Wall of Shadows, filled with the adventures and the colours of a trip to Nicaragua, seemed like living through a movie. I decided to try my hand at writing about that trip and some emotional upheavals running concurrently. The creative process unraveled other ideas and emotions, which filled another novel, To Finish A Quilt. Few have read either, but I had a great time in the writing process.
Wall of Shadows
Chapter 1 - Karl Rullen
The woman’s scream shattered Dr. Karl Rullen’s quiet thoughts into a million sharp pieces. In his mind, he had already clocked out of the office and needed this one remaining irritant like a dose of intestinal flu. He looked back at the chart note to pick up where he had left off, but his mind was on the low murmur of words that found their way from the front office and down the hall to where he sat. The second, reasoned voice was too faint to hear, although he already knew the core of its message. He waited, hoping to hear the clear, bright bell of the door ringer, the blessed signal that the woman had gone away and let him begin his vacation in peace.
In its place, the ruckus from the front of the office restarted. “Damn it,” he barked. His face came up from the page and looked around for witnesses to his pointless outburst. No one was in the office except for Gina, his office manager, who was out at the reception desk trying to deal with that irritating woman. Alone in the private office and as anonymous as he knew that spoken flare to be, the sting of self-reproach began to build within him, for losing control of one’s emotions was a personality defect. No, worse than that, displaying any sign of weakness was the eighth deadly sin. His father, who had taught him that principal early in life, shrieked in his thoughts almost as loudly as the voice down the hall.
Settle down, he told himself, eyes darting around the room for anything offering reassurance and calm. As anticipated, his gaze fell upon a photograph from a trip to Hawaii that hung on the yellowing, grass-cloth wallpaper amidst a random pattern of diplomas, certificates, and awards. Those documents testifying to an exemplary, decades-long career were not comforting, but seemed to leer down in stoic judgment that only made him feel claustrophobic. He locked onto the calm, blue image for a few moments until another shriek chased his attention away to the brooding mahogany desk at which he sat. Along with the matching credenza beneath the photograph, the desk was not even close to his style. Nothing in the room was. Although officially his office, he had never accepted the right or even felt a desire to call it his own. Forever, this would be another doctor’s room, another doctor’s sanctuary, and Karl felt like a trespasser.
“Who the hell are you to tell me no?” echoed down the hall.
Her question had sounded like a dare, and he had no choice but to walk to the reception area and accept the challenge. Gina and he had discussed the scene that was now unfurling. She had said that as office manager the responsibility to deal with non-clinical issues was hers. They had even role-played with he as the patient, asking tough questions and refusing to take no for a final answer. That plan now seemed to have veered sharply from their hopes, and allowing Gina to take any more of that screaming woman’s fury was unconscionable.
Before he had moved out from behind the desk, however, Gina burst into the office, wearing an expression teetering between alarm and resolve. She came to a sharp stop in the middle of the room, closed her eyes, and clenched her hands into fists. Karl sat down again and watched her without speaking. Although several years older than he, she could easily pass for thirty-five, and most patients assumed she was the practice’s model for a laundry list of cosmetic surgeries. They were wrong. Without ever having a single minor procedure done, Gina Castillo’s face and body were what so many women paid thousands of dollars to achieve. A tiny shudder escaped from her, and seeming renewed, she walked over to the desk, placed both hands on its edge, and peered over her glasses at him.
“You okay?” he asked.
“That woman has lost her mind,” Gina whispered in her unflappable office manager’s voice, the one she used to keep everyone in line and her well-ordered domain humming. Her mild tone was in sharp contrast with her ashen face. “I mean it, Doc. She could be violent. Someone that unhinged might have a gun.”
“Her only weapon is that banshee screech she calls a voice,” Karl said. A broad smile lit his face. “But it does border on lethal, I’ll give you that.”
“Since you think this is so funny, you go deal with her. I’ve tried, and she won’t listen to me.” Gina sat down and crossed her arms stubbornly, Karl concentrating on her luminous, impossible-to-ignore brown eyes. “I’ll hang out here ‘til she’s out of the building.”
They had worked together for less than a year, but she had managed the practice for more than fifteen years, bringing efficiency, dedication, and even parenting skills to Karl and the doctor whose history lined the office’s walls. He had no reason to doubt that she had given all she could.
“Do you believe in God, Gina?” Karl stood up, buttoned his doctor’s jacket, and headed for the door.
“When I need to. Why?”
“Pray that I’m struck deaf before I get to the waiting room.”
