Rudy Miller sat soaking in the cheap plastic bathtub inside of his mommy and daddy’s cramped little trailer, flying his Superman toy in and out of the foamy bathwater. He did not hear his mother banging pots and pans and screaming swear words just a few yards away in the kitchen. Nor was he concerned by the thick odor of cigarette smoke which saturated every nook and cranny of their grubby and destitute home. The fact that the bathwater had already gone cold didn’t deter him from making Superman save the day over and over inside of his wonderful imagination.
That is until he heard Daddy come home.
Rudy’s frightened eyes darted away from the caped hero and up to the flimsy brown curtain separating his peaceful sanctuary from the world beyond. Rudy was only six, but he was sharply aware that other kids in school didn’t have a bad family like he did. Rudy wished that he could live with the other kids and their parents. The good parents. Rudy made lots of wishes, but none of them ever came true.
When Rudy heard the front door open, he wished that he didn't ever have to leave the tub.
Chuck Miller, a stocky, unshaven man, entered the small home carrying beer in his hand and a burned-up Newport between his lips. He flicked his cigarette out the door, thrust off his muddy work boots and then slammed the door shut behind him with an angry kick. He tossed off his grime covered sweater and at once sank into his filthy reclining chair, not even bothering to look at his wife Doris who was in the kitchen. He picked up the remote, turned the TV on and swigged his beer down, tossing the empty can onto the floor behind him.
Upon seeing Chuck enter, Doris poured eight ounces of vodka into her partially filled glass of orange Juice. She puffed down the final drag of her cigarette and then took a big mouthful of vodka straight from the bottle. She hated it when her husband came home from work already piss drunk because it meant she would have to walk on eggshells the whole night to avoid making him mad. After nine years of marriage, poor Doris hadn’t fully figured out how to not make Chuck angry, and the countless scars and bruises painting her skin, proved it.
Doris was five years younger than Chuck, but because of the constant fear and fighting, she’d aged far in advance of her 35 years. Her once shiny blonde hair was now a lifeless, mangy gray, and her youthful skin had lost its sheen and transformed to a canvas of dry, blotchy leather. Avoiding the mirror and looking after Rudy was all that remained to keep from swallowing the end of a gun, that, and vodka. Today, however, she decided she was going to keep her husband happy no matter what because little Rudy had just earlier come home with a good report card, which she had neatly magnetized to the refrigerator door.
She grabbed a fresh cold beer, opened it, and brought it over to the muddy man she’d married.
“About fucking time,” he said.
Doris cringed and headed back to the kitchen where she opened the oven to check up on the scrumptious looking meatloaf she had made from scratch, Chuck’s favorite. It wasn’t quite done so she closed the oven and turned back toward her husband as he slurped down his beer and noisily hocked up phlegm.
“Rudy came home with a good report card today,” Doris said to him with a smile.
“Where is that little fuck?” He asked finishing his beer and tossing it.
Doris quickly grabbed another beer from the fridge and handed it to him. "I need to get him out of the bath,” she replied and set off towards the bathroom.
Rudy looked up and smiled at his mother as she entered the bathroom. Grimacing in slight pain he stood up. Doris pulled the plug from the drain and saw the medley of bruises on her son’s legs, knowing fully well how they’d gotten there, but too ashamed and afraid to ask her son to talk about it. She grabbed a towel as Rudy stepped out of the tub and then dried him as gently as she could.
“Are we going to eat now Mommy?” Rudy asked.
“Yes honey, put your pajamas on and come out into the living room,” she instructed as she turned to leave.
Rudy took his unwashed Superman pajamas from the hamper and put them on slowly, biding his time before having to face his father. He hoped that Daddy wasn’t going to get mad and hit him and mommy and break stuff like he always does. He finished putting on his pajamas and grabbed Superman on the way out of the bathroom. He walked a few feet then turned left to enter his tiny room where he placed his Superman figure on the table next to his bed. Then his father called out to him.
Rudy walked into the living room stopping in front of his father’s chair and stood staring at his little feet.
“Get your little ass up here boy,” his father said, slapping his own lap.
Rudy clenched his hands together while fidgeting his feet but did not move forward and did not look up to meet his father’s gaze.
Chuck swigged the remainder of his beer and hurled the empty can at his son, hitting him squarely on the top of his head. Rudy placed his hand upon his head and fought back against his rising tears, being extra careful not to cry or fall down.
“You little shit." his father menaced from his chair. “All you had to do is fucking climb on my lap and I was gonna say good job, but no, you gotta act like a little fucking girl, don’t you?” he boomed loudly while rising from his chair.
