Here we are to another Fiction Friday already. Actually, I posted this by accident on Thursday, but by the time most of you read this, it will be Friday.  So, if you are reading this on Thursday, pretend it is Friday. Either way, here we are at another chapter in my story, “A Story To Tell.”

Are you following Blanche’s story? Let me know in the comments and what you think should happen next. Last week a couple of people wanted to punch Hank, which was similar to my sentiment as the story started to unfold and Blanche continued to tell me her story. We’ll see how many people want to punch him after this week.

To catch up with the story, find the links to the previous chapters HERE or at the link at the top of the page.


Chapter 13

I thought running away with Hank would stop me from living in books, but I found myself crawling inside them again when he started drinking more and coming home less. The library was an escape from the worries, the questioning of myself. I sat in the large window sill, leaning against the six-pane window, a book on my knees, a world away from reality. As I read, I forgot about how I could no longer seem to connect with Hank, how I had separated myself from my family, how my future felt helpless and unclear.

C.S. Lewis wrote:

“I have been wandering to find him and my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog.” 

Oh, how I longed to be someone’s beloved again. I felt like those who had loved me no longer did – Mama, Daddy, Hank – even God.

Laying in bed Sunday morning, rain pelting the bedroom window, I watched Hank asleep next to me. He’d stumbled in at 1 a.m. falling into bed next to me without speaking. Watching him breathe slowly, his face relaxed and peaceful, it was hard to believe he was the same person who had been so angry a few days before. Closing my eyes, I saw his angry, twisted expression when I’d first told him I was pregnant, and I wished I could wipe the memory away.

My back and arms ached and my protruding stomach felt like a bowling ball hanging off me as I crawled from the bed and reached for my journal on the bedstand, my fingers grazing the binding of the Bible I’d laid there when we first moved in almost a year ago. I looked at the Bible, trailing my fingers across the black leather, the gold letters of my name engraved on the front. I carried the Bible and the journal with me to the kitchen. The pages of the Bible were smooth against my fingers as I laid it on the table, opened it and read the words my grandmother had written when she’d given it to me on my 13th birthday.

“Blanche,

May the words written in this special book be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path. Never forget that you are God’s special child, no matter your feelings, no matter your failings. Memorize what’s written on these pages so you may always draw from the well when you need it most.

Love,

Grandma

I wished I had fallen Grandma’s instructions better over the years and had read more of the Bible. I ached for her arms around me, for her comforting words, how she always seemed sure God’s hand was in every situation. I closed my eyes and I saw her sitting next to me in church, her full figure pushing against her Sunday dress as she raised her hands and swayed to the music. I longed to be in that pew again, pressed against her soft body, safe with her, her hand stroking my hair as I laid my head on her lap while the pastor spoke.

The memories lingered as I quietly dressed and then scrawled a note, leaving it on the kitchen table.

“Gone to church. Be back to make your lunch.”

I sat alone in the back row of the church, clutching the Bible to my chest, hoping no one would talk to me. At the front of the church, a short man with a large belly walked to the pulpit as the last song ended, opening his Bible and laying it before him.

“Good morning, Victory Assembly,” the man said, his plump face breaking into a friendly smile as he looked around the sanctuary.

Responses of “good morning” filtered through the congregation.

“This morning we are going to open our Bibles to Psalm 86:5.”

The pastor waited until the majority of the congregation seemed to find their place.

“You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you,” he read. “Time and time again, God calls to us through his word, through moments in our lives, reminding us how he loves us and how he forgives us. A few lines after this psalms we read it again: But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. The author of the Psalms knew of God’s faithfulness, forgiveness, love for us. He also knew that there would be times we would be unable to accept that forgiveness and that love.”

The pastor laid the Bible down and walked around the pulpit, leaning against it as he spoke.

“Aren’t there times in all our lives where we feel we’ve done something unforgivable?” he asked, his eyes scanning the congregation. “Something we deserve to be punished for? Something we feel God will never forgive us for? Yet, if we would just pick up this book,” he raised the Bible in his right hand and held it up slightly. “we would see and understand his love is steadfast for us – no matter if we’ve felt we’ve done wrong or not.”