Harsh florescent lights illuminated his path, reflecting off the beige walls and well-worn linoleum floors that had remained unchanged since the practice’s opening day. He thought of his peers and referring doctors whose offices, decorated in pleasing, muted shades of blue or lilac, had soft, flattering light bathing their artfully decorated spaces and banal music filling their rooms. At least the office offered him the honest comfort of bland colors, bright bulbs, and operational clamor. Those reminded him of focused industry like at the hospital. He also preferred the integrity of giving a patient objective findings, conclusions, and treatment options. Even delivering bad news, despite the sadness of those times, was stacked with layers of genuine feelings. The maelstrom he was about to enter was neither honest nor a matter of factual outcomes. His speaking with this loud, flashy patient, who would happily spread ill will of her perceived rude treatment throughout the community for the smallest of slights, promised nothing but unreasoned emotion.
Wearing an expression as non-committal as the office’s floors and walls, he straightened his shoulders and walked into the waiting room.
“You want to tell me what the fuck’s going on here?” the woman blared as she threw a magazine to the floor and came to her feet.
“What seems to be the problem, Frida?” Karl asked. His hands were at the bottom of the jacket’s pockets. A weary sigh was on the verge of escaping, but he fought it off.
“That’s Mrs. Alsher to you.” Mrs. Frida Alsher was livid, her eyes flashing the rage of the privileged and entitled. Nothing else on her face, a living shrine to Botox, moved.
“My mistake … Mrs. Alsher.” He took a step back after smelling the liquor on her breath.
“That skinny little bitch said you were cutting me off. You don’t have the balls to say it to my face, not that I’m going to stand for it, but I want to hear the words coming out of your mouth.”
A tight smile froze on his face, and his lagoon blue eyes were without emotion as if he were watching a boring television program with his mind gnawing on something else entirely. Shutting the emotional tap when required was another lesson his father had taught him some years earlier.
“Well, are you going to ….”
“Number one,” he began loud enough to stop her dead, “no one talks about any member of my staff that way. Number two, I’m not going to perform any more surgeries on you, if that’s what you mean by cutting you off.”
The wife of power-film producer Stanley Alsher, he knew from their dealings, was not of the class accustomed to hearing refusals, especially from people she considered in service to her. She stood there for the moment, temporarily mute, as if unable to process or perhaps to believe that a command floated before her without someone reaching up to take hold of it and eagerly fulfill her behest.
Karl continued, his tone becoming calm and final. “You’ve had enough.”
“I’ll be the one to decide that, not you. I need this corner of my nose fixed,” she said, jutted her head to the side, and brought a finger to the spot she had deemed as unacceptable.
“You need a good psychiatrist, Mrs. Alsher, not a cosmetic surgeon.”
“A what?” Her eyebrows moved not a millimeter.
“Dr. Nelson and others have worked on you from head to toe. I was happy to help you out last time, but I can’t do anything more. You’ll find doctors to treat you, I am sure, but I’m letting you go as my patient.”
“You can’t do that.”
“That’s my license hanging there,” he said, pointing behind him. “I can and I just did. Take care Mrs. Alsher.”
“You’ll be hearing from my attorney.”
She turned to go and he said, “And, pick up my magazine on your way out.”
“You insignificant fuck,” she said as the doorbell sounded and traffic noise filled the room.
He watched her storm into the San Diego afternoon, snatch open the limo’s door before the driver could respond, and hurl her body into the back seat. As the car sped off, probably heading to her La Jolla weekend mansion, Karl laughed and imagined that she was busily plotting her vengeance and enjoying another bracing cocktail. He walked to the door, turned the deadbolt, and bent over to retrieve the magazine from the floor before heading back down the hallway.
When Karl returned to the private office, he was happy to find Gina looking more composed. She stood studying that Hawaiian photograph of his two godsons and him.
She whirled around and asked, “Is she gone?”
“For good, I hope. Although, she did warn me that her attorneys would be calling.”
“If they do, I’ll tell them that we aren’t taking on any new patients,” Gina cracked with calm humor in her voice.
“No more of her kind, if you can help it.”
Karl walked to his desk chair and slouched into it. Gina looked over her shoulder and said, “You know, I’ve always loved this picture.”
In that photo taken years earlier off the coast of the Big Island, his lean, tall frame stretched to full length. His concentrated gaze was forward, and he was in his element: at sea on a sail boat, with godsons clad in life vests at his sides like puffy blue bookends. Tanned, relaxed, and content in the picture, Karl was everything he had not been for months.
“It’s the only thing in here that’s just about you,” she said.
“Nothing gets past you, does it?”
“Not if I can help it.”
