This week’s Fiction Friday has a trigger warning for anyone who might be bothered by scenes of domestic violence. I think, however, this will satisfy the thirst for Hank’s blood that some of my followers have had throughout this story. (You know who you are.) This week also brings us closer to the end of this part of Blanche’s story, with a plan for a second part to start sometime in October or November. I’ll be publishing the complete first part of the story in ebook form on Sept. 19 and possibly paperback at a later date.
Need to catch up on the story? Find the rest of the chapters here or at the link at the top of the page.
“I made you your favorite this morning,” I told Hank, setting a plate full of sausage and pancakes in front of him.
He dragged his hand through his hair, his eyes heavy with sleep.
“Where did you get the money for this?” he asked, his voice gruff.
“Mama and Daddy gave me some as a gift before I left,” I said, ignoring his tone as I poured him a cup of coffee. “And then I’ve been saving a little bit out of the grocery money each week.”
I was determined to show love to Hank, even when he wouldn’t show it to me. Lillian had encouraged me to pray for Hank and I had been, every day since Jackson and I had come back from Edith’s wedding two weeks before.
“What are you so happy for?” he snapped. “We’ve got no money. I’m getting less hours at work. I’m not getting any gigs and you just sit here smiling like an idiot every day.”
I took a deep breath.
“I just believe it is good for us to try to look at the positives in life instead of the negatives,” I said, even though I felt anger rising up inside me.
I stood from the table and started to clear my dishes from the table, placing them in the sink.
He gulped down his coffee and slammed his cup on the table. His hand was suddenly tight around my wrist and I winced as he stood and pulled me hard against him and roughly pressed his mouth against mine.
“I can see some positives today,” he said as he pulled his mouth away a few moments later, sliding his hands down my hips and pressing himself against me. “I can see my wife, looking good, feeling good, smiling at me and I can see there’s no baby hanging on her for once.”
I let him pull me roughly to the bedroom as Jackson napped on the couch. The image of Hank’s hands on the woman in the bar flashed in my mind, as he clutched at my dress, pulling at the buttons, and trailing his mouth across the bare skin he exposed. I remembered that Lillian had said sometimes we had to show love to our spouse even when we didn’t feel it. I wanted to try my best to show Hank I loved him, even though I didn’t feel it at the moment. I had hoped our marriage was redeemable, despite Hank’s betrayal.
If I showed Hank love maybe he’d love me again and we could go back to the way things used to be when we first met. I winced as we fell onto the bed and he covered my mouth with his again, still holding my wrists tight in his hands.
My body was sore when Hank left to go back to work, but I hoped I’d done what a wife should do for her husband. I hoped I’d done what God would have wanted me to do.
“There he is!” Hannah scooped one-year-old Jackson into her arms and put him on her hip. “The birthday boy!”
She kissed his chunky cheek and danced in a circle as he giggled, a beautiful sound to my ears. Lizzie skipped into the kitchen and looked at her mom holding another baby.
“Don’t get attached, mommy,” she said bluntly. “We don’t need another one of those.”
She skipped away and Miss Mazie and I burst into laughter at her precocious comment.
“Oh, my word, how do you keep from laughing at her?” I asked.
“I do my best not to because laughing only encourages her,” Hannah said, smiling.
She sat Jackson in a highchair she’d brought with her to Miss Mazie’s and slid lemonade and a cake out of the refrigerator, placing them on the table.
“Thank you for celebrating Jackson’s big day,” I said. “I know he won’t remember it, but I still think it should be celebrated.”
“Of course, it should!” Miss Mazie said. “Celebrating a baby’s birthday is as much for us as it is them.”
Jackson patted his hands onto the highchair tray and grinned as he watched Hannah and I pour lemonade and cut cake.
“Hank wasn’t really interested in a party because he said Jackson wouldn’t remember it.” I shrugged and chose not to add that Hank wasn’t even really interested in Jackson at all.
“Men, I swear. Sometimes they are so clueless.”
I nodded and turned to see Miss Mazie watching me intently.
