The harsh headlights of Hattie’s second husband’s filthy Ford pickup, aggressively slithered into the house through the slits in the dust cloaked venetian blinds. The pick-up truck gurgled loudly, and breathed as heavily as Hattie’s second husband did. It was as if he was being selfish with air as well, trying to take it all for himself or he would die. Air felt awful about having to enter his lungs. He would take it all, because everything was all his, in this supposition of a morganatic wedlock. Marriages dissolve by the second across the world, though theirs did not.
Go back where you came from.
The truck was blue and white; blau und weiss. Catherine and I could feel the ominous hum fill the house as he sped into his crumbling driveway. I imagined the fissures that plagued the house of Usher, bubbling and shifting the shoddy concrete of the driveway, his driveway.
Why did they have to return to the house? A ranch style house in Whitestone, that lodged hulking aversions. We were often left alone. But if you asked us, and no one ever did ask us, we preferred it that way, we preferred to be left alone. Let them go off to their debaucheries.
“Be gone!” Channel your inner Vincent Price. Let the adults go off to fumble with their own irresponsible devices, in their rank hang outs or to the seedy casinos of Atlantic city in a feeble attempt to hit it big. It was never going to happen for them. Hattie and him longed to apprehend that quick fix to all their problems. Quite possibly the only commonality between the two of them. The change never poured down from the slots. No chips were ever cashed in.
I find myself wondering what draws people together. How do two people who don’t seem to enjoy each other’s presence come together. I mean, I understood what kept Hattie and her second husband together. The thoughtless arson of every bridge they trespassed. I wanted to be wrong for her sake. Deserving or not, I wanted a better life for Hattie. They were only together because they had no one else and both were too weak to ever try being alone. It was daunting for me to think I was just as weak, possibly even more so, even more desperate than them. Maybe that is another reason I’ve pushed everyone I love away from me, maybe I distanced myself to prove that I can be content alone. I sabotaged everything regardless of the pangs I felt sleeping alone. It occurred to me I couldn’t remember them ever saying I love you. If she said I love you to me I wouldn’t say it back. I was a bastard for that. He only told me he loved me two or three times and I didn’t believe him. No truth in his stained smirk. I could hear the conversations, the arguments are more apropos description, I could everything through the walls. We heard every one of his raspy detestation. I knew what he truly thought of me. I didn’t want their love. Anyone with a tongue can say I love you, despite being equipped with defective hearts. Come to think of it, I have a hard time believing anyone who tells me that they love me. It is difficult to fathom that love is even a real thing.
They would return to his house in the early morning hours, drunk and broke, and hating each other for it. This was normal in our house. I felt bad for them. He resented my mother for his misfortune. She was his bad luck charm. The nights were long, tense and sleepless. Catherine and I dreaded their return. It was always the same. A night full of turmoil, a morning of averted eyes and concealed heartache, with miserable days barely worth living. Why couldn’t the house just crumble with us in it. The Ushers pitied Catherine and I. We were raised in putrefaction.
“Promise mommy you wont say anything about what happens here to anyone.” We vowed to Hattie. We’d conceal to truth from all outsiders to help her. Mask your hatred. I never could affirm that last bit. Install in the children a suspicious and fretful perception of the truth. Make it so they always feel like they are at risk of saying too much, of saying the wrong thing, bestow anxiety unto them. The restive wear worn clothes and tired looks.
Catherine and I were happiest when we were left alone in the house.
Nothing in the house belonged to us. We were reassured of that regularly. Nothing. Not the cracking brick facade, or green fence, grun, nor the fridge, that Hattie spelled her name in magnetic letters and I followed it up with, ‘is the mother of immorality’, even those plastic magnetic letters were not ours. We should have never been there in the first place. We were there and had to eat every last bit of the shit thrown at us. He reminded us of his true feelings of us without much provocation. I suppose when you are miserable it does not take much to incite. The look of Hattie’s face could set me off too.
“You think I need you. You and your fucking kids. You pieces of shit. I need you? You kidding? Leave. Go. This is my house. My house! Get the fuck out. You dumb bitch.” This is not the way you show your love, I’m almost certain of that, and I don’t know anything about anything.
