A Question of Conscience


Photo by jackietrains at morgufile.com

I shut the TV credenza doors and turn on my heel, shoving the shelves underneath the couch.

“Martha!” Henderson’s voice shakes the air. “Open the door, you idiot, I know you’re in there.”

I suck in a stabilizing breath and try to still the tremor in my hands. I fasten a smile onto my face and pray it matches the look in my eyes before he sees me. I unlock the door and it swings in, squishing me against the wall as he enters with his teeth bared and his eyes flashing.

“Where is Katy, Martha?”

Gingerly, I close the door behind my brother and sway in the heat of his breath when he bends down and sprays me with the warm after burn of tequila. I fan my hand back and forth in front of my face to clear the air. “Do you see her anywhere around here?”

“Where is my wife?” His weight shifts backward, but he catches himself before he topples over.

“I don’t know. Here,” I gently touch his shoulder, “why don’t you sit down in the kitchen and I’ll make you some coffee.”

With a roar, he jerks free of my hand and heads for the stairs.

“You can’t go up there! I’m not letting you rip up my home the way you destroy yours.” I grab for his belt loops and just barely realize his heel is coming toward me when I feel the air rush out of my lungs. I land on my backside with hardly enough time to throw myself out of the way before Henderson falls flat of his back.

He rolls from side to side, waving his arms and legs as he tries to regain his footing. Four letter words fly from his mouth and I can’t help but have the strong impression of a turtle cussing because he’s stuck on his back.

My heart aches at how much he resembles our father in this moment and I feel my anger leeching from my bones. I keep my back glued to the wall, watching until he stops flailing and the oaths are replaced with snorting breaths. I step forward and offer him my hand.

He bats it away. “I—can get up—on my own.” Carefully, he gets to his knees and uses the banister to pull himself to his feet. He sways, his gaze seeming not to linger on anything.

I wish with everything in me I could wrap him in packing wrap. Not only for Katy’s safety, but his own. “Please, let me make you some coffee. You can’t drive anymore like this. I can call a cab for you and you can tell me what happened.”

He blinks at me with a shrug, scratching his head. “She ran away. I need to find her before she gets hurt.” He belches and laughs. “We both know she’s too stupid to last on her own.” He takes his keys from his pocket and turns toward the door.

Looking over his shoulder I frown and he looks behind him. I swipe the keys from him and shove them in my pocket.

“Hey! Those are mine.”

“No, they’re not. They’re the keys to Katie’s mustang, so they’re hers.”

He rolls his eyes. “She doesn’t have stuff. We’re married.”

I dig my nails into my palm and grind my teeth. “Since that’s the tequila talking, I’ll ignore that statement.” Recognizing the stupor of perceived superiority stamp itself across his face, I take him by the elbow and guide him into the kitchen.

His eyes glue on me. “I know what you think. She’d have to be stupid to stay with me.” His shoulders slump. “But that’s not true. I’m with her because she loves me. I’m worried about her. You know how much I love my Katie.” Turning one of the kitchen chairs around he goes to straddle it and nearly misses but manages to land his backside on the cushion.

“How long have you been drinking?”

“Not much.”

I take out my cellphone to call for a cab and set the kettle on the stove to boil. I pick up his thick wrist, putting his watch in front of his eyes. “How long?”

He scowls and sloppily jerks away. “Yesterday morning. I’m a man, I can do whatever I want.” Again he belches and laughs.

With a cab on its way the kettle screams and I pull it from the burner while he continues to make himself belch until I’m worried he’ll throw up like he used to do when we were three. “Another lovely trait you picked up, from Dad, I see.” From my place at the stove I glance at the front door and scoop coffee into the French Press.

“Where is Katie?” He says.

“Do you see her anywhere around here?”

“She wrote me a letter.” He digs it out of his coat pocket and it flutters to the tile. “She’s begging me not to drink anymore, saying she won’t see me again until I stop.”

“Did she say where she was going?”

He snorts. “No. She just said, “Somewhere safe.”

“Why not let her go?” I pull two mugs for the cabinet and set them on the table, pouring the steaming dark roast into each. “You were so much happier before you married her.”

“It’s her fault I drink.” He turns his mug between his palms, his lower lip trembling. “Why did she have to sleep with our neighbor? Why did she do that to me?”

I reach out and squeeze his hand. “Hey, he might have just been your neighbor, but he was my husband. The only thing anger does is kill you slowly. You have to let it go.”

The doorbell rings and after a few minutes the driver and I are able to wrangle him into the yellow car. Before I close the door he grabs my wrist hard enough to make me wince. Tears pour from his eyes.

“Please, help me find her.”

Kissing my baby brother’s head, I shut him inside and tell the driver to take him to our church and ask for Pastor Johnny.

Going back inside I lean my head against the front door and close my eyes. “He’s gone.”

The TV credenza door’s hinges groan and I hear Katie’s feet softly hit the floor.


Thank you so much for reading, I sincerely hope you enjoyed this story. Have a question you’d like to “Ask” Martha? Leave it in a comment below and I’ll be sure to include it in my next character interview. 

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