I like to play with certain themes. This is not a unique plot line for me. Just cracking my writing knuckles. This is a short ditty that kind of ends or just begins.
The world was like a fairy story to me. I really didn’t believe other parts existed outside of Dooley. That might make me appear to be someone who had no faith. Faith in a world I could not see. But of course, I had that kind of faith. I believed in heaven with all of my heart. It’s Yonder I couldn’t get my mind around. Any place outside of Texas.
Pa said the world was big. Bigger than Texas. Well, how did I know? I had to take his word for it, and that was never to my gain because my Pa was a fierce liar. Everyone knew. Liar and gambler. That summed up Aldis Gray. Dismal to think I came from his loins. But Mama, gone to heaven now, but before she heard the angel band, she claimed it was so and when I saw myself in the glass I had to admit…Aldis was in me.
He owed so much money to Tobias Zephanias he brought him home after the horse races. Tobias had a chicken under his arm. He carried it into the parlor. Well, it wasn’t much of a parlor. I’d made it myself, out of the corner of the main room. But it had a hooked rug and my dead mother’s rocking chair. And that chair rocked by itself sometimes, I swear it did.
Anyhow, I said, “What’s that chicken for?” and Tobias said, “I bring it for you to a-cook.” He spoke that way. Funny and foreign. Not like my mother from the butt-end of the big state of Texas, but like one of those from over the ocean. So I said, “Supper was sundown, sparse though it was. I was just abed, and you expect me to pluck a hen? No, sir.”
My Pa did not take kindly. He back-handed me, and I fell against that rocker. Pa had hit me before, but I was sorely upset when he did it in front of others, even this sad gray pile of rags. So they argued. “You do not hit her in-a-the face,” Tobias said to Aldis.
“I’ll hit her anywhere I damn please,” Aldis argued. “She ain’t yours until you take her out of here.”
So Aldis did not repent. He held me by the shoulders and said into my face that I would pluck that chicken, fry it too. And then we’d hear Mr. Tobias out, and I’d say yes.
I was ashamed over the hit, but I was livid even more. “Say yes to what?” I said. But I pretty much knew. Pa was going to marry me off. Tobias Zephanias had children my age. A boy and a girl and two younger. That woman died just to get away from him is what I always heard.
I cooked that chicken with half its feathers on. The hot grease wilted them away, and the pins stuck out singed. But Tobias didn’t mind.
He ate. Aldis too, though I’d overdone it on the bird. Well, I cooked it long enough to try and come up with a way to kill the two of them. I thought of things. Had to do with getting them skunk drunk and the butcher knife. But they were dry far as I knew and Aldis had emptied the jug night before.
My time had run out. Aldis could be mean when he made up that pickled mind of his. So they sucked the bones then looked at me. “Get your stuff,” Aldis said.
What stuff? I had, but the two dresses and the made over britches some sorry sod-buster had left behind when he up and didn’t come back from town. Come back alive I mean. I saw him one night haunting the swale.
So I went to my part of the room and rummaged around. Mostly I dressed for the cold, but I was threadbare. I was bad off maybe, but not so bad off I didn’t want to stay. I looked over my shoulder at Aldis. He was a man with no patience–out of patience.
So I rolled some duds in my blanket looked more like rags than the rag bin and hitched that bundle against my hip. “I’m ready,” I said.
I had two dollars. And it had taken me my whole life to get it. I wore that purse in my sock, high up against my leg. Couldn’t leave it about with Aldis. He’d beat me black and blue if he knew I held out.
“I’m ready. Been so fine being your daughter,” I said. I was giving sass. Didn’t matter now. He was doing something worse than tying me to the bed without supper. He was giving me away.
I was sick again. One thing has always been in my favor–a sound constitution. Now I could barely get my head out of the pail.
Mostly, Mister, for that is what Tobias demanded I call him, Mister left me alone in the biblical sense. Oh, not at first. It was over and again. I was plowed regular is what I’m trying to say. And he didn’t wash-up either. So mostly I would look out the window, and he’d come from behind, and sometimes my face would go up against the glass, and it would be cold against my forehead, and I would look out there, the snow covering all the trash in the yard with white, so pure. And I would wait for his final hee-haw, but I wouldn’t be there so much. I would look at all the white, and I’d know the world was waiting for me. It was waiting under that blanket. Maybe it held something for me. Maybe Tobias would die outright, or maybe I’d kill him some time. But the world…under all that white…it was calling to me. It was saying, “Beanie. You’ll come out sometime. You’ll come out and won’t look back. And you’ll be grand. I know you will.”
But now with my head rolling side to side and my stomach so sick, I figured it was heaven I’d heard calling. I wouldn’t be long for this world is what I figured. It would be fine. I was pretty much done here, feeling like this. I was ready to fly away and get those pearly white robes, touch my feet on that bright gold. Oh, come on angel band. Carry me away…like Mama. To Yonder.
