The book takes place in Arkansas, December 1906. Lizzy has finally found the one man who can help her escape the home that has been a prison since her father's death. But it isn't easy to leave when you have never been anywhere else. Sometimes, it is easier to stay with the evil that you know, than to face what might be worse. Lizzy doesn't know that this new man has plans of his own. She will go with him--one way or another.
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"Lizzy"By Naomi Viles
The baby kicked hard enough to wake Lizzy from a sound sleep. She rolled to her side. Sometimes if she changed positions, it would quit moving. It was getting harder to rest comfortably, no matter what she tried.
She felt Gene’s presence then. He was by the fireplace stuffing his pack full of traveling gear. Lizzy released a deep, slow breath and prayed the sound would make him think she was still asleep.
As the baby kicked again, she quietly eased her hand down until she could cup the underside of her stomach. This relieved some of the pressure from baby, but the muscles around her rib cage still ached from the baby’s weight.
She wanted to ask Gene how long women carried babies, but she couldn’t. He would make fun of her. He always made fun of her when she didn’t know stuff.
I wouldn’t mind being married if Gene’d treat me the way my papa did my mother, but that will never happen. I just wish somebody would kill him while he’s gone.
This thought brought a smile to just below the surface. She’d have to think about something else, or she would giggle, and Gene would know she was awake.
She allowed vague images of her mother to push Gene from her thoughts. Her mother had been in heaven a long time, or so it seemed when Lizzy thought about the things that had happened in the last eight years. For one thing, she had been transformed into a person who, according to Gene Michaels, belonged to him.
“Lizzy, do ya hear me?” His gruff voice made her jump.
“Yeah, I hear you.” She rose up slightly in her bed and faked a yawn.
“Don't get lazy while I'm gone, and you get that brat birthed before I get back,” he said.
As Gene looked across the room toward her, an expression of disappointment crossed his face. He snatched at the leather ties of his pack, slung it over his shoulder, and then headed out the door.
Lizzy waited as if frozen. She could hear him cursing her through the thin walls of the house. Gene was telling some unknown person that she was a lazy wench who made his life miserable. She let her giggle out this time. What other comfort could she have except to make Gene miserable?
She craned her head to listen for the creak of the wagon wheels that would signal that he was actually leaving. When the sound came, she slid back into the covers. With Gene gone, she could sleep until daylight. Lord knew that she needed the extra sleep, especially with her belly getting fatter all the time.
She giggled again. She felt free. She could do practically anything she wanted with Gene out of the way. If she were lucky, he wouldn’t come home for two or three months.
Let it be four months. No, let him die and never come back. She doubled her fist and punched her pillow, then snuggled against it.
Gene’s death was the only thing that would keep him from coming home. He had acted like the farm was his ever since the day her papa married them. For sure, Gene didn’t care about her. He wasn’t interested in her opinions, ambitions, or anything.
Lizzy closed her eyes. Temporarily, she could forget her problems. Gene had left for supplies. Hopefully, he would stay gone an extra amount of time waiting for her to have the baby.
A quick spasm of chills crawled across her neck. Every time she thought about the baby’s birth, her heart would nearly skip a beat. She didn’t know how she would be able to go through the ordeal alone. It was too bad that her mother wasn’t around.
The security of her mother.
Lizzy remembered the protection of her mother’s arms, especially when her papa was mad at her. Her mother would say, “Elizabeth, Papa just don't remember being a boy very well. If you stay close to me and be quiet, he won't pay you no never mind.”
Lizzy would do as told, and then Papa did seem to forget his anger, which was good. She would do anything to get along. It was horrible when his shouting turned into hitting. During those times, Lizzy’s only consolation was that her mother had a talent for words that softened Papa up.
Lizzy snuggled deeper into the covers as she listened to the clock beside her bed. Its rhythm carried her toward sleep and allowed her to relax.
Sleep and no worries about Gene.
The old dream sifted in.
The dream was true enough. It actually involved a section of her past. It was a portion that was most unpleasant, and it left her with an empty want, a yearning for her mother that could not be fulfilled.
She usually made conscious effort to not think about her mother before she went to sleep. It reduced her chances of having the dream, but every now and then, she would do it without thinking and the dream would start.
In her dream, Lizzy remembered a particular day when she was 6 years old. The memory was so sharp that it made her feel instantly cozy and snug.
She felt the covers of her bed pull tighter as her mother sat down to tuck her in for the night. Tender thoughts coaxed her toward a deeper stage of sleep. The soft sound of her mother humming a lullaby drifted around her.
The delightful contentment abruptly ended when her dream suddenly skipped to the next day. Lizzy saw herself sitting on the front steps with a large bowl in her lap. Her hands were busily snapping the ends from sweet peas, and then raking the little green peas into a bowl. She glanced at a stack of empty shells on the ground; then made a grab for another pea pod.
She raised her eyes in time to see her mother bend to retrieve another piece of wet clothing from the clothesbasket.
“Do you hear that mocking bird?” her mother asked.
She noticed the pleasing sound of a bird’s chirping. “Yup, sounds pretty,” Lizzy recalled her 6 year-old voice saying.
