticed by him. He paid no mind to the pervasive stench of cigarette smoke that clung to every crevice of their shabby, impoverished habitat. Even the fact that the bathwater had grown cold couldn't deter him from creating Superman's heroic adventures within the vast realm of his imagination.
However, all this changed when he heard his father's arrival.
Rudy's troubled gaze shifted away from the caped hero and focused on the flimsy, brown curtain that separated his peaceful sanctuary from the scary world beyond. At the tender age of six, Rudy was acutely aware that other children at school didn't have a troubled family like his. He yearned to live with those kids and their loving parents, the kind of parents he could only dream of. Rudy had many wishes, but none of them ever seemed to materialize.
As the front door creaked open, Rudy desperately wished that he could stay in the bathtub forever.
Chuck Miller, a burly, unkempt man, entered their small home with a beer in one hand and a burnt-out Newport cigarette hanging from his lips. Nonchalantly flicking the cigarette out the door, he forcefully kicked off his mud-caked work boots and slammed the door shut behind him in a fit of anger. Without sparing a glance for his wife, Doris, who was in the kitchen, he discarded his grimy sweater and collapsed into his filthy recliner. He didn't even bother to look at her.
With the remote control in hand, he turned on the TV and promptly downed his beer, carelessly tossing the empty can onto the floor behind him.
Seeing Chuck's arrival, Doris poured eight ounces of vodka into her partially filled glass of orange juice. She took one last drag of her cigarette and then gulped down a substantial mouthful of vodka directly from the bottle. She despised it when Chuck came home from work already drunk because it meant she would have to tiptoe around him all evening to avoid triggering his anger. After nine years of marriage, poor Doris still hadn't entirely grasped how to keep Chuck from getting mad, as the numerous scars and bruises on her skin could attest.
Doris was five years younger than Chuck, but the constant fear and strife had aged her well beyond her 35 years. Her once lustrous blonde hair had lost its vibrancy and now appeared lifeless and matted gray, while her once-youthful skin had turned into a patchy, dry, leather-like canvas. Avoiding mirrors and looking after their son, Rudy, were the only things keeping her from succumbing to despair, along with her solace: vodka.
However, today was different. She had decided to keep her husband happy no matter what because their young son, Rudy, had come home earlier with an excellent report card, proudly displayed on the refrigerator door. Doris fetched a cold beer, opened it, and brought it over to the soiled man she had married.
"About time," he grumbled.
Doris winced and headed back to the kitchen, where she opened the oven to check on the delicious-looking meatloaf she had prepared from scratch, Chuck's favorite. It wasn't quite ready, so she closed the oven and returned to her husband, who was noisily sipping his beer and clearing his throat.
"Rudy brought home a good report card today," she said to him with a smile.
"Where is the little shit?" he asked, finishing his beer and discarding it carelessly.
Doris quickly fetched another beer from the fridge and handed it to him. "I need to get him out of the bath," she replied before making her way to the bathroom.
Rudy looked up and stared at his mother when she entered the bathroom. With a slight grimace, he stood up. Doris removed the plug from the drain and noticed the collection of bruises on her son's legs and back. She knew all too well how they had gotten there but felt too ashamed and scared to broach the subject with her son. She grabbed a towel and gently dried Rudy as he stepped out of the tub.
"Are we going to eat now, Mommy?" Rudy asked.
"Yes, honey. Put on your pajamas and come out to the living room," she instructed before leaving.
Rudy slowly retrieved his unwashed pajamas from the floor and put them on, hesitating as he delayed facing his father. He hoped that Daddy wouldn't get angry and hurt him and Mommy, or destroy things like he often did. After dressing, he picked up his Superman figurine and left the bathroom. He walked a few steps before turning left into his tiny room, placing the figure on the table beside his bed. That's when his father called out to him.
Rudy entered the living room and stopped in front of his father's chair, his gaze fixed on his small feet.
"Get up here, boy," his father said, slapping his own thigh.
Rudy clenched his hands together, fidgeting with his feet, but he didn't move forward and avoided meeting his father's eyes.
Chuck finished the last of his beer and flung the empty can at his son, hitting him squarely on the top of his head. Rudy instinctively placed his hand on his head, battling the tears welling up, determined not to cry or fall down.
"You little brat," his father shouted from his chair. "All you had to do was climb onto my lap, and I was gonna say good job. But no, you've got to act like a little coward, don't you?" he yelled.
Doris remained frozen in the kitchen, taking a large swig of her cheap vodka, too frightened to intervene.
