a tale of abuse, of learning to love oneself
By The Wayside is the semi-biographical story of a young woman assaulted as a child and the ordeals she must face. Troubled by poor choices and a resentful family, she stumbles through her life searching vainly for some sense of normalcy, some hope of acceptance
Some vulgarity and implied racial and sexual overtones which could not be omitted without losing some context for the story itself.
She looked the part of any other little black girl of her day - barefoot, wide-eyed and wide-smiled, her frayed hair wrapped in loose corn-row braids twisted into tight pigtails just above each ear. Upon her lap, a hand-me-down Strawberry Shortcake doll which lingered of strawberries, talked in exited animation with another doll, a generic little cotton and plastic creation bought regularly for her from the dollar store whenever its predecessor fell apart. Strawberry did not seem to mind, and neither did the little girl, as she sat angled upon the dusty oval throw rug in the center of the bedroom floor she shared with two older sisters. Beneath a drafty upstairs window, a sleeping bag atop a worn mattress was her bed, itself in shambles with her clothing of the last two days piled atop its blanket. On either side, against a wall, a real bed stood, with a box spring, mattress and matching quilts carefully folded beneath the soft velvety pillows. In front of her, a closet with coats and shirts and such hung, a toy box crate filling its floor, and the door leading along the hallway to Mama’s room, the bath, the stairs to the living room and kitchen.
“Lucky!” Her sister barked, entering the room, a beach towel draped about her developing frame, a kitchen dishtowel she used to dry her shaggy head. The impish child, enveloped in her efforts to referee her dolls did not notice or hear her older sister Genie calling. Genie stepped across the oval throw, and leapt upon her own bed. “Lucky!” She called again, “Alona’s almost done in the bathroom. You’re last, as usual. Get ready. You’re next. You heard Mama before she went to work. If you won’t get in, I’m to throw you in!” She veiled herself in the dishcloth, glowering to her sister. “You know I will too!” She wiped her face. “Now put those dolls up and get undressed!”
“All right,” Lucretia said, her voice soft and slow, a ballad with every word she spoke. She cast her toys away as she was told, then looked begrudgingly the length of cold hallway to the bath, toward her sister. “What about Marcus and Tyrone? Don’t they need a bath too?”
“Girrrll,” Genie snapped the cloth from her face and hurled it at her younger sister. “Ain’t no one know where Tyrone’s butt is, ain’t nothing new about that! And Marcus takes a bath in the morning like always. Now get your butt in there . . . ”
“It’s cold,” Lucretia said, looking against the ever lengthening expanse of the arctic corridor, half-expecting a polar bear to emerge from one of her folded school books to make itself at home in the hall. She began to shiver from her imagination.
“Just get in there and close the door,” Genie blew a loud sigh of frustration. “Go ahead, and run the tap for a minute to warm the water some,” she said, her brow arching, her head shaking in consternation to the girl. “All right?” She raised a finger. “But just this once. If you tell Mama, I swear I’ll tan your hide after she tans mine and I'll never do you a kindness again. You hear?”
Lucretia nodded. She stripped her sun dress from her body, tossing it to her bedding. The throw fell short and landed to the floor. She smirked, and hurried it atop her bed. She turned toward the hall, looking quickly back to Genie.
“Where's Mama's boyfriend?” She asked, self-consciously, wrapping her frail arms about her thin torso as her older sister often did.
“In Mama's room,” Genie snapped, but in a hushed, harsh whisper. She held her finger to her lips. “The TV's on loud enough, but he's making some God awful noises in there.” She leaned from her bed, closer to Lucretia without rising. “Probably drinking again, so try to be quiet. He'll leave you be, if you leave him be.” She nodded to her little sister. Lucretia nodded in return.
Lucretia stepped awkwardly into the hallway near her mother’s bedroom door. She wasn’t trying to eavesdrop or listen. She mostly wanted to confirm that the squawks of her steps upon the loose boards hadn’t troubled the occupant of the room as the door hung just enough ajar to see the fat man lying naked in bed, his knees pulled up and wide against his chest beneath the covers as the tv boomed. A brandy bottle hung loosely within his grip, when the bath door flung wide. Alona charged toward their bedroom, brushing her shoulder into Lucretia’s small body. The bulk of her sister’s tall frame pushed her effortlessly against the door. Lucretia reached for its jamb. She staggered and tripped through the room, falling onto the brandy bottle. The decanter spilled atop the bedding.