“Birds always sing when it will be a lovely day. That’s how you know when to do your washing, ma cherie`.” Her mother stretched her back before picking up another piece of laundry. “The birds wake-up Monsieur Sunshine.”
Her mother reached for the clothesline again. “When I’m through I’ll help finish shelling those peas so we can put them on for lunch.”
Lizzy knew that she was remembering the days of her mother’s pregnancy. She watched her stretch up to the line as she hung one of Papa’s shirts. Lizzy saw the material of her mother’s dress flatten across her rounded tummy.
Lizzy was glad there was going to be a baby. This one would be a boy for sure. A new boy baby was what she had heard Mommy pray for last night.
It was rare that her mother asked for something aloud. Her mother had told God that she was tired of hearing Joseph say that he was the reason that they had only one child. Joseph was her papa’s name.
As Lizzy listened to her mother pray, she hoped God was listening, too. She remembered that Papa had said God was punishing him. Papa said he knew this because God wouldn’t give him sons to help with the farm.
Lizzy couldn’t figure out why Papa deserved punishment. It didn’t make sense. Why would God punish the wrong person? She was the one who was bad. If she didn’t mess up so much, Papa wouldn’t lose his temper and act the way he did.
Nevertheless, she hoped her mother’s praying would work. Maybe it had helped already. There was proof because the baby was coming. And maybe God had decided to take it easier on her because changing His mind about Papa worked out for her as well. Papa’s mood had perked up lately. He was even extra nice, and she was sort of getting over being scared of him.
She laughed at her mother’s big belly. She laughed so hard she had to shut her eyes so she’d quit thinking about it. She didn’t want to hurt Mommy’s feelings. It would crush her to know how funny looking she was.
When Lizzy closed her eyes, she realized that she was only dreaming. All of those things had happened in the past. Her mother was gone now. Gone to heaven. But . . . if her mother didn’t come back soon to rescue her, Lizzy felt she would die.
Her mother would know how to drive out the ache that Gene had caused, the ache, like a suffocating weight in her chest, slowly pushing out the part of her that made her want to live. Her mother could simply sing her a song like the ones she used to sing at bedtime. Lizzy was sure this would work. After all, when she had been six and her mother had done this, the dark no longer seemed quite so dark.
Lizzy suddenly realized that her dream was evolving into its nightmare stage. She tossed in her sleep as her semi-consciousness fought to wake her, but because of her own heavy pregnancy the need for more rest sent her right back to the dream stage of sleep.
Her parents were at the dining table just across the room from her bed. It was late at night and she was supposed to be asleep. She risked a peek at them.
Papa sat at one end while her mother sat with her back to her. Lizzy could tell her mother was resting her head on her hands again.
“Joseph,” her mother said, “it is getting harder every day. I’m so sick all of the time. Things were different with Elizabeth. Remember I was just sick for a little while in the morning? Now, I stay sick. I really should be in Oklahoma were me`re can help me, or be in town with a doctor.”
Lizzy heard her papa clear his throat. “Don’t you remember how bad you felt with Lizzy? You thought you were a dyin’. This is the sort of thing that happens to all pregnant women. There isn’t anything wrong with you. Just wait ‘til you see that little red-headed boy.”
Couldn’t he see that her mother was sick? Lizzy tried to fight back tears so her parents wouldn’t realize that she was awake and listening. She crossed her fingers and hoped Papa would pay attention to what Mommy was saying.
Mommy had to make him listen so she could get some help. Her Mommy, the Angel Margrette, had spit up blood again last night. She had started coughing and the blood had even come out of her nose. It wasn’t supposed to do that, and besides . . . blood was so ugly!
Lizzy heard her mother start to cry.
“It’s too late anyway, Joseph. I’m too far along to travel. I just don’t think I’m going to make it,” she said through her sobs.
“Oh, come off it! Don’t talk like a fool. Women worry too much. Don’t you think I can take care of my family? You can’t always run to your, me`re. Me`re? Always using your French words. You married a good old Southern boy. The word is Momma; use it, learn to speak English.”
Her papa’s voice softened. “Listen here, Margrette, I want you to stay right here with me and your youngins, where you belong.”
Her papa was mean. Lizzy opened her eyes wide. Why did her parents have to fight sometimes? People who live together should be nice.
Papa shoved his chair back, then stalked out the front door. She felt relief. He was gone. She crawled out of bed and went to her mother. Her mother’s warm tears soaked into the shoulder of her nightdress.
A fleeting thought left her somewhat surprised. It was the first time her mother had not fussed because she was awake or because she was not in bed.
It was at this moment that Lizzy made ‘the’ transitional step. Always before, her mother had been the one to take care of the family, but now Lizzy had to use all the power her 6 year-old body could muster to do the job. She would help Mommy. She would take responsibility until the baby was born or until her mommy’s sickness was gone. She tightened her arms around her mother. She was sure she could do it, if she just tried hard enough, and it might not be so bad if her mother would tell her what to do.
Lizzy suddenly remembered a horrifying thing, a thing in her past that was scary and hurtful, the thing that made her dream a nightmare. Right after her mother had said it was too late, just a few weeks later, the baby had been born dead.