“What happened to your arm, Blanche?” She asked.
I pulled my gaze away quickly. That woman seemed to have some six sense as if she could read me with her eyes and I didn’t want her to read what was really happening at home. I looked at the fading burn and laughed slightly.
“Oh, just being a klutz as usual and burned myself on the stove,” I said, pouring more lemonade for Hannah’s children, refusing to look at Miss Mazie. “Complete accident but, boy, did it hurt.”
Miss Mazie cleared her throat.
“Mmmmhmm,” she hummed, then quietly, almost under her breath, “My mama had a lot of ‘accidents’ too over the years. I know how much they can hurt.”
I kept my eyes lowered, though I could feel her eyes boring into me, urging me to tell her the truth.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I invited Buffy and her girls over to help us celebrate,” Hannah said, as her children each took a glass of lemonade and ran into Miss Mazie’s dining room. I was grateful for the change of subject “She’s been having a rough time lately and I thought it would be good for her to get out a little bit.”
I struggled to imagine what Buffy would be struggling with. She was young, beautiful, even if her smile seemed plastered to her face somehow, and the wife of a well-loved pastor. I knew even the beautiful and well-polished struggled, though, and I mentally scolded myself for judging Buffy based on her appearance and, quite frankly, her name.
“Of course, she’s welcome,” Miss Mazie said. “Has she . . .lost another one?”
Hannah nodded solemnly.
“Her second,” Hannah said. “I know you’d been praying so I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing. She was about three months along this time.”
My heart sank at the words, realizing that Buffy must have suffered a miscarriage, something I’d once heard Mama talk about when it happened to a cousin of mine. I couldn’t imagine such a loss, the physical and emotional toll.
“How are you doing, sweetie?” Miss Mazie asked after Buffy had come in, poured lemonade for her children, and sat the table with a piece of cake and lemonade of her own.
“I’m doing okay,” Buffy said, with her familiar plastic smile. “I mean, it’s been tough, yes, but I’m grateful for the children I do have. And it’s important, I think, to put a good face on for the members of the church. No one wants to see a pastor’s wife crying all the time.”
Miss Mazie reached out and laid her hand over Buffy’s.
“Honey, even the pastor’s wife needs to be comforted sometimes,” she said softly.
Buffy smiled faintly, her lower lip quivering. She swiped at a tear that escaped the corner of her eye, smudging her mascara.
“You don’t know what it’s like,” she said abruptly, shaking her head. “To always have to be on. To always have to be – perfect. To look like you have it all together all the time, so no one suspects that sometimes you don’t even know if you believe what your husband is preaching up there.”
Tears suddenly rushed down Buffy’s cheeks, streaking her face with black mascara.
“Do you know what it’s like to hear that God never gives you more than you can handle and have those words echo over and over in your mind while you watch a nurse carry a small box out of the room that you know carries the baby you carried for three months? Isn’t this more than I can handle?”
Buffy cried harder and I stiffened, unsure how to handle her outburst.
“As if being brought up by a mother who told me that I was only worth something if I married well and raised beautiful children wasn’t already more than I could handle,” Buffy said, anger in her voice. “Sometimes being a Christian, believing it all, is simply too much. Where was God when my baby died? I’ve always done what I was supposed to do. I took care of the children while Jeffrey went to seminary. I cleaned the house and made the dinners and organized the church dinners. I read my Bible every morning and go to Bible study. I’ve done it all right, but still, I suffer.”
She shook her head again and rubbed her crumpled handkerchief roughly against her face. Hannah, Miss Mazie and I watched her take a long, ragged breath in stunned silence. She looked around the table at each of us and her angry expression quickly faded into a look of horror.
“I can’t believe I just completely flipped out like that,” she said. “I’m so sorry. You poor ladies. We were supposed to be celebrating Jackson’s birthday and I just – I just completely fell apart.”
Hannah smiled. “What better place to fall apart than among friends?” she asked.
Buffy laughed softly as she tried to wipe the black from her face.
