31 March 2011
An excerpt from RECONSTRUCTING CHARLIE from Charmaine Gordon
In 1996, I killed my father.
Dear old Dad was great with a belt. A belt of whiskey. A belt from around his waist unbuckled when you least expected it and later I knew when it was coming and some of us escaped. Not me, not Mom. Never Mom. I’m the oldest. I didn’t want the little ones to see the okay dad turn into a monster dad on payday. Every payday.
I heard the television turned up loud before I opened the door. Mom always hoped for a distraction. Maybe this time instead of beating up on us, he’d watch the Minnesota Twins beat the hell out of the Boston Red Sox. Rant over every play, curse the umpires, yell that the Hubert H. Humphrey Stadium wasn’t good enough. 1996. Not a great year so far for the Twins. On this payday, after I dropped the kids off, I raced home just in time to be with Mom.
The front door banged open hard enough to rattle dishes in the cabinet. Mom’s treasure–a painted porcelain egg–rolled to the edge, teetered for a second and fell end over end to the hardwood floor. The small egg cracked with the force of a bomb. Mom stared at broken pieces from a life she had long ago. Her face turned white, every freckle showing, and my fists clenched.
He staggered around waving a tire iron in the air; muscled from working a jackhammer for the city all his sorry life and ugly drunk. Flowers flew off the table with sprays of water and shattered glass. Cursing, he went after Mom. This time I was ready. I wrestled it out of his filthy hands and hit him good. He lay torn up, didn’t move, blood everywhere on Mom’s clean kitchen floor. I stood there looking down at my father and thought how hard it was going to be for Mom to get the blood up. And how come he was the worst father in the world scaring all of us, hurting Mom and me. I breathed too fast and almost threw up. We were safe now because I’d done this terrible thing and I didn’t know how I could live with it.
Mom’s thick auburn hair came loose from her bun and she looked so pretty bending over him, a finger pressed to his neck as if she was a cop. On tiptoes, she pulled the ceiling fan chain and her sleeve rolled back. Black and blue marks covered her arm. I counted them. Mom had a lot more than I did. The breeze felt good. Then she wiped my fingerprints off the tire iron and replaced them with hers.
I watched Mom change from quiet refined Liz Costigan to someone I didn’t know.She reached in his pants like a pickpocket and came up with a handful of dollars and coins. Handing me the money, Mom said, “I guess he drank the rest of his pay. Sorry it’s not more. Let’s get you packed.”
She was in charge, this new mother, and I didn’t question her. Icy cold inside myself, Mom dragged me along to my bedroom. I kept looking back expecting him to come after us.
“Reach up high on the top shelf, Charlie. Bring the suitcase down.”
Mom’s hands caressed the leather case I’d never seen.
“I packed my clothes and ran away sixteen years ago,” she said. “I was wild, out-of-control.”
“Were you ever sorry, Mom?”
“I have you and Jimmy, and my little girls. Take a shower. I have things to do.” She pushed me toward the hall.
I heard Mom opening and closing drawers, knew she’d be too busy to worry about me for a while and crept back to the bloody mess to make sure he really was dead. His dark eyes had turned to an empty stare.
Shivering, I ran for the bathroom. Even a hot shower couldn’t warm me and blood refused to wash off. Words spun around in my head. ‘Out, out, damned spot.’ I scrubbed ’til it hurt. Lady Macbeth, that’s me.
Wrapped in a towel, I watched Mom empty my clothes into her suitcase.
I couldn’t move. He’s dead in the house and she packed my clothes for what? Mom added a dress hanging at the back of the closet, folded and placed it on top. The sound of the zipper closing on the suitcase startled me into action. I pried up the board in the closet, removed my money, and secured it into a money belt I’d bought in a second hand shop. Mom nodded approval.
“Wear this,” she said, handing me jeans and a long sleeved tee shirt. I dug some underwear out of the suitcase and dressed.
Unfastening a gold locket on a long chain she wore around her neck, she said, “Hold up your hair, my girl.”
We stood face to face, her hazel eyes looking into mine. I heard a tiny click when the clasp was in place around my neck. She kissed the locket and let it slide under my shirt.
“What’s in the locket, Mom?”
“Two sisters, my dear Charlie. One wise. One foolish.” Mom smiled the saddest smile. She held my face in both hands. “Yes, I have a sister, your aunt Eleanor. Now listen hard. Money and education. Most important. And one more thing, precious girl, don’t let boys catch your scent. Keep clean. That’s something I forgot.”
Scared and bewildered, I wasn’t used to her making fast decisions. Any decisions.
“I’ll call the police after you’re gone. It was self-defense. There are hospital
records of abuse for years. The Union will take financial care of us. Your job is to make a new life. Catch a bus to Chicago. My sister is there.”
She pulled a box out from a drawer in my small desk and opened it. Fancy stationery paper, the old fashioned kind with the scent of flowers. Taking a deep breath, mom wrote in her perfect handwriting. I always believed mom had a lot of secrets. Now I got a peek at some just before I was leaving. Not fair and I felt like my little sisters when they stamped their feet against the world. I didn’t want to leave. She tucked two sheets of paper in a matching envelope and added an address.
“Don’t lose this, Charlie. It’s your passport to a new life.”
I couldn’t speak. Somehow words got stuck in my throat so I read the name Mom had written. Mrs. Stuart Alfred. I unzipped a side pocket on my backpack and placed the envelope in with care.
“Don’t let her turn you away. She’s my older sister. She hated your father.”
I never saw her cry before and when tears fell, she brushed them away.
Panic set in. “What if she’s not there?”
“She’ll be there, same as always. I’ve kept in touch with her. Not often. Just enough.”
“Charlie,” Mom looked in my eyes so deep as if she was taking a picture, “don’t call. I’ll call you when I have something to say. Now hurry. It’s not too late to catch the bus.”
Mom hugged me and I ran.
-"Reconstructing Charlie" by Charmaine Gordon
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Posted by Beth D. Carter at 6:32 PM