I’m guessing from the lack of comments on my Fiction Friday post last week my last chapter wasn’t well-received, but I’m not sure (because I was so busy last week I didn’t leave comments on a lot of posts either!) so I’m just plunging forward with posting the next part in Blanche’s story this week.
I’m also moving forward despite the texts from my dad lobbying for me to somehow redeem Hank. The problem is my characters are very loosely based on my great grandparents and I think my dad feels my portrayal of Hank is a reflection of his his grandfather’s character, but, since I never met my great-grandfather, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Or, maybe, it’s actually the truth. No one in our family (who is still alive, I mean) really knows.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve been following along and what you think will happen next. To catch up to the story find the previous chapters HERE or at the link at the top of the page.
I was exhausted, bleeding and bruised when I stumbled up Miss Mazie’s front steps. My entire body hurt. Jackson had fallen asleep against my shoulder. The face that greeted me when the door opened wasn’t anyone I knew. She was young, pretty, her dark hair pulled back in a tight bun on her head, her skin dark like Miss Mazie’s.
“Yes? Can I – “The woman’s expression changed from curiosity to shock. “Oh my! Honey, what happened to you?”
“Isabell, who is it?”
I heard Miss Mazie’s voice from somewhere in the house. When she came around the corner from the kitchen, leaning heavily on her cane, her eyes immediately filled with tears.
“Oh, heavens, child!” she cried. The blood was still wet and running under my nose and from the gash on the back of my head, dripping on my clothes and Jackson.
“Isabell, get her on in here.” Miss Mazie’s tone was frantic.
Isabell bolted the door behind me, as I collapsed on the couch and began to sob, a whimpering Jackson against me. I could hear Miss Mazie’s slipper covered feet shuffling toward me and then she sat in the recliner, laying a hand against my cheek.
“Baby, girl, who did this to you?” she asked, tears rimming her eyes. “Did that husband of yours do this? Oh, I know he did. Oh my! Isabell, get me a cold cloth.”
Isabell walked past me; concern etched onto her face.
“Miss Mazie, I’m so stupid. I thought I could change him.”
My tears mixed with blood, ran into my mouth, tasting metallic.
“You are not stupid. You just had hope for a situation that was hopeless.”
“What am I going to do? I can’t go back there.”
“No, you’ll stay here tonight, and we’ll decide what to do tomorrow,” she said firmly.
“I don’t want to put you, or her, in danger,” I said wiping the tears and blood away with the edge of my skirt.
“There is no danger, sweetie,” Miss Mazie said softly. “I don’t think Hank even knows where I live. Plus, we have God on our side. He’ll protect us.”
I wasn’t sure if I believed her about God and His protection, especially since I could feel my face and nose swelling and pain shooting through my side and head. Where had God been when Hank had hit me? I felt sure Hank would have killed me if I hadn’t fought back and knocked him unconscious.
Isabell returned with the cloth and laid it gently against the back of my head.
“Mama, we’re going to need more than just a cloth to see how bad this wound is,” she said to Miss Mazie.
Miss Mazie nodded.
“Blanche, honey, this is my daughter Isabell. She’s a nurse, so you’re in good hands. You’re going to sleep in the guest bedroom tonight.”
I winced, as Isabell dabbed the cloth against the back of my head. Jackson laid on his back on a towel on the floor, watching me with wide eyes, sucking on his fingers.
“It’s bad but it doesn’t look like you’ll need stitches,” Isabell said, reaching into the medicine cabinet for a bottle of peroxide and antibiotic cream. “That nose should probably be looked at though.”
I kept my head down, watching blood swirl down the drain of the sink, trying to figure out how I’d let myself get here. I raised my head slowly, looking at myself in the mirror, blood caked on my face, two black eyes starting to form, nose crooked from where Hank’s fist had struck me. I didn’t recognize the face looking back at me. I was sure my nose was broken but I wasn’t about to go to a hospital and find out. I was too ashamed I had let myself be treated like this, had been so weak, so foolish.
How did I let what I thought was love change my life until I was someone I didn’t even know anymore?
Isabell dabbed the wound again and I bit my bottom lip as fresh pain seared through my head.
“I know, honey,” she said softly. “It’s going to hurt for a little while, but this will help. I’ll get you a fresh towel and you get you and your little one cleaned up. After you come out, we’ll put antibiotic cream and bandages over it. Let’s get a look at those ribs, make sure they’re not broke.”
I cried out as she touched my side, purple already appearing across my skin.
“I don’t think they’re broken, but they could be cracked,” she said. “You really should have an X-ray, to be sure. I can drive you to the – “
“No!” I cried. “I mean, I’m sorry, but please, no. I don’t want them asking questions. I don’t anyone to know . . .”
Isabell pulled my shirt back down and shook her head, letting out a deep breath.
“I have some bandages back at my house that we can use to bind you, but if you started having trouble breathing or are in worse pain tonight, I’m taking you whether you want to or not,” she said. She laid her hand against my shoulder. “I won’t tell them what happened to you if we have to go. I know you’re scared – “
“I don’t know if I’m scared or just furious,” I blurted, my jaw tightening.
