Nina Lynn Brody smoothed her hand over the glassy surface of the tiny metal coffin.

It seemed too small to hold all the joy and energy, the magic and mayhem of her son. Surely he'd been bigger than this? Only nine, so of course he was small, but he'd always felt so much larger than life, a bundle of smart comments and endless questions, scraped knees and freckles, temper and smiles. How had they crammed all that into a tiny box?

She remembered him from just weeks before, a towel tied at his neck like a cape, swooping around the house and jumping from couch to table. He'd have to stop when his father came home, of course. Find a quiet spot. Work on homework or one of his art projects. But, before then, he could be himself.

"I'll be your hero, Mom," he'd told her proudly. She still had the picture he'd drawn of him "saving her" folded up in her purse. Mikey her superhero and she a damsel in distress. How could she have guessed it would be his own undoing?

The tears wouldn't come. She felt like she was made of tears, that, if she released them, there'd be nothing left of her, just like there was nothing left of her son except some useless bits they could cram into this minuscule box.

The casket had had to be closed.

They hadn't let her see him again, not after the ambulance had taken his broken body away, not after the funeral directors had put it back together as best they could. She didn't need to. She'd seen that piquant face shattered to unrecognizability on the kitchen floor.

They'd told the police he'd fallen from the railing above the stair. He hadn't been beaten all over, just his face crushed by a single blow, his neck broken as he fell. No one had argued. No one had investigated. A tragic accident.

They didn't know the monster that had killed her son.

Her eyes glanced at the purple marks on her wrist where her long sleeve had ridden up. They matched the marks on her neck beneath the turtleneck where he had nearly killed her for killing their son. The bruises on her ribs and her legs where he'd kicked her. The punches at her kidneys where he'd pounded his fury into her. Only her face was spared, was always spared, though he often lifted her by her hair. No one must know. That was the mantra spoken over and over, day after day. No one must know.

Her son had known. He'd spent too many hours in his closet, curled around his little sister where Nina had taught them to hide when he beat her. He'd known.

How could she not have known he would come to her rescue, would come to protect her, would want to be her hero rather than let her be battered one more time?

"You killed him," Randy had said, his hands around her neck. After the cops had come and gone, after her hero, crushed to lifelessness, had been spirited away. Randy had choked her on her bed and told her so she'd know who the monster was, who had really killed their son.

"Who taught him to defy his father? Who taught him to interfere between a husband and wife? What kind of monster sacrifices her son to save herself?"

The tears hadn't come then either, just like now, blocked by guilt at the horror she'd created, the senseless loss to the world she'd orchestrated.

Her son.

She wanted to throw herself on the coffin and weep, beg Mikey's forgiveness, beg for one more chance where she would find a way to protect her baby.

But there could not be a God, or Mikey wouldn't be dead instead of her.

She did not deserve the solace of tears.

"Are you coming?"

She straightened. Turned.

Behind her, the huge bulk of Randy stood in the bright doorway, silhouetted as he held their daughter's hand. "Well? Are you going to take all day? I want supper."

"Yes," she said. "I'm coming."

Stephanie E Barr

Stephanie E Barr

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