This is part of a serial story I share part of every Friday for Fiction Friday. Are you reading along with Blanche’s story? If you need to catch up, you can find the links to the other parts HERE, or at the link at the top of the page.
The sound of the ceiling fan barely drowned out the sound of the couple next door arguing. The humidity was stifling, the sheets sticky against my bare skin. My gaze traveled along the crack in the paint chipped ceiling above my head. I couldn’t sleep and I was hyper-aware of every sound, every smell, every touch. I felt Hank’s bare back against mine, hot, sweaty like mine and closed my eyes tight against the anxiety.
Even with Hank asleep next to me, I felt insanely alone. I missed my own room, my own bed. I missed talking with Edith. I missed Mama cooking breakfast in the mornings and Daddy sitting in his chair smoking his pipe, reading G.K. Chesterton in the evening. I missed feeling safe.
The judge’s office where Hank and I had got married was dark and smelled of stale cigars. We drove to the office before Hank had even shown me the apartment.
“I made the appointment last week,” Hank said, grinning as he parked the truck. “I knew you were going to come with me.”
My legs were weak as we walked up the steps of the courthouse, Hank’s hand tightly gripping mine. The courthouse towered above us, larger than any building this smalltown girl had ever seen.
The judge was kind, but I could feel the sting of disapproval in his gaze as it moved from me to Hank then back to me again.
“You’re sure you’re 18?” he asked me.
I nodded but didn’t speak.
“I just can’t believe we forgot that birth certificate,” Hank was saying, nervously shifting from one foot to another. “It means a lot to us that you’re doing this for us without it.”
The judge looked at Hank for a moment, then glanced out the window, appearing deep in thought.
“I’ll sign this, but I want you to know I’m not comfortable with it,” he said.
“I understand, sir, but you have nothing to worry about,” Hank said. “We’re old enough to know what we’re doing.”
I knew I wasn’t old enough to know what I was doing. I didn’t know what I was doing at all. Each time I repeated after the judge I was simultaneously asking myself if this was right, wondering if I’d regret it all.
“By the power vested in me by the state of New York, I pronounce you – “ The judge looked from Hank to me and back to Hank and cleared his throat. “Man and wife.”
When we left with the certificate we celebrated with a trip to a local diner, eating hamburgers and fries, sharing a milkshake, making plans about our future. We giggled, feeling like two young kids, which, really, we were.
Hank already had a job at the local factory and on the weekends he played and sang at local clubs for extra money. He sang to me from the stage, green eyes focused on me, so I felt like we were the only two in the room.
“Lee says I’ve got some real talent,” he told me as we walked back to the apartment one night. “He says he can get me some more gigs around town and hey – have you heard this new song by Hank Williams? It’s great! Lee played it for me at the club last night when I stopped after work. I’m going to try to learn it so I can play it at my next gig.”
His eyes lit up when he talked about his music and I loved to see him happy. I thought we’d always be happy like we were that first six months; late nights at the club, kissing and laughing as we fell into bed, bodies intertwined.
I started to enjoy cooking for him, making sure his food was hot and on the table when he got home from work like Mama had done for Daddy. I walked to a small market two blocks from our house and bought ingredients for dinner, never exactly sure what I was doing or how to cook it, learning as I went.
Hank would tell me I was a wonderful cook, even if I burned it, grabbing me around the waist, pulling me into his lap to kiss me.
When Hank was at work, I washed his work clothes in a small washing basin and dried them on a line that rolled out between the buildings.
As the days went by, I began to realize I was becoming exactly what Mama had said I would become. I loved being with Hank and I loved when he said I was a good cook, even though I knew I wasn’t. I washed his clothes, did my best to keep the apartment clean, but I’d left home to show Mama and Daddy I could be more than they thought I could be and now I was turning into exactly what Mama said I would be.
“I can’t sleep.”
Hank’s voice broke through my thoughts.
Hank rolled over to his back and slid his arms behind his head.
“I don’t know, maybe I’m never going to do anything with my music,” he said. “I hate that factory job. It’s wearing me down, Blanche.”
“You’ve only been there six months,” I said. “I’m sure it will get better. And the music will come. You said Lee said you’re great and I already know you are.”
I leaned down over him and covered his mouth with mine.
“You always know how to make me feel better,” he said when I pulled away.
He reached up and sank his hands into my hair and pulled my head down for another kiss.
“Get over here and take my mind off things, girl.”
He turned toward me and pulled me against him, laughing, kissing me fully on the mouth. I closed my eyes and thought about how I felt like I could never be happier than I was right now – his hands gently caressing me, his skin warm against mine.
I pressed the side of my face against the tiled floor of the bathroom and closed my eyes, my body curled up around the toilet. The coolness of the floor against my face was welcome after a night of throwing up. The vomiting had been ongoing for two weeks and was draining me of my energy. I knew it was more than a stomach bug. My belly felt empty and full at the same time. When I ate I rarely kept food down and the reflection looking back at me in the mirror each morning was pale and gaunt.
