Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Snippets 26

This one I wrote for a Creative Writing class at college in 1986. I'm splitting into two parts so come back next week for the conclusion.

I am resisting the urge to fiddle with it. There are a lot of things I would do differently today.

Running In Circles
by Joy Renee

The proprietor, Mr. Jamisen, calls them the Bluebird Cottages. The surrounding community refer to them affectionately as the Lambing Sheds. They are a cluster of two-room shacks perched on the edge of town like a flock of birds on telephone wires. They were built as temporary housing for dependents during WWII and are still here sixty years later though the Army base, a mile down the road, has become nothing but memory in middle-aged minds. The thin coat of bright, blue paint they flaunt cannot mask the aura of interminable transience. Mr. Jamisen, acquiring the shacks soon after WWII provided them with mediocre repairs, enabling him to charge only mediocre rent, which attracted the young couples just starting out who tended to produce large numbers of babies. Hence the nick-name--Lambing Sheds.

Margot and Todd Taylor moved into a two room cottage the day of their marriage and three years and two babies later were still there. Nineteen year old Margot huddled within the baggy sweat-suit, arms wrapped gingerly around her chest, forehead pressed gently against the morning-cool glass of the window, watching to make sure Todd had really left and not, as he had before, just circled the block and returned to catch her letting Nicky out of the closet before his time-out was up. If he didn’t return in the next five minutes, she and the babies would be safe for the next nine hours.

She raised an arm encased in generous folds of cloth to wipe clear the breath-misted window. Across the highway at Westfield High several PE classes were circling the track all bundled up in the same Heron emblazoned sweat suit as she was--boys in blue, girls in gold. Margot wore Todd’s blue one as her own gold one did not fit yet even three months after Tina’s birth. The monotonous circling of the figures on the track was hypnotizing. She picked out a distinctively tall, bulky figure to follow with her eyes. When he completed three revolutions it would be safe to release Nicky.

Meanwhile the rhythm of the dozens of feet mechanically pacing the circle of asphalt served to relax her trembling and slowly she got the soul-shuddering sobs under control. She touched the left side of her face gently. There would be a bruise, the first that she would not be able to hide beneath clothing. She knew without looking of the fingerprints etched in blue under the skin of her upper arms, of the scarlet crescents on the tender undersides where Todd’s thumbnails had punctured as he griped her, shaking her until her head flopped, until she felt the disorienting sensation of free fall and a thought-vacuum filled her head, until he lost interest and released her, delivering a deliberately aimed dropkick to her breasts as her body fell limply to the floor, one thought nova-bright in her mind…”At least I distracted him from Nicky.”

Nicky! Three months shy of two years but shy of nothing else, Nicky was the epitome of “American”. Freedom was his passion, independence his desire. A playpen could no longer pen him, nor doorknobs detain him. Latches and locks and all manner of fasteners had divulged their mysteries to him. Three times in the past week she had left him playing contentedly on the front room floor while she went to nurse Tina in the backroom, to return to a pile of clothes and an open door. Nicky was outside flaunting all for World and Westfield to take notice that he, Nicholas Todd Taylor, proclaimed for Free Speech, and having no slogans put thought directly into action.

Yesterday afternoon, tormented by the heat, she had retreated to the backroom to nurse Tina, clad only in a pair of Todd’s old track uniform shorts. From there she kept an eye on Nicky who slept, wearing only a diaper, on a mattress on the front room floor. But the soporific silence of the spring heat wave overcame her and she dozed in the rocking chair. She awoke to see him enthroned upon the table, a three pound bowl of butter clutched between his bare thighs, smearing fistfuls of the sun-softened stuff over belly, head, arms and tabletop. Her first reaction, of anger at the mess and the waste, dissipated under the force of the emotion suffusing Nick’s face--an ecstasy of curiosity, a wallowing in wonderment. Dazedly she approached him. Tina, who slept secure in a sling fashioned of a crib sheet, disturbed by her movement, rooted at her breast and with an automatic motion she gave it to her.

