Distinguished Voices in Literature Fiction Contest, Finalist
Amy’s right side of her shirt looks worn and wrinkly from Little Jimmy, her youngest son, pulling on it trying to get her attention. It was Little Jimmy’s first time being at a zoo and he could hardly wait to see the elephants. “I wanna touch it’s ears Mommy” he said dragging Amy in the direction of the elephant exhibit. Amy looked at Mike, her husband of almost 5 years, with a wrinkled face.
“We’ll meet up in 30 minutes at the big blue slide” he said to her.
Amy rolled her eyes and walked away with Jimmy towards the elephant exhibit while Mike took his older two kids, Krissy and Kegan, to another part of the zoo. Mike hated when Amy acted like this. “I feel like I’m raising and controlling four kids and not three” he would repeat in his head every time she responded this way.
She knew Jimmy was going to cause a scene if the elephants weren’t their first stop. The therapist told her to pick her battles and that wasn’t a battle she was willing to fight.
“Unfortunately kids are going to have meltdowns, Amy, its normal”
“Not meltdowns like Jimmy. No one understands how hard it is to avoid them”
“Maybe some meltdowns just aren’t worth having if it stresses you out this much. Who cares if he wants to eat one more cookie sometimes…if it’s going to ruin your night may as well just let him have another cookie”?
Amy thought back to this conversation with her therapist too often. Anytime she had to tell Jimmy no she pondered it for at least five minutes to decide if it was worth him backlashing at her. Mike never understood this about Amy. The three kids would hear them go at it every night.
“Why can’t you be the bad cop every once in a while” Mike would shout at Amy.
“The therapist said to pick our battles Mike. Jimmy watching tv while we ate dinner didn’t ruin anyone’s night, but yours” Amy was shouting back at Mike even louder now.
“You’re never home anyways why do you care what I do with the kids” Amy said with passion then quickly got quiet.
She knew she had pushed it this time. Mike shut off the light sitting on the nightstand next to his side of the bed and rolled over. He put one hand on the back of her neck and one on her hips pulling her closer until she could feel his whole body against the back of hers. She always knew to not pull away at this point; it would just make him angrier. That’s how every night ended.
Amy placed blame on Jimmy’s Pre-K teacher for getting him all excited for the zoo. Of course in morning circle Jimmy was eager to brag to all his classmates about his family vacation to the zoo over the upcoming long weekend. His teacher was a first year and seemed to be trying a little too hard to get the kids to like her. All her and Jimmy talked about was what animals he will see and how she’s so excited to hear all about his experience. Amy stopped herself. She was so caught up in thinking about her anger toward Jimmy’s teacher for getting him riled up that she didn’t notice when Jimmy stopped pulling on her shirt. She looked down in fear. His little fingers were no longer grabbing the light blue fabric anymore like his life depended on it.
Little Jimmy was gone.
As Mike walked away with his two eldest daughters they talked about Amy. “What’s been going on with you and mom” was the only thing they seemed to be talking about lately. Mike’s response seemed to sound like a record player stating that mom has just been stressed lately with work and housework and everything will be okay. By now, it was like muscle memory. Amy doesn’t work. In fact she never did; and the girls were starting to catch on. Her and Mike had met when Kissy and Kegan were young and being a stepmother was not how she fanaticized her future marriage to be. But Mike stole her heart and that was something she would have to accept. They married and with Mike’s job, he decided Amy staying at home with the kids would be best. Nothing has changed, from what Krissy and Kegan could see, so what was causing all this stress in Amy’s life?
Amy sat down at a nearby bench that was meant for families to sit and eat an overpriced meal. The smell of french fries and vinegar overwhelmed her and suddenly she was hungry. She felt a weird sense of relief that Jimmy wasn’t attached at her hip. Something was wrong. She felt no motivation or reason to get up and look for him. She loved Jimmy, he was her son, but she’d had enough. This was her escape.
She gazed out at the playground watching all the kids. She stared at a big blue slide in particular. The slide was the same shade of blue as the big beach blanket her family had. She reminisced about the times her family would pack up a cooler and all go down to the beach for the day. They’d lay their big blue blanket in the hot sand and watch the waves. After a couple hours her and her sisters would lay down and watch the clouds go by in the blue sky. Calling out what figure they could make out of each one; eventually leading to a screaming match of who can make up more. Her eyes got more and more focused on the slide until she heard a high-pitched scream breaking her focus. It wasn’t Jimmy; Amy knew Jimmy’s screams from all of the fits he’s thrown.
It wasn’t until she heard Krissy and Kegan coming up behind her that she snapped back to reality. Little Jimmy was gone. What is she going to tell her family? As she heard their voices get closer, she panicked. Amy stood up fast and spun around “Little Jimmy is on the playground” she said too quickly as she blinked away white spots in her vision because she stood up too fast. The three of them took a seat next to Amy pretending to watch the kids on the playground in awkward silence.
