Lying face down, where he had thrown himself, Jack sprawled across the bed in a stupor brought on by a night of drink and the effort of beating her. She could probably undress him, but that might wake him and bring a renewal of the anger. In the morning, sober again, he would be apologetic—a model husband—but not now.
Killing him would easy and satisfying, and she thought about that for a long time. The pleasure those thoughts generated were a bulwark against the pain. But she finally decided against it. If she wasn’t able to do it quickly enough, and if he got his hands on her…
Hands clenched in her lap, she mouthed the words she didn’t dare speak—the feelings she could never express aloud.
She for a time on why she’d said yes to him as a second husband—the second man to treat her as an object on which to vent rage. Stupid? Yes. But at the time a necessary decision, or seemed so.
But it had led to this, so he would be the last. That was certain, because no man would ever raise a hand to her again.
How stupid she had been, but how lucky she’d thought herself, at seventeen, in finding Opie, her knight in uniform, who provided a way out of the battle-torn shack her parents called home.
Opie, with his marine swagger and imperious manner had the worldliness of someone who had traveled beyond the county of his birth. He seemed her great hope of escape. But it was an escape to something worse than her home: a marriage that lasted only seven months, all of it downhill, leaving her alone, frightened, bruised—and with only pennies in her jeans—limping along a rural highway in Mississippi.
This second marriage lasted a year. There would be no other.
With a sigh, she leaned back into the old rocker, wincing at a twinge of pain from a new bruise. Like the other beatings, this one had its beginnings in events over which she had no control.
Jack came onto the porch, the hesitation in his step announcing that he was already drunk. She gave thought to hiding in the shed until he slept it off. But he was already reaching for the door. And, drunk or sober he had been fairly well behaved since the last time, nearly a month before. And the one time she had hidden, he accused her of being unfaithful—of being out of the house with another man—and had whipped her with his belt until she had prayed to die.
Jack, angry and sober, was a far worse thing than when he was under the influence of a few beers. She thought then about leaving, had even begun packing, but in the end, returned everything to its place before he could notice. Without money or skills, and with Jack’s promise to track her down and kill her if she left, options were terribly limited.
Instead of hiding, this night, she smiled when he came into the living room.
“Hi, honey,” she forced herself to say. “How was your day?”
He was five hours late for dinner, now long cold in the refrigerator.
He growled something unintelligible and sank into the easy chair, blowing out a cloud of beery breath and scratching his stomach. Seeing the condition he was in, she sincerely hoped he was not in the mood for sex. After a few beers, he lost what little consideration he normally had for her pleasure, using her as he might a druken slut, rather than a beloved wife. Sometimes, she wondered if he actually knew the meaning of the word love. Sober, he was a passable, if unimaginative lover, but drunk, he was an unfeeling brute, demanding things of her as he might a prostitute.
She studied him, seeking some clue as to what kind of mood he was in, so she could adapt herself to it and get through the night.
He muttered again. Missing his words a second time, she said, “What was that, Jack, honey? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
He swiveled his head toward her, mouth turned down in disgust. “I said, I lost the fucking job, you deaf bitch! I lost the fucking job.”
Oh shit. She clamped hard on the urge to run for the door. That would be suicide. Running triggered his hunting instincts, and he was sitting between her and the door.
The problem wasn’t the loss of the job. Jack could always find another. He was a good mechanic—could be a better one if not for the drinking. The fear was for what that loss might mean for her.
Forcing the chair around with a shriek of complaining wood, he pointed a grease-stained finger at her.
“Let me tell you, something, baby. That Jew bastard Koch—the fucker who owns the God damned agency—he wouldn’t know a good mechanic from a dumb nigger, but he’s gonna pay for this. I’ll tell you that. He’s gonna pay real good!”
“What will you do, Jack?” Her voice was a tiny thing, mouse-like, and inoffensive, she hoped.
He stared at her for a long moment, then mimicked her voice, bringing his own to a nerve-jangling falsetto screech she despised.
