Hatred is a poisonous brew that destroys the one who hates.
My mama was a midwife. She was the one that introduced all the new babies to their mothers. She told me that the first sight of a new baby was enough to turn your stomach, for when they passed from one world to another, they were all wrapped in the remains of the cocoon where they had begun to be a human being. My mama was about the most important person in the country area where we lived. None of the women thereabouts could have a baby without my mama there to help them. I never could get it all figured out, though. The way my mama was so gentle and sweet with the new babies and so kind to the mothers, but downright mean to others. That’s why, I suppose, when everything happened the way it did, nobody could understand. I remember hearing a lot of talk afterwards.
“Jane was such a blessing. It’s a real shame, you know. How could something like this happen to your neighbor?” Abigail Reynolds was standing on the porch with Cora Haynes. She had a real sad sounding note in her voice. Kind of like our old milk cow sounded when my daddy would separate her from her calf. A lonesome feeling would just go right through your heart listening to that mama calling her baby. Well, Abigail Reynolds brought to my mind just such a feeling. Then Cora Haynes shook her head, closing her eyes as though she couldn’t stand to even think about the subject. After some time, she spoke.
“Well, Abigail, its more than any of us will be able to figure out. You know, the good Lord said we would understand it better by and by. Too bad we have to wait so long to get the answers to our questions.” She dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief, which she always carried tucked up in the sleeve of her dress. Mrs. Haynes always wore long sleeves, even in the summertime, for she was a modest woman and a God fearing woman.
I wondered how their faces would have looked if I had stepped out there and told all that I had seen and heard before September 12. That’s the thing that just gnawed at me all the rest of my life. I heard people talking about the terrible thing that happened to our family, but I could not tell the truth nor set things right in the minds of our neighbors without tearing down the reputation of my mama. Since my daddy’s name was a hated word, it seemed we children, who had lived through those days, had no choice, at least in our own minds. How could we choose between our mama and our daddy? Which one could we betray and feel good about it? The thing was that our daddy was out there all alone, cursed and forsaken. Not one of his children had the courage to step forward and take his part. I remember the last time my daddy left the house before the terrible day that he left for good. For many years, as I grew and became a woman, married, and birthed my own babies, the events of those days from my childhood remained as fresh and vivid as the moments I lived them, there in the big farmhouse where I grew up, along with my 11 brothers and sisters.
The woman lying on the bed writhed in pain and the effort of giving birth. Beads of perspiration stood out upon her furrowed brow, glistening in the light cast by the oil lamp beside the bed.
“Just a little more, Rachel. Its head is big, so you’re going to have to push hard.” Jane’s own face mirrored the concentration of the other woman as she watched for the appearing of the infant’s head. Rachel had been in labor for most of the evening and now it was dark outside. A nagging prickle of fear invaded Jane’s preoccupation with her midwife duties. Pushing herself up from her position at the foot of the bed, she pressed her hand against the small of her back, trying to ease the stiffness that persisted. Taking a cloth from the basin of water beside the bed, she wiped the sweat from Rachel’s face.
“Jane, I’m scared. Do you think he’s too big to be born?” Anxiety and fear filled Rachel’s eyes as she waited for reassurance from Jane.
“Oh, I’ve seen bigger ones than this be birthed just fine, Rachel. You just rest between the pains and gather up your strength to push him on out when the time comes. You got a name all picked out, case it’s a boy and not a girl?” She watched the fear fade from the woman’s face as she eagerly replied.
“Henry and I decided to name a boy after my daddy. You know, his name is William Earl. We’ll just call him Bill. Course I’ve been praying mighty hard for a girl this time. Three boys are enough, in my opinion.” Her face softened, became beautiful in the dimly lit room. “Every woman needs a daughter, don’t you think, Jane. I mean, boys are fine, cause they can help so much, but little girls, well, I just need me a daughter.” She reached suddenly for the iron rails of the bed, as the contraction began to build once more, gripping her in a vise of pain that rolled through her bulging belly with a vengeance. Jane hurried back to her position as Rachel cried out, biting her lip and exerting all her strength in a mighty heave.