I slid down in the pew, knowing the pastor’s words were meant to be encouraging, but unable to accept them for myself as easily as I could for others.  I snuck out before the last song to make sure no one saw me or tried to talk to me.

I must not have moved fast enough because I heard a voice call to me as I started to walk down the sidewalk. As I turned I saw an elderly woman walking toward me with measured steps, a cane helping keep her balance.

“Hey there, honey!” she called with a thick Southern accent. “I see you like to leave a little early too. I leave early so I don’t get run over by the young families on their way home. What’s your excuse?”

She laughed loudly with her nose crinkled and I couldn’t help smiling at her, listening to the laughter bubbling out of her. She had dark skin, much darker than Lillian’s, more like a melted chocolate bar. Her bright white teeth filled her mouth and not even one of them looked false to me. She wore a pair of small, wire-rimmed glasses on a chain around her neck. Her gray speckled hair was short with tight curls, her body plump.

“My name is Mazie,” she said. “What’s your name honey?”

I took her outstretched hand. It was soft and warm, reminding me of how my grandma’s used to feel.

“Blanche.”

“Well, Blanche, it’s nice to meet you.”

I walked with her toward a taxi waiting at the curb.

“Hey, there, Miss Mazie,” the driver said with a smile. “How was church this morning?”

“Mighty good, Frank, mighty good,” Miss Mazie said, her smile wide. “This is my new friend, Blanche. She’d love a ride home too, I’ll cover her fare.”

“Sure thing,” Frank said nodding. “The more the merrier.”

“Oh, no, that’s okay,” I said quickly. “I can walk. I don’t live too far away.”

“A woman in your condition shouldn’t be walking alone,” Miss Mazie said, gesturing first toward my belly and then toward the open door. “Frank is my personal taxi driver, I guess you would say. He brings me to church and picks me back up again when it’s done. Climb on in, honey, and it will give us a chance to talk.”

“You can’t say ‘no’ to Miss Mazie,” Frank said, winking at me as I slid into the back seat.

“So, Blanche, tell me, now, are you new to the city?” Miss Mazie asked as she pulled the door closed behind us.

“Yes, ma’m,” I said.

“Ma’m. Oh, you have some manners,” she said, laughing again. “You’re not here in the city alone are you?”

“No, ma’m. I’m here with my husband,” I said softly, surprised by the emotion in my voice.

Miss Mazie studied my face a moment,  raising one eyebrow.

“A husband, huh? You seem a bit young to have a husband.”

I nodded. “I am a bit, yes.”

“Well, I can’t really say much,” she said with a laugh. “I was 15 when I married my Earl, but that was a different time. We married young back then, especially in the south.”

“My apartment building is on the street to the right,” I told Frank.

“Why don’t you come on home with me and have some lunch?” Miss Mazie said as Frank turned the car to the right.

“I wish I could, but my husband will be expecting his lunch,” I told her.

“Well, come next week then and bring him too,” she said. “We’ll all have lunch together.”

She turned toward me as the taxi pulled up to the curb, her hand on my shoulder.

“I’m so glad to have met you, Blanche,” Miss Mazie said. “I think we’re going to get along real well.”

I could tell by how she spoke she meant every word and I felt tears in my eyes as I closed the taxi door behind me. Her kindness made me miss Mama and I longed to feel her arms around me again, hear a comforting voice tell me everything was going to be okay because at that moment, I wasn’t so sure everything would be.

***

Mama cried into the phone the first night I called, a week after I left, to tell her where I was.

“Blanche, we’ve been so worried,” she said, her voice breaking. “Emmy finally told us she thought you’d left with Hank.”

“Do you hate me, Mama?” I asked.

“I could never hate you, Blanche.,” she said softly. “`Never. I will always love you. I wish you hadn’t left the way you had, but I will always love you.”