But that band never came. But some months later while I was working at the scrub-board, a baby came. I had him right there in the yard, by the tubs. It was pain like I didn’t know the earth held. But I brought him forth, and it was wonder. I was out for a bit, but I had him tucked against me. And while I was out the sack came forth, and I cut him free, truth tell I bit him free, and I held him against me, and we crawled into the cabin.
When Mister came home two days later, he took no mind of our young’n. Told me to keep him quiet or he’d put him in the snow. He said he’d have me again soon as the bleeding was over and I need not tell lies for he’d look at my rags.
I called my child Corey. Just Corey since I liked it the best I ever heard.
And he was mine from that day on. Or I was his, tell the truth.
My son grew strong. He was strong from the inside. That’s what I could see.
I ate. I sneaked food. I kept my milk up best I could. I begged if I had to, not that Mister wanted me to ever leave the house, but there was a woman, an old one that paid a visit. Neighborly. And nosey. And nosey was danger. Mister found out he’d close it down and I’d have nothing again.
So I let her know, the old Missus Fray. She would leave me a basket. And it was food he didn’t know of. When he locked the store in the cellar and doled out what I got, he didn’t know I had a store of my own. He didn’t know I would take grain from the horses and cook it soft and eat it with jam. Yes, jam clear as glass, and all kinds. And I made milk that stained my dress sometimes. But my apron was pinned over, and I wouldn’t let him touch me there. I took the hits, but I kept him from me up top. He could do what he wanted below, and I bore it. And sometime he couldn’t keep his shaft solid enough to put it in. And I knew the Almighty was slowly killing him then. For that old man loved to rut.
He blamed me. Said I was too ugly and he could get it up solid for the whores in town. And I said I was sorry. It was all my fault then. I said I didn’t blame him if he didn’t want me no more. And he hit me some for that. He made me spend the day on the floor to pay for saying I wanted him out. That’s what he heard. And he told me the farm was his, all his and I would get nothing but what he ever gave me.
And so it was I was silent in the face of his crazy raving. I kept my child safe as I could. That’s what I lived for now.
And come that winter Mister took so poorly he couldn’t rise from the bed in the spring. And his legs did not work. His head pulled to the side, and his mouth drooped down. I sat on the bed and fed him like a baby. When he was mean, I answered not again. As like to Jesus as I could be. For God was slowly killing Mister, and I was patient in my hopeful tribulation.
My son was like me. He looked like me. In his eyes, he understood. He had learned, like an animal, to be silent around his father. But that old man, he got better. He walked the yard and quit the drink and met Mrs. Fray who knew him from the first wife. “You know the answer,” she said to him like he’d forgotten. So he read The Book. The preacher came and railed, and Tobias did repent. He got dunked in the pond. He said he was better now. A new man. And I said I surely hoped it was so, but I wasn’t one to believe in Tobias. Not even when he claimed God’s touch.
My son was learning to walk. It was harder with Tobias aware now. He had opinions. And without the whores, it was all on me, even if his man-part didn’t work sometimes. Hardly at all.
And for several weeks then, Mrs. Fray did not come. She believed in the Lord’s work for any sinner. Even Tobias Zacharias. But the preacher finally came. So we went to meeting on Sunday. And that was a hardship for Tobias for he had to try and look proud of something. He warned me good before we hit that meeting. I was to keep my mouth shut and not say a thing that would cause him to be humiliated before God and the congregation. He was trying to make the best of it with me now, and I didn’t need to shame him in some way. And I was to keep the boy quiet, too. He called him, ‘Boy,’ never Corey.
A man was to rule his house, and I better do it just like he said. So I thought to myself, so who’s ruling if I have to do all the work? But it did no good to answer myself.
I did not argue. I wore my patched and clean dress and combed my hair. Mrs. Fray said I had looks and even though I was neglected the looks held on cause I was young.
I did not see it because I had been told I was stupid and ugly and I figured Mrs. Fray was just kindly. But I washed clean come Saturday night and knit my hair in a braid. Come morning I wound it in a bun and held it tight with the turkey wishbone and dressed Corey in his best I’d made over for him and bundled him in a blanket, and Mister got his old truck to cough and sputter to the meeting.
It was warm in the building for the men had a fire in the cherry stove, and it was a welcoming place. They did fuss over Corey so, like they saw how lovely he was, which I already knew.
Corey was backward like me and shy as a potato. But he knew kindness. Still, he clung to me and hid his face against my neck. And who could blame my child?
Mister was off for two days digging ditches for the preacher’s new waterlines. I was so happy to think of two whole days without him I could scarce buckle down to work.
