“ Bring Me My Cigarettes ” by Fran Sankowski
I don’t know why we were sitting in the dark, but we were. My brother
Marvin and I were huddled together in a chair, by the door that led upstairs.
We were holding each other tight, shaking and scared.
We couldn’t wait for Mom to come home from work, to save us.
During the summer, Mom worked days and some nights for extra money
to buy our school clothes in fall. Night work meant we were left with
Mom’s boyfriend, the monster up stairs. He acted ok when Mom was
around, but the moment he was alone with us, he changed.
Marvin was 8 and I was 7. Marvin always tried to be nice to the boyfriend.
But I tried to avoid him at all cost. I knew exactly what he was the moment
I met him. Something in his eyes told me he was a monster and he didn’t
waste any time proving me right.
He was jealous of Mom and beat her right in front of us if he thought
she‘d been with another man. Then he’d pass out from drinking.
The monster, as I called him, worked all day and drank all night. When
he passed out, I often thought of setting him on fire. He had so much
alcohol in him that he’d go up like paper!
Before we moved in with this monster, Mom was with the only man I
ever thought of as a father. He’s name was Albert Dawson. This man
was kind and would never hurt Mom or us. Of course he drank too,
but he wasn’t a mean drunk like this new boyfriend was.
I just realized I wrote “he drank too” as if that was normal. Actually it
was. All the men in that small area drank heavy. That’s the one thing
white men had in common with the black men in our town; they all worked
during the day, drank at night, messed with other woman and went home
to beat their women and kids before passing out. Or at least the white men
beat their kids. You didn't hear much about black men beating kids, but
I know some of them molested kids, just like the white men did.
One night Lev, “the monster”, beat my Mother so bad, her eyes were
bleeding from him punching her in the face. She left him that night,
with me in tow. My brothers stayed behind, peeping from under the
covers of the make shift bed on the floor in the living room. Since they
were left behind I should have known this wasn’t a permanent move.
We didn’t have a car so me and Mom left on foot, headed to my aunt's
house several miles away. It was really late and cold that night. Not a
single car came along that we could flag down.
Finally we heard a car approaching. I turned around to look and all I saw
was blinding head lights coming straight at us. I panicked and dove in the
ditch next to the road. Mom didn’t flinch. When I looked up from the ditch,
I expected to see Mom splattered all over the road, but she was alright.
She pulled me out of the ditch and we kept walking.
The speeding car was the monster, of course. He drove along side us for a
while, begging Mom to get in, but she kept looking straight ahead and never said
a word. I don’t remember anything after that. When I woke up, we were
at my aunt’s house. Mom and her sister were sitting at a table, talking.
They looked over at me when I tried to sit up, but my head felt so heavy
that I went back to sleep. Instead of leaving Lev for good, Mom went back
to him and that led up to this particular summer night.
As I said, Marvin and I were huddled together, scared in the dark, praying
for Mom to come home. The monster made us sit in the dark and dared us
to close the stairs' door. It was like sitting beside a gaping dark hole,
knowing something horrible was lurking in there, just waiting to grab us
and pull us in!
I felt safer when that door was closed, but the monster said to keep it open.
His house, his rules.
The next moment was like hell had opened up and one of its demons was
screaming at us;
“Sister bring me my cigarettes!”, the monster yelled.
That terrible voice scared us so bad that we jumped and I almost peed on myself.
Now I know what it means to be so scared that you “jump outta your skin”.
In the next few seconds, another strange and amazing thing happened.
My brother’s voice broke that very minute and he got his deep voice! I saw
him stick out his chest and in his new voice he said, “No Sister, I’ll take him
Even though Marvin was only 8 years old, he took charge. 10 grown soldiers couldn't
have shown more bravery than he did in that terrible moment. He got up, went in
the kitchen, snatched the pack of Pall Malls off the table and marched up those dark stairs
to face the monster.
In a kind, yet firm, clear, deep voice, Marvin said, “Here’s your cigarettes
There was something else in Marvin’s voice too; it was a plea for Lev to
do the right thing and not hurt us. But Lev didn’t do the right thing.
Instead he went deeper into his own evil.
“I told your sister to bring my cigarettes!”
The monster yelled that out with a hatred and violence that we had never heard
before. And I’ve never heard that kind of voice since. It jolted my brother
so bad that he stumbled down the stairs backwards. When he got to the
bottom, he threw the cigarettes at me and kept on running through the
kitchen and out the front door! Fleeing in terror.
Something came over me also. I wasn’t scared anymore. I knew what I had
to do. I couldn’t let that monster hurt my brother again, so I picked up those
damn cigarettes and this time I climbed those dark stairs. Lev was lying on
his bed, drunk, with a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth. I stayed as far
away from him as I could and throw his cigarettes on the bed.
I went blank after that. I don’t remember anything else that happened that
night. No memory of why we were sitting in the dark in the first place and
no memory of what happened after I throw the monster his cigarettes.
The next memory I have, is hearing Marvin’s voice a few days later.
He sounded like a little boy again. His deep voice was gone.
That monster had scared the manhood out of my brother.