“Good! He’s coming, now. Ah! I’ve got my hands on him, Rachel. Get ready, now. The next pain will do it. You’ve done good. You’re almost through” Jane gently manipulated the head of the baby, being careful not to break its neck, as so many less skilled midwives had been known to do, waiting for Rachel’s body to expel the shoulders so she could pull the baby into the world. A final horrendous effort on the mother’s part and the baby’s body lay in Jane’s hand. Deftly she tended to the umbilical cord and the afterbirth, bathed the baby in the warm water she had prepared and smiled as the little girl’s lusty cries expelled the phlegm from its lungs. Wrapped in the homemade blanket, she continued screaming until she felt the warmth of her mother’s full breast against her tiny mouth. Rachel’s proud smile showed her satisfaction as her eyes devoured the tiny perfect features of her first daughter.
“She’s just beautiful, Jane. I appreciate all you’ve done. Henry will be so proud.” Her glance went to the small window. “Oh, Jane, its dark. You can’t go home alone. Sam will go with you.” Her words pushed back the persistent fear haunting Jane’s mind. In another few minutes, she had gathered up her belongings. Henry and the boys trooped into the room, awe and excitement vying for dominance in their faces. Jane found fresh coffee on the back of the stove and drank a cup while she waited.
By the time they finally exited the house and climbed into the wagon, it was full dark. The dense blanket of the night enfolded them, suffocating common sense. Fearful imaginings prompted furtive, nervous darts of the eyes into the blackness piling around them. The familiar route Jane had followed earlier in the day lost its friendliness in the darkness. Unseen ears heard the sound of their progress. Eyes accustomed to the night digested the vision of two figures upon the wagon seat. A shadow retreated from the edge of the road and dissolved into the larger shadows of the trees.
They arrived at the farmhouse where Jane, her husband, and their eight children lived. She climbed down from the wagon quickly, not waiting for Sam’s help. She thanked him and called goodnight, even as she hurried across the yard and sought the safety of the porch.
Later, as Sam returned home, the lantern swinging from the wagon, a dark figure moved silently through the woods alongside the road, toward the farmhouse Sam had just left.
“Mama, what did Rachel have this time?” Mollie, one of the five daughters still at home with Jane, placed the supper she had saved for her mother on the table.
Jane seemed not to hear, for she stood beside the window, peering into the darkness outside, her arms wrapped around her body.
“Mama?” Her voice held an edge of excitement that caused Jane to turn suddenly to face her daughter.
“You’ve seen him, haven’t you?” Mollie’s face reddened under her mother’s hard stare.
“No, Mama. Honestly, I haven’t seen him in a long time, now.” Jane knew she was lying. Turning from the window, she sat down at the table, picked up the fork and began to eat.
“The others gone to bed?” She asked between bites.
“Yes Ma’m. Just a little while ago. I waited for you. Who was that with you?” Now Mollie stood before the window, her eyes searching the yard and beyond by the light of the stars that had now appeared.
“Sam. Rachel had a girl. Took a long time. Go to bed Mollie. I’ll take care of everything when I finish.” She dismissed the girl. Mollie turned reluctantly, hearing the impatience in her mother’s tone. For a moment, she looked at Jane, who had turned her attention back to her food. Real dislike flickered in the childish face before the girl turned away and left the room.
“Bessie, are you asleep?” Mollie whispered, as she began undressing in the room she shared with her four sisters. The room was big, accommodating two iron bedsteads. The three younger girls slept together in one bed, while Mollie and Bessie, the two oldest, now fifteen and twelve, shared the other. As she settled herself beside her sister, Bessie grunted. “Bess?” Mollie whispered again.
“What is it, Mollie? I’m sleepy.” Her sister flopped over in the bed, turning her face toward the wall.
“I need to talk to you. About Daddy.” Mollie whispered back.
Bessie turned over to face her sister, her features a blur in the darkness. “What do you want to talk about?”
“He’s outside right now. Probably in the barn or in the woods. What can we do, Bess? Mama’s so mean to him. He wants to come home, be with us, but SHE won’t let him.” Mollie’s voice became fiercely angry, though still a whisper.
“I know, Mollie. Mama must have her reasons. I’ve heard Aunt Rosie talking to her about Daddy. Aunt Rosie just lit into Mama about being mean and cruel. That’s the very words she used. ‘You’re mean and cruel to that man, Jane. You mark my words. You’ll live to regret it.’ Then, Mama said a strange thing back to Aunt Rosie. ‘I doubt I will, Rosie.’ I didn’t really get her meaning.” Bessie was silent as she pondered the remembered conversation she had overheard.
