“Who’s out of bed? I fucking warned you.”
Dad’s voice crescendoed from the hallway as we sprung out of view on the landing, quick as adrenaline. The bedroom door swinging behind us, I shinned up the ladder to the top bunk while Jay dived under covers on the bottom. Dad took the stairs two at a time.
“Will you say it was you, Jay?” I pleaded. “He’ll kill me.”
The door flew open, the light crashed on and Dad stalked in, belt in hand.
“Which one of you bastards is playing games with me?”
I could feel his eyes boring into me. His sour breath trembled my soul.
“It was me, Dad,” Jay said quietly.
For a second, I thought no-one was going to get hurt.
In a flash, Dad dropped the belt and yanked the covers off Jay. His smacks cracked like a barbed whip and Jay’s scream chilled my bones. Eyes screwed shut, my body tensed with every savage blow.
“If I catch either of you again tonight, so help me God, I’ll kill ye. Do you hear me?”
Dad’s laboured breath was the only sound.
“Then heed me.”
He picked up his belt and stalked out, slamming the light off.
Minutes passed. I lay rigid, listening to my brother’s sobs, so quiet only dogs and I could hear them.
“Thanks, Jay,” I said softly.
His crying paused a moment, then continued. No more words passed between us. At last, his tears delivered him to sleep.