Travis D. Roberson

I don’t remember much of the After, but I can recall the Before. The build-up to a fractured skull, to my mother whimpering on our kitchen floor. Black and white linoleum tiled like a chess board, made to mimic Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” music video.

Before: Mom and Dad screaming about something again. What set off the argument this time doesn’t matter. It never does. This fight will end like the others, in explosion. In bruises. The collision of flesh and muscle. Collision of telephone to frontal bone.

I stand in the doorway of my bedroom, listening. Older brother behind me. Even cubs as young as us know to seek shelter from a storm. We flinch as our parents scream, wondering what volatile biology could turn two adults into such feral creatures. We shudder when we hear Mom screech.

I don’t know who called the cops.

Now: A paramedic shows me a trick. He blows air into a nitrile glove, ties the end into a knot, and passes it to me. A balloon with five strange appendages. An alien. A mollusk.

The intention of the paramedic’s trick is successful: I forget about everything else, my attention narrowing on this new toy. I forget where Mom is—the back of the ambulance? Inside the house? Neighbors gather on their porches and front lawns, watching quietly and shaking their heads while two police officers stuff Dad into the back of a squad car. I bounce the balloon against my palm, studying the way it springs back in my face.

I can’t remember what Mom’s face looks like. A skull fracture must come with its special brand of contusions, but I have no memory of her face swollen or warped purple and black. But I hear her cry as the telephone in my father’s hand strikes her forehead, the dull thud of her body collapsing into the chessboard floor. All this Off Screen for me, like they do in movies sometimes because imagination proves more brutal than reality.

Is it normal to know what it sounds like when a telephone cracks a human skull—to know the density of a glove inflated with human breath?

By the time Dad returns home the balloon is either popped or deflated. In the After I don’t remember the color of my mother’s bruised face, but I can see the six pack of beer in my Dad’s hand as he exits the backseat of Grandad’s car and ambles up the driveway.


Travis D. Roberson grew up in Central Florida, where he spent his youth throwing rocks at snakes and reading comic books. Now settled in Queens, New York, he lives with his wife and dog. His work appears in Juked, Maudlin House, Orca, and a number of other places. You can find more of his writing at