ANIMAL’s original series I Should Have Shot That! asks photographers about that one shot that got away. This week, Clayton Cubitt recalls an image from his past that he couldn’t, wouldn’t capture. 

Aged 13.

Friday night again. Payday. Bar close. I lay in bed and listen for the far off rumble of Billy’s junkyard Harley. When I hear it I will have exactly four and a half minutes to prepare for what comes next. Mom is angry in the other room, and my little brother fidgets in his bunk under mine, compulsively rearranging his toys, like he always does when it’s coming.

Five minutes later it comes, and it’s bad. Mom’s voice turns from anger to fear. The trailer shakes. I take up my position near the crack in my door, trying to see or hear anything that would indicate mortal danger for mom. She can take a beating, what I’m listening for is the sound of death coming. I’m cold and distant, in a trance, trying to feel what’s happening without fear, which will only cloud my assessment.

I hear the beating. Her whimpers, his booming voice, crude and primal both. The walls rock and flex. I hear our meager belongings smashed, used as weapons. The little duct-taped TV is broken now. Then I hear what I’ve been listening for, the exceptional sounds. His voice a low growl now, as if hiding from me, she silent, sobbing, choking? It’s too far, my senses tell me, time to run for help.

I gather up brother, in his pitiful tiny white underwear, his skinny legs scraped on the metal siding of our window as we slide out of the trailer and drop onto the wet grass, and we run through the blue moonlight into the bayou that will lead us to Middle Class Land on the other side. I hold his hand, he has soft blonde baby hair brushed to the side, and impossibly big blue eyes now wet with fright, and I tell him not to worry, as I worry, and we run.

We hit the smooth gray pavement of Middle Class Land and I scan the solid brick homes with new cars parked in the driveways, looking for lights on. A refuge located, doorbell rung over and over again, we’re let in to a blast of air conditioning, the smell of leftover pizza and fresh paint, and the glow of Letterman on a big bright TV. We feel like rough little scabs on dainty soft skin as 911 is called, and I look down at my scraped coarse feet, blades of grass and drops of water clinging to them, threatening to stain the plush new carpet below.

Little brother sits on my knee, shaking, and I pull his little t-shirt down over his pitiful tiny white underwear, so the dainty Middle Class People won’t see that he’s wet himself, and we don’t laugh when Dave says, on the big bright TV, “Hep me, hep me, I been hyp-no-tized!”

Clayton Cubitt is a Brooklyn and New Orleans-based photographer and fascinating gent. The text has previously appeared in his “Burned In My Eye” series, reprinted with permission. I Should Have Shot That! is illustrated by James Noel Smith.

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