SoHumBorn Sunday: Weathering the Storm (Part 1)
The furniture is all pushed to the side to make room for the circle of chairs. The floor has been covered with two large sheets of black plastic. She’s made a ton of food, now all she needs are her girls.
These are her favorite times. Living as far out as she does, and having small children, her social life is just about nonexistent. Harvest changes that. It brings everyone to her. It is her chance to catch up on gossip, to visit, & to laugh with people she loves.
The sky is dark today, and the rain is hard and loud. Gusts of wind slice through it, slapping sharp drops against the windows. She loves this weather. There is something truly soothing in listening to nature roar, from inside a warm safe space awash with the smells of fresh cooked food.
The rumble of an engine has her peering out the window trying to spy the first arrival. She smiles as she recognizes Beth’s little work truck bouncing through the ruts on the last stretch of the driveway.
They’ve put gravel on that stretch of the driveway a couple of times a year since they bought the place, but a small spring keeps the ground soft there. Eventually the gravel gets churned into the dirt and the ruts begin again. On the bright side, the little spring ensures that the last part of her drive home is lined with giant green ferns, even through the heat of summer.
Watching the truck approach, she can see that Beth’s younger cousin Sammie is in the passenger seat.
They are a funny pair.
Sammie is what she calls a “monkey bar girl”. She holds on to one relationship just long enough to swing to the next. Never content with anyone. Never single. She has three children, with two fathers, & her fourth due in seven months. She swears this guy is “The One”, but she’s said that before.
Her cousin is a different kind of woman altogether.
Beth had been her friend for years. They had worked at the same business in town when she’d been a teenager, and had hit it off. She had known Beth was older than her, but never knew by how much. Then one day she’d found out Beth had kids nearly her age. She’d just up and left her family years ago to move here and start a new life. The kids had come to Humboldt as they reached their teens, bringing Sammie with them, and all but one stayed here to make a life.
Beth does not look or act the part of a mother, but she has built a decent friendship with her children, now that they are grown.
Her appearance is of the utmost importance to her, and Beth spends the majority of her time and money to improve it, any way she can. She’s had breast implants, a tummy tuck, her face tightened, and a variety of other small procedures. Now she’s working to earn money for lip implants. None of the other women understand why she does this to herself, but everyone likes her anyway.
They pull up in front and run through the rain to the house.
She hugs them both, and they greet each other with smiles & laughs.
Pleased to be first to arrive, they head straight for the chairs. Beth cannily chooses the seat with the most natural light. Her physical age may be obscured, but her wisdom is not. Once they’re settled they begin working and chatting. She sits & works with the two women until they hear another car. While they continue, she goes to see who’s here now.
The Suburban powers though the mud, and the four silhouettes inside bob and sway as they navigate the last of the deep ruts. Pulling in alongside the Toyota the new arrivals sprint across the parking area carrying plastic bags and purses.
They’ve brought mangoes, grapes, crackers and a big hunk of Humboldt Fog. Ahh… These girls know her.
This group has been friends since elementary school. From kooties and kickball, to college and bad marriages, they have been there for each other.
She thinks these women should be her pallbearers. It has always been them, carrying her through this life. They should be the ones to carry her out.
The hugs and greetings hold that cheerful familiarity you see among well-loved friends. They make their way around the room until every one has settled down to work.
One of the girls asks if anyone else is coming. She tells them she’s expecting Maggie and Diane, two neighboring wives who always carpool together. Every one is happy to hear it.
Maggie is a little older, maybe somewhere near Beth in age. She immigrated to America in the ’60s and still carries a delightful lilt in her speech. Her sense of humor is sharp, and a little wicked. She makes long work days so much more fun and interesting. You can’t help but love her.
Diane is just plain sweet, and endearingly naive. As the days stretch out, the conversation often turns more than a little raunchy. Poor Diane blushes through tales of debauchery, and overly frank discussions about love’s juicier side.
The pile of plants dwindled down to near nothing once the work got started, so she heads upstairs to get another load.
“Bring down the big ones!” The girls call out to her as she climbs the stairs. “Yeah, we like the big ones!” The laughter trails up behind her, leaving a smile on her face as she enters the drying room.
The blue Rubbermaid tubs are stacked in the corner. She grabs one and throws it down at her feet. She moves down the lines lifting the hanging plants just enough to slide the branch off the wire, tossing the dried plants into the tub. Clearing two lines at a time, she moves along kicking the tub ahead of her as she goes.
She hears the door open and close downstairs. The sounds of chairs scraping and women greeting drift up to her, and she can tell the last pair has arrived.
She fills two of the blue tubs, puts a lid on one, then stacks the other full one on top of it. Hooking her fingers under the handle on the end of the bottom tub she drags them out of the drying room, closes the door, and drags them down the stairs behind her.
As she places the tubs in the center of the circle, one of the girls tells her they need more coffee.
