Need to catch up on Blanche’s story? Find the link to the previous chapters Here, or at the link at the top of the page. Following Blanche’s story? Let me know in the comments.
“He wanted to explain how people were never quite what you thought they were.”
― William Golding, Lord of the Flies
At dinner one night I tried to talk to Daddy about the book I was reading.
“It’s called Lord of the Flies and it’s about some boys who are shipwrecked on an island,” I said.
“Mmmhmmm,” Daddy said, finishing the food on his plate.
“The boys in the book are trying to figure out who they are and what it means to be an adult or in society,” I said. “It’s sort of sad but makes me think.”
Daddy continued to eat, took a drink of his iced tea, and looked at the picture on the wall behind me.
Edith was at one of her beauty classes and Mama was beginning to clear the table. I felt tears welling up, wishing Daddy would treat me like his little girl again.
“Aren’t you ever going to talk to me again, Daddy?” I asked tears in my eyes.
Daddy tossed his napkin aggressively onto his plate.
“Maybe you should be reading your Bible instead of a book about boys on an island,” he snapped. He sat, elbows propped up on the table, looking at me with an angry expression, fingers together, under his chin.
“And why would I talk to you when you didn’t talk to me,” he continued. “I never expected this from you, Blanche. I thought you had a good head on your shoulders. Now I’ve got two daughters to try to keep from destroying their lives by running around with worthless boys. I can’t even imagine what you were thinking and I don’t know where to even start with you. I don’t know if I even want to start trying to figure all this out with you.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy, I never meant to upset you –“
“Never meant to upset me? You never even thought of me,” Daddy snarled. “You never thought of me or your mother. You never thought of anyone but yourself. You didn’t think of how people would talk or judge your parents if it got out you were seeing someone like – like – that man.”
“But no one knows – “
“And they’re not going to because you’re not going to see that fool again. Do you understand me?”
I nodded and looked at my hands clutched together on my lap.
“That’s all I’m going to say about all of this.”
Mama had stepped into the dining room from the kitchen, ready to be the peacemaker she always was.
“No. Not tonight, Janie. I’m still too angry.”
Daddy pushed his chair back from the table, stood quickly and stomped from the dining room while I sat at the table, Mama’s hand on my shoulder as I cried.
At that moment I felt like Daddy would never love me again.
When Emmy slipped the letter into my hand I knew it was from Hank.
“He saw me at the market and asked me to give it to you,” she whispered as we stood by the bookshelf I was stacking. I shoved the letter in my skirt pocket to read later, looking back over my shoulder at Mrs. Hall, the librarian.
“Is your daddy still mad as a hornet?” She asked.
“He barely talks to me,” I said.
Emmy leaned back against a book shelf, huffing a book to her chest.
“Tell me, Blanche, what’s it like to be kissed by a man?” She asked, a wistful expression on her face. “Is it wonderful?”
I immediately felt embarrassed that I was the one Emmy was asking. These were questions we usually asked Edith.
“It’s definitely better than I thought it would be,” I admitted, unable to keep my smile contained.
“Does he smell as good as he looks?”
I leaned against the opposite bookshelf and closed my eyes.
“And his hands – they are so manly and . . . I don’t know. . . sexy,” I said remembering how his touch had felt last time we had been together. “I just love when he touches me.”
I opened my eyes and watched Emmy’s eyes widen.
“How does he touch you?” She asked, sounding slightly alarmed.
“Oh, Emmy, nothing like that,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I mean, I know he wants to do more and the other day he tried to reach up my shirt, but I don’t let him. I’m not that kind of girl. You know that.”
“Do I?” Emmy’s eyes were still wide.
“Emmy! Yes. You do.”
“I didn’t even know you were seeing Hank.”
“No one knew I was seeing Hank,” I said. “I didn’t even know what I was doing with Hank. I just liked talking to him and I liked that he liked me.”
Emmy smiled and patted the pocket where the letter was.
“I don’t know why you keep talking in the past tense. It’s clear he doesn’t think of it that way,” she said. “Open it – what’s it say?”
