~~ The still night air held a quiet silence throughout the rundown house that lingered heavily. The sun just peeked over the skyline of the tree-tops and buildings that surrounded the house. A fan sat in the doorway of Daryl’s room, allowing some comfort from the unbearable heat that had swept its way through the area. Although the heated temperature, Daryl lay curled protectively around the small baby he held so dear to his heart. At 9 months old, she had him wrapped around her finger.
Kayleigh slept facing Daryl, her tiny body lay in fettle position under the arms of the lanky redneck. The small Dixon never slept in her own bed due to waking in the early hours of the morning, her wales attracting bad attention from Daryl’s older brother, Merle. Things laid scattered about the small room mostly consisting of children’s toys and books and magazines. In her light pink jumper, Kayleigh sucked on a purple pacifier and held a grip on her father’s shirt whilst he began to awaken. A small groan escaped from between Daryl’s lips as he squinted his eyes at the sunlight that had started to leak into his bedroom through the window. His eyes averted from the window and he gazed down at Kayleigh, a faint smile crept up onto his lips. He hated to wake her so early in the morning; however, Daryl needed to get to work.
He worked near three jobs to keep the roof over their head (though it may not be much at all), food on the table, and to pay for other necessities of the household. Daryl hid the little extra money he could scrape together in a small jar above the refrigerator in order to save up for a better house to have a better living space for all of them, including and especially Kayleigh. Merle often, not always, snatched away good portions of the savings to satisfy his drug and alcohol addictions.
Daryl sat himself up carefully, his body leaning more forward in a hunch position. Small beads of sweat rolled down his forehead and upper arms. He reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose tightly then rubbed the sleep from his eyes before he rose from his bed and stretched. “C’mon, Bug,” Daryl mumbled as he turned on his heels and picked Kayleigh up, cradling her to his chest. “It’s time to wake up. Daddy’s gotta go to work.” He bounced her lightly as he entered the kitchen.
The walls of the kitchen were dark and dirty. The wallpaper pealed down the wall in spiral strips, leaving the large blank, dirty looking patches in the wallpaper. The floors weren’t much better; the tiled floor looked as if a mop had never touched it. Little chips and cracks were visible on many of the tiles. Old, worn-out kitchen counters lined the walls; a few drawers missing from one or two of the cabinets and knobs missing on some of the drawers that were there. The wood-stain had worn off in areas all over the cabinets. A large bulky refrigerator sat in the left corner of the kitchen, seeming to rot in the corner yet worked. Lastly, an old lamp was placed on the counter to provide light.
Daryl scrunched up his nose at the fowl smelling dishes that were piled in and around the sink. He scowled and cursed Merle under his breath. He would get him for not doing what he was supposed to. “Damn lazy bastard…,” Daryl swore softly so that Kayleigh could not hear, no matter if she was a baby. The heat seemed to increase throughout the rest of the house, which didn’t have any means for cooling them off. Daryl walked over to the filthy refrigerator and opened it. Cool air suddenly rushed from the refrigerator and cooled both Kayleigh and Daryl. Kayleigh curled up her tiny feet and buried her face in part of her father’s shirt. He reached into the pleasingly cold refrigerator and pulled out a pre-made bottle of formula, one that he made the night before, and closed the refrigerator door. “Alright, baby girl. Wake up. You gotta eat somethin’.”
Daryl shrugged Kayleigh off of his shoulder gently and slid her down into his left arm, cradling her and supporting her back against his forearm. The little girl’s eyes opened just barely enough for Daryl to see her light blue eyes glazed over with morning drowsiness. A smile crept onto his lips, but he quickly shook it off. He then placed the nipple of the bottle carefully to Kayleigh’s lips and waited for her to latch on. She caught the tip of the bottle almost instantaneously and sucked down the formula with hunger, boosting her awake. Daryl watched Kayleigh for a few moments, taking time to spend with her before he has to leave. He looked towards the living room door and piped up, “Hey, Merle! Get up! I gotta go to work and you’ll be watchin’ Bug!” A loud groan erupted from the living room as Merle was wakened.