Dead things were the worst. You didn’t mess with dead things. She remembered a dead cat that her papa had carried out into the woods. He had to get rid of its body. Yet, Papa hadn’t done this to the baby. He took it and buried it behind the house, and he did it without saying one word. In fact, he refused to discuss it, period. Angel Margrette said it was because Papa felt empty inside. She told Lizzy that Papa probably was so hurt that he had forgotten other people hurt, too.
Lizzy knew that Angel Margrette was suffering emotional pain from losing the baby, but also, her mother hurt because of her papa. Every time her mother looked at her papa, silent tears would well up, and she would tell Lizzy that she couldn’t take seeing what Joseph was doing to himself.
Lizzy cried too, but mostly because Angel Margrette had started blaming herself for not having sons. Lizzy tried to tell her that God didn’t blame her or Papa, and that if she would stop being sick and stop crying everything would be all right.
Lizzy was positive that God hadn’t blamed them. She was the bad one.
However, it didn't matter what she said, her mother seemed lost inside a deep valley of grief and wouldn’t listen, so Lizzy comforted her the only way she knew how. She doubled her efforts to do all of the chores.
Lizzy felt like she was in the middle of an endurance test, a test of how much she could take. Not just the added physical labor of taking care of the house, either; it was the devastation of hearing Angel Margrette cry and say she was a total failure. This caused Lizzy much guilt, because if she were better, then Angel Margrette would see that she had done a good job raising her.
Yes, God was punishing their whole family because of her. And to top matters off, Angel Margrette’s sickness had not left when the baby was born like her papa had said it would. The blood was coming up more and more. Lizzy knew Angel Margrette was dying, because of the blood and because of the praying.
The prayers were no longer occasional occurrences. Angel Margrette would tiptoe to Lizzy’s bed every night to say more of those prayers that were said aloud. True, Angel Margrette thought Lizzy was asleep, but she wasn’t.
Lizzy remembered feeling Angel Margrette’s tears drop onto one of her hands as it stuck out from under the covers. Lizzy wanted to comfort her mother, but she was afraid of upsetting her more, because she knew she wasn’t supposed to still be awake.
In Lizzy’s dream, she remembered hearing Angel Margrette beg God to let her live longer. She didn’t want to leave her family behind. She was terrified of what might happen to them.
Lizzy remembered this in her dream, and she remembered that her mother had come to pray at Lizzy’s bedside every night until she was too sick to get down on her knees. Angel Margrette then explained that she was going to live with God. She told Lizzy to trust in Jesus, told her about heaven and all the angels; then she told Lizzy that she had to go take care of all the babies that had died.
Lizzy sat for hours listening as Angel Margrette read from the Bible. The words were too hard to understand, but hearing her mother’s voice was comforting. It helped calm her fears. Besides, she had to stay close to her mother, because she was afraid of being somewhere else when Angel Margrette left to go to heaven. She had to make sure she took her along.
As Lizzy dreamed, she let herself remember how she had stopped thinking about her mother as anything other than Angel Margrette. It made painful emotions easier to deal with. This sick person was someone else.
Okay, she had to admit that there where some memories she wanted to leave to her mother’s credit, especially the way her mother called her Elizabeth. It seemed so sweet to hear her voice say the name, almost humming it until each syllable blended.
Both Papa and Gene called her Lizzy. Elizabeth Michaels was her name, and she hated her nickname. Not to mention, her mother had named her, and that was even more reason to like it.
Gratifying memories filled her as she thought about how her mother used to tell her all sorts of things: how to cook, how to sew, or how young ladies were to act.
Lizzy had listened carefully just in case her mother did get away without her. If this happened, well then, she truly would be alone. She couldn’t count on her papa to teach her anything.
Her dream shifted again. The way it shifted around was another reason it seemed so nightmarish. It was like watching a stack of ugly pictures grow worse as each new one was pulled from the deck, memories that she couldn’t shut off.
Lizzy began to moan in her sleep as she remembered the physical pain that finally grew until Angel Margrette lay in bed sobbing. Another thing came to Lizzy’s mind, as well, a shameful thing, something about her papa that made her feel cold. She remembered that until her mother’s sobbing turned into screams, her papa hadn’t noticed that Angel Margrette was still sick.
Joseph Michaels was intent on telling himself that it didn't matter that the baby was gone. He said that now Margrette had started her cycle again, it would be just a matter of time before she would have another little boy baby.
He tried telling himself these things, but in the end, he couldn’t shut his ears out to his wife’s screams. He just hung out in the barn working on something or sat in his bedroom and cried. Lizzy hated it when he cried, because it upset Angel Margrette so badly. The only way to calm her down was to sit by her on the bed and run her fingers across her mother’s forehead and temples. She did this while she sang all the songs Angel Margrette used to sing to her.
Despair filled Lizzy as sweat glued the blanket to her. Her dream had reveled its final blow. It was the most painful picture, the picture of the peaceful expression on Angel Margrette’s face, the expression of not having pain, the worst of the pain that had lasted almost two weeks.
Angel Margrette felt at ease and went to sleep.
She had gone from the appearance of health, to death in only six months. Lizzy helped prepare Angel Margrette for burial. Somehow, this dead body wasn’t weird like the cat or the baby had been. Now she understood that dead people were different from dead animals. It was good that her papa buried Angel Margrette next to the baby under the elm tree behind their house.