“Emmy, we really need to get you a boyfriend,” I teased.
I pulled the letter from my pocket and opened it, looking over the books to see if Mrs. Hall, the librarian, was still at her desk. She was looking down at a book opened in front of her on the desk.
I’m no good at writing letters but I didn’t know how else to tell you I want to meet you again soon. It’s too risky to try to meet at your house. I don’t feel like pulling bullets out of my back. Meet me under the bridge tomorrow at noon if you can get away. I need to hold you in my arms again.
Emmy whispered a squeal which I didn’t think was possible.
“Love Hank? Oh my gosh. He loves you! It’s so exciting! Are you going to meet him?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m supposed to be working here but I do get a lunch break about that time. Maybe he can meet me somewhere here in town.”
“You think you’re going to marry Hank?”
“Good grief, Emmy,” I said rolling my eyes. “I haven’t even decided if I’m going to meet him tomorrow, let alone marry him. I’m only in high school.”
I didn’t tell her he’d already asked me to marry him.
I quickly wrote a note back for Emmy to take to him on her walk home and handed it to her.
“I’ve got to get back to work, but I’ll talk to you later,” I told her.
I thought about Hank as I slid books back into their spots on the shelves.
“I don’t know, maybe I could do something with my music,” he told me one night before Daddy caught us. “Music takes me away from everything. I feel alive when I sing, especially one of my own songs. It would be a lot of hard work if I ever wanted to make a go of it and I definitely can’t live around here if I want to do something like that.”
He sighed and leaned back against the fence along the field, under the maple tree.
“Maybe I’m just being crazy, but it’s good to have dreams, right?”
I smiled at him and laid my hand against his face, suddenly overcome with tenderness for the boy I saw in the growing man.
“It is very good to have dreams,” I told him.
He laughed and took my hand in his, kissing my palm and then pressing it against his chest.
“You’re too sweet for me, Blanche,” he said, kissing my cheek.
He shook his head and let go of my hand, turning from me, his hands on the fence, looking at the moonlit field.
“I’m just sick of this town, you know?” he said, tightening his grip on the wood. “I’m sick of the people. I’m sick of the smell of cow poop and I am sick of being told I’ll never be anything because my old man tells everyone I’m worthless. I’m getting out of this place, Blanche.”
He turned and took my hands in his. “Come with me and we’ll make a life of our own,” he said, his eyes bright, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “We’ll go find a new life and I’ll play music and you can read books and eat ice cream; get fat for all I care. There won’t be anyone to tell us who or what we’re going to be.”
“I can’t do that,” I looked down at the tip of my shoe and bent my ankle back and forth.
“Why not?” he touched my chin with his fingertips, and I looked up into his deep green eyes and my knees felt like bread that had been kneaded too long.
“My daddy would be so mad. He doesn’t like you.”
“Your daddy doesn’t like me ‘cause he knows you’re better than this little garbage farm town and I can take you away from it.”
I looked away. I didn’t know if Hank was right about how Daddy felt about him that night, but now, stacking the books in the quiet library, I knew how Daddy felt and I knew he’d be even more furious if he knew Hank wanted me to run away with him.
I met Hank behind the drugstore on my lunch break the next day, looking over my shoulder, anxious and wringing my hands, afraid someone would see us.
“I’m serious about leaving, Blanche,” Hank said. “I’m going to do it and soon. I want you to come with me.”
He stepped closer, touched me under my chin and kissed me gently. “Don’t you want to find something more exciting than this old town? These old people who want to tell us what to do?”
I closed my eyes, breathed in the smell of his cologne, let the feel of his hands against my skin fill my mind and lifted my face toward his. When his mouth covered mine I thought about Mama’s words to me about the difference between lust and love. What I felt for Hank was love, I was sure of it. I wanted to be in his world and experience life with him. I wanted to let him touch me and kiss me, teach me what love was all about.
I nodded slowly, my eyes still closed.
