PUNCHING BAG by Barb Goffman

They say appearances can be deceiving. No one knows that better than me. Everyone’s always thought I had it made. Only kid in the richest family in town, with a steady supply of cool new clothes and fancy vacation plans. Never had a worry.

That’s how it looked on the outside. But inside things were different. Anyone who met my mom knew something was off–because she was. Always talked a little too loud. Always made a big deal out of small things. She was always putting on a show, acting like a strict disciplinarian because that’s what she thought society expected. But the punishments threatened in front of outsiders never happened. I never lost my allowance or TV privileges or computer access. Those threats were for show. But the ranting in private, that was real. Her ridicule. Her rage. I was her emotional punching bag, and Mom was a prizefighter.

After starting high school last year, my friends complained straight out that Mom was crazy. My bestie was scared for me. Between what I told her and what she witnessed, it should have been enough for someone in authority to get me out of our house. But we were rich. And Dad was powerful. So I was stuck. My bestie feared that one day Mom would snap.

So did I. 

So I prepared. And when the day finally came, I was ready. 

“It was over nothing,” I told the cops. “I had debate team practice this morning. I thought we were meeting at Tara’s house–Tara Peterson–the club president. So Mom drove me there. She hated driving me places. Said she wasn’t my chauffeur. But she wouldn’t ever let me Uber. She called that a waste of money. So she drove me, but when we got to Tara’s house, Tara’s mom said the meeting was at school. It never occurred to me that my school would be open on a Saturday. So then Mom drove me to school, yelling”–here I choked up–“yelling the whole way about how dumb I was that I couldn’t remember the correct meeting place, and about the money she’d wasted on tolls and gas and how I’d wasted her time. As if I’d done it on purpose. She said she couldn’t believe I’d even made the debate team, considering how I screwed everything up all the time.

“She was still worked up when she picked me up. Then when we all sat down to dinner tonight, Mom started telling Dad what had happened. In seconds she was fuming, yelling about their idiot daughter. But Dad backed me up. Said it had been a simple mistake. Mom lost it. She screamed at him for not supporting her. Then she grabbed a knife from the block on the counter and she …”

I began crying. It took me several minutes to calm down and finish telling the story. The gist was that Mom went after Dad with the knife. Stabbed him. It all happened so fast. His blood flew everywhere. And as I stood there screaming, Mom turned and came after me. I managed to overpower her and wrench the knife away, but Mom got stabbed in the struggle.

The story was true. Mostly. Mom did drive me to Tara’s, then to school. She did scream the whole way. And she did rant at dinner about my stupidity and what a disappointing, ungrateful bitch I was. But Dad rolled his eyes, as if he couldn’t be bothered by these ridiculous details. By my tears. I got so angry that for once I started yelling. I’d made an honest mistake, I said. Why couldn’t he back me up? Take my side? He knew what she was like. He heard the names she called me. He should have been protecting me from her. But he couldn’t be bothered. All he cared about was work. He went on his business trips and left me home at Mom’s mercy, over and over and over.

I couldn’t take it anymore.

So while Mom was yelling about me being a self-centered cunt and Dad was warning me not to speak to him like that, I grabbed the knife from the block on the counter. And I killed him. And then, after a struggle, I killed her.

Maybe I should feel bad, but I don’t. The thing nobody thinks about with punching bags is they swing. Push hard enough and they’ll swing back and knock you on your ass.

Barb Goffman has won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories. Her work has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, among other venues. Her 2013 book, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even, won the Silver Falchion for the year’s best collection.

Copyright © 2019 Barb Goffman. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.