While not the intended effect, the outcome was surprisingly satisfying. Of course, Wanda had no way of knowing this as she awoke to another day of drudgery. Her bedroom, lit by the bright autumn sun, spotlighted thousands of dust bunnies dancing in the light. Maybe, just maybe, she could slip out of the room and leizurely sip a hot cup of sweet tea before Rudy woke up. The room reeked of so much whiskey that she was afraid to light up her morning cigarette.
“Wanda! Get your fat ass back in bed, Rudy snarled. “I ain’t done with ya yet.”
“Be right there,” she called back, walking faster. “I hear someone at the front door.” Wanda hoped he’d fall back into a stupor again and God willin’, sleep till closer to noon.
Wanda hadn’t been that lucky the night before, when Rudy’d stumbled through the bedroom door, rip-roaring drunk. She closed her eyes against the memory of the beatings, the forced sex. It did no good. In the two years since Rudy's momma died, he’d become a different man—nasty, mean and brutal. The images flashed across her mind, even as the welts and bruises throbbed. There was no forgetting. At least this time, there were no blackened eyes and no more teeth knocked out.
The gods were with Wanda Campbell that cool, sunny morning. Her husband, turned monster, slept on, snoring so loud that she could hear him as she swung on her porch glider, sipping her tea. It was a short respite in her miserable life.
“Wanda,” her friend Pearl called out softly as she crossed the short yard from her bungalow next door. Pearl was a bit older than Wanda and acted as both friend and older sister.
“Happy to see you gettin’ some peace, darlin’. I could hear yelling and then snoring clear through my windows. “
“Sorry about that. You want some sweet tea? I just brewed up a fresh batch.”
“No, sweetie, don’t take no chances on waking that bastard. When you gonna put a stop to this, Wanda? I don’t care to be attending your funeral.”
A bee buzzed around the cup of tea then flew off as Wanda’s tomcat swatted at it. Birdsong rang out, with flocks preparing for the trip south, as winter loomed ahead.
“Pearl, I done what I could. Every time I call the police, they cart him off to jail for the night and when he gets back, he beats me somethin’ fierce. Sometimes, God forgive me, I want to kill him.”
“I’d have done that by now, were it me, “Pearl added, putting her arm around Wanda to comfort her, maddened when she felt Wanda’s sore body wince at her light touch.
“Yeah, but I keep thinking to myself, what changed him? He was never like this till his momma died.”
“Well now, folks talk in a small town. Rumors are, his momma did some pretty awful things to her son as he was growing up. Don’t know what, but she held some kind of a spell over him, some say.” Pearl slowly paced the long front porch as she spoke.
“I heard that. And I know his momma turned to reading cards and fortune telling after Rudy’s dad passed on. Some called her a witch.”
"Could be, could be. Bitch be more to my opinion, since she raised her boy unatural and messed with his head.”
“I gotta go, Pearl. Don’t want to be settin’ off his temper. It’s his birthday today. Maybe I’ll whip up a cake and that might make him happy. Lord, I wish he was the man I married.”
“Never really know a man till you marry him,” Pearl added. “That’s the shame of it. You take care, now. Hear?”
Wanda nodded and hurried to see what Rudy wanted. She knew Pearl had some lonely moments in her life since she lost her Bob to cancer. Yet, Wanda envied her.
“Happy birthday, Rudy. I was just fixin’ to bake you a cake.”
“Get over here! I got some other plans for you.”
It seemd like hours before Rudy was done with Wanda, falling on his back in a booze-induced sleep. She had been careful not to fight him, but that just made him madder and now she did sport two black eyes and a loose tooth.
“Rudy’s last words before he passed out were, “Get on down and bake me my cake. But I want breakfast first.”
Wanda cleaned herself up and wearily headed for the kitchen. She brewed more tea and tried to force down a slice of toast. She hadn’t hurt this bad since the night Rudy kicked her in the stomach and she lost the baby. That was the night she’d stopped loving him.