Rudy slowly lowered his hands to his sides and involuntarily let out a whimper, succumbing to his pain and despair.
Chuck's ice-blue eyes blazed with fury as he lunged from his chair, forcefully grabbing his son and hoisting him up to eye level, shaking him violently. "Little girl wants to cry? Huh? The little damn baby girl wants to cry? WELL?" he bellowed angrily at his sobbing son's tear-streaked face, jerking it back and forth. "You even smell like a little girl. We should have named you Judy," he taunted, tossing Rudy back to the floor. "Judy, Judy, you crybaby," his father jeered one last time before resuming his seat.
Rudy lay on the soiled rug where his intoxicated father had dropped him, wiping away the pools of hurt from his swollen, teary eyes. He then glanced imploringly at his mother, who stood in the kitchen. Rudy's eyes silently begged for her assistance.
"What are you looking at me for? Why didn't you just sit on his lap, for Christ's sake?" she snapped resentfully, irritated at him for ruining the evening.
Rudy broke down, slumping to the floor and weeping uncontrollably. The coarse sand and dirt in the carpet scraped against his drenched, right cheek.
Chuck sprang up from his chair in pure rage, seized his son by one arm, and lifted him. He stormed into Rudy's tiny room with the child dangling from one arm and flung him onto his bed. He then rushed through the living room and into the kitchen to confront his wife. "You're gonna raise that little shit to be a damn girl?" he demanded.
Doris, caught off guard and too frightened to resist, shook her head emphatically, signifying that she wouldn't. She then turned away from him and opened the fridge door, retrieving another beer for him.
Chuck snatched the beer, swatting her hand out of the way, and opened it himself, downing it in one gulp. He then slammed the fridge door shut, leaving a sizable dent with his foot, and sent Rudy's report card sliding to the floor, where it
vanished completely under the fridge. As he turned to head back to his chair, the smoke detector in the house blared, forcing both parents to halt.
Doris gasped as she realized that the meatloaf had been left in the oven for too long. She hastily donned her oven mitts
and opened the oven door, and a cloud of smoke billowed out, enveloping her and intensifying the wailing of the smoke detector, fraying her nerves further. She retrieved the burnt meatloaf and set it on the stovetop, while Chuck opened the front door and used his crumpled sweater from the floor to fan out the smoke, dispersing it.
Finally, the alarm ceased its screeching, leaving an awkward silence in the home. Chuck shut the door and examined the charred meatloaf before turning his gaze to his wife. He fetched another beer from the fridge, taking a long swig. Doris stood trembling by the sink, paralyzed by fear.
Chuck stared at her with wide, bloodshot eyes, exuding an intense and terrifying anger as he clenched and unclenched both his fists. Doris whimpered and shook her head pitifully, with tears streaming down her face.
Rudy cautiously peeked out of his room, curious about the sudden silence, secretly hoping his parents had magically disappeared. Instead, he saw his mommy and daddy facing each other in the kitchen. Daddy was glaring at Mommy, and Mommy looked scared. Then Daddy grabbed Mommy by the neck, choking her until her face turned red, and slammed her head into the cabinet. Mommy screamed, but Daddy wouldn't stop hurting her.
Rudy leaped into bed, pulling the covers over his head as the sounds of smashing, screaming, and breaking things continued in the kitchen. He clutched his pillow tightly, closing his eyes and pretending it was all just a horrible dream.
An hour later, after the sounds of Mommy's crying had ceased, he fell asleep and became aware that he was sleeping. He wished he could stay there forever and never be bothered by the awful monsters in the other room again.
But unfortunately for Rudy, it only got worse.
Rudy was awakened by the sound of the wind that night. The moonlight streamed through his window, casting the silhouette of his Superman toy on the wall just three feet from his face. He lay there, gripping his pillow, staring at the hero, and for a moment, he felt a glimmer of peace.
Then he heard his father's heavy breathing in the room.
Turning to look at his door, he saw the outline of his father's imposing figure standing there, like a demon in the night. Rudy choked up and sobbed as Daddy rubbed the back of Rudy's legs. He didn't want to go through this again, never wanted to endure it again, but Daddy removed the covers and pulled down his pajama bottoms. He cried even harder, but Daddy told him to be quiet and unfastened his belt.
Daddy said it was all his fault because he smelled nice, the sweet-smelling little boy who made Daddy angry.
Rudy gazed at the smiling Superman doll, pleading for salvation, begging for anything to make Daddy stop.
"Please, Superman, please, please," he whispered desperately.
But no one came to rescue poor little Rudy.
No one ever would.