“Being both is okay,” he said with a smile. “I’ll leave you alone to clean yourself up. Can I make you something to eat before I head to my house to pick up the bandages?”
“No, thank you,” I said. “I’m fine.”
I couldn’t have eaten if I’d wanted to. My stomach was churning with anger, at Hank, at myself for thinking a future with Hank would be like a Hollywood movie or one of my books.
I turned to look at Jackson as Isabell left to find the bandages. He watched me intently, still sucking his fingers. I kneeled next to him, feeling like I might break open at any moment.
Maybe all this was God’s way of punishing me for my sins – for my lust, my disobedience, my selfishness – the crying baby sitting in the bathroom floor, the broken nose, sore ribs, the two black eyes, an unfamiliar face starring back at me in the mirror, parents who were ashamed of me.
I knew I deserved it all and didn’t have strength left to ask God to take the burdens from me. I didn’t deserve grace or mercy. I had made my bed, had laid down in it and I had a baby to prove it. I wasn’t anything but damaged goods and I knew it.
I turned the water on in the bathtub and stripped Jackson’s blood-stained clothes off of him. The warmth felt good against my sore ribs and aching muscles as I slipped below the surface, leaving Jackson sitting on the floor, watching me with heavy eyelids. Blood swirled in the water from the wound on the back of my head.
I drained the water after I was done, filling the tub again and undressing Jackson, lifting him in with me. He giggled as I wiped the cloth across his skin, wiping my blood from his shoulder and the top of his head, crying over the thought of his innocence shattered. I kissed his soft cheek, breathed in the smell of him, sobs wracking my body as I whispered a thank you to God for sparing him from being hurt.
Isabell had returned and knocked gently on the door as I dried off. She wrapped my rib cage tight and then bandaged the back of my head. I put on the robe she handed me and then knelt down to place a diaper on Jackson.
“Well, I see that robe fits you just fine,” she said with a smile. “That was my old robe. I can’t wear it anymore – not after three babies and all the weight they left on my hips.”
Her laugh was warm and full, like her mama’s. She smiled, folding the bandages into the box with the other first aid supplies.
“Let me carry that sweet boy for you,” she said, lifting Jackson and planting a kiss on his chubby cheek.
Miss Mazie shuffled toward me with her cane supporting her as I walked out of the bathroom and slid her arms around me, pulling me close gently. I winced from the pain in my ribs, laying my cheek against her soft chest and letting the tears flow. She caressed my hair as I sobbed.
“It’s going to be okay, Blanche,” she whispered. “It’s going to be okay.”
Isabell rubbed my back as I cried.
“Father, comfort Blanche now in this time of her need,” Isabell prayed softly. “Show her you love her and will be there for her no matter what her situation looks like now.”
I curled up in Miss Mazie’s guest room that night, the comforter warm around me, Jackson asleep in the curve of my body, thinking about how I didn’t want God to punish my baby for all I had done wrong. I knew my bad choices had left Jackson without a caring father, pushing him toward an uncertain future. Even worse, I didn’t know how to fix it.
I drifted off into a fitful sleep, tortured by images of Hank lunging at me, his fists hitting me, his face twisted grotesquely in the dark.
“Maybe you’re just a whore,” he hissed at me, his fist rushing toward my face. I gasped awake, looking around the room, unsure where I was for a moment. As I remembered, I looked at Jackson next to me, laid down again and tried to sleep, to let the memories of the night fade away. I didn’t know what my next step would be, but I knew I wanted that step to be as far away from Hank as possible.
“Blanche, if there is somewhere safe you can go, you need to go,” Miss Mazie said after I had been at her home three days.
“My parents won’t take me back,” I said my voice trembling as I looked at my hands, clasped on the table in front of me.
“Sweetheart, you don’t know until you try,” Isabell said, setting a plate of pancakes on the table. She sat down in the chair next to me.
“Honey, listen to me,” she said as I looked up at her. “Your Mama and Daddy love you. They do. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy to go home and work this out with them, but I truly believe they would want you to come to them during this time. They will want to protect you and help you heal during this difficult time. And when I say heal, I don’t just mean physically. There is a lot of emotional healing ahead of you, honey. Let them help you. I just feel certain from what Mama has told me about them that they are good people.”
I took a deep breath and nodded.
“I’ll try,” I said.
“Until Hank reaches his rock bottom and wakes up to what he’s become, it’s not safe for you two to stay,” Miss Mazie said. “Think of Jackson if not yourself. He doesn’t deserve to see his daddy acting this way and neither of you deserve to be hurt again.”
I knew she was right. I knew I needed to find a way to get home to Mama and Daddy. I knew I needed to look past my shame and protect Jackson.
“Now, let me change those bandages for you, honey,” Isabell said. “And I really do think we should have a doctor look at that nose.”
I shook my head. I still didn’t want to go to a doctor.
“I’ll be okay,” I said.
Miss Mazie pushed herself up from her chair and shuffled to a dresser across the room. She opened the top drawer, pulled something out of a tin box and shuffled back toward me. She shoved crumpled bills into my hands, closing my fingers around them.