Lizzy couldn't remember the actual burial, though. It was as if a mist covered those things to protect her. She wasn’t sure if she really wanted to remember, either. She and Papa didn’t talk about it. He was back to acting like he had when the baby died. It was as though his grief was the only thing that counted and no one could possibly understand how this had affected him.
Lizzy tried to deal with her grief the best she could. Her way of consoling herself was to keep her memories ‘right there’, on the surface. She thought about the tight knot of hair that her mother wore high on her head accentuating her dark beauty. She mentally listed everything. How her mother would grab her and dance around the room while she sang happy tunes. Lizzy sang these songs repeatedly to make sure she would never forget the words.
She also remembered her mother reading from the Bible, but as the years passed, the stories became garbled with what Margrette had told her before she died. Lizzy was convinced that Margrette had become an angel, one who took care of all the little children in heaven. Lizzy felt only the slightest bit of jealousy, because her angel, Angel Margrette, wasn't there to take care of her.
Lizzy did her best to fight this feeling, but at times when her papa would be angry, this feeling would return. She had to make herself square her shoulders back and gather the determination to fight off this evil feeling. She had to become good enough to be an angel, so she too, could help take care of all the other baby angels.
She couldn’t wait to go to heaven. Anywhere had to be better than living with her papa. He acted as if he couldn't stand her. Sure, she knew it was the hurt inside him that made him act this way. His grief had manifested itself in the form of rage; a rage that he would vent on the nearest person or animal or thing.
There were times occasionally, when he would tell her that he didn't hate her. He explained that he got so mad because she was always getting on his nerves.
Maybe, she reasoned, it was really because she looked so much like Angel Margrette. She knew her papa thought so. He had told her this before her Angel Margrette had died.
Thinking that she looked like her mother always made her feel a little bit good anyway, because she also remembered Papa saying, many times, how lucky he felt about having a woman like her mother. He’d laugh and tell Lizzy that he had never expected to get such “a good catch.” There was a sparkle to his eyes as he talked about Angel Margrette’s air of independence and self-confidence that made a man feel that all was well with the world.
Lizzy remembered her mother’s bright green eyes and silky black hair. She used to watch her papa gently touch the small dimple that stood to one side of her mother’s smile. She could see the love pass between her parents. Lizzy longed for just a spark of her papa’s love.
Instead, her papa usually made some comment about her slumped shoulders, or how he wished she had inherited her mother's self-assurance. She recalled hearing him say that even though she had inherited Margrette’s looks, that her attitude got worse every day. Sometimes he went into detail about how the inside of a person made the outside ugly.
Many times, her papa yelled that he couldn’t tolerate her attitude any longer. It terrified her that he would start hitting her, and since her mother wasn’t around, he might not stop. Her only hope was to keep a good attitude, whatever that meant, so she could stay a step ahead of him.
Of course, admittedly, there were times when he was nice to her. These times were hard to find and mostly made her nervous, but he would sit by the fireplace while she finished supper dishes. Usually he was really just talking to himself, but the conversation seemed directed toward her.
During these times, he talked about when he had first married Angel Margrette. He had, had so many dreams. Yet, no matter which way he turned, there was always something between him and his ambitions. He had a tough struggle trying to make his plot of land produce enough for his family.
Why he had ever come to Arkansas was beyond him. Every cent he possessed was invested here, and when he looked around, he couldn't see anything to brag about. And now, he couldn't even remember what had made him choose it in the first place.
He had used his inheritance from his grandfather to travel west. He wanted more than anything to stake a claim in Oklahoma Territory, yet he had failed in doing even that.
Nevertheless, one good thing had come out of his attempt; it was in Oklahoma Station that he first met Margrette.
It had taken every ounce of his bargaining ability to talk her father into letting them get married. It had astounded Joseph because Angel Margrette's father had been so hard to convince. Joseph Michaels felt much pride in being able to strike up a good deal.
In the end, he had won though, but only because Angel Margrette had begged her father for his blessing. After that, Joseph took his bride and left over money to Arkansas. He felt great determination to prove to his family that he would be a success. After all, he had heard that Arkansas was The Land of Opportunity.
Once they moved, it didn’t take long before he had a house, a barn, and a few thin cows to add to his collection. He felt he was definitely on his way until the first blow came when Lizzy was born. Sometimes he apologized for saying this, but he would always tell her that someday she would understand why he felt this way.
He needed sons to help with his farm, lots of sons. He couldn't make it work without them. He was a tall, redheaded Irishman, and he expected at least four or five redheaded boys running around under foot. It was a shock to see a girl with dark fuzz for hair.
He said his nerves became edgy because Margrette didn't get pregnant right after Lizzy was born. And to make matters worse, Lizzy made him nervous, too. He thought she was an odd kid because she was quiet most of the time, and he accused her of waiting until he least expected it to sneak up on him. He was certain that she derived pleasure in startling the fire out of him.
He’d call her names that she didn’t know the meaning of, and then would tell her that she was clumsy. She knew she was clumsy all right, because every time she poured him coffee, she would spill it. She burned herself on the cook stove, too. Retarded, stubborn, clumsy, a bad attitude and a girl to boot . . .. It was no wonder that Papa stayed mad.