I knew something was horribly wrong, but I was too afraid to visit a doctor. I was afraid to call Mama or Daddy, Edith or Emmy. I was afraid even to pray. I had convinced myself God was punishing me for my sins. Hank and I had been married six months and I still hadn’t asked God to forgive me for leaving my family and running away with Hank.
“Blanche, you need to go to a doctor,” Hank said, standing in the doorway of the bathroom, groggy and leaning against the door frame. “You can’t keep sleeping and throwing up all day and night. Maybe he can give you something to make it stop.”
Later that morning I staggered into a doctor’s office, frail and my hair uncombed.
“Make it stop?” The doctor looked at me with a bewildered expression. “No, I can’t make it stop, but your sickness should go away in a month or so as you move out of the first trimester.”
I stared at him blankly. “First trimester?”
“You don’t get it, do you?” he asked a clipboard in his hand.
I shook my head, afraid if I opened my mouth, I’d throw up on him.
He placed a bottle of pills in my trembling hand, closed my fingers around it with his hand and looked me squarely in the eyes.
“This should help the nausea,” he said, his words slow and even. “You’re about three months along if the information you gave me is correct. Your due date is about seven months from now.”
Then, as if to reiterate the point he was trying to get across to me, he said, “You’re pregnant, young lady. Congratulations.”
I opened my mouth to speak and promptly threw up on his shoes.
No one had ever told me how it felt to have a baby growing inside. We didn’t talk about those things in my family. Maybe Mama would have told me when I got older – if I had waited, but I hadn’t, and Hank had been the one to show me what men and women did when they were married. I knew that’s how babies were made because I’d read about it in books, but I didn’t think it would really happen to me, not until I was ready, not this soon.
I walked back to the apartment, stopping three times to throw up in garbage cans or along the sidewalk along fences. Inside the apartment I gingerly took my coat off and stumbled to the couch, laying across it on my back.
“So, what did the doctor say?” Hank asked, walking out of the bedroom, rubbing his eyes.
I laid my arm across my eyes, gulping back bile, my stomach empty of the breakfast I’d tried to eat that morning. I sat up slowly and looked at him, trembling.
“He says I’m pregnant,” I said, terrified at the words.
Hank looked at me, incredulous. I could smell a mix of bitter and sweet in the room.
“How did you let that happen?” he snapped.
I looked at him, shocked.
“I – I didn’t let it,” I stammered. “It just happened.”
I suddenly felt overwhelmed with exhaustion and anger.
“It’s not like you didn’t have anything to do with it,” I said sharply.
He walked toward the kitchen, snatched a half-empty bottle of whiskey from the counter and gulped some down, wiping his hand across his mouth.
“I don’t want to take care of any baby,” Hank said, anger thick in his words.
He drank more of the whiskey, his eyes narrowing, slightly glazed, as he looked at me.
“Is it even mine?” he asked suddenly.
I looked at him, trembling now, my head spinning. Did he really think I was seeing someone else behind his back? I had started attending an evening class at a small community college, studying to become a secretary, about a month after we had arrived and when I wasn’t there I was at the library. The teacher of the class had accepted me even though I didn’t have my high school diploma, telling me we’d work out how I would pay for the classes later.
“Are you serious?” I asked.
“I don’t know what you do here while I’m at work,” he snapped. “Do I? You could be doing anything.”
He stood over me, a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“It probably isn’t even mine,” he said. He repeated it, pacing in front of me as if he’d struck on an idea and was thinking how to use it. “It probably isn’t even mine.”
He tossed the empty whiskey bottle at the wall behind my head and it shattered, glass raining around me. I screamed in terror and fell to the floor on my knees, my hands over my head.
His fingers encircled my upper arm and he pulled me up to look him, his eyes wild.
“That’s it isn’t it? It isn’t even mine!” He shouted the words at me. “Maybe you’re just a whore like your sister.”
His face was twisted in a terrifying scowl and I turned my head from the overwhelming smell of alcohol on his breath.
“You’re just a little whore, aren’t you? Aren’t you?”
He was shouting and he pulled his hand back to hit me.
I closed my eyes, turning my face away from him, waiting for the blow. He wasn’t the Hank I had fallen in love with. He had turned into someone I didn’t even know – a monster with a beautiful face.
The blow never came.
He let go of my arm and I fell to the floor on my side, sobbing. I looked up and his hard expression had softened. He stumbled back a few steps, drawing his hand across his face, shaking his head as if to shake himself sober.
“I’m sorry, Blanche,” he said softly. “I’m drunk. I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m sorry I raised my hand to you. I don’t want to hurt you or .. or..” His eyes drifted to my stomach. “Or the baby.”
His gaze stayed on my stomach for a few moments, then he looked away, rubbing his hand across his face again, then through his hair and down the back of his neck.
“I’m going out for a while,” he said hoarsely. “We’ll talk about this when I sober up.”
The door clicked closed behind him, between us, and I sat at the kitchen table, laid my head on my arms and cried.