“I’m going to save up some money and then I’ll send a letter to you through Emmy,” he said, taking my hands in his, pressing his forehead against mine. “We’ll find a day to leave this town and never look back. We’re going to start our own life together.”
Two months later, a week before my senior year was supposed to start, I was holding a letter in my hand. It was one of many that Hank had been mailing to his cousin Jerry who had slid them on to Emmy, but somehow I knew this letter was different. My fingers trembled as I opened it, Emmy watching me, alternating between biting her lower lip and her fingernails.
It’s time to take our leap of faith. Old man Porter fired me yesterday and I’m getting out of this place. I’ve already found a job in Syracuse. The manager of a factory promised me a job on the manufacturing floor if I get up there next week. I’m going up to find a place for us to live and I’ll be back to pick you up in two weeks. If you want to come with me and start a life together meet me under our bridge May 22.
“What’s it say?” Emmy asked anxiously, trying to peek at it.
I folded it, looked at her, my best friend since seventh grade, and lied.
“He just says he loves me and wants to see me again sometime behind the drugstore.”
Emmy smiled but then her expression shifted to worry.
“I don’t know, Blanche,” she said. “Maybe you shouldn’t be sneaking around with him, you know? I mean, I know you really like him, but your parents would be really upset. They really love you – they probably think they’re protecting you.”
I hugged her and stood back, my hands on her shoulders.
“You don’t have to worry, Emmy,” I said. “They don’t have to protect me from anything. Hank loves me. Things will settle down eventually and they’ll accept Hank. It’s all going to be fine.”
I knew I was only telling Emmy what she wanted to hear. I didn’t believe my parents would ever accept Hank and I wasn’t sure if my parents were trying to protect me or control me. All I knew was I was sure Hank loved me and I was catching the fire he had to start a new life somewhere else together.
I could hear birds outside the window and Edith snoring softly in her bed. The Worley’s cows were mooing in their fields down the road and I could smell the bacon Mama was cooking.
It was the Saturday I was supposed to meet Hank. I’d barely slept the night before, my mind swirling around and around as I tried to decide what to do. I wanted to be with Hank, but I still had a year left of school and it was about to start. I knew if I left Mama and Daddy would never speak to me again.
I closed my eyes and pictured Hank, handsome and smiling, his promises of a better life still fresh in my mind. I thought about his kisses and the way my heart seemed to skip when he said my name. I thought about how I wished I could heal the wounds his father had inflicted on him. I thought about how Mama already had my life planned out for me. I thought how Daddy wouldn’t even talk to me and maybe he never would again, whether I left with Hank or not.
I remembered what Mama had said that night daddy caught us. “Sometimes we have to move past our feelings and do what we know is right.”
Then I remembered that record of Elvis skipping.
“So lonely I could die…so lonely I could die…so lonely…”
Holding the crumpled letter, I knew what was right. I knew I didn’t want to be so lonely one day that I could die.
When I reached Hank’s truck, parked by the bridge, I was breathing hard. I felt like I had escaped into one of my books. Edith was at the movies with Billy Tanner. Daddy was at the office finishing paperwork for the Bishop Oil account. I’d told Mama I was taking muffins to Mrs. Grant up the hill and I had thrown them into a basket and skipped out the door before she could ask why.
I had dropped my pillowcase filled with some clothes, my journal, my Bible and a copy of The Three Musketeers into the bushes under my bedroom window.
Hank was smiling as I climbed into the cab. He slid his arm around my middle, pulling me across the seat against him. I giggled as he kissed me and then whooped like he was at a rodeo.
“I knew you’d come,” he said. “This is going to be a new life for both of us. I have so much to tell you. You’re going to love the apartment I found. I booked a couple gigs. I’ve got a job at the factory and I found a judge who’s going to marry us. . . ”
I took a deep breath when I heard about the judge and getting married. Was I really doing this? Was I really leaving my family, throwing away my senior year and running away with a man to a city four hours from home?
As Hank pulled the truck out onto the road, I knew I really was doing all those things. I was writing my own story, not letting it be written for me. I was finding my own story to tell.