Get your belt, she said to him. Her mouth was as straight and tight as the arm she had reached out to point to where the belt was. Like he didn’t know his own closet.
He had more than one belt though. And this time she didn’t say “get the belt.” “Get your belt” left things a little open to interpretation. He wasn’t dumb enough to get the nylon or braided cotton ones. She’d either have him go back and get the belt, or he’d get the buckle. Not the church belt; it was stiff in the way kids’ dress clothes always are from not being used enough to be broken in. He had two broken-in leather belts. One was braided and the other was wider. He preferred the braided one. He told himself it couldn’t hurt as bad because the belt being intertwined had to take out some of the sting.
He handed the belt to his mom. He shoved it carefully at her with the restrained defiance of anyone who’s already in punishment but isn’t sure when that punishment will end.
Thank you, she said, clipping the words at their ends like that time she had asked him to get some papers out of the glove box to her car when the police had stopped them.
She handed the belt to the boy’s father, who had been seated at the kitchen table while she stood. He had taken few bites from his plate in the time since she had first found the boy, who had forgotten to lock the bathroom door and should have known he’d been in there too long. They didn’t look at each other in the exchange.
Come here, the man said, bending in his chair to eye level and motioning the boy to his lap. The boy marched over and bent over his knee to face away from his parents.
This hurts us more than it hurts you, the father said between times. The boy turned back to see his mother who was looking at his father through tears. I’m sorry, he heard her say after he stood up and his father had walked away, leaving the two of them there with her clutching the boy’s head against her belly.