We always hoped the door to our attached rooms would never open. The two us in that split room, with its dingy white walls, restless with bloody cuticles. We weren’t asleep. We were frightened little kids but we could ride out the night in the dark with our tears and fading hopes. The hopeless and the frail. We could handle that, easily. Then the door would open. We’re leaving. Slurred words. Streaked mascara. Catherine would be crying. Hattie as well but still trying to assume a false sense of parental control with a melting face. We’d stuff some clothes into garbage bags and he would belittle us the whole time, finding a sick sense of pleasure from it, schadenfreude, as we left his house with the clothes he bought in garbage bags he bought with our mother he bought. We were directionless. Wandering around Whitestone in the dead of night, with nowhere to go, and no one to call. It was such a joke, a parade for the pathetic, only to march back a few hours later, to sneak in like vermin, quiet so we wouldn’t disturb him from his drunken unconsciousness. After it became routine I stopped packing. The first few times I was so happy at the prospect of escaping.
I spent nights awake in that house of his, I plotted my escape. I looked out the window that looked into the backyard, I saw the darkness and that was where I wanted to go. Walk into it and disappear.
The door opened. We never wanted it to open but it did. She came in crying, make up is disarray, he grabbed at her while yelling, “Where are you going?”
Catherine cried. I’d love to tell you that I didn’t cry but that would be inaccurate. I can not look at Catherine crying and not follow suit.
“Leave me alone, I’m checking on my kids.” Said Hattie pulling her shirt out of his hand.
“Your pieces of shit.”
“Just stop.” Maybe not that night.
He pulled her into the dining room, chastising her for her past, for us, her ex-husband, for all of his failures.
It was all Hattie’s fault. Maybe I had something in common with her second husband after all. My life is not a result of Hattie or him. I want to let go of it all. I thought that, I’ll admit it, I blamed her for a long time but I reflect and as I do, as I confide in you, I don’t ever want to be like those people. I didn’t want to angry anymore. Those adults, do I dare say guardians, laughable at best, those people who shaped my environment, one of whom is part of my genetic coding, were the last people on the planet I would want to emulate. Why are there people in this world who refuse to take responsibility for their actions? Am I the only person who strives to be a decent person? If anything I was grateful, I have seen the ways in which you should never treat the woman you love or how not to have a fulfilling life. It has instilled tenets to guide me and how I behave and treat others. I will try not to raise my voice or speak unkindly, for the moment that I do, the relationship is corrupted and irreparable, and I shall never raise my hand to a woman.
He punched her hard. It made a sound unlike those you hear in movies. I’d like to tell you it’s never happened before but I’d be a liar. He hit her with his disgusting hands. Unwashed hands I had to shake. Hands with bad habits, that I cringed when he dug them into chopped meat or into Hattie. There was no trace of love in his appendages. He pushed her onto the table where he kept his records, pieces of paper flying everywhere. He swung. He swung again, hitting her, hitting her, hitting her. Punch, punch, punch. Catherine and I stood in the doorway, watching, learning. Is this love? Hattie shrieked a sound I hated more than any other sound in the world. I only heard it on nights like those or when she was strapped to a gurney, barely conscious leaving for the hospital.
Catherine yelled at him, “Stop! Stop! You’re hurting her!”
He turned to us, “I’m not hurting her. I love your mother, I’d never hurt her.”
“You are too.” He was still holding her down.
I wanted him to hit me desperately. If he laid a chubby finger on me then that would be it, it would seal his fate, but we are not fatalistic. I looked at the door expecting someone to storm through it and save us. Please, I thought, punch me, just hurt me then my father would come back just like Clint Eastwood. He would be on the way out of a busted up town, conflicted, in the middle of stand-off with a moral dilemma, but he always came back. He did what was right. I wanted Justice, better yet I wanted revenge. I thought my family was going to save us. All the people we swore not to tell a single word to. Why didn’t I speak up? My uncles would come and rescue Catherine and me, where were they? They would help us. They just didn’t know. No one ever came through the door even though I stood and looked toward it waiting for someone to burst through it. No one ever saved us. I just cried, helpless and frozen. I wanted to protect Hattie. I wanted to protect Catherine. Helplessness is an expression I wear. Blood surged in my tight discolored knuckles, grinding me teeth.