Doris stood frozen in the kitchen, mouthing a large sip of her cheap vodka, too afraid to interfere.
Rudy slowly placed his hands back down to his waist and unwittingly let out a whimper, losing himself to the anguish.
Chuck's ice-blue eyes lit up in flames as he leaped from his chair and aggressively grabbed his son, lifting him up to eye level and shaking him violently.
"Little girl wanna cry? Huh? The Little fucking baby girl wanna cry? WELL?” he shouted furiously at his crying son's tear splashed face as it jerked back and forth. “You even smell really good you little bitch. We should have called you Judy,” he tormented while tossing Rudy back down to the floor. “Juuudy, Juuudy, you little-fucking cry baby,” his father badgered one last time before sitting again.
Rudy lied on the dirty rug where his drunken father had dropped him down. The aching child wiped the watery pools of hurt from his swollen and itchy eyes. He then glanced pleadingly over at his mother standing in the kitchen. Rudy's eyes silently begged for her help.
“What the fuck are you looking at me for? Why didn’t you just get on his lap for Christ sake,” she snapped in resentment, angry at him for ruining the night.
Rudy broke down. Slumped to the floor and wept uncontrollably. The sharp sand and dirt in the carpet scratching at his drenched, right cheek.
Chuck launched up out of his chair in pure rage, grabbed his son by one arm and lifted him. He stormed over to Rudy’s little room with the child dangling by one arm and threw him in there onto his bed. He then rushed through the living room and into the kitchen to get in his wife’s face. “You gonna raise that little shithead to be a fuckin' girl?” He demanded.
Doris, caught off guard and too afraid to be defiant merely shook her head emphatically to suggest that she would not. She then turned from him and opened the door to the fridge, grabbing him another beer.
Chuck snatched the beer, slapping her hand out of the way, opened it himself and began chugging it down. He then kicked the fridge door shut, leaving a foot-sized dent and dropping Rudy's report card to the floor where it slid underneath the fridge and completely disappeared. As he was turning to return to his chair, the smoke detector kicked off its alarm forcing both parents to pause.
Doris gasped as she realized that the meatloaf had been in the oven too long and quickly grabbed her oven mitts. The miserable wife gasped when she opened the oven door because a plume of smoke wafted out, engulfing her, and somehow increasing the screeching sound of the smoke detector and fraying her nerves further. She grabbed the charred meatloaf and placed it on the stove top while Chuck opened the front door of the trailer and fanned out the smoke using his crumpled sweater from the floor.
The alarm finally ceased its shrieking and left the home awkwardly silent. Chuck shut the door and peered at the blackened meatloaf and then to his wife. He walked to the fridge, took out another can of beer and drank it up in one long sip. Doris huddled by the sink, shaking in fear. Chuck stared at her with wide, bloodshot eyes, radiating a profound and terrifying anger as he clenched and unclenched both his hands. Doris moaned and shook her head pitifully with drops of sorrow running down her face.
Rudy cautiously peeked out of his room curious about the extreme silence and secretly hoping his parents had magically vanished. Instead he could see his mommy and daddy facing one another in the kitchen. Daddy was staring at Mommy and Mommy looked scared. Then Daddy grabbed Mommy by the neck and squeezed it until Mommy’s face was red and then slammed Mommy’s head into the cabinet. Mommy screamed, but Daddy wouldn’t stop hurting her.
Rudy jumped into bed and pulled the covers over his head as the smashing, screaming and breaking of things continued out in the kitchen. He hugged his pillow tight and closed his eyes and pretended that it was all just an awful dream.
An hour later, after the sounds of Mommy’s crying stopped, he fell asleep and became aware that he was sleeping. He wished he could stay there forever and ever and never be bothered by the horrible monsters in the other room ever again.
But unfortunately for Rudy, it only got worse.
Rudy was awakened by the sound of the wind that night. The moonlight beamed through his window casting a glowing silhouette of his Superman toy onto the wall 3 feet from his face. He lied there, clasped to his pillow staring at the hero and for a moment, felt a twinkling of peace.
Then he heard his father’s heavy breathing in the room.
He turned to look towards his door and saw the outline of his father’s giant frame 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 do this again; he didn’t want to ever, ever do this again, but Daddy removed the covers and tugged down his pajama bottoms. He cried even harder, but Daddy said be quiet, and Daddy removed his belt.
Daddy said it was all his fault because he was good smelling, the good smelling little girl that made Daddy mad.
Rudy stared at the smiling Superman doll. Wishing to be saved. Wishing to be rescued. Wishing for anything to make Daddy stop.
“Please Superman, please-please-please,” he whispered desperately.
But nobody came to rescue poor little Rudy.
Nobody ever would.