“This should be enough to get you a bus ticket back home,” she said. “I don’t think you should go back to the apartment. It’s too risky.”
“I can’t take this. . .”
“You can and you will,” Miss Mazie said. “Blanche, honey, you’re going home.”
I bowed my head and sobs shook me. It was all moving so fast, but I knew she and Isabell were right. I had to see if Mama and Daddy would still love me despite all I had become. If they wouldn’t love me, I hoped they would at least love Jackson.
Miss Mazie called Hannah and asked if Matthew was available to drive me to the bus station in the morning.
“Oh, Blanche,” Hannah said when she saw me, hugging me close. “I can’t believe this has happened to you.”
Lizzie stood behind her, eyes wide with surprise as she looked at my face.
I had only ever seen Matthew with a kind or friendly expression on his face and the anger I saw when he walked into the living room surprised me.
“What kind of man does this to a woman?” he said, tossing his hat onto the couch. “I have half a mind to go find this boy and whip him into next Sunday. No man has the right to touch a woman like that.”
He sat on the couch briefly and then stood up again, pacing.
“My God,” he said, furious now. “We are meant to protect our wives, not harm them.”
He looked at me and shook his head, tears rimming his eyes.
“And you’re just a child,” he said softly.
“Please don’t go talk to him,” I said. I felt tears fresh in my eyes, but I was afraid to cry, afraid if I started, I’d never stop. “I just want to go home to my family.”
Hannah hugged me gently as I fought back the tears.
“You get your things together and we will take you to the bus station,” Matthew said, his hand on my shoulder.
Miss Mazie turned toward me, taking my hand in hers.
“I’m going to be praying for you, honey,” she said. “You write me or call, you hear?”
I nodded, tears flowing freely.
“I don’t know how I can ever thank you for all you’ve done – all you’ve been,” I said, barely able to speak.
She pulled me against her large, soft body and wrapped her large arms around me.
“May God bless you and keep you safe, my dear Blanche,” she said, emotion thick in her voice.
When I stepped back her face was streaked with tears. I picked Jackson up from the blanket on the floor and he smiled, reaching for Miss Mazie.
“Oh, baby, I sure will miss you,” Miss Mazie said, kissing his cheek and patting his back. “You tell your mama to come visit me when she can.”
Sitting in the Harrison’s station wagon, I looked out the back window at Miss Mazie’s home, my only real haven from all the doubtful, frightening moments I’d experienced since I’d move to this city. She and Isabell were standing on the front porch, their arms around each other, waving. I watched until they faded from view.
When I turned to face forward, I saw Lizzie’s wide eyes watching me intently.
“What happened to you?” she asked.
I looked helplessly at the front seat, at the back of Hannah and Matthew’s heads. I couldn’t tell this little girl the truth. Hannah looked back at me, tears rimming her eyes. She opened her mouth, closed it again and shook her head at me. I could tell she wasn’t sure what to say either.
“Well, honey. . .” she started.
“Did someone hurt you?” Lizzie asked.
I felt fresh tears forming as I nodded.
“I’m sorry someone hurt you,” she said softly. “That’s not nice. I like you, Blanche. I won’t let that person hurt you again. I’ll kick them in the shin if they ever try again.”
I smiled, tears slipping down my bruised cheeks. Hannah wiped her tears with a tissue.
“Thank you, Lizzie,” I said. “I’m so glad to have someone strong like you to protect me.”
Lizzie leaned into me and slid her tiny arms around me, laying her head against my chest.
“It will be okay,” she told me, her voice a whisper. “Jesus will comfort you.”
I kissed the top of her head and hugged her close.
“Yes,” I whispered back. “He will.”
I hugged the Harrisons good-bye and took the money Miss Mazie gave me to the front counter in the bus terminal. I could feel the ticket seller’s eyes on me as he slid the ticket across the counter. I knew he was staring at my bruised face and swollen lip, the baby on my hip. Jackson pulled at my hair, giggling, delighted at the way the strands hooked around his fingers.
“You – uh – okay?” the man asked.
I looked up at him, tightening my jaw with resolve.
“No,” I said. “But I will be.”
He nodded and smiled.
“Good. Don’t look back,” he told me, as if our short exchange and the condition of my face had told him everything he needed to know about my situation. He reached over and touched Jackson’s arm gently. “You two have a safe trip.”
On the bus there were more questioning stares, but I didn’t care. I was too tired and in too much pain to worry about what anyone was thinking. Jackson and I fell asleep halfway into the trip and when I woke up, I panicked I had missed my stop. I glanced out the window at the signs passing by, looking for names of familiar towns. Binghamton, Owego, Elmira. I hadn’t missed my stop. I watched as urban views faded into landscapes of rolling hills, fields full of tractors, hay and corn, and pastures full of cows.
We were still an hour away from home. Home. Was it still my home? Would I even be welcome there? I leaned back in the seat, Jackson sprawled across me and worried about how Daddy would react when he saw me, wondering if he would even allow me in the front door. I ran my hands across Jackson’s soft brown hair and across his back, laying it there for several moments to feel his breath moving in and out, to feel life – our new life – in him.