Gina walked to the red leather club chair, took a seat facing him, and said, “So, the Bride of Godzilla’s gone, thank God, but so are some nice referrals.”
“Forget the bottom line for a minute, it’ll do you good.”
Gina stared back at him without speaking until he said, “Sorry, I know you’ll have it all under control.”
“Not a problem.”
“Was she always this way?”
Gina snorted out a laugh. “What a memory. Looked like a long-legged Ernest Borgnine clutching a picture of Diane Lane as her ideal face and body. I’ll be damned if modern medicine didn’t come close.”
He laughed and said, “If only I could fix that voice.”
“Won’t need to now. Someone else’s problem.”
“Yes it is,” he said. He signed his initials on the chart lying open on his desk, closed it, and slid it away from him.
“Really, don’t give this place a thought while you’re gone. We’ve survived frivolous suits and pissy patients before.”
“And unfortunately, we will have others.”
“Trying to make me stay away?” he said and smiled at her.
Gina laughed. Karl laughed along with her, the mental image of Earnest Borgnine’s face morphing into Frida’s filling his thoughts. Then, he felt the humor leave, replaced by sadness and a touch of profound fatigue.
“This wasn’t what I signed on for, Gina,” he said as he looked out the window. “Feeding rich women’s bloated egos isn’t why I chose medicine.”
“I know it isn’t.”
“I never saw Dr. Nelson struggle with this, did he?” His predecessor had been a gifted surgeon and compassionate man, but while Dr. Nelson had seemingly worn the cloak of practice ownership comfortably, Karl felt increasingly unsettled and unhappy in his profession.
“He had his Fridas and had to dismiss some of those. You’re not alone on that.”
“You know how much I admired him,” Karl said.
“Sure I do. It was admiration and respect and appreciation … and it was mutual. He always talked about you with such pride.”
Karl leaned back, closing his eyes for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was filled with naked honesty. “The man was a god to me during my residency. He made me the doctor I am, not medical school, not residency, and taught me that compassion is just as important as surgical skill, maybe more. I’ve never met a doctor who had such grace in all aspects of his profession.”
Gina let out a chuckle. “We had our share of moments that weren’t exactly full of grace, but that comes with running a business, I guess. Still, he was one of a kind, no doubt about that.”
The two fell silent; he filled with recollections of the man who had meant so much to both of them. Gina might have formed a different perspective than his, but her loyalty to the Nelsons and the practice was also without question. Despite being stretched to the limit, Gina had risen to the challenge when Dr. Nelson had become ill and held the business together with a string of locum doctors. She had urged Mrs. Nelson to approach Karl and ask if he would take a leave of absence from the clinic to watch over the practice until Dr. Nelson recovered. Of course, everyone had looked at the arrangement as temporary, a few weeks at most; but a month later, a fatal heart attack turned Karl’s structured world upside down. Refusing Mrs. Nelson’s request, a desperate plea was the much more accurate description, had been impossible for him. A meek woman who had lived in the shadows of her husband’s towering personality, she had almost suffered a breakdown after the funeral and was still shattered. Now, with almost a year peeled off the calendar, any appearance of a graceful exit was nowhere in sight.
Gina pulled herself up straight and leaned onto the desk. “You’re a helluva cutter. I just wished you found more satisfaction here.”
“It’s what I’ve told you before, I always saw myself doing reconstructive work for people in need, maybe even doing stints in Africa or who knows where. I got a lot of satisfaction working in the hospital and clinic all those years … but now this.” He paused, sifting through his words carefully. “You, the staff are wonderful, but now all I do is let self-absorbed people run from their age and their faces.”
“That’s a little narrow-sighted. What about that nice reconstruction you did last month for the teenager who was in the auto accident?”
“Right,” she said.
“And Jill the month before that, but it seems like there are too few of those and too many patients like Frida. Those are the ones I remember first. I’m not just dissatisfied, Gina. I’m becoming disgusted with myself.”
Gina sat speechless for a moment, and he watched her. Dropping that bombshell in her lap on the eve of his vacation was unfair. While this practice was an uncomfortable and temporary place in his life, she had a tremendous sense of ownership and personal satisfaction tied up in the office’s performance. He was about to retract or at least downplay his words when she said, “I had no idea it had gotten this bad. I should have paid closer attention … I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to apologize for. Forget I said that,” Karl said as he looked right at her. “Your job is to run this place and you do it great. Spending time to try and decipher what’s inside my head isn’t part of the job description.”
“I’m just …” Gina let her voice trail off.
“Nothing to worry about, but I’d hate to look back twenty years from now full of regret, that’s all,” Karl concluded, leaning into his leather chair, stretching his back with hands clasped behind his head.