“Nicky?” she was as one requesting a blessing.

He reached out to her with butter clad hands--emperor proffering a gift. She took his hand, placed it on her forehead, guided it lightly along the side of her face, down her neck to her shoulders, bringing it to a stop on her collar-bone above the nursing Tina before releasing it.

“Nicky?” she asked, gazing into the mystery of his eyes. “Do you know something I don’t know?”

In reply he reached out to smear butter in Tina’s hair. “Tina too!” he proclaimed with a giggle.

“Typical Nicky style.” Margot giggled with him. “Butter up the world. Grease the path to Love and Fame and slide along it barefoot and bare faced to your fate. Ah, Nicky, you little heartbreaker.”

“Butter up!” Nicky said, lifting the golden bowl upside down over his head and crowning himself with it as he was wont to do with the empty ones she gave him to play with. “Nicky up!” he commanded, reaching out to her. Their laughter was a duet of delight as she hoisted him to her hip, adjusting Tina’s sling to accommodate him. As she twirled around the room with him he leaned his head back until the bowl fell off whereupon she collapsed on the couch, hysterical at the sight of the globules of butter sliding off his head onto his shoulders and hers.

This morning had been a nightmarish re-enactment of that scene. Todd had found Nicky in his crib stripped of sleeper and diaper, busily smearing feces on sheet, blankets and crib, the dry diaper over his head like a gallows hood. Todd’s rage erupted and he pounced on Nicky bellowing imprecations as he grabbed him from the crib. Margot ran into the room in time to see a terrified Nicky pee in Todd’s face.

“You little brat!” Todd roared. “You did that on purpose. If you’re gonna act like an ill-mannered puppy, I’ll have to treat you like one.” Whereupon he slammed his small son’s body face first into the mattress and rubbed his face in the mess.

The sound of Nicky’s frightened cries galvanized Margot into action. She launched her body across the room and jumped onto Todd’s back, placing her hands over his eyes and pulling back on his head. “Let him go or I’ll take out your eyes.” she screamed in his ear. He dislodged her with a shrug of his muscular shoulder, and dropped Nicky into the crib to vent the rest of his anger on her. As her screams of pain and fear joined in macabre chorus with Nicky’s, she silently chanted: “Nicky’s safe. Nicky’s safe. Nicky’s safe.” A mantra. A prayer. An incantation.

Nicky’s eyes shown up at her when she opened the closet door. “Mama. Mama.” he mouthed soundlessly, the final ‘ma’ voiced in a rasping whistle. The drying excrement covered so much of his face and body she couldn’t tell where the bruises were forming. She carried him into the front room where she lined the kitchenette sink with a big towel and filled it with lukewarm water. She released his clutching fists from her hair and lowered his limp body into the water. Silent tears slipped down her cheeks as she bathed him.

When Tina’s insistent wail came from the backroom an hour later Nicky was asleep in Margot’s arms. Reluctantly she lay him on the couch, kissing a hand sticky from the honey-lathered bread she had given him. His eyes opened briefly and closed again and she was sure he was exhausted enough to stay asleep while she tended Tina. But when she returned, there he stood on the counter, a tell-tale chair below him, cupboard door open beside him, one fist deep in the honey jar.

“Nicky!” The small boy in the act of stuffing a small fist full of honey into his mouth, startled at her cry. She watched helplessly from across the room as he toppled, with a splash, into the bath water. Light-headed with relief that he had not been hurt, she laughed at the sight of him sitting fully clothed, bottom deep in the water, one fist still in his mouth the other still clutching the honey jar. With eyes wide open and unblinking he watched her approach. As she lifted him from the water he took his hand from his mouth and held it out to his sister. “Tina too.” he said. The first words he’d spoken aloud since Todd had left almost elicited fresh tears from Margot. She wondered how long it would be before Tina too shared in these beatings from Todd.

2 tell me a story:

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