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An Act of Abandonment

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It's been a long night. Beneath Matt, the sheets are twisted – cheap cotton, worn and pilling. The threads are rough on his skin, and the wrinkles, and the cheap polyester of the comforter.

He's nine years old, and he has school tomorrow, and sleep's never seemed further away.

"You worthless bitch!" bellows a man's voice, somewhere in the distance, with perfect clarity. There's a crack and a wavery little wail in response, and Matt presses the pillow down hard on top of his ear. He holds the other flush against the mattress, and even with the pressure on both sides, they still keep nothing out.

The man keeps yelling, and down the street, a cat yowls – thin and high, as though in pain. A bar three blocks away is packed to capacity; Matt catches bits of the music through the open windows, the whud, whud of the bass and a tinny melody line.

He fights not to listen – fights to clear his mind enough for sleep.

But sooner than Matt believes possible, a rumble fills his chest up, heard and felt both at once.

He knows that sound all too well. It's the garbage truck on their street, beginning its morning rounds. The deep thrum of it shakes in his head, and that means he's done it again: wasted the whole night awake and aware. School today will be spent groggy and drowsing, with a headache throbbing in and out behind his eyes.

If he could see, he knows the sky would be a pale grey, fading slowly to delicate eggshell blue. He could look out his bedroom window and crane his neck, catch a glimpse of the moon between the tops of the buildings.

It's a sight he's seen a thousand times – and he calls it to mind now, that perfect white disc floating high above the city.

In the other room, Matt hears his father shuffle out of bed, off toward the bathroom. He hears a trickle, and then running water, and then the shuffle again, toward the kitchen this time. There's the clatter of dishware, the hiss of steam, the soft tink of a spoon on the table, and then knuckles rap at the door.

"Matty?" says Matt's father. "You up?"

He could close his eyes – pretend to be asleep. Instead he says, "Yeah," and shoves himself up so the blankets fall into a warm pool around his waist.

The door clicks open, and those shuffling steps come up to the bed. From the kitchen, there's a whiff of oats, the sweeter scent of raisins: the off-brand oatmeal from the cabinet above the stove, already made.

"Breakfast," Matt's father says. "Better hurry before it gets cold."

Matt says nothing in reply. He's miserable, and his head hurts, and he wants nothing more than to stay in bed forever.

There's a slow indrawn breath, an even slower release. "Rough night?"

"Yeah," says Matt, voice a little scratchy.

His father shifts the mattress when he sits, makes the springs creak with his weight. He drapes an arm around Matt's shoulder, heavy and warm, and pulls Matt up against him. The sound of his heartbeat is low and steady, clearer than a church bell.

And for awhile, that's all there is: the rhythmic pulse of life, and the clean-sharp tang of cheap soap, and the way his father's pajama shirt feels against the side of his face, soft and well-worn.

They stay that way for a long time, until at last a big hand ruffles Matt's hair. "Time to get a move on, Matty."

When he feels his way to the kitchen table and slides into the chair, he discovers that the oatmeal is already cold – and Matt doesn't mind at all.


Three days later, Battlin' Jack Murdock stands victorious in the ring, and the crowd roars his name.

Three days later, a bullet sends Matt to St. Agnes.

In the years to come, Matt will look back on the cold-oatmeal morning the same way he remembers the moon: fondly, with longing, as a precious relic of childhood.