When he talked about these things it hurt badly, but she understood. Sometimes it was good to tell the truth. Her papa wasn’t picking on her. She was sure because he warned her about life. Life was unfair and evil, he said. The bad part was that it made a person think everything was great, then life would kick you in the gut and you’d realize what an idiot you’d been to believe anything else.
Her papa would use examples to confirm this, and his favorite one was when Angel Margrette had told them that she was having a baby. Papa told her that one good thing had come out of all the heartache. At least now, he knew it wasn’t his fault that it took Margrette a long time to get pregnant.
He would sit by the fire rubbing his beard, then lean over, place his elbows on his knees, hang his head, and say various curse words about his lost plans for new improvements on the farm. He had been robbed of the things he and his son should have been able to build together.
Joseph would shake his head as tears glinted in his eyes. Life had really pulled a number on him just when he had believed that his dreams were finally coming true. Now everything had gone to thunder.
Lizzy could remember him telling her that he had been so blind about everything, even up to the point of thinking she acted normal. These words were nearly crushing. To be normal was what she coveted most, besides wishing she was a boy. She wanted to be average, just like everyone else. She hated her clumsy self and wished God would make her insignificant so she would not draw attention to herself. She hated attention. It brought belt marks or her papa’s yelling.
She didn’t know which was worse, the hitting or the yelling. The hitting made her afraid that he would kill her, but once it was over, the belt marks faded. The emotional pain caused from his yelling left a sting that wouldn’t vanish.
It didn’t even matter if his yelling wasn’t directed toward her. She knew that if he yelled about something else, there was a good chance he would start in on her next. Her only means of dealing with the situation was to look busy so he would leave her alone. This worked most of the time. She would clean on something, while she waited for his yelling to run its path.
But of course, she was careful to pay attention to what he said. She had to make sure that there were the proper yes sirs and no sirs. Not that she couldn’t guess why he was yelling. He always covered the same topics. Life was futile. It brought you failure on a silver platter, and it ended with God smashing a man’s dreams. Just look at how life had fooled him. He was left with a dead son and a dead wife. There was no one left to help run his God-forsaken farm.
It all sounded so tiring to Lizzy, but she was forced to listen anyway.
Then four years after Angel Margrette's death, Gene came. Gene was her papa’s cousin. He and Papa had been friends since childhood. Gene was only two years younger than Papa was, and they sat around punching each other on the shoulder as they talked about their boyhood adventures.
Her papa was amazed that Gene was able to find him. After all, Papa hadn't planned to get in touch with his family until he had a successful farm. Of course, it had taken Gene nearly two years to find him and Papa had left few leads to follow. But one thing was for certain, it appeared Gene planned to stay. Finally, her papa’s luck was turning for the better.
Fortunately, Gene was a good worker. The farm was making some headway with the sale of crops, and this meant her papa could buy new equipment. Each fall it took all he and Gene could muster to make the necessary trips to take in their harvest. It was nearly 25 miles into Fort Smith. The money was slow go, as the prices fell lower each year; yet, with hard work, they took in more to make up the difference.
It was on this particular type of trip when it happened. It rained most of the way home and her papa caught influenza.
Gene had already asked for Lizzy, but she was only 12 at the time, and her papa knew she wasn't ready to wife yet. Papa told Gene he didn’t really like him wanting her when she was still so young. Gene would have to wait until she was older.
The subject was dropped temporarily, and things went back to their usual routine of sowing, reaping, and various chores. Lizzy had forgotten the entire conversation until the day that her papa took sick.
As her papa lay in bed, he reconsidered his decision. Lizzy was almost 15 now, so he asked Gene if he still wanted her. He said he figured Gene did by the way he had seen him look at her. Papa then teased him about lust, which made them both laugh.
When they quit laughing, they talked about Gene’s invested time and effort in making the farm workable. Gene agreed to stay and take care of Lizzy. Maybe, they agreed, Papa would have grandsons and leave behind some heritage.
In any case, Papa knew he needed to get his business in order right away. He gave the farm to Lizzy, and Lizzy to Gene.
As her papa grew worse, he began to fade in and out and didn’t seem to know that Lizzy was the one who took care of him. She had learned well while tending Angel Margrette, and she hadn’t forgotten how. She spent her days making sure he was comfortable, and of course, she didn’t really mind taking care of him. He was like a baby now. She could be near him without being afraid of his wrath.
It grieved Lizzy deeply to lose her papa, much more than it had Angel Margrette. She had feelings of regret that she didn't understand how to deal with. His death made her realize her clumsy nature had been an overwhelming desire to be loved and accepted. She had tried too hard to please.
Lizzy spent much time cursing herself for not being born a boy so her papa would like her. She had always been a disappointment, and every time this thought crossed her mind, she would cry bitterly.
Papa had given her to Gene. He had said she would be Gene’s wife. She’d do whatever Papa told her. It was her chance to do something right to make him happy.
She could hardly wait until Gene returned. She hadn't seen him since he had buried her papa. She remembered how astonished she felt to see Gene upset; she hadn’t seen him cry before.
