Fiction Friday: ‘A Story To Tell’ Chapter 18

As I share these final few chapters of the first part of Blanche’s story, I’m also beginning rewrites on the rest of the story to prepare it for some sort of publication through the self-published route. I don’t expect it to really sell many copies or even care if itsells, I’m just having fun sharing it at this point. So if people want to read the story by clicking on it each week they can do that or later this year they can download it as an ebook. 

What do you think should happen to Blanche next? Have you been following the story?Let me know in the comments. 

Need to catch up on the story? Find the rest of the chapters here or at the link at the top of the page.


Chapter 18

Eight months after Jackson was born, I stood next to Edith in our family’s church, holding her bouquet, my eyes focused on the floor, as they almost always were. Growing up I had felt too shy to raise my eyes. Now I felt too ashamed.

I felt like the entire town was staring at me but I knew they were really looking at Edith standing there in her glittering white gown, a long train draped down the altar stairs, a laced veil across her face until Jimmy lifted it and laid it back over her hair, piled on top of her head in large curls. Hank had stayed home, saying he had to work, but I knew he didn’t want to see Daddy again.

The church was decorated in purple flowers hanging on the ends of the pews and in vases on tables by the altar.

I wished the wedding was mine. I wished I had stood before my parents, my family, my pastor and God instead of in a dimly lit judge’s office that had smelled of dust and stale cigars. In the front row, Mama held Jackson against her shoulder as he slept. Behind her, Millie Baker smiled at Jackson’s peaceful expression and nudged her husband in the ribs to do the same. Sam Baker scowled at her, looked at Jackson and his expression softened. He nodded to Millie as if to say “Okay, I agree. He’s cute. Now can we watch the wedding?”

I looked at Daddy as he watched Jackson, a faint smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Jackson reached out and grabbed onto Daddy’s bottom lip, tugging. Daddy chuckled and gently wrapped his hand around Jackson’s, pulling his lip loose. I remembered two days before when I’d stepped off the bus. Mama threw her arms around me, pulled me close, kissed my cheek and swept Jackson into her arms. Daddy was leaning against the driver side door of the car, pipe in his mouth, fedora pulled low on his head.

“Hey, Daddy,” I said, twisting my hands in front of me.

He nodded.

“Blanche,” he said stiffly. “Nice that you could make it.”

He pushed himself off the car, opened the door and sat inside, without reaching out to hug me or greet his grandson, who he was meeting for the first time. I sat in the back, holding Jackson, feeling the tension, fighting tears.

“So, Hank couldn’t make it?” Mama asked cheerfully, turning to look back at me.

“He had to work,” I said.

Daddy snorted.

“Alan,” Mama said, laying her hand against his arm.

I could see Daddy in the rearview mirror, mouth tight around his pipe, eyes narrowed.

We drove the rest of the way to the house in silence.

“Blanche!” Emmy had practically jumped off the front porch and fallen on me when I stepped out of the car.

She hugged me tight and we laughed and cried.

“I’m so happy to see you!” she squealed, wiping tears from her eyes. “Oh, you look so good and the baby is beautiful! You just have to tell me everything. Motherhood, life in the city. I want to know it all!”

She clasped my hand in hers and we walked up the stairs, falling into comfortable conversation liked I’d never left.

In my room that night, Jackson curled up against me, I looked out the window at the maple tree, remembering late nights with Hank. I closed my eyes and let memories of growing up in this house, fill my mind. I thought of late nights reading, of laughing with Edith, of Mama and Daddy downstairs listening to the radio or later watching Ed Sullivan. I wished I’d never taken those days for granted.

Edith’s back was to me at the wedding, her hands in Jimmy’s. He was smiling and I saw tears in his eyes as she looked up at him. I looked down at the purple lilacs in the bouquet I was holding and thought about how I probably wasn’t the only one in this sanctuary who thought this day would be different. I had once imagined Edith in my shoes, married to a man who Daddy hated, or maybe not married at all, a baby at a young age and watching enviously as I married a sweet, handsome man in a beautiful wedding ceremony in our family church.

I had thought I would be the faithful, steady and favorite daughter, my parents approving gaze on me. Instead, Mama and Daddy’s focus was on Edith and their faces were full of pride and joy. This moment wasn’t mine; it was Edith’s. I’d thrown my moment away in favor of an adventure that never came, of love that wasn’t real and hopes that had been dashed on the rocks of reality.

“Marriage is a vow between two people,” Pastor Frank was saying, breaking through my thoughts. “A vow to love even when they don’t feel love toward each other, trust in each other even during the most untrustworthy moments of life and to be with each other in moments of sickness just as they are in moments of health.”

Lillian’s voice was clear and smooth from the front of the church

“Love is patient,” she said. “Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres.”

I felt a lump in the base of my throat, a dull ache in my chest. I thought about the night daddy caught me with Hank. Mama had asked if Hank had even told me he loved me. I had told her he hadn’t and now I struggled to remember if he ever had, even since then.

Hank was not patient, nor kind. He was easily angered and lately, he seemed to delight in evil. Truth? I knew he wasn’t capable of even that.  Love was not what I felt from Hank and more and more I was realizing I didn’t have much left for him either.

I looked at Daddy as Edith said her vows, remembering the uncomfortable silence between us at supper the night before, the silence in the car ride to the church for the wedding, the chasm of sadness between us. I wondered if he’d ever talk to me again, forgive me for what I’d done, or even love me again.

The social hall was crowded with people from the church, people who Edith was now friends with, who loved her and Jimmy. I felt out of place, ashamed, embarrassed.