She moves over to the kitchen counter and takes the old filter and grounds to the garbage can. Calling out over her shoulder she asks how many want coffee. They all say yes. Placing a clean filter and measuring fresh coffee she asks Diane and Maggie how the drive over was. Diane explains about a downed tree on the far side of their fork in the road. She listens to Diane’s hilarious description of the neighborhood men clearing the road while she pours water into the pot and puts a row of cups along the counter. She gets the half and half and flavored creamer out of the fridge, and is searching her cupboard for the white sugar she bought for the girls, before she catches the vibe.
Diane’s story was oddly animated for a girl who’s normally more subdued, and now she realizes they’re quiet. Eight women sitting in her house and no one is talking.
Pink and white box in hand she turns to face the circle. The women are working, heads down, hands busily spinning and snipping. The sounds of the scissors and the gurgling of the coffee pot are the only sounds in the room. Her gaze drifts around the circle. Not one girl looks up.
Something is definitely up. She turns back to the counter and goes on with filling their coffee orders. She knows that whatever is causing this strange behavior will be out in the open before lunch. This group has no secrets inside the circle.
Cups full, with the proper ratio of cream and sweetener, she begins taking them over to the circle two at a time. On the third trip she carries Diane and Maggie’s as well as a cup for herself. She hands one to Diane and holds one out to Maggie. Without looking up Maggie asks “Could you just put it on the table there for me?” She turns to set it down. As she says “Sure” she feels the weight of the women’s eyes on her. Looking around she sees that though no one has lifted their head all eyes are on her… except Maggie’s.
Maggie’s hands work quickly, spinning, shearing, clearing the little “porcupines” and bagging. She does it all without looking up, though she must by now realize that her hostess is still standing in front of her.
All eyes on her, her eyes peering at the top of Maggie’s head, she just stands there.
Obviously this is the source of the strange vibe. She stands waiting, hoping someone will break ranks and let her in on whatever is going on. She looks back to the others, and one by one, in turn, they look at her, look at Maggie and then look back down at their trays.
Curiosity steps forward and kicks Patience’s scrawny, pathetic, virtuous ass.
“What the hell you guys?!” She looks around the circle again to find Diane has lifted her head, her face is pleading. “Maggie just tell her.”
Maggie sighs and slowly raises her head, her long straight hair falls away, and reveals that her left eye is swollen nearly shut. The make up that was covering it did not hide the horror of it, if anything it only served to highlight the unnatural sick colors of the swollen flesh beneath it. Her chin is a bright cherry red with the flesh scraped from it, there had been no way to cover it, as it was still slightly weeping.
Looking down at Maggie’s slowly up turning face she begins to feel a sickening agony.
Helpless, they’d watched this start. Helpless, they’d watched it get worse.
Over the last two years Maggie’s husband’s drinking had slid into full-blown alcoholism. Then his brother had introduced him to speed. That had been, as they say, the beginning of the end.
He’d spend days at a time not sleeping. He, his brother, and his new drug buddy crowd “worked” day and night in the grow room or the garage, not really getting a lot done, but starting a lot of strange projects. That mostly seemed to consist of taking apart something that worked and then moving on…
The comedown was where the problems started to get out of control. After a three-day run he would show up, crash on the sofa (or even the living room floor) wrapped in a sleeping bag, and blow up at anyone or anything that wandered across his path.
The dog was brutally kicked for barking at a car pulling up. The TV was smashed in when their youngest had turned on Saturday morning cartoons. It became a home of fear and tension. Maggie and the children planned everything around his ups and downs. Guests became a thing of the past.
Maggie was in the yard watering her flowerbeds the day their middle son Ryan came home from a sleepover. When she heard the commotion inside she dropped the hose and ran for the house. What she saw when she got to the living room momentarily stopped her in her tracks. Her son, the sweet shy middle child, was on the floor blood coming from his mouth.
Something deep inside her snapped. She flew at her husband moved by a rage unlike any she’d ever felt. She attacked her husband, hitting him in the face. She shoved him away from her baby screaming “What have you done?!” She knelt beside the prone bleeding child crying his name over and over.
When the blow came she didn’t even know. She awoke to him choking her screaming in her face, spit flying from his mouth. He squeezed harder and harder till the pressure in her head was unbearable. She began to fade. Consciousness drifted in and out to the sounds of her oldest and middle sons screaming at their father begging him to stop. The end came when he slammed her head back to the ground and jumped up off her. “Fuck you punks! This is my house, I’ll do what I want!” He screamed at all of them, threw a half-hearted kick her way,”Fucking bitch!” then slammed out of the house and drove off spraying gravel.
She and the boys had sat together on the floor holding each other and crying. When the youngest, still her baby at four, came sobbing from his hiding spot to crawl into her lap, she felt such a sick guilt she wasn’t sure she could bear it.
That was the first time. Things got better for a brief time after that. He cried and apologized swearing that it would never happen again. He said he’s rather die than hurt his family, but it was a lie.
He beats her now, and she is deeply shamed by that, but he doesn’t beat the boys, and she can take him hitting her if it means they’ll be spared.
The state of things in the home is a poorly kept secret. Everyone has seen the evidence on her face.
All of her friends are distraught, and want her to get away from him. She tries to downplay how bad it is. She can’t see any way for her to support three boys, she’s got no job skills. She sure can’t leave them with him. So she lives this nightmare, seeing no way out.