“I don’t see Jimmy” one of them said in a questioning voice. It didn’t matter to Amy who said it…one of them was going to notice eventually.
“Really? He was just headed down the blue slide” she responded back without looking up.
Amy didn’t know if she was scared to tell Mike and the girls that Jimmy was gone or if she was more scared to admit to herself that she had let it go this far without reacting the way she knows she should have. She hoped that Jimmy would just show up and she could avoid the whole thing, like she was used to doing with him.
“Amy come with me to get the kids some drinks and food” said Mike. Without responding she stood up and started walking towards the food stand. The two of them stood in silence in the long line that was out the two double doors until it was their time to order. “We’ll have three bottled waters, one cheeseburger, and three hot dogs with only ketchup” Mike said then quickly added “oh and one piece of pizza for my wife.” Mike let go of Amy’s arm he was gripping so tightly to grab his wallet. Amy gave a fake smile to the cashier and headed for the bathroom.
While washing her hands with the soap that smelled like the doctor’s office, she saw an exit sign in the mirror reflection. Under it was a sign made form computer paper taped to the back door that said “EMERGENCIES ONLY” in all blue letters. Amy chuckled to herself thinking, “what kind of emergency would happen at the zoo besides all the animals escaping their exhibits?” Ironically not acknowledging that she in fact was having an emergency…and it wasn’t the zoo animals escaping. She took a deep breath and headed for the door.
Krissy and Kegan were standing with Mike talking loud with their hands swinging in circles. Mike looked overwhelmed not paying attention to the heavy tray of food he was about to drop. Amy hesitantly walked up to the three of them pretending nothing was happening.
“MOM!” Kegan shouted.
“Mom we can’t find Little Jimmy anywhere!” Krissy followed up with, so she didn’t feel left out.
Mike took control of the situation, as always.
“Now let’s calm down and take a step back from the situation”
“We went to the blue slide to see if Jimmy was there and he wasn’t so then we searched the whole playground and we can’t find him anywhere”
Amy was silent.
Mike shoved the tray of food into Amy’s arms and walked fast towards the playground.
“Little Jimmy” he yelled. Getting louder and louder each time he yelled it.
Soon enough people were crowded around the four of them yelling Jimmy’s name to help find him. A close by mother ran to the police station on site to get their attention. The woman and two cops came running over. The two cops were in their late 30’s or early 40’s. They wore navy blue uniforms which caught Amy’s eye. All she could think about is how hot it must be to run around in them.
While sitting in a hard metal chair Amy placed her hands under her thighs to avoid her highs touching the cold metal. Mike had refused to come in and answer questions about the sequence of events because why would he “sit there and answer questions he doesn’t know when he can be looking for Jimmy?”
“How old is he?” said one officer.
“What was he wearing”
“Ma’am I know this is difficult but the more information you can give us the easier this will be” the officer said in a sterner voice now.
“Jeans he was wearing jeans and a black t-rex shirt” Amy spitted out.
“Is there any other information you can tell us that would help us?”
“Elephants. He loves the elephants.”
The two men looked at each other and stood up at the same time as if they had practiced this routine. A woman came up behind Amy offering her a cup of water. “Thanks” Amy said grabbing the water and gulping it down in one sip.
The woman sat in the seat next to Amy, where Mike would have been sitting. Amy looked at her as she sat and said, “blue dress pants, that’s what I would wear to work too.”
The woman looking at her confused asked where she works and Amy responded that she doesn’t work, Mike had a job that provided enough so she stayed at home.
“I couldn’t help but notice the scratch on your hand it’s bleeding a little can I offer you a first aid kit?” the woman asked politely.
Amy had been so overwhelmed with everything going on that she didn’t realize she had been scratching and digging away at her skin. She tends to do this when she feels anxious.
“Sure I’ll take a band aid” Amy said quietly.
“Oh wow you also have a bruise on your arm! Did you fall out there?” the woman said surprised.
Before Amy could answer Mike came bursting through the door. Amy had seen this sight too often that it didn’t faze her. The woman in the blue pants jumped.
“A band aid? Really Amy? How old are you?” Mike said.
“She had a cut and was bleeding a decent amount it was no trouble” said the woman in the blue pants.
“Let’s go you don’t need any more help” Mike said grabbing Amy by the arm.
He had grabbed right where the bruise was. Right where he had been holding on in the food line. Right where he always grabbed Amy when he was taking her somewhere.
The woman quickly grabbed a card out of her pocket and shoved it into Amy’s hand saying, “if you think of anything else please don’t hesitate to call.”
Amy and Mike walked out of the little police station trailer and Amy had to blink her eyes a couple times to let them adjust to the lighting change. People were still yelling Jimmy’s name and looking in dumb spots like under the picnic benches. This made Amy laugh, why would he be under the bench? If Amy was going to run away, she thought she would get on one of those big blue busses that travel the state and she would ride it until she felt she was far enough away.