“What will you do, Jack? What will you do, Jack? What the hell do you think I’m going to do? I’m going to kill that bastard. That’s what I’m going to do.”
The shock must have shown on her face, because he abruptly stood, overbalancing and stumbling against the footstool, which he kicked out of the way with a crash.
“Don’t you fucking look at me that way, you bitch! The whole thing’s your fault anyway.”
Wise enough to keep her mouth shut, she said nothing, simply poised herself to flee, if necessary. With a growl, he waved a backhanded blow at her, mumbling, “Pow! I ought to do a job on you, but you’re too fucking dumb to change.”
With that, he stumbled into the darkened bedroom, accompanied by her sigh of relief.
Unfortunately, he was only passing through it, making a toilet call. He returned to the living room far too soon, then headed for the kitchen, where he opened the refrigerator, bracing himself against the door as he scanned the inside.
She got to her feet and began easing toward the front door, but before she could get more than a few steps in that direction, the door of the old refrigerator slammed shut, accompanied by the crash of jars spilling from the door compartments.
“There’s no beer, you stupid bitch. I told you to buy some beer!”
She thought of telling him the truth, that he hadn’t remembered to give her money for the beer, but that would only make him angrier.
“I’ll go now, Jack,” she said, hurriedly. “I’ll run down to the store right—”
Any further words she might have said were stilled as his hand clamped on her windpipe, lifting her almost off her feet. The rest was a blur of pain and fear as he vented his rage on her, the cruel blows raining on her body like some demented parody of a boxing match. Only the fact that he would begin kicking her, should she fall to the floor, kept her on her feet, saying “please,” over and over in a litany of fear. When he threw her to the bed and began to tear at her clothing, it was a relief.
The beating hadn’t lasted long, nor was it as bad as some, but it finally broke something inside her—a dam of pent-up anger and self-lothing that had been filling for years. First had been the endless years of vicious warfare between her parents, with their insane and unpredictable alterations between passion and hate—with her used as both a weapon and target. Then, there was the stupidity of her first marriage, and the death of her dreams of romance and escape. Now, there was Jack.
As she sat watching her husband—hating him with every fiber of her being—she wondered how she could ever have put up with him. Certainly he was the one who took her in when Opie pushed her out of the car and drove off, though she had paid for that with the only coin she possessed—her body. Certainly, when he wasn’t drunk, he was a decent enough person.
He was even handsome, when his face wasn’t flushed with anger. But at best, he treated her as though she was an appliance rather than a person, as though wives were bought at the discount store and had only specified and well defined functions: keep house, tend the small crop fields for him, wash his clothes, satisfy his sexual needs, and absorb his rage when necessary. It was assumed that any needs she had would be taken care of without his help. That he neither loved nor respected her was all too obvious.
Reaching a decision, she stood and limped her way to the closet, where her battered old suitcase was stored, tucked behind a carton; hidden against her need. He had thrown it away, snarlingly informing her that she would never leave unless he ordered her out. But she retrieved it, carefully wiping away the mud stains before hiding it, while he was out of the house.
Clearing the top of the dresser she opened the case, leaning the top against the mirror to hide her battered face from view. She began to pack, moving quietly enough not to disturb him, taking only what she could pack into that small case. Anything else might take too much time.
Finally, finished, she moved to the bed and began the most difficult part: getting to his wallet. Lost job or not, this was payday, and he would have two weeks pay in his pocket, maybe even something extra as severance pay. He had been with the agency for seven months.
Her own money, saved penny-by-penny from the household money, amounted to less than fifty dollars, and would take her no further than the next man like Jack. There would be no more like him, and for that more than just a few dollars were needed.
Jack grumbled under his breath as she got into the bed, then settled down to snoring as she leaned against him, as though cuddling in her sleep. He never stirred as she removed the wallet.