“I took him some food before Mama came home tonight. He said at least it didn’t have so much salt in it that he couldn’t eat it. Did you know Mama did such a mean, hateful thing, Bessie? How can she be so kind to our neighbors and so cruel to our daddy? Why did she marry him if she hates him and wants him gone?” Tears made Mollie’s voice break and she stifled her sobs with the covers. Bessie reached out a comforting hand.
“I don’t know, Mollie. Just pray for Daddy. Pray that he’ll be all right.”
A Week Later
Long before dawn crept across the fields and invaded the darkness within the house, Jane was up and dressed. She drank coffee alone, the house silent and sleeping around her. Vivid images from her dreams refused to leave her mind, for the inevitable was one day closer with each sunrise. At times, a startling clarity shone through the fog, pointing her to another course. She refused to heed these chances at self-preservation, for the other pattern was deeply ingrained in her very fiber. A terrible cruelty and destructive hatred ruled her actions. A sly, malicious character had successfully camouflaged itself beneath neighborly kindness and solicitude. No voice of family or friend had been successful in turning the tide of Jane’s obsession. She moved toward the consequences of her own actions inexorably, as the sea flows toward the ocean.
The children began to appear in the kitchen, drawn by the smell of breakfast. By seven, Jane prepared to do the milking, gathering up the pails. Warm water sloshed in one of the buckets, to clean the cow’s bag before the milking. Sadie Beth, the youngest of the girls, only seven that summer disappeared out the door as soon as she had finished her breakfast. Mollie and Bessie tidied up the kitchen. Then, accompanied by Laura and Gracie, went into their shared bedroom to make the beds.
Outside, Sadie had climbed to her favorite place, from where she could watch all that went on in the yard and beyond, even way down the road leading past the farm. Early morning sunlight touched the setting: The farmhouse, the barn, the patient cow waiting to be relieved of her burden of milk. Her calf bleated piteously, urging the milker to haste.
From atop the barn Sadie heard the screen door slam as her mother left the house. Peering over the edge of the roof, she could see Jane’s figure approaching the gate that led from the yard to the lot where the cow waited. Intent on watching her mother, she was suddenly distracted by a tall, gaunt apparition that seemed to appear from nowhere, just materializing by the corner of the house. Her heart skipped a beat, for something about the stealthy figure was hurtfully familiar. About to call out, her words froze in her throat. The man stepped from the shelter of the shadow cast by the house and raised the gun to his shoulder, sighting down the barrel, taking aim. Sadie felt paralyzed by what she was seeing. Her head swiveled toward the figure of her mother, who had almost reached the gate.
“Mama! Mama! Look out! Poppa’s gonna shoot you!” Her words were drowned out by the blast of the gun. In horrified fascination she saw her mother stagger, the milk pails falling to the ground, as she groped for the gatepost to catch herself. “He might shoot me too!” Sadie’s eyes fastened upon him in fear, but he never even looked up at her. His attention was riveted on the figure of his wife, as she stood upright and turned, holding to the fence post. Her face was devoid of color and blood dripped from the wound in her back. She only had time to realize she could not make it to the house before the second bullet caught her full in the chest, piercing her heart. She died even as she was thrown to the ground by the impact. Sadie hung on to the roof, trembling violently, as the figure of her daddy disappeared from view.
They called my daddy a “wife murderer” and there was a big write up in the local paper about the tragic happening. It told all about how he had waited for Mama and killed her as she went to do the milking. What wasn’t told was how he went to his best friend’s house, wanting to turn himself in to the law. My daddy trusted his friend, Mr. Felix. That was his second mistake. His first mistake, of course, was killing Mama. A few days after Mama was buried, my daddy met Mr. Felix and the deputy sheriff as they had agreed. My daddy had given his gun to Mr. Felix, for he trusted his friend. Well, as soon as my daddy rode up to the meeting place, he was gunned down by the deputy, while his best friend looked on. He died right there where they shot him. Some said it was all for the best, him being killed like that. Saved him from being hung. I guess if you look at it that way, it would appear in the eyes of some like justice. He shot Mama down. He received “recompense of reward.” That’s the words I heard Reverend Thornton say once. It means a person gets the same thing done to them that they do to someone else. Of course, we children hardly got “recompense of reward.” We became orphans, forever bearing the shame of that terrible day. And forever holding the knowledge of the real truth so deep within us that we weren’t even aware of it. For, unbeknownst to anyone, my daddy had come to us, his children, and begged us to forgive him for killing our mama. We, the older ones, needed to know how our humble, hard working, soft spoken daddy had turned into a wife murderer right before our eyes.