“Even the pastor’s wife deserves to flip out once in a while,” Miss Mazie said, clutching Buffy’s hand and squeezing it. “God’s not afraid of your anger Buffy. Let Him have it. Even when we feel He isn’t there, He is, and our emotions are from him, so your anger doesn’t surprise him one bit.”
Buffy nodded. “I must look awful,” she said.
I leaned forward and laid my hand over her other hand, suddenly overcome with compassion for the woman I’d thought had it all.
“You look beautiful,” I told her.
She smiled at me through the tears.
“Oh, thank you. I feel like I’m a mess – “
“I do believe it was your husband who once told us that beauty comes from ashes,” Hannah said.
Buffy nodded, letting the tears flow freely again as Miss Mazie and I held her hands.
“It’s not that I don’t believe,” she said after a few moments of crying, her voice breaking. “It’s just sometimes – life seems harder than I can handle. And sometimes . . . sometimes God just seems so far away.”
“It is in the moments he seems the farthest away, that He is the closest,” Miss Mazie said.
Buffy managed a smile.
“I will try to remember that, Miss Mazie,” she said. “You certainly are a blessing to me and our church.”
My heart ached for Buffy’s pain even as watching her mask being pulled away was eye-opening for me. I couldn’t imagine feeling as if I always had to look and act the part of the pastor’s perfect wife.
“Well, enough of this crying,” Buffy said, pulling her hands away from ours and wiping her eyes with her handkerchief again. “If I’m meant to have more children, then God will provide them. That’s how I have to think about it from now on.”
Hannah wet a dishcloth and started to wipe the mascara from Buffy’s face.
“I hope you brought your make up with you,” she teased. “You’ll definitely need to reapply.”
Buffy laughed freely, tipping her head back to let Hannah wipe under her eyes and along her cheeks. A few moments later, a ruddy-faced toddler rushed into the kitchen crying and fell into Buffy’s lap. She lifted the boy against her and kissed the top of his head.
“He fell into the table!” Lizzie yelled from the living room. “And it weren’t my fault!”
Hannah laid her hand against her forehead and sighed.
“Lord, give me strength,” she muttered.
Buffy hugged the little boy, burying her face in his red-blond curls and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she was smiling – a real, genuine, non-fake smile.
“I love you, sweet boy,” she said. She looked at us as we watched her. “If God only gives me this beautiful boy and his sister, then I will be blessed beyond measure.”
We all smiled at her, then each other, and I looked at Jackson in the high chair next to me, his face covered in cake, his smile wide and contagious. He giggled at me and spit chocolate down his chin. I laughed, feeling the happiest I had in a long time, knowing that he was my blessing, despite my mistakes.
“Where were you all night?”
I looked up from the sink where I was washing dishes, confused. Hank was standing in the bedroom doorway, bleary-eyed. He staggered toward the table and sat, slumping in the chair, glowering at me.
“I came home for dinner and you weren’t here,” he snapped.
He had stumbled into the bedroom after work a few hours earlier, falling asleep with a bottle of bourbon in his hand. This was the first I’d seen him since then. I could have easily asked him where he’d been most of the previous night and many nights before, but I’d been up all night with Jackson and wasn’t in the mood for confrontation.
“I was at Hannah’s,” I said, drying my hands off on a dishtowel. “I told you I was going there to have cake and ice cream for Jackson’s birthday. I asked you if you wanted to go and, of course, you refused, just like you always do when I want you to spend time with Jackson.”
Hank slammed his hands on the table and stood, knocking the chair back and stepping toward me, towering over me.
“I told you not to hang around that nigger lady anymore!” he hissed, spit hitting my face.
“Hank, you’re drunk,” I said tightly, angry at how he spoke about Miss Mazie. “You just don’t remember that I told you I was going to Hannah’s. And don’t call Miss Mazie that na‑.”
The blow knocked me to the floor, leaving me desperately gasping for breath, searing pain coursing through my side and head. I hadn’t even seen it coming.
“Don’t you ever talk back to me!” Hank hissed, his hand still balled into a fist.