He sat up and rubbed his eyes then looked around the room. Beer bottles and vodka bottles, all empty, laid around him on the couch, floor, and tables beside the couch. A banging headache began to form in the back of Merle’s head. Daryl walked into the living room to see Merle with his head resting in the palms of his hands, suffering from the usual hangover he received. Kayleigh let go of the bottle and coughed whilst formula spilled from her mouth. Daryl stopped, looked away from Merle, set down the bottle on the table beside the couch, and patted Kayleigh’s back. He tilted her forward and patted a little harder in order to let her cough up any formula that may choke her. Finally, Kayleigh spit up some formula with a squeaky burp. Daryl smiled slightly and looked up at Merle as Merle looked back at him. “You’re gonna watch her, Merle. I have to work,” Daryl stated as if he had read Merle’s mind.
“I got better things to do than to babysit some whiney kid!” Merle complained.
“Well, you’re gonna so get over it,” Daryl spat back, “And ya ain’t gonna take her around any of your dumbass drug dealer friends either. No drugs and no alcohol.”
“You better watch it, baby brother. I’ll knock ya on your ass!” Merle threatened.
Daryl decided to keep his mouth shut after Merle’s threat. He didn’t need that this early in the morning and he certainly didn’t want a fight to freak out in front of Kayleigh. He shot his gaze away from Merle before he could do something he might regret and turned his attention back down to his daughter. Daryl bounced her lightly and watched her gaze around the living room. He leaned down and planted a sweet, soft kiss on Kayleigh’s forehead. Merle huffed out a slight laugh at how soft Daryl was on his niece and looked the other way. Daryl placed Kayleigh in Merle’s lap. Merle groaned.
Kayleigh, now fully awake and hyper, began to bounce herself on Merle’s lap whilst she squealed. Daryl chuckled at the cute act as he walked back into his bedroom, the cool air of the fan blowing on him once more and cooling him off. He changed into his work clothes, a black collared shirt with black slacks. His naturally thin brown hair didn’t seem to bother him as it lay straight on his head. Daryl returned to the living room and snatched his keys from the table next to Merle. “Alright, I’m leavin’. Take care of Bug for me,” Daryl bid his farewell to his daughter and brother then walked out of the door and out to his truck. He pulled the door open and stared back at the house, taking a last look before driving away. He breathed out a sigh as he climbed into the driver’s seat, started the truck, and drove away.
Merle looked down at his niece, who was still bouncing excitedly and giggling. He smiled faintly just for a moment before he picked her up as he stood and supported her on his right side. He strode over to the window and pulled the blinds down with his big fingers. Dust flew up into the air. Merle had to step back and cough from the dust entering his nostrils. Once his coughing fit had died down, he slowly brought the blinds down once more. His eyes scanned for any sign of his brother; he noticed the truck was gone and no sign of Daryl lingered anywhere. “Well, Squirt, can ya keep a secret? What your papa don’t know won’t hurt him, right?” Merle asked Kayleigh and glanced down at her. She gave a squeaky giggle with a bright smile and clapped her small hands together. “I’ll take that as a yes.” He turned his head and looked over the room in search of something, anything, to keep Kayleigh’s attention. No toys in the living room. Merle walked into Daryl’s room and looked among the many books and toys scattered about. He grabbed the first thing he could reach off of his brother’s bedside table. A loud car horn sounded when he picked up the toy, causing him to jump. “Damn,” he swore and looked down at the rather small toy. It was artificial car keys that had buttons on each key, each button making a different sound. “Stupid toy…,” Merle groaned, “Here, Squirt, play with these a while. Go crazy.” He handed the keys to his niece’s outreached hand and watched her squeal once she had them in her grasp.