Hattie got off the table and darted for the living room, he turned and with a quick shove sent her through the glass coffee table, shattering the glass pane table top. I don’t think he intended for it to happen. I’m not defending him, but the situation was escalating.
“You broke the fucking table,” he said, pointing at her on the floor, where there was a quilt. They usually watched television on the living room floor.
“Enough, okay?” she said through the sobs. She got up carefully, glass strewn about. He hit her, she fell against an end table a lamp exploded.
“You ruin everything! Now I have to get a new lamp too.”
Why didn’t I leave and get help? My family lived nearby. I could have went and got my uncles. Men. Real guys who I wanted to be like. If it was a choice I would have went into a home if it meant that someone took Catherine in. I don’t care about what I saw or how I felt, my only concern or regret is that I did nothing and allowed Catherine to witness and feel those same things I felt bearing witness. My guilt for my sister decimated the guilt I have for Hattie. We were almost rescued, that night was the one time the police came.
Two police officers were at the front door of his house, I recollect how peculiar it sounded to hear knocking on that specific door, no one ever used that door. They said a neighbor reported a complaint, some kind of disturbance. One police officer was an asian man and they other was a white woman. They were in the house, I don’t remember how they got there, they just were, you can think of your own outlandish entrance for them. Hattie’s second husband, sat at the table in the dining room, fixing up his work records, Hattie had annoyingly decided to shut the fuck up, ignoring questions from the female officer. Hattie was then in the living room trying to tidy up while the male officer asked her questions, while never taking his attention off of his partner in the other room. The house remained tense, I don’t think Hattie answered any questions. He seemed like a nice enough man, his eyes were compassionate and I think the sight of my little sister and the surrounding crime scene got to him a little. The night was criminal, punishment needed to be doled out accordingly.
-Miss, what is your name?
-Do you need an ambulance?
-Are these your children or his?
-You need to press charges…
-I know you don’t want to, but you need to.
-Look at what this is doing to your children.
-Did he hit you?
-Ma’am they could take your kids away.
-You should press charges…
There was a knock at the side door, the door we used. There were two more police cars outside.
“Sir, we need you to step outside.”
I went out the front the door, in my pajamas with my red hooded sweatshirt over them, the cowl covering my long messy hair, bare footed, useless and standing in the driveway. He came to the door but wouldn’t step through it.
“Sir, can you come outside, please.”
“For what? This is my house.”
“Please step outside sir.”
“No,” he looked up the steps into the house, toward Hattie, “you called the cops you fucking bitch, rat.”
“The children are frightened, sir. They look like they have been crying for days, your neighbors reported it not your wife, sir. Step outside.” I was ecstatic someone called them.
He tried to shut the door on one officer and the four reacted. They fought with him while one recited the miranda rights, wrestling against the side of the house, his house. One cop smashed his face against the brick siding. I was smiling ear to ear, overcome with joy. The bastard sun rose, people were all outside now, watching her second husband get roughed up and handcuffed.
I was so happy, rooting for the cops, the good guys, I turned to look at the spectators. My happiness was short-lived.
I realized then I was truly alone. Hattie, was crying but for a different reason, it was her worry and sympathy for him. Dare I say, love. Catherine was emulating her. She was so young, she is really not at fault for her reactions. Catherine didn’t know any better, after all, she was just a little girl. I was not very kind to Hattie during this time but after that night I would never show her any warmth. What love was left in my impressionable heart was gone. I lost my innocence long before that night, but now I lost my compassion for my mother as well. We were done, I thought I could remain frozen forever, I thought I could turn my back and sleep soundly. He went through the system, Central Bookings, probably ate a halal sandwich, got arraigned, and was back in under thirty hours. The fighting never ceased, but he didn’t use his hands so much after that. My feelings towards them both were decided. I wanted to write this on the side of his fucking house. You know I love quotes. Nietzsche would not have been impressed.
W. Flood is dead.
W. Flood remains dead.
And you have killed him…