“I don’t want that for you either.”
They had started on a much different track. More than willing to step up, Karl had been honored that his idol trusted him with his life’s work. Excited by the new environment and in admiration of Gina’s abilities, he had worked with her every day to maintain the practice. The professional relationship that grew naturally and evolved into a deeper, personal connection gave each of them insight into the nuances of the other’s psyche. Trying to keep his feelings hid from her was now all but pointless. “I’m sorry to lay all that on you when I’m leaving,” he said.
“Don’t give it a thought.”
“Wondering if your doctor is coming back from vacation is something you don’t need.”
“I know you, and I’m not worried.”
“I could be tempted.” He grinned at her, hoping to lighten the tension between them.
“I won’t bet on it, but it seems like this vacation couldn’t come at a better time.”
“You’re right. I think it’s going to do me a lot of good.”
A few moments of silence stood between them until, clapping her hands together, she said, “Just think, this time tomorrow, you’ll be off. I envy you.”
“Surf, sunshine, and absolutely no demands. It’s going to be great,” he said.
“Nice to see a glimmer in your eyes. Tell me all your plans and don’t leave anything out.”
“Forgetting about all this crap is numero uno.”
“Build a bridge,” Gina looked over the top of her glasses at him.
“I know, and get over it.”
“Right. What I’m asking is what are you doing for fun?”
“I’m going to see the sea turtles lay their eggs.”
Gina looked at him as if he had just revealed himself as Oswald’s accomplice.
“Do you know that they cry, or at least look like they’re crying, when they lay their eggs?”
“That’s what you’re going to do for fun?” she asked and then hurriedly added, “Not that’s there’s anything wrong with being Mr. Wild Kingdom. I’m just not a fan of reptiles. Give me a slobbering mutt from the pound any day.”
Karl reached for the guidebook on the desk and opened it to a foldout map.
“Every year they come to this beach,” He pointed to the southern coast of the country. “This is one of a few places in the world they return to, and it only lasts a few nights every year.”
“Looks like beautiful,” Gina said, as she leaned over the book.
“Breathtaking.” He flipped to a page showing a turtle swimming in blue-green water. “When the babies hatch, they go off to sea and return years later to the same spot to lay their eggs.”
Gina placed her index finger on the opposite page and said, “Interesting, but right now I’m imagining myself in a bikini, sunning on that gorgeous beach with an umbrella-drink in hand.”
“Really, it’s amazing. So, that’s at the top of my list. Our traveling buddy says we’ll be there for prime viewing.”
“I need to get out on the water. There hasn’t been any time lately, and I really miss it.” Karl sank back into his chair, pulled his tie loose as his hands relaxed over the long-used wooden arms. Then his hands moved to rest on his growing waistline, and he groaned.
“Some exercise too. My gut is about to get its own zip code.”
Gina laughed aloud. “Come on, it’s not that bad. A few days walking on those sands you’ll be a fit beach stud again.”
Karl’s right eyebrow shot up, and he muttered an exaggerated, “Riiiiiiiiight. Those days are long gone.”
“What keeps you off your boat here, anyway?” Gina asked. “I mean, there it sits. ‘A hole in the water you pour money into,’ I believe is the expression. If you’re not using it, why not just sell it? I don’t want to see you in a bread line after kicking the former Ms. Borgnine out the door.”
That generated a sly smile from him. “I won’t get rid of it. Just haven’t had the time lately between being tired from work and the social director’s plans. But when I get back, I’ll make it a point of taking it out.”
“I hope you do. Sailing does you a lot of good.” She stood up. “Not that I mean to boot you out, but get out of here. Take an early start on your vacation, have a drink or two … ”
“Or three,” Karl agreed with a grin. He also stood and started to peel off his jacket. “Okay, you talked me into it. I’m gone.”
“That’s more like it.”
“If you need to reach me … ”
“I won’t,” she said, hurrying over, giving Karl an affectionate hug, and pushing him along. “Now go, forget about this place for a week, and bring me something fabulous – anything but a turtle.”
As he headed to the parking lot, Karl noted the surprising spring in his step and sudden lightness to his feelings. Was that because he had broken his usual routine, he wondered. Leaving the office in mid-afternoon was out of his normal pattern as the practice responsibilities often extended into early evenings and some Saturdays. Sometimes the simplest diversions can break a chain of monotony. He knew that and had experienced the same feeling on many occasions. Or, was his early escape from the practice and its implicit responsibilities a reprieve from an existence that seemed to limp from day to day on life-support? He needed this trip to put some zing back into living – no denying that fact. Whether the day’s free hours or the anticipation of an upcoming week away from San Diego was responsible for his improved mood mattered little to him. He was away from the stress, headed away on an adventure, and both were great.
