Orange juice at breakfast, it was a family tradition. Every morning, without fail everyone had a glass of it. If it wasn’t finished you couldn’t leave the table. Everyone drank it, even those who didn’t like orange juice, it was much preferable to the punishment for leaving any in the glass.
They all knew why too, their father telling them at least once a week, even if no one made a face of disgust. “When I was a boy I would have killed for some orange juice at breakfast. We got to have it once a year if we were lucky. I do everything I can to provide for this family, you will take what you are given and you will like it. I did not raise you to be ungrateful. This is my house and” And on and on and on. The speech usually lasted a good five minutes followed by him drinking his juice and maybe doling out some punishment if he perceived any slights during his speech, like making faces or not listening.
It had been a part of Samantha’s morning ritual for so long that even now she occasionally found herself reaching for a glass that wasn’t there. It hadn’t been for almost a year now. That was when she was finally able to escape. The others, they weren’t so lucky. She was the oldest by seven years, they had a long road ahead of them. Before she had visited, trying to keep their spirits up, but then her father banned her from the house. Really, Samantha saw it as a blessing, no more unexplainable bruises, no more screaming in her face. She managed to keep in contact with her brother, he would write letters to her during school and send them whenever he could. Her father kept the computer tightly locked down, anyone using it needed to have someone supervising them at all times. It seemed that since she had been banished the abuse had gotten worse, as though her father was trying to regain his authority over her through her siblings.
She had taken all the steps you were supposed to, telling the school, reporting it herself, but it never did any good. It was too well hidden and everyone seemed to be blinded by it. Her father didn’t usually leave marks, that was only when he was really, really angry and even those were rarely visible. Samantha only received a large portion of her visible bruises after she left and that was because her father was usually trying to get a shot at her while she was running out of the house. She knew it was stupid going back, that it was just asking for trouble, but she couldn’t just abandon all her siblings. Her mother did nothing to help, turning her back on them when they were given beatings, ignoring the crying, the screaming. In Samantha’s eyes her mother was just as bad as her father. Sure, she may not have hit them, but she didn’t stop it. Besides, her mother liked to play her own little games. Getting the children in trouble, twisting things around to make sure she was safe. Samantha remembered when she was nine, her mother told her she could go play next door. When her father arrived home he had been in a dark mood and her mother could see that. When Samantha got home she was beaten for leaving the house without permission. Samantha would never forget what her mother said to her as she cried, “Why would go when I told you not to. Why would you bring this on yourself?” That was when she knew her mother was just as bad as her father. She could see it in some of her younger brothers too. That unrepressed hate and sneaking manipulation. Getting others in trouble to avoid it themselves. Of the six of them, only two were good. Her brother Jacob and her sister Annie. Annie was still young, she was a gentle little girl. Always so quiet. Sometimes Samantha thought she could see it though, the glint of reptilian intelligence as someone else got in trouble for something. She always dismissed that thought, she was only three, she wouldn’t have the capacity for such manipulations. At least not yet.
Of course Samantha knew she hadn’t escaped unharmed. That would have been impossible. She had her issues, her problems. She didn’t bother with therapy, what good would that do when no one believed her now? No. Therapy wasn’t the solution, but that wasn’t a problem. Samantha had her own solution in mind. One that would take care of everything. The cycle of abuse would stop with their generation, it wouldn’t be allowed to continue.
Samantha let herself in through the backdoor, she already knew where the spare key was. Everyone was upstairs, asleep. Her father was a heavy sleeper and the doors were locked at night. If anyone heard her, they’d think it was him. The kitchen was covered in darkness, but she didn’t need light to know where she was going. The layout had not changed since she was a child. The breakfast nook was over in the right corner, the table already set up and prepared for breakfast. She moved around the island in the centre of the kitchen and went straight to the fridge. She opened it, wincing slightly as bright light spilled out. She took out the orange juice bottle and set it on the counter. Then she paused, listening. The house creaked and groaned as it settled. All familiar sounds from her childhood. No one was getting up. Good. She unscrewed the lid quickly and added some powder to it. She closed the orange juice and gave it a gentle shake, letting it dissolve into the juice. When that was done she placed it back into the fridge, closing it gently. When she left she kept her head down and slipped out onto the street. No one would notice her but even if they did it wouldn’t matter, she was just a random woman walking home at night. No one would ever suspect her and if they did, so what? She had worn gloves. There was no way it would be traced back to her.
She made five more stops before she returned home. All people she vaguely knew. Each one was the same, break in, add the powder to the orange juice, leave. No one heard her, no one would ever know. She tried to choose older people, or those who were single, but that would be suspicious, so she had another family too. Three of them, mother, father, little girl. It would appear random and that was what she needed.
It was all over the news a few days afterwards. Poison in orange juice. People, good people, struck down in the prime of their lives. Fifteen people dead at the end of it. They were scouring for clues, looking for leads, but Samantha knew they wouldn’t find any. She had gone into the grocery store and done her shopping, but she had never been near the orange juice. They wouldn’t find anyone on the store cameras, they’d think it must have been someone in the factory. After all, who else could it be? She waited until they came to ask her questions, she played the part of the grieving daughter and sister perfectly. That was something she had gotten from her upbringing at least, she was very good at acting. When they left she set out the pills. Different from the poison she used, obviously, and took them all at once, followed by a few good sized gulps of vodka. When they find her they’d think that the grief was too much, that she couldn’t deal with the death of her family. They would never know. As she felt herself drift out of consciousness she smiled. She had done it, she had stopped the cycle.