Amy felt a light tug on the bottom of her shirt, she turned around and saw it was Little Jimmy pulling at her with a huge smile. She looked up and saw the older policeman in all blue shaking his head while laughing.
“You had us worried little man” he said looking at Jimmy.
How ironic Amy thought to herself, the cop was more worried than I was. After all the chaos of thanking everyone who helped Mike decided it would be best for them to leave the zoo now while they had everyone together. He joked around with everyone around him about it, but Amy knew the second Mike had her alone he was going to have some words for her.
The ride home was silent except for the muffled noise coming from Kegan’s headphones. Amy could just barely make out the song that she was listening to, Love the Way You Lie by Rihanna and Eminem. She started humming along until Mike turned to her and gave her a side eye look. She stopped and looked out the window as she thought about the day. She was confused herself; she couldn’t quite grasp why she reacted the way she did.
Later that night, the three kids were tucked away in bed but not sleeping because of the sound of Amy and Mike fighting. The fight went as usual until they heard a loud crash. Krissy came running down the hallway and pushed their door open with no hesitation.
Amy was standing with a baseball bat over Mike.
Mike was unconscious and bleeding.
“Call 911” Amy yelled to Krissy.
Blue and red flashing lights lit up the house. Amy was shaking and afraid.
“Everything happened so fast” she kept repeating in her head while trying to think of exactly what happened. Just then, there was a knock on the door and two officers walked in followed by a few paramedics.
Amy franticly lead them to the bedroom, where Mike was laying. The paramedics were able to get Mike on a stretcher and get some vitals. Amy didn’t react. Once again, she found herself numb to the situation.
One of the officers pulled Amy into a separate room and asked if he could ask her a couple questions about what happened that night. The officer followed Amy into the kitchen and had a seat at the table.
“To your best ability can you tell me what happened tonight?” the officer said in a sterner voice than what she expected.
Amy sat there for a while trying to piece the events together but all she could think about was how fast everything had happened. The officer seemed to be getting annoyed with the silence in the room.
“Is there anyone we can call for you” said the voice of a woman in the background who seemed concerned about Amy and the kids.
“Trish… Trish Ridings” Amy said hesitantly.
Trish was Amy’s therapist and she understood that it took Amy a while to answer questions. She would understand. Amy turned around to find the woman leaning against the cabinet. She had blue dress pants on, the same as the ones she had seen earlier. It was the officer that had offered her a band-aid.
They all sat in the kitchen awkwardly until headlights came through the kitchen window. Amy didn’t move. The women went and greeted Trish at the door and seemed to stand there for a long time before returning to the kitchen.
“Hello officer” Trish said to the man sitting across from Amy.
“Can we please have the room” before he could answer Trish sat down at the table next to Amy.
“Hi Amy” she said in her soft voice. That’s how she always started their sessions.
“Well I’m happy you found Jimmy” Trish said to her while setting down her pen that she used to take notes.
“Just out of curiosity where did they find him?”
“They saw him wondering around the bathrooms” Amy responded.
“And how did this make you feel?”
Trish waited patiently.
“I guess if I’m being honest I didn’t and still don’t feel anything”
“Can you expand on that?” she asked hesitantly trying not to push Amy too far.
“I feel numb. It’s so weird I felt an odd feeling of relief when Jimmy went missing. Like maybe this would be good for him. You know? To get away from this family.”
“Do you want to get away from your family Amy?”
“I’ve thought about it”
“The officer who met me at the door said she helped you at the zoo today. She was concerned”
“She mentioned something about a bruise and bleeding and how Mike reacted.”
Amy sat silent and thought to herself how fast it took the woman to notice Mike’s behavior. Was it that obvious to her? The way Mike treated her. It took Amy two years to realize how messy their marriage was. How did it take her 20 minutes to realize but took Amy two years?
“Amy?” her therapist said pulling her back to reality.
“Does Mike do things to hurt you?”
“Yes” Amy said quietly.
“It’s not okay for him to treat you this way Amy. And I know you love him but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy love. And I think that’s why you felt the way you did when Jimmy was missing”
“I don’t want my son to grow up in a life and family like this” she said now crying.
Just then the woman in the blue pants pulled a chair out and sat down. Trish looked at the woman and nodded, giving her approval to bud in.
“Amy, I want you to know you have options”
Next Amy knew she was stepping into a navy-blue cop car to go make a statement and press charges against Mike. Looking out the window along the ride Amy looked up at the clear blue sky; wishing with every bone in her body she was laying on the beach with her sisters making animals and figures out of the clouds.
“Blue Elephants” is a complex and terrifying psychological portrait of domestic abuse, told with emotional nuance and heartbreaking precision.
-contest judge, Emily Fridlund.
Sarah Daniels is an Inclusive Education major at SUNY Cortland. Her hometown is Buffalo, New York where she is often found in her room journaling. She plans to use her creativity and passion to teach her future students that they too, have no limit.