“Does Daddy – does he hate me?”

I could hear the emotion in Mama’s voice.

“He could never hate you either, honey. He’s hurt. He’s disappointed. But he will always love you.”

I had been gone for a month when I received my first letter from Edith.

Blanche:

I’m so glad you finally wrote me a letter. That first night you called to tell us where you were I thought Daddy was going to have a stroke.. His face turned a weird color and he threw his pipe at the wall when Mama told him Emmy had been right. Mama tries to act like she’s okay, so she doesn’t upset him, but I’ve heard her crying alone in her room. No one can believe you took off with Hank. It was the last thing any of us thought would happen. You were my rock, Blanche. I always knew what to expect from you. I can’t say I’m not a little proud of you, choosing your own path, following your heart and all that cliché stuff you hear in a Cary Grant movie. But I’m also worried about you. I hope you’re okay there and Hank is treating you right. I miss our nightly talks and listening to music together. I hope you’ll come home soon for a visit but not too soon. Daddy won’t let us talk about you right now. He’s too angry to see you. I’ll let you know when things calm down.

Love,

Edith

I had wanted to go home even before Hank started drinking. I wanted to go back to school and be a teenager in the safety of the classroom again. I wanted to sit in the window of my bedroom and read a book. I wanted to throw my shoes off and walk in the creek behind Emmy’s house, holding her hand, giggling as we almost fell off the slippery rocks into the water.

I thought a lot about Daddy and how he’d barely been talking to me before I left, how I knew he wouldn’t talk to me at all if I ever went home. I thought about all those long hours he’d worked to keep food on the table, rarely complaining, driving from home to work in a car with no fan or way to cool down in the summer. I felt like I’d spit all his sacrifices in his face by leaving with Hank.

Hank walked through the front door, interrupting my thoughts. He sat on the bed, dropping his head in his hands.

“No luck?” I asked.

“I found one,” he said, unlacing his boots. “I start tomorrow.”

“That’s great!” I sat, slid my arm around him and felt his body tense as he leaned away from me.

“I need to get some sleep.”

He unbuttoned his shirt, slid it off and tossed it across the room. He pulled the blanket up around him as he laid down, his back to me.

Pulling my knees up against my chest, I laid my arms on my knees and my head on my arms, feeling the walls between us, a wall I didn’t understand.

***

Hank dragged his razor across his face and tapped the shaving cream off in the sink. He dabbed the aftershave across his jawline and turned from the bathroom mirror as he dried his hands.

“I’m going out,” he said, tossing the towel into the hamper. “I need to unwind after this long week.”

“Can I come?” I asked, tired of staying alone in the apartment with my books and journal.

“You wouldn’t have any fun, Blanche,” he said, placing a cigarette in between his lips and lighting it. “Just go read a book and get some rest.”

He tossed a jacket over his shoulder, the top two buttons of his white shirt unbuttoned, his dark brown hair slicked back.

“When will you be home?” I asked.

“When I’m home,” he said slamming the door behind him.

I pulled my knees up against my swollen stomach, tears streaming down my face.

Inside my belly I felt movement and gasped. I’d read about babies kicking in the womb in books and laid my hand against my stomach to see if it would happen again.

I smiled as I felt soft kicks against my hand and wished Hank was there to feel it with me.

I closed my eyes, leaning back against the couch and remembered a verse Pastor Frank had read from the Bible one time.

“”Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”

It was all I could remember and I didn’t know what it meant by “I set you apart”, but I liked the words and they brought me comfort as I fell asleep, the voice of Frank Sinatra drifting through the floor from the downstairs apartment.

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Written by Lisa R. Howeler

As a writer, photographer and former journalist, Lisa R. Howeler writes a little bit about everything on her blog Boondock Ramblings. She's a wife and a mother and enjoys a good John Wayne movie and a cozy Jan Karon book. She's also a freelance writer and photographer who is a contributor to various stock agencies, including Lightstock and Alamy. Her photography work focuses on documentary and photojournalism.

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