We are so pleased to bring you Madison Murphy’s “What Are We Doing Here?” Be warned that the piece includes violent imagery and explores the implications of trauma. In addition to its being fiction, the story also illustrates its author’s care for her characters and any readers who have experienced domestic violence or abuse.
What Are We Doing Here?
By Madison Murphy
He pulls onto the dirt road that’d been collecting my tears every Saturday for the past two years. My heart races as I see the end of it, but that’s nothing new.
I open the door as he makes his way to my side of the truck. “What are you doing? We aren’t here to play around,” Tim says as he yanks me out of the truck.
I start to shake. He begins to remove his belt.
“You know the drill.”
I put my hands on the truck. I clench my teeth and tightly close my eyes.
Strike one. This one is always the worst. I feel my back starting to sting. Strike two. Now it’s my legs. Strike three. There it is, the first tear. The strikes continue, switching between my back and my legs. I stop counting after twenty.
He says to get in the truck.
Like always, we head to our regular fishing spot.
“Let me tell you something,” Tim says. “Saturday is the best day of my week. I get to escape the nagging patients at the office and the to-do list your mom has on the fridge. These trips really give me some control in my life.”
I sit in the truck while Tim fishes. As usual, he hasn’t caught anything.
I don’t like these trips anymore. I wonder what I can do, but there aren’t many options for a fifteen-year-old with no money.
“Time to head home,” he says when he gets back, “but first we have to stop by my friend’s house.”
I smile and nod.
Tim’s friend walks toward the truck as we pull up.
“Sorry it took so long man. As you know, the past few months have been tough on us financially. Anyways, three hundred is what I owe, right?”
“That’s right, Graham.”
Tim places the three hundred dollars in his wallet.
We get home. Momma has dinner ready. Tim walks inside, fixes a plate, cracks a cold one, and goes in the living room to watch the football game. My mom fixes her plate and sits at the table. I do the same.
As we eat, I think about life before Tim. I remember how close my mom and I were. We played board games, read books, told each other stories, went on walks, everything. I start to smile. Things aren’t like that anymore, but maybe they can be. All I have to do is tell her.
“What is it?”
“It’s Tim.” I look down at my thighs.
“When we go fishing, he takes his leather belt, you know, the one you got him for Christmas, and he hits me with it.”
I look up. She’s looking at me with concerned eyes. She believes me.
“Now, Julia, why on Earth would you make up something so serious? Do you know how much trouble Tim would be in if people heard you talking all this nonsense?”
I turn around for her to pull up my shirt and see the purple patches, but she doesn’t. Instead, she grabs me by my pencil-thin waist and spins me around to face her.
“Do you remember how hard life was before Tim? Working late nights, barely scraping by? I suggest you go up to your room and rethink what just came out of your mouth.”
Her eyes are now filled with anger.
I can’t move. I just stand here. Tears pour down my cheeks.
I run to my room. I don’t understand. Why don’t she believe me? Why won’t she look at the bruises?
A couple hours pass. I decide that I must go back down stairs and try again, if it doesn’t work this time, I’m leaving.
I walk in the living room. My mom is asleep on the couch. Tim is in the recliner, drinking what looks to be well over his twelfth beer. I go to the kitchen.
I pace. I don’t know what to do.
Tim’s wallet catches my eye. I walk over to it and pick it up. Inside is the money Graham gave him. I put the money in my front pocket.
“I knew you would do this.”
I stare into his glossy eyes. He stumbles toward me.
“Your mom told me what you said earlier.”
I notice his belt is unbuckled. He reaches to remove it from his waist.
I turn around and walk toward the front door. I never look back.
Madison Murphy is from LaGrange, Georgia and is a junior at LaGrange College. She is majoring in Sociology and minoring in Criminology, Psychology, and Writing. After she graduates, Madison plans to become a foster care social worker so she can help children who are at a higher risk of experiencing traumatic events, similar to the events in her story.