When I finally dragged air into my lungs, burning pain spread through my chest, I felt as if I was standing neck-deep in water with weights tied to my ankles. I reached up to feel warm, sticky fluid on my face, pouring from my nose. I pulled my hand away and stared in disbelief at the dark, red blood. My head was throbbing, my ears roaring, and I felt blood dripping down onto the back of my neck.
I felt like I was someone else, floating outside of my body, watching something horrible unfold, but unable to stop it. Hank hand’s clutched at the hair on the top of my head and he dragged me to my feet bring my face close to his.
“Why couldn’t you just do what you were told?” he asked, the smell of alcohol filling my nostrils.
I tightened my fists and spit blood and saliva in his face a second before the second blow came. Down on my hands and knees, I gasped for air again, the roar in my ears fading to high pierced ringing as Hank loomed over me, a shadowed, blurry figure in the corner of my eye.
Jackson abruptly screamed from our bedroom, drowning out the ringing and I looked toward the bedroom, through a veil of red, at the same time Hank’s head jerked toward the sound.
Hank drained the last of the alcohol and staggered through the bedroom doorway, into the darkness. I lurched forward, reaching out for his shirt, trying to stop him, but fell to the floor, the room spinning violently. I tasted metal and I spit blood onto the pea-green linoleum of the kitchen floor.
The sound of glass shattering against a wall splintered through the apartment, sending panic shooting through me. I struggled to my feet, the room still spinning. I closed my eyes, praying for it to stop, knowing I needed to get to Jackson. I stumbled toward the bedroom, grasping the door frame, touching a stinging pain on the back of my head, squinting in confusion at blood on my hand, bright red, still trying to make sense of what was happening.
Hank was standing over the crib, his face close to Jackson who had pulled himself up to a standing position, holding on to the railing, his red face streaked with tears as he screamed. The whiskey bottle was shattered on the other side of the room.
“Hey there, little boy,” Hank slurred. “What you cryin’ about?”
I slammed against Hank, shoving him aside and swiftly lifted Jackson out of the crib, clutching him against me.
“Don’t you touch him!” I shouted, my hand against the back of Jackson’s head, pressing his face gently against my chest as I moved away from Hank and backed against the bedroom wall. “Don’t you dare touch him!”
I felt like something had snapped inside me. If Hank was going to hurt someone, let it be me, but I wasn’t going to let him touch our son.
Hank started laughing, staggering around the room, lit only by the streetlights outside. Jackson was still crying, terrified.
“Oh, looky here,” Hank said, leering at me. “Little ole’ Blanche finally got her voice.”
He laughed again, leaned close to my face and sneered.
“Whatcha’ going to do with it now you got it?”
He lurched away from me and staggered to one side, almost falling, still laughing. I started for the bedroom door, but he stepped in front of me, his face twisted in an ugly grimace.
“What do you think you’re going to do?” he asked. “You gonna try to leave me? You gonna try to take my son from me?”
Suddenly he was screaming, veins popping out on his neck, eyes wild, words unintelligible except for a few obscene curses.
“The hell you will!” he screamed. “The hell you will!”
He was like a man possessed by the devil and in that moment, I wondered if he was the devil. The physical beauty I had once seen in him was distorted by his rage-filled screaming.
He lunged toward me, tripped on the edge of the carpet, falling forward on his face. I moved quickly around him, toward the bedroom doorway but his hand grabbed my ankle, pulling hard. I cried out in pain, lost my balance, and started to fall forward. I turned quickly and fell on my back with Jackson in my arms, against my chest, his screams piercing my ears. Hank struggled to stand, propped himself up on his hands and knees, still holding on to my ankle, his laughter maniacal until he was consumed with a coughing fit.
I took advantage of the moment and yanked my leg out of his hand, panic and rage rushing through me as I kicked him full in the face. Crazed screams came from him, like a pig being slaughtered. I started to sob, a mix of terror and anger, kicking harder, striking him repeatedly between the eyes with the heel of my shoe.