Gene had left immediately with the last load going to market. She watched him go and felt glad that someone else loved her papa as she and Angel Margrette had.
Lizzy hadn't asked him when he was coming back. She had felt it best to leave him alone, but when he came home this time, she would tell him that she was going to be a good wife just like Angel Margrette had been.
Gene did not come home until the following March when it was planting time. He drove up with a load of seed, coffee, meal, flour, and molasses. Lizzy had been happy to see him, at least at first. She had never been alone this long and had felt the cold of loneliness.
She was in the chicken coup when she first heard the wagon. Fear forced her to hide under a rear table that held a row of nests for laying hens.
Lizzy’s imagination set off a series of situations that made her heart race. It had been several months since Gene had left. She had managed to convince herself that Gene wasn’t coming back.
But if it wasn’t Gene, then who was it? The farm didn’t attract strangers.
The location of their house sat back into the trees. Her papa had planned it this way so the house would be hidden from view. And too, there were plenty of small streams on the main paths where people could camp, so they seldom ventured even close to the Michaels' place.
Lizzy listened carefully for some moments as she tried to decide what to do. What if it was Gene? What if it wasn't? What would anyone want here?
She heard him. “Lizzy, where ya at? Lizzy?”
She nearly knocked over the table when she crawled from under it. She brushed straw out of her hair, and then opened the door to the hen house.
“There ya are.” He laughed. “Come here. Gawd, I believe you've grown since I last saw ya.”
She walked to the wagon and peered in. It was loaded with more things than she had ever seen in it before. She smiled at him. It was good to see another human face.
“Don't just stand there grinning like a ‘possum; help me unload this junk. We don't got all day, girl!” he yelled in a playful tone.
She untied the ropes that held the boxes in the wagon while Gene unhitched the team of horses. Lizzy began to cheerfully carry the supplies into the house. Later she would go through everything and put it away. It was still early morning, and she thought she might need to fix Gene breakfast.
She no sooner finished than she heard him come into the front door and shut it behind him.
“Do you want some breakfast?” she asked.
“I already et. Have ya got the mornin' chores done?”
“I’m through. I just finished feeding the chickens.”
Gene went to the table, pulled out a chair, stepped one leg over it, and sat straddling it. He stretched his hands toward the fireplace and rubbed them together. The spring morning still held a chill, and the air had left a shiver down his spine. He began to comb his fingers through his graying beard as he watched Lizzy wash her breakfast dishes.
“You know we are married don't ya?” he asked meekly. “That means ya pretty much have ta mind what I say. Your pa gave ya ta me and that's right.”
She turned to face him. He was a good-looking man, who like her papa, stood tall with a square build and gray-blue eyes. The main difference was, Gene had brown hair instead of the deep red hair that was supposed to be a renowned Michaels’ trait.
“My papa told me we were married. I was wondering if that meant my name ain't Michaels, because I know my mother’s name changed when she married. I don't know what it used to be, but she wrote it in her Bible. I can't read so I can't tell you what it was. Maybe if I get her Bible, you could read it to me. I still have her Bible. I'll go get it.”
“Would ya stop yer babbling? I can't read either. You really are dumb.” He shook his head. “I was yer pa's cousin on his pa's side. My name is Michaels just like his was. If ya changed yer name to mine, it would still be the same as it was before.”
He stopped talking, said a curse word, and glared at her.
“Look, ya got me babbling just like you!”
Gene rose and came to stand in front of her. “Actually, I believe it's about time we started our honeymoon. Married folks have a honeymoon, ya know.” He placed a hand under her chin and looked into her wide, green eyes. “Do ya know anything about being a wife, girl?”
It made her edgy for him to be so near. He was acting strange and asking odd questions.
“No,” she answered. She wiped dishwater off her hands onto the front of her skirt.
He took a step, moving even closer than before.
“Listen, when a girl refuses to pay attention and relax it can cause problems. If ya just listen carefully ta what I have ta say, I'll try ta help as much as I can. Okay?” He winked at her.
She didn't understand what he was trying to say. Lizzy wondered about the problems he had mentioned, and what he meant by relaxing. At first, she had been so glad to see him, but he was making her feel uncomfortable now. Maybe he would go outside in a minute to do some sort of work so she would have the house to herself again.
Instead, he put an arm around her waist, and then drew her next to him until their bodies touched.
He had never acted this way. Lizzy watched his face come closer and felt his lips push against her mouth. He was kissing her, but not like Angel Margrette had. Adrenaline began to rise. She didn't know what to do because he wasn't stopping. He kept on kissing and pushing harder against her mouth each second. She was running out of air, smothering. She put her hands on his chest and shoved hard. He let her go.
She gasped for air. “I couldn't breathe.”
“Awright,” he drawled.
He pulled her by the hand, leading her toward her bed. “Let's go sit over here and talk about it. I'll try ta be as understanding as I can, as long as ya don't push me, okay.”
He sat down slowly on the edge of her bed, and then patted the blanket to indicate she should do the same. She obeyed.
He removed his shirt. She watched in fascination and fear. She had never seen a man’s bare chest. He reached across her, grasped the bottom of her shirt, and lifted it over her head.