Corey was looking out the window, jabbering about the birds that had built their nests outside in the pines. It was just a grand morning, and I thought of how it would be if Mister were to die. A slip on a muddy bank and a rock beneath his head to crush…and still him…forever.
I was still sore from where he’d tried to plow me. I longed for the day when he had no right to me. When he could no longer rule me with God’s watchful eye behind him. He was angry he could no longer be the bull in the paddock.
Melancholy threatened to overtake me if I thought on it too much. I figured I was twenty years. Almost old if I died in my thirties like Mama. First off Aldis told me she ran off. Then I got older he let it slip. She was buried near the church, he said. I never did know for sure.
One thing. Aldis Gray was no good.
I shook him off…Aldis. Tobias. I was turning the garden when the stranger came. Well, he got closer I felt aware of myself. More than usual. I didn’t think I looked passable. Sometimes, I let my face be dirty even. I forgot to check except when I washed it at night. But sometimes, it was against Mister to wash up. Not that he seemed to notice.
But it was a man, and I was scared. Menfolk came alone, it never felt safe. Looking for work or wanting a sandwich or directions to find a way. It never felt right and I stayed quiet until they went away. Unless it was like this, myself in the open. My boy in the open. I smoothed back my hair and went for Corey and held him on my hip and waited to see who this was.
I thought him older, but strong. Sat straight in the saddle. Out of his twenties, but not by far. His jaw, strongest I ever saw. He touched his hat, didn’t raise it. He swung a long leg over the saddle and dropped to the ground. And I’d of held a gun on him if I had me one for I would not be able to overtake him should he prove nefarious.
He removed the hat then. He was uncommonly handsome. Like Erroll Flyn from the pictures. I saw a magazine once, and Erroll was in it. I had never seen a picture show, but I had an idea.
This man was…beautiful. But I didn’t know him, and he could be right out of hell like most were. For all I knew, I mean.
“Ma’am,” he said, after staring some.
“Who are you?” I said.
“Well…my mother sent me over. Elda Fray. She broke her leg and asked if you’d come and help a spell.”
This was her son. Home from the Great War. She talked of him all the time. She feared she would lose him. He took a step forward, and I saw the leg he favored.
Of course, I would go to Elda. But there would be hell to pay for it. Tobias would never let me stay away from this place. He would come for me. Rudely and low he’d behave. He wouldn’t be able to hide it from them.
“I want to come,” I said.
“If you can’t…I’ll move on,” he said. “She asked first for you.”
“Well..,” I said, my thoughts a whirling.
He moved toward me. “Will he let me?” he said, reaching for Corey.
“He won’t..,” I started, but funniest thing. I felt Corey lean away from me. He went softly into Mr. Fray’s arms. I nearly didn’t let go, which put me too close to this stranger I only just met in real. My knuckles grazed against his chest as I pulled my hands away.
Corey was looking at me, confused. Like he didn’t know how it was he went to a stranger neither. I went to take him back, but Mr. Fray said, “I got him, Ma’am.”
“He don’t..,” I started, meaning Corey didn’t like strangers, but Corey was poking Mr. Fray’s cheek cause that big man had stuck his tongue into it and made it pop out like a boil, not that it looked like a boil at all. Corey laughed as he explored. It was plumb bold.
Well, I never. “Well, he never,” I said.
“You want to finish up here? Maybe pack a bag?” he said. He wasn’t pushy. Just very…clear.
If I could trust his eyes, they were beautiful and made me ten kinds of shy, but he had my boy, and I couldn’t rest a minute. “Well, my husband…Mr. Tobias Zephanias…he don’t allow me... Well, truth is Mr. Fray, your mother knows what I got up around here. She knows I can’t off and go.”
“She wants you, Ma’am. She said you’d try to get out of it and I am not to let you.”
“What are you gonna do? Lead us to your farm like Mary with Joseph?” I was eying that big horse that suited him and was way too tall for the likes of Corey and me.
“I’ve another horse tied yonder, Ma’am.” He nodded toward the copse, calm as first snow.
He said Yonder. He was fixing to take me there. “But…what about Mr. Tobias?” I said mostly to myself.
“I will be glad to handle…him,” he said, taking a big breath in and laughing when Corey traced one of his heavy brows.
“He won’t like it,” I said, tears coming close.
“Mom says,” he repeated. No smile now. “You have to come quick. Bring what you can. We’ll make do for the rest.”
I didn’t know what I saw in his face. So resolute. I didn’t know what he was saying.
“He’ll make trouble. I…I will be in trouble,” I said almost as an appeal.
“I’ve been away a long time, Ma’am, but one thing I do, I listen to my mom. She says to fetch a nice lady, I fetch that lady.” He smiled then, and I don’t know why, but he was a ship about to leave…for Yonder. And I did a fool’s thing. I let that stranger hold my child, and I ran into the house and grabbed the few things I had for Corey, and I was soon out the door.