Nine-hundred dollars! There were nine one-hundred dollar bills in the wallet. And there were smaller bills, too. She didn’t take the time for an exact count, but there was enough to get her out of the county, even the state. Enough, perhaps, for a new start.
Slinging her bag over her shoulder and picking up the suitcase, she cast a longing glance at the old sewing machine in the corner. Through the bad times it had been her companion and her solace. Leaving it was like leaving a dear friend. Everything in her wardrobe had been made on that machine, carefully copied from the dresses worn by models in the newspaper and in the magazines she took from trash cans. Jack had not let her even buy patterns, grumbling over the expense of the cloth she used.
Unable to simply pass by, she bent her footsteps toward the old machine, stopping to run her hand over its smooth curves, stroking the cool metal of the drive wheel and thinking about how well it would do to sew a shroud for her husband.
About to leave at last, she turned her head for a last look at his sleeping form, then stopped, her fingernails tapping on the metal of the machine—wondering. She stood that way for a long time, then picked up the suitcase and headed for the front door.
The night air was soft and filled with the growing smells of springtime, symbolizing, for her, a new beginning, one that would take her from this place, and this life. Never again would she submit. Never again would she permit a man to dominate her life. A line had been crossed, and there would be no going back. The flame of anger had been hard to ignite. Life before this had seen to that, but now it burned with a clear and steady glow, as she loaded her suitcase into the rear seat of the car. She placed her worn old shoulder bag on the front passenger seat, then slipped the keys into the ignition, where they would be ready. Sliding out of the car, she closed the door far enough to extinguish the overhead light and kill the warning tones, but left it unlatched, in case she might have to get into the car on a run. Finally, she headed back to the house.
First, she bathed herself, flinching at the new bruises and scowling in disgust at the yellowed remains of the older ones. Then, she dressed herself in the best of the clothing remaining in her closet. Finally, she headed toward her sewing box for needle and thread.
There was anger in her hands as she sewed, and anger in the teeth that bit off the ends of the thread she sewed with. It was not the kind of anger that Jack knew. His was unreasoning rage, destructive and wild. Hers was cold and controlled, serving her purpose. Moments after she started, her lips turned up in a grim little smile at the realization that there was little chance of him stopping her, even should he wake. Insuring that, the first thing she did was to sew the legs of his pants together at the bottom, then, after rolling his inert form onto his back, she sewed his sleeves to his shirt front, using heavy duty button thread. Even should he wake, and somehow manage to get free, doing so would take time. She knew she could beat him to the car, if it came to that, and knew, too, that the car would come to life at the first touch of the starter. To Jack that was a mark of professional pride, and would work in her favor.
But there was no need to run. He never woke. From either side of the bed she pulled the sheets free from the mattress and tossed them atop his body. Those, she joined to form a narrow tube which she converted to a form fitting suit by sewing them to his sleeves and pants, taking care not to stick him with the needle and wake him. It took several hours to complete the job, but when she finally finished, he was sealed inside a body-sack that bound his arms and legs far more securely than had she tied him. The sack she sewed to the mattress
By then, she was humming to herself, not caring if he woke. Finally finished, she had only to go over the hurried work she had done in the beginning, reinforcing it until she was satisfied that there would no easy escape. He could probably work his way out, but that would take hours.
He was awake when she cut the final thread, blinking his bloodshot eyes in the harsh morning light, his face filled with confusion. It was then that she sat back to admire her work, ignoring his angry questions. With a nod of satisfaction she stood, and then went looking for his baseball bat.
Linda was humming to herself as she drove away, glad that she had taken the time to kiss him goodbye, even if he hadn’t noticed. It was, she decided, the start of a beautiful day.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
This piece began as a dramitization of an actual event, given me by the woman who claimed to have done it. She claims she got the idea from a story about Willie Nelson. Was it true? I have no idea, and the woman no longer lives where I can ask. But the story seemed to work, and because I was curious about what happened to Linda after that morning, I began the novel that followed her life after that traumatic night. It’s about one third finished, and one of these days I will get around to completing it.
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