Lizzy knew he wasn't supposed to see her without clothes. Angel Margrette had taught her to keep her body covered. She cupped her hands over herself.
“What did you do that for?” she asked irritated.
“I don't know. Can I have my shirt back?” Her heart was beating so hard that it hurt. This was bad; she just knew it.
“Listen, Lizzy . . .” he paused, while taking a deep breath. “Being naked is a natural thing between a husband and a wife.”
Suddenly he yelled, “don't ya know anything at all?”
She recoiled from his anger. “I know how to do almost everything. It’s just that I don't know what you want from me.”
He took another deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay, it is this way. When ya get married, a man expects certain things from his wife. For one: being naked is a way of life ya gotta get used to; that is, except that no other man can see ya. Just me.”
“For two: you are supposed ta be friendly and allow me ta touch ya a lot. Period.”
“For three: remember ya gotta obey me. It even says so in the wedding ceremony that . . ..”
Lizzy interrupted, “What's a wedding ceremony?”
Confusion crossed his face as he wondered how he should answer her. Then without warning, his lips curled to a devilish grin. He was glad she was unlearned. He could use this to his advantage.
“Lizzy, ya must be real stupid. A wedding ceremony is when yer pa gave ya ta me. Gawd, everybody knows that! How can ya get ta be this age and not know that?” He shook his head, frustrated.
Shame rushed in; once again, she had left herself open so he could make fun of her. Maybe she was an easy target. Lizzy made a mental note to always raise her guard to its highest degree. She would not be caught saying something that sounded stupid, and she wouldn’t ask questions that gave him the opening to call her names either.
Gene grabbed her hands and wrenched them from her chest. He gave her a long look of appraisal. His stare made her skin crawl. She closed her eyes so she wouldn't have to watch him look at her.
An involuntary jerk snapped through her when she felt him touch her breast. How could she just sit here and let him do this? His rough hands hurt, and she knew this was wrong no matter what he said.
“Okay, lay down,” he demanded.
She did as he asked and felt a numbing weakness ripple through her as his fingers traced across her abdomen. Her very skin rejected his touch and disgust toward him caused the muscles in her stomach to tighten.
He settled his weight on top of her. This was all she was going to take.
“Gene, you're too heavy. Get off me!”
“Just lay still and it won't hurt.”
Pain began happening to her, and she started fighting back. She began pushing and shoving at him. He lifted himself up, supporting his weight with his arms, then leaned to one side long enough to hit her. She turned her head and buried her teeth into one of his arms. He fell hard on her. As he fell, his elbow struck her face and the rusty taste of blood filled her mouth.
Hysteria seized her. She clawed viciously at his back, his arms. Her mind reeled as it failed to absorb what was happening.
He rose up again as he slapped at her flailing arms. His blows made contact, and he targeted them at her face. Each stinging slap burned her cheeks as the air filled with ringing sound. Blood and mucus ran from her nose into her mouth.
Gene hit her again, but this time with a closed fist. Her jaw cracked. For a second, the ringing in her ears stopped while the sensation of the world buzzing in and out rushed around her.
“I'll kill you, wench!” he yelled, and then he spat at her.
A calm grabbed at the panic that surged through her. It came with the sobering thought that the way to survive was to quit fighting. She tried to tell him she would lay still, but the only noise that came forth was a sob.
“Shut-up,” he said through clinched teeth.
She shook her head yes. She had to be quiet; she didn’t think she could stay conscious if he hit her again. She sucked her lips together as tight as she could, but her only means of inhaling was through her mouth. When she gasped for air, a trembling cry somehow escaped from her. Abruptly, she clinched her teeth together to stop the sound, while wheezing gasps of breath shook her sobs.
“You're a hellcat!” he screamed.
He then finished what he had started.
If this was what marriage was about, she didn't want to be married. Papa had given her to Gene, but this was horrible. How could Gene do this? Hatred toward him filled her heart deeper than she could have ever imagined. Someday she was going to kill Gene for this.
It was as if a tremendous weight lifted when he rolled off her body. He went to sit in a chair across the room. He sat watching her, and a chill curved around her neck when she noticed the look in his eyes. She turned her head away. It didn’t help; she could feel his glazed over stare. What if he demanded more? The thought made her freeze in terror. Her heart pounded as revulsion turned her sick inside.
If he would only leave instead of staring at her, he wouldn’t do that though. He sat there until late afternoon when it was time to take care of the livestock.
While he was gone, Lizzy went to get a drink of water. It took all of her strength to move, but the need for something to wet her dry throat was so strong that she couldn’t overlook it.
She tossed water on her swollen face, and then opened her eyes. A cloud of blur covered the entire room. She tried to rub the blur away, but touched a jagged cut over one eyebrow. She quit rubbing and ran her fingers lightly across the puffiness of her eyelids.
This caused her to begin an assessment of the damage done to the rest of her. Her jaw wasn't broken, but it was tender and when she used her hand to help open it and close it, a tingling sensation confirmed the dull pain of a sprained jaw.
Next, she moved her hands toward her bruised breasts. Pain shot through her and she dropped her hands immediately. Blood trickled down her legs where he had taken her. Was there no limit to his hurting her? She felt utterly humiliated everywhere on her whole body.