Mama and Daddy held Jackson, showing him off proudly to their friends and family. If they couldn’t be proud of me, at least they could be proud of Jackson.

“Fruit in cottage cheese must be the dessert to make around here,” a voice with a thick Southern accent said, startling me.

I looked up to see a man with dark hair and dark eyes smiling as he perused the dessert table. He was right. There were at least six different variety of fruit salad, each one seeming to showcase different fruits mixed in cottage cheese.

“Not a lot of originality in this town,” I said with a small laugh.

“It must be a Northern thing,” the man said. “Down South it would red velvet cakes as far as the eye can see.”

I laughed as he grinned.

“Enjoy the reception,” he said and walked to his table.

I watched him leave, admiring the gentle way he had spoken and his friendly demeanor, wondering what it would be like if Hank had been more like him.

“Hey, there, Blanche,” Lillian sat next to me with a plate of food. “It’s so good to see you here, honey. How are you doing?”

“I’m okay,” I said softly, sipping lemonade, watching Edith laugh with Jimmy.

“Jackson is just beautiful,” she said.

We sat in uncomfortable silence for a few moments, eating our food and sipping lemonade.

“So,” Lillian took a deep breath. “How is Hank?”

I glanced at her and wanted to tell her everything – the drinking, the yelling, the other woman, the way he’d shoved me and barely touched me now. Instead, I heard myself blurting out a rambled fear about being a good wife.

“Sometimes I don’t know if I’m doing things right,” I said. “I don’t know if I’m good at being a wife.”

Lillian put her hand over mine and squeezed it a little.

“Blanche, honey, you’re so young,” she said. “It’s okay to have doubts. In marriage, we don’t always feel love for our spouse, but we still do our best to show them love because that love we had for them is still there. Sometimes it’s just a little hidden, behind hurts we inflict on each other. Marriage is worth fighting for because our spouse is worth fighting for.”

I nodded, thinking about all the hurts Hank had inflicted on me. I knew Lillian didn’t know who Hank really was and I didn’t want her to know. If she’d known, she’d wonder why I was still stupid enough to be with him.

“When you get home, Blanche, you get on your knees and you start praying for Hank,” Lillian said. “Every day. I think you’ll be surprised to not only see a change in him but, more importantly, in you. Hank may seem like a hard man but that’s when you need to love him the most and pray for him more. Don’t give up, Blanche. You’re both young. You haven’t been married very long, and in time things will get better and your love will grow stronger.”

I hoped Lillian was right because in that moment my love for Hank was weaker than it had ever been.

***

“Blanche, are you really okay?” Edith was packing her bag for a trip with Jimmy to the Catskills.

I pulled Jackson out of the little suit we’d bought him for the wedding, kissing his belly.

“I’m fine,” I said, realizing how adept I’d become at lying since I’d met Hank.

“Blanche, are you sure?” Edith asked. She touched my shoulder and I looked at her.

“Is everything okay with Hank?”

“Sure,” I said. “It’s okay. It’s different, but it’s okay.”

“How is he treating you?” Edith asked.

“He’s fine,” I said, forcing a smile. “He works long hours, but we are finding time to spend together. A lady at my church offered to watch Jackson so we could have a night together.”

Edith smiled, but I could still see the concern in her eyes.

“Is it a nice church?” she asked.

I nodded. “Nice people there. One lady, Miss Mazie, she’s been so wonderful. She lives alone and I visit her as often as I can. She’s the one who has helped me the most – with Jackson – with everything.”

“I’m glad to hear you have someone there you can rely on,” Edith said, hugging me. “I wish we had longer to talk. I have a feeling there is so much you want to share with me.”

I knew I could never share with Edith how much Hank had changed, how he spoke to me, about the woman I had seen him with. I hugged her close and closed my eyes against the tears.

“Enjoy your trip, Edith,” I said. “Don’t worry about me. I’m absolutely fine.”

Downstairs Jimmy was waiting for Edith, their luggage in his hands.

“Hey, beautiful,” he said, as she walked into the living room. He took her hand and kissed her cheek.

“Okay you two, save that for the honeymoon,” Mama said with a laugh.

She hugged them both and Daddy shook Jimmy’s hand.

“We’ll see you kids when you get home,” Daddy said.

I felt a twinge of sadness as I watched Edith and Jimmy being sent off, wishing I had had the same moment after my wedding, a moment of feeling like my choice of spouse was being blessed by my parents. When the door closed behind them, I sat Jackson on the floor on a blanket on his back and sat next to him. Daddy sat in his chair, lit his pipe and opened a book.

Jackson giggled as I tickled his belly and kissed his cheeks.

“What time does your bus leave in the morning?” Daddy asked, still looking down at the book.

“Eight,” I said, looking up at him.

Daddy nodded. “Your mother and I will drive you.”

Jackson squealed, clapping his hands together. Daddy took his pipe out of his mouth, holding it and watching Jackson. A smile pulled at the corners of his mouth and then he looked back at his book.

“He’s a lovely boy,” Daddy said, his eyes still on the book.

“Thank you, Daddy.”

Daddy nodded and stood, stepping around Jackson and walking toward the kitchen. He paused in the doorway.

“It’s been nice having you home, Blanche,” he said softly, his back to me.

Tears stung my eyes.

“Thank you, Daddy.”

He walked into the kitchen and I smiled, feeling a glimmer of hope that Daddy might one day forgive me for what I’d done.

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 self-published her first novel, A Story to Tell, in September 2019 on Amazon. 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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