Back in the circle.
When she sees Maggie’s neck, the agony is overtaken by an anger that burns everything in it’s path. The purple hand print is punctuated by the half-moon shaped scabs where his nails had drawn blood.
“Oh God Maggie! Ohhh God! He’s killing you…” She sobs out the last… as all of the girls burst into a flurry of exclamations about his humanity and manhood.
Work is set aside as the women stand to examine Maggie’s latest injuries, and hold each other in the face of this abomination hiding in their close-knit community.
Standing looking at Maggie, listening to the story behind this most recent beating (she’d used the last of the milk in her coffee before work this morning), her anger becomes overwhelming. A thing with a life of it’s own it spreads through her, until action is the only thing left in her mind.
She breaks from the circle of women & heads out the door. Stopping only briefly at the rear of the quad she takes the Glock from the storage compartment, shoves it in the back of her pants, jumps on the bike, and rides off to the screams of Maggie and the rest of the women begging her to stop.
The rain stinging her face becomes nothing but a steady burning sensation, as she races the quad through the mud, down the miles of road. Fighting to maintain control of the bike she rounds the turn to Maggie’s driveway in a full slide.
Righteous anger fills her as she jumps off the bike. Taking the gun out of her pants she slams open the door to Maggie’s kitchen and rounds the wall to the living room. She has no plan, just a soul filled with a desire for vengeance.
The scene in the living room stops her, and at first she can’t quite wrap her brain around it.
Maggie’s husband is on the floor, blood pouring from a wide gash in his forehead. Maggie’s oldest son Taylor is on top of him.
Straddling his father’s chest, he has both of his hands around his neck and is leaning forward with all of his weight. The larger man’s face is a bright purple, his mouth is open, his swollen tongue protruding. Ryan is standing by watching his older broth with a cast iron skillet hanging from his limp right arm.
Her own desire for vengeance is extinguished in her sudden terror for the boys.
“Oh Tay No!” She cries out and runs over. Pushing him, she finds nothing pliable in the child who’s always been so agreeable and sweet-tempered. She pulls ineffectually at his arms and then desperately tries to pry his fingers from his father’s neck. “No Tay! No! Let go!” She is screaming at him and he is not even acknowledging her presence. “No, oh no no no!” She cries and pulls with all her strength.
“Let me finish.” He says it in a frighteningly calm voice. “Please, he’ll never stop. He’ll kill her. Just let me finish.”
She sits with a thud. Letting go of the boy she sees the gun laying on the floor. How did this get so crazy?
This can’t happen. “Please Tay, she’ll die if she looses you! Don’t do this! Don’t let him do this… please Tay!” She’s just crying now.
The sound of the suburban sliding to a halt doesn’t register with either of them.
The women, with Maggie in the lead they come running into the room. Slamming into furniture and each other their forward progress is halted by the sight of the four people already in the room.
Ryan, face blank, is still just standing there. Taylor is sitting on his father’s chest staring at his hands as though they are something unknown to him. The woman sitting on the floor next to the gun is petting Taylor’s back sobbing “Thank you thank you thank you thank you” . The big purple-faced man is making gurgling noises.
Maggie runs over and grabs her boys dragging them away from the unconscious choking form of their father.
Getting up, she picks up the gun and heads for the phone. “Diane do you got your cell?” She picks up Maggie’s phone “Call your old man and tell him we need him, now.” She dials her husband “Baby, nine one one at Ted and Maggie’s.” His “I’m on my way.” sounds terse, but she knows it’s fear in his voice. The emergency code is only for true emergencies, and she has never once used it.
Ted has managed to roll to one side and is gagging and moaning as the men begin to arrive. Her husband, feeling helpless because he was at least forty-five minutes away, had called other men from the road. Setting in motion the emergency phone tree.
No one knows what it is, fire, fuel spill, lost child? They drop everything and rush to the aid of their neighbors, as men have through out time.
They’d arrived to find a scene none of them had imagined.
Taking charge as men are wont to do, the women are quickly loaded up and shuttled off to a nearby neighbor’s house.
The neighbor’s wife makes tea and listens as the day’s tale is told.
It is hours before the men come to the women.
They tell the waiting women that everything is fine. They say that Tad has chosen to leave the little community, and Maggie is to keep the home for her and the children. The story of how he was allowed to pack a bag, then escorted away without any further trouble is told without flourish or detail.
The women look at each other, some doubt evident in their faces.
Maggie and the boys are going to stay at the Humboldt House for a few days, until everything settles down.
The women go along with the plan, though three of them choose to stay in town with Maggie.
Time passes, slowly at first, but then things begin to feel a little more normal. Everyday a little more of the fear seeps away.
Tad doesn’t show back up, not so much as a phone call.
The women help Maggie pack up his remaining belongings, and what the boys don’t want, is given to the thrift store.
The boys and Maggie start seeing a counselor.
Tad becomes a footnote in the history of their community, rarely brought up, never missed.
Just another bad storm they’ve weathered together.
To be continued next Sunday.