There was, as usual in life, a catch, and her name was Amanda. Could he get her to relax, let down her guard, and actually enjoy their first real vacation together? God, I hope so, he thought. Delighting in the image of her body, one minute he saw her in an evening dress, then she was in a bikini, and then she was lying naked and intertwined with him. Maybe getting far away from the daily grind of each of their jobs was needed to reclaim the spark that had glowed so brightly in the early stages of the relationship.
This trip, however, was no quick get-away to the wine country; Nicaragua promised a completely new experience for her. He had gone to many places with living standards far below that enjoyed in glitzy Southern California. Mostly, great memories and pieces of art or furnishings had come from those adventures to all the continents. The rare misstep also arose on those trips, but even those uncomfortable bits added to life’s understanding and texture. She, on the other hand, had traveled to the safe and secure ports of the world: London, Paris, Vancouver. Those were nice enough places, but seeing them in guided tours filled with other Americans or dining at the Hyatt was entirely too predictable and hardly his style.
He was still surprised that she had taken up her friend’s challenge to go to Nicaragua, even more surprised that he had been asked to join them. Perhaps Amanda thought the idea of two unescorted women in a remote Central American fishing town was a bad idea. Those reasons also mattered little; he was only about seventeen hours from knowing if she loved or hated that part of the world. With her strict lines of acceptability drawn indelibly, finding the gray area in between those two extremes was unlikely.
The car’s doors unlocked with a click, and he dropped into the seat. He started the engine and idled in the space that still bore Dr. Nelson’s name as the convertible top lowered. Picturing himself already in the tropics with her, he could conjure the feel of warm breezes filled with scents of the ocean. Shorts and tee shirts, clothes meant to satisfy themselves and not others, would soon replace their work-week uniforms. Even the bite of itchy salt water on a hint of sunburn was a sensation he welcomed with great eagerness.
“This is our chance, Amanda,” he said aloud and heard the neediness in his voice. “We can make it work.”
To Finish a Quilt
Wait–a noise. A lock clicks. Then I hear a door creak open behind me. A second ago, there was no door there, but now I see in the mirror that it cuts the corridor’s length in half.
I turn to see who comes through the door. When I do, a gust of wind knocks my hat from my head. Flowers drop from its brim, carpeting the brook now flowing along one side of the hall. They drift away on the silent stream and disappear from view just before I turn and see him.
No, not again. I struggle to get away, to move. But, the brook has broken free of its borders, filling the hall higher and higher, making movement laborious and staining the wallpaper a blood red.
And suddenly, he is on me. One of his scaly hands clasps over my mouth. He yanks at my gown, pawing at it, leaving me without decency. I look away to heaven and see my nightgown quickly disappearing like a balloon hurrying off into the sky.
The grimy stubble of his rough beard chaffs my young breasts as I struggle beneath him, trying to scream but finding that my voice has deserted me. He pushes at my legs as we float on a river, the roar of the falls now filling the hallway and my ears, and I …
Eunice sat straight up in bed with the remnants of a gasp echoing in her ears. She whirled around, looking behind her for that hallway door and that man, but they had vanished. Only a tufted headboard, one she had designed, stood silently staring back at her as a shiver romped down her body from her cheeks to her toes.
Just that damned dream again, she thought, trying in vain to dismiss it permanently from her existence.
Through the glass sliding doors, she watched bright moonlight skitter around the surface of the swimming pool outside of her bedroom and felt her heart’s rhythm pounding at her temples.
“Bastard,” she murmured.
This same dream had awoken her many dozens of times over the years, and each was a virtual copy of the preceding one. Their appearances held no pattern that she could discern, and they seemed to arise quite apart from dates or events that should have triggered them. Months could pass without a single occurrence, but this week was different for some reason. She had tried but failed to escape from her attacker two nights in a row.
Dabbing at her forehead with her index finger, she felt the barest trace of sweat coating her skin. Then the hushed groans of her infant girl came up the hall from the nursery. Perhaps a chronic lack of sleep was the cause of those returning nightmares.
She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose with her fingers hoping the child would not need her attention. Seconds ran by as she sat silently and held her breath, as if from forty feet away Julie could hear the sound of air flowing in and out of her body. When she did finally release the pent-up pressure, the baby called again.
“Crap,” she said as the earlier cold shiver from the nightmare made room for a glassy sense of vengeance.
During her pregnancy, the signs had been present but hardly overt. Even in the first weeks after delