He was breathing heavily.
I’d read him wrong again.
“Did I not tell you to put her to bed two hours ago?” he said.
Rose’s eyes opened and I felt her grow rigid under my hand.
“It’s all right, Rose,” I said tightly. “Daddy’s in a little bad mood, that’s all. It’ll be all right.”
“A bad mood?” Claude shouted, coming into the room and standing over the bed. A bad MOOD?”
Rose began to cry and I instinctively leaned over, covering her. Claude’s words hissed through clenched teeth an inch from my ear. “You will learn to put her to bed when I tell you to,” he said. He took a handful of my hair and twisted my head around. “Are you listening to me?”
“Please, Claude, please, not in front of Rose, not here,” I pleaded.
My husband pulled me to my feet by my hair.
Claude drew his arm back and then punched me in the face. I staggered back, floated for a moment, and then hit the floor.
I looked up to see him standing over me, his features compressed into a dark, misshapen blur, his eyes like slits. As he raged, his spit rained down on me in a mist.
“I’ll have to teach you to be a good mother, too, you’re too stupid to learn anything on your own! I have to do everything around here!”
He pulled me to my feet. Rose screamed, “Don’t hurt Mommy!” as Claude turned me toward the wall, got a better grip, and ran me into it. I had just enough time to raise my arms before I hit, saving my brains from splattering all over one of Rose’s dinosaur drawings.
“This should teach you,” he said, and stomped out of the room.
I struggled to my feet, made it halfway, and sank down again. I was vaguely aware that Rose was still crying; she’d hit a higher gear and was hysterical, her cries less loud but breathless, as if she were being strangled. I crawled toward the bed and Rose jumped down and ran to me, crying “Mommy Mommy Mommy!” Her tears wet my face as I pulled her to me tightly, hugging her as hard as I could, wanting to shut out the pain and the fear and knowing that hugs and words and assurances were not going to make a bit of difference, not after what she’d seen.