“Get your hands off of me!” I screamed then let loose a string of curse words I didn’t even know were in me.
My foot contacted his face over and over and blood sprayed up his face from his nose and then spilled onto the floor in a rush of red. He looked up at me with glazed, unseeing eyes, closing them seconds before his face hit the floor. I stood on trembling legs, my chest on fire as I struggled to breathe between sobs and screams.
Blood pooled under Hank’s head, staining his face and hair. I could hear labored snorts being dragged through his broken nose. He was breathing but he wasn’t moving, and I knew I needed to move fast before he regained consciousness.
I quickly grabbed Jackson’s blanket, two journals, my Bible, and a few clothes, shoving it all into a canvas bag with one hand, Jackson on my hip. I checked Jackson for cuts and bruises as I rushed toward the front door, flinging it open and running down the stairs to the apartment building front door, looking over my shoulder at Hank’s prostrate form on the bedroom floor.
“What’s going on down there?!” a woman yelled down the stairwell from the second floor as I reached the front door and slammed it open.
I could feel warm blood on my face as I walked briskly into the crisp night air, walking briskly in the direction of Miss Mazie’s. I didn’t want to go to Hannah, to scare her young children with all the blood. Ten minutes into my walk Jackson began to quiet, falling asleep to the rhythm of my steps. I was breathing hard, seething inside, uttering angry epitaphs under my breath, wishing Hank could hear every one of them.
I had been walking for about ten minutes when a car pulled up next to me as I walked. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the lights on the roof and my chest tightened.
“Ma’m? Do you need a ride?” I could barely hear the officer’s voice over the pounding of my heart.
I kept walking, looking down, hiding my face in Jackson’s blanket. I shook my head. Someone from the apartment building must have called the police. I didn’t know whether to be angry or grateful.
“Ma’m, please. I can see you’re bleeding. Let me give you a ride to the station or anywhere else you need to go.”
“Thank you, but I’m fine,” I said, my voice hoarse.
I was shaking, clutching Jackson, terrified and in pain, head spinning, the sidewalk tilting. The officer had lowered his head so he could look at me through the passenger side window. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. His expression was soft, concerned.
“Ma’m? Who did this to you? I can take you somewhere safe. Please. Let me help you.”
I stopped walking and the car stopped next to me. I looked back toward the apartment building, watching to make sure Hank wasn’t following me. The officer opened the passenger side door. I hesitated, looking back at the apartment building again. When I slid into the passenger seat and pulled the door shut, I winced as pain shot thorough my rib cage. I rubbed Jackson’s back as he cried in his sleep.
The officer handed me a handkerchief and I took it, pressing it against my nose to try to stop the bleeding.
“My name is Officer Judson,” he said. “I’d like to take you down to the station. We can file a report against whoever did this to you.”
I shook my head.
“No,” I said firmly. “I don’t want to do that.”
“I think we should get you checked out at the hospital at least,” he urged.
I shook my head again. “I’m okay. Please, just take me to my friend’s house.”
I gave him Miss Mazie’s address, barely able to speak as my top lip swelled.
“Did your husband do this to you?” he asked, pulling the car away from the curb and into the street.
I looked ahead, afraid to answer, trying not to cry.
“We can stop by the police station if you . . .”
“No,” I said firmly, shaking my head again. “I don’t want to do that. I just want to get my baby somewhere safe.”
I swallowed hard, the urge to cry suddenly gone, replaced again by anger.
“But thank you,” I said.
I realized my nose was stuffed and guessed blood was drying inside it. I touched it and felt a large bump in the center. I wondered if it was broken.
“Okay, I understand,” Officer Judson said, and we drove in silence the five minutes to Miss Mazie’s. “I might not agree, but I understand.”
As I reached for the handle, I felt the officer’s hand on my arm and turned to look at him.
“I’ll be praying for you,” he said, his blue eyes filled with compassion. “If you change your mind, about filing a report, stop by the station and ask for me. We will make sure whoever hurt you is punished.”
“Thank you,” I whispered.