“Aw, dammit,” her Mama’s boyfriend blurted, ripping the sheet from himself. Just as quickly, eyeing the little girl floundering atop him to escape, he settled. He pulled the sheet tightly against his bulk frame, and reached for the girl. In his grip Lucretia could do nothing. She was too scared to scream or cry, even as she could hear the door to her own bedroom close with a thud, her sister oblivious to what she had done. She looked back to the man, his scowl quickly and curiously dissipating as he laid the bottle to the wobbling night stand.
“I'm sorry,” she stammered, daring not to look into his eyes. Focusing to the growth of stubble upon his chin, she averted her nose from the acrid breaths emanating from him. “So, so sorry,” she pealed.
“It's okay, sugar,” he said, pulling the child to him. He grunted once, then again in satisfaction as her shifting hips straddled him momentarily as she tried to lift herself from his prostrate form. “Here,” he cooed. “Let me help you up,” he snickered. His hand gently but firmly massaged the back of her knee to her hips as he lifted her backside from the covers. “Oops,” he said. He squeezed her frame again, swatting playfully to her as she scampered from the room. “It's all good, baby girl,” he said sleepily, and reached for the brandy. “You get your sweet self along now, ya hear?” He said, as she closed the door with a brush of her fingertips.
Lucretia sighed, her eyes darting to and fro as she escaped within the bathroom. She closed the door, and pulled her panties from her to leave to the cold tile floor. She stood on the garment, shuffling her feet with baby steps as she neared the far end of the small room to the tub. She dipped her foot to the unexpectedly warm water, and lowered herself without thinking to its cool porcelain bottom. As her chin lowered to meet the surface of the water, she began to cry, relieved that when she had thought herself most in trouble by unexpectedly entering her Mama's room, she had been met by her Ma's boyfriend, the nicest he had ever been to her. With her foot, she searched the rubber plug and pulled, emptying enough water to refill the tub with the hottest water she could get from the tap. As the faucet squawked off, she lounged backward, pulling at the rubber bands tying the braids of her wet head. From the soft squeak as the bands slipped the twisted braids, she did not notice right away as the bathroom door opened. Her mother's boyfriend entered in his loose boxers. He stood to the toilet, relieving himself.
“Oh,” he stammered, shaking his head as he glanced to the little girl as her broadening gaze searched his. “Didn't realize anyone was in here,” he said matter-of-factly, but he did not conceal himself, nor did he leave as he finished. Instead, he approached her, and smiled.
Lucretia woke with a start. Her stomach ached and burned. In just enough time, she turned her head upon her makeshift bunk, and vomited
“Lucky,” Genie barked, tromping in the dark to the light switch. “Again!” She foamed in a whisper, and threw her arms in disgust. She blinked for a very long instant, then settled, calmly approaching her little sister to sit her erect upon the foot of her bed. She leaned over, prodding her other sister awake. “Alona,” she called quietly. “Alona,” she said. “Lucky's throwin it up again!”
“Geez,”Alona threw the coverlet off herself, lunging toward the floor for her robe before standing. Although the second oldest, she was the tallest of the children that her undeveloped frame left her self-conscious even within her own bedroom among her sisters. “What possessed you to drink that brandy?” She asked, exiting the room. She hurried back, the beach towel from the bathroom moist to one side. She wiped Lucretia’s face held in Genie’s nurturing embrace, then the spill upon the hardwood floor, patting it dry. She wadded the soiled cloth, and left the room again.
“Now,” she said gingerly, as she returned to the bedroom, scrutinizing her sister. “Are you all right, Lucky?” The baby of the group whimpered, her lips puckering as she attempted to meet her sister’s concerned gaze. Her stomach, her throat, her lips burned. Her eyes filling with tears, she twisted from Alona to Genie, pulling steadily from their grip to lay her head to her cool pillow.
“Did I?” Lucretia sniffled. “I’m all right now,” she said. She peeked to the girls, adding, “Did I drink something?” She shook her head, her brow wrinkled in thought. “I don’t remember it.”