At first, he said we were better off not knowing any more bad things. I wondered why my brothers were not there. It would be some time before they would reveal all the knowledge hidden within their hearts. The persistent acts of goading cruelty that ate away at the goodness of our daddy like a festering sore eats away the flesh, leaving it raw and bloody. The obsession of a man for a woman was not mentioned nor understood by us back then. Only recently, as adults, have we come to an understanding of all the forces that carried us so easily to that fateful day in l9l5. The dreadful truth as we have come to see it is more horrendous than the local reporters could imagine. We have mentioned it to no one, for who would believe a woman could be so diabolical, so twisted in her mind as to devise the plan my mother carried out, even as she served her community and cared for her children in a kind, gentle way. For now we believe that our mother provoked our daddy to the breaking point, intentionally and with malicious satisfaction. She used his need for her and his family to push him to commit the act that would insure his destruction. She made his life unbearable when he tried to live with her. But, he could not stay away. Why, we asked each other then and now. Was there no other way?
I remember a moment, there in the kitchen. Mama had been away all day and we had cooked supper. Daddy came in from the fields just after she entered the house. I saw him through the window as he washed away the sweat and grime at the well. She saw him, too, for she came to stand beside me. I felt a strangeness in her. A sudden cold touched me and I turned to look at her, to reassure myself that this figure standing beside me was my mother. Her gaze was fixed on the figure of my daddy. I almost cried out in fright, but that same fright silenced my cry. The fires of Hell burned in my mother’s eyes in that unguarded moment and I could only believe that the Devil himself stoked the flames of hatred that raged in her heart. For her eyes were the eyes of the bird of prey, cruel and without mercy, that swooped down to snatch the tiny chicks as they scurried for their mother’s sheltering wings. Dark intent glittered blatantly as I stared, transfixed by a fearful fascination at what I was seeing. She turned her head and met my eyes before I could turn away. Her lips curved in a semblance of a smile, but I saw, for a fleeting instant, the spirit that ruled her, peering out of her eyes, evil and triumphant.
From that day to this, those of us who lived through that terrible time have no illusions as to the truth. Some said my mother was a victim of a jealous husband. Allusions were made to secret meetings between her and my daddy’s best friend, Mr. Felix. Many hidden motives were brought to the light, discussed and discarded as the years finally silenced the voices. Only we know. We children. We know that our mama was driven down a path that ultimately destroyed the object of her hatred, but, as is so often the case, the demon of hatred and vengeance that ruled her actions also destroyed her with cruel intent. For, what better way to obtain two hapless victims for eternal torment, than to have one murder the other, then have a “friend” murder the murderer?
Site: Patsy Lewis Short Stories
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|Reviewed by J Howard
|Evil is selfish, as you have so nobly noted. these parents only thought of themselves and not of their children, those who need their love, consideration and protection the most. a very good description of both evil and selfishness.
thanks for sharing,
|Reviewed by Katherine Harms
|How deeply sad this story is. It is so hard to understand how deeply evil can become embedded in a human being. When Satan watched Eve take her first bite of the beautiful forbidden fruit, it was he, not she, who was nourished and strengthened. Your story is just one fruit that was born of that day.|
|Reviewed by Jerry Engler
|That's a story to shake you down to your socks. Well done, Patsy. For your sake I hope it wasn't autobiographical. It's an interesting realistic treatment of the idea of pure evil rather than using psychology without evil as the motivation as is often so done. I've seen strange families with strange unexplained cruelties in their lives as I am sure most of us have. This points a finger toward what can happen...Jerry|
|Reviewed by Phyllis Du'Gas
|Wow - this was good!!!!!!!|
|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|Excellent story, Patsy! Thanks for the sharing; enjoyed!
(((HUGS))) and much love, your Tx. friend, Karen Lynn. :D