He sat her down on the living room floor. Kayleigh held the keys up to her uncle and giggled happily. Her feet kicked out as she proceeded to press the buttons, squealing every time a different sound began. Merle let out a huff of a chuckle and made his way to the kitchen in search of a little alcohol. According to him, a little alcohol can cure any hangover. He threw open the cabinets with the expectation to find his beloved bottles lined in a row, however, found nothing but dust. A low dangerous growl slid out of his throat as he shut the cabinet doors. Merle moved to the small cabinets above the refrigerator and threw the doors open, and yet again, nothing but dust was found. Acid seemed to leak from his lips as he spoke ever so coldly, “Goddamnit!! I am going to kick that asshole’s teeth in when he gets home!!” Merle continued with his tantrum and lifted his foot back, and kicking the cabinet. His foot broke through the thinned wood with a loud CRACK! He howled with pain, swears strung from his mouth; he pulled his foot free and hobbled to the doorway of the living room.
The last of the car sounds died down, Kayleigh stared at her uncle and his pained expression. His screaming and yelling was not improving the situation any. Merle let another raspy growl out before turning around and stomping over to the refrigerator. He pulled the jar down off the top and shook every cent out. Merle dropped the jar and stomped out into the living room, leaving the pieces of broken glass on the kitchen floor. He scooped up Kayleigh without warning, almost dropping her in the process, and headed for the front door. “We’re gonna go out for a drive,” Merle spat out.
His truck was old, rusty, and beat up. Dents could be seen on several places all over the truck as well as old worn-off dark red paint and silver, scratchy patches where paint used to be. Merle opened the passenger’s side of the truck and sat Kayleigh down in a car seat that appeared to be a little too big for a baby her size; however, Merle honestly didn’t care at the moment. He buckled her in as best he could in his fit of rage and slammed the door closed once he had finished. Kayleigh didn’t understand why her uncle was so upset. The yelling and growling confused and scared the poor child. Tear brimmed the edge of her eyes once Merle had slammed the door closed. She began to whine and kick her feet out. As Merle entered the driver’s side, he became more irritated from Kayleigh’s whining fit. “Shut the hell up!” Merle snapped at her without thinking.
He pulled out of the driveway of their house and headed towards the highway. The music played on and on seemingly in an endless cycle from Merle’s point of view. Each word of every song pushed him closer and closer to his breaking point. Finally he slammed his hand against the power button and turned off the radio. Temporary relief struck him until Kayleigh’s whining piped up and rang in his ears. “Will you shut your trap!!” he roared, though, yelling only made it worse. His grip around the steering wheel tightened tremendously. Kayleigh kicked her feet out more violently, her whines turned into cries. Tears rolled down her red cheeks. Merle tried his best to take a deep breath as he swore at Daryl behind his clenched teeth.
Things only progressed from there. Morning traffic backed up on the roads, cars blocked Merle from the front and back. Other vehicles passed by him with ease. Soon the cries, anger, and impatience grew to be too much. Merle was blinded with hazy rage with no clear thinking whatsoever. He jerked the steering wheel to the right with great force, jolting the car into the opposite lane.
Before anyone could react, a white van collided head on into the passenger side of Merle’s truck. The glass in the windows shattered and seemed to move in slow motion before making impact all over the truck. The crushing sound of metal piercing and tearing against another piece of metal screeched and deafened Merle. His head flew forward and hit the steering wheel, bashing a small wound into his head. Warm blood ran down his forehead and around his nose. Deadened pressure began to crush his right arm against his ribs as the truck was jerked back and forth from other cars hitting the wreckage. Tires screeching, screams, and sounds of people calling for help rang out…all except for Kayleigh’s cries that Merle never thought he so desperately wanted to hear until know. Merle tried to move his arm or his shoulder, however, they were caught between the seats and bent truck. He tried to swing his head to the side to catch even a glimpse of Kayleigh; however, he could not move his neck. All he could do was stare at the small spats of blood that trailed down the front of his steering wheel. Merle could not react, realization had not hit him yet and his clouded mind began to shut his body down.
Mere moments passed and silence was the only thing echoing, then a voice, just in what seemed to be the distance. Suddenly, he felt his body rock back and forth, recognizing that someone was pushing him. Merle could hardly make out the voice that spoke; it was drowned out against the ringing in his ears except for one sentence.