She carefully slipped into her clothes that were on the floor, and after she dressed, she took a small cloth and dipped it into a pail of water. She eased it under her skirt, making effort to wash his touch away.
A sudden noise aroused her attention. She jumped as he came back in and shut the door.
“Why did ya put on yer clothes? You take everythin' back off 'fore I kick the tar out of ya! I'll tell ya when ya can get dressed. Is that clear?” His florid face turned a darker shade of red as he looked at her.
He raised his fist in her direction, and she saw in his eyes that he meant it. She pulled off her shirt. Lizzy knew she was going to kill him, for sure. Her skirt fell to the floor and she bent to pick it up.
“That's more like it,” he said. “Let's keep things nice and tidy. Be a good lil’ wife.”
He nodded. “I like ya naked. You look good like that.”
Gene stayed until the following December, not even leaving when harvest came. The fields suffered badly, because Lizzy was the only one to help put in crops, and because heavy rainfall flooded most of what they planted. What little they managed to harvest they kept for themselves.
Lizzy didn't care about farming though. A huge farm was Papa's dream, not hers. Her concern was that they had enough to feed the animals. The animals were all that mattered.
Her outlook on life was being smothered. She tried to get along with Gene, but it didn’t do any good. Not that she really cared if Gene was happy or not. His misery was a great source of satisfaction, but she knew if she angered him too much, he would beat her.
Consequently, she resigned herself to obey him and was pretty good at this. Living with the demanding personality of her father had taught her well.
And yet, Lizzy did find ways to fight back without a physical struggle. She was quite adept in showing her revulsion toward him. One look was all she had to give and he knew. The green eyes would narrow down to a slit; she would toss back her head, clinch her teeth, and then flash her narrowed eyes as she glared into his face. She obeyed him, but he knew she detested it.
Lust had started out as Gene's motive for taking Lizzy, but it wasn’t long before this changed. Now he did it because he enjoyed the control he felt. Power surged through him when he looked into her eyes, and this helped settle the score for him. He hated the way she rejected him as a husband.
Their entire relationship was such a disappointment. Of course, he hadn’t counted on her being so stupid. He could remember all the times that Joseph had yelled at her, but at the time, he had paid more attention to her blossoming figure.
Now he was stuck with her though, and every day she proved just how ignorant she was. Not that he minded telling her about all this. It was fun making jokes, telling her how fat and ugly she was, just fat like a sow pig. Lord, he even had to tell her she was knocked-up. What a stupid girl! Let her hate him because the feeling was mutual.
He had contemplated killing her but knew his hate was further satisfied, if he could pick on her every day. Besides, who else would cook for him? And a man had certain needs every once in a while, too.
He would put those needs on hold for now. He had to go for supplies, because they were out of everything. But before he came back, he would hire a couple of men to help do some plantin'. Surely, somebody would sharecrop this land so he wouldn't have ta work so miserable hard. Why Joe never thought of this was beyond him. Lizzy, the hellcat, could have made him breakfast this morning, if he was a mind for her ta.
‘Never mind that green-eyed witch; he'd just go early enough not ta have ta mess with her. She's so fat that she moves too slow anyways.’
When he got to Fort Smith, he would start looking for a real wife, one that wouldn’t give him such hateful stares, and one who would be glad to cook breakfast.
He picked up his pack, and then looked toward the sleeping hellcat. “Lizzy, do ya hear me?”
“Yeah, I hear you.”
“Don’t get lazy while I’m gone and get that brat birthed before I get back.”
“What a lazy wench,” he muttered, and then went out into the pre-dawn chill.
Lizzy sensed the sun shining through the window near her bed. The warmth from the sun heated the covers over her feet, and she curled her legs to discover a cooler place.
A meow, outside the front door, begged her to let it in. She opened an eye and saw the brightness of the morning. She had overslept.
“Just a minute, Kitty,” she called loudly.
The baby’s weight had caused muscles in her lower abdomen to knot, so she rubbed at them, stretched, and got out of bed. She went to open the front door.
“Come on in, Thomas; Gene's gone and not here to care if you're in the house.”
She realized she was late feeding the animals. She could hear various animal sounds outside calling to her. Her breakfast would have to wait until she had taken care of them. This having a baby was slowing her down. So many things needed her attention, and winter wouldn’t wait for her to get ready.
But, maybe now with Gene gone, she could get something accomplished.
Lizzy fed and watered the livestock, then hauled fresh water into the house. By early afternoon, she had moved on to splitting firewood. She started with one of the trees Gene had felled and dragged next to the barn.
She became so involved that she lost track of time. She felt light-headed for a second and scolded herself for not stopping for lunch. She rubbed her eyes to clear the fog, and then lay the wedge in a crack of the tree trunk. She raised the sledgehammer up and felt fluid gush down her legs. The hammer dropped to the trunk as it missed the wedge, and its force jarred her to her shoulders. A weak feeling swam around her; she staggered. Lizzy realized she was falling, but didn't remember hitting the ground.
The first 50 pages are for your review. For more—click on the links for order information.
Copyright Jan 2003 by Naomi Hyatt. No part of this material may be reproduced, used, or sold without the expressed permission of the author.