Pearl had heard the screams from Wanda and the sounds of the beating Rudy inflicted upon her. Her anger grew like a thing alive and she knew she had to put a stop to this. She rushed out the door as Wanda stepped out on the porch. After one look at Wanda, she was mad enough to kill Rudy on sight.
“Sit on down, honey. I’ll be right back. I think I might have forgot to turn off the stove. When I get back I’ll make that bastard’s breakfast while you keep ice on those eyes. The man’s so loud, he might as well be in my house.”
Wanda lay down on the couch, nauseous and woozy. The ice bag blunted the pain in her eyes and eased her headache. She drifted off into a light doze, peppered by nightmares.
Pearl returned, saw her friend napping and set off to making Rudy’s breakfast. She slipped the can of rat poison from her apron pocket, and proceeded to make him a typical breakfast—sunny-side-up eggs, bacon, pancakes and biscuits with gravy. The syrup and gravy would mask any trace of the poison, Pearl hoped, having no regret over her actions. Her work done, she shook Wanda gently to wake her up.
“Time to take him his breakfast, sweetie.”
Right on cue, Pearl thought as she headed home. Wanda carried the the tray to the bedroom, careful not to spill the orange juice or coffee. Rudy gulped the food like a ravenous dog, as Wanda quietly left the room. Better bake his cake, she thought. Maybe his mood will improve. She considerd her options and realized she had none. It was 1950 and there was little protection for women like her with abusive husbands; no court orders keeping him away, few or no half-way houses for women and in Wanda’s case, no family to offer sanctuary. She had accepted her fate, too beaten down physically, emotionally and mentally to fight back.
The cake went into the oven for forty-five minutes. It was chocolate, Rudy’s favorite and she planned on an icing of peanut butter cream with a touch of cocoa—her own recipe. As the cake baked, she pulled out the winter boots she’d ordered from the Sears Catalogue and wrapped them. Wanda hummed softly to herself as she finished the cake, soothing her wounded soul.
Hours later, Rudy walked into the kitchen, in clean jeans and a plaid shirt. When he saw his favorite meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn, plus his beautiful cake, he grinned.
“Thank ya, Wanda. This was right nice of you. I’ll be sure to repay ya later.” Rudy attacked his meal with gusto, finished it off with three slices of cake, burped loudly and went off to lie on the couch. The radio played country western songs.
Wanda hoped he’d sleep a bit. She’d come to a decision as she cooked his meal. Realizing that she could take not one more day of this abuse, she planned to sneak out the back door, walk into town and take the first bus to nowhere. The smell of whiskey coming from the sitting room strengthened her resolve. It was leave or kill herself. She slipped into the bedroom and took all the money from the metal strong box Rudy kept under the bed. He never bothered to lock it–that sure that she’d never have the nerve to leave. By the time Wanda had cleaned up the kitchen, Rudy had downed a fifth of gin, and was snoring again. Dear God, Wanda prayed. Just let me get away without him waking.
As she tip-toed past the living room, she glanced back at Rudy. He was covered in something red—all over his clothes, the couch and spilling onto the hand-braided rug. It was blood. Wanda screamed. Pearl came running over and called the police.
“What happened here, Ma’am?” asked Judd, Deputy Sherrif for the town of Wheeling.
“I don’t know. I found him like this.”
Judd noted Wanda’s blackened eyes and bruises and cursed under his breath.
“Most likely the liquor killed him, Wanda. Seen it before. Liver fails and folks bleed out. No sense calling out the coroner.I think we’ll just go with this as liver failure. Ok with you?”
Wanda nodded, too shocked to speak.
After the police removed the body, Pearl scrubbed and cleaned the couch and rug, in case someone got suspicious. Wanda, still in a daze, walked out with a cup of hot tea and sat on the porch glider. She contemplated all that had transpired during this long, torturous day, realizing that at last she was finally free. She swung back and forth, comforting herself. And she smiled. The day, intitially full of pain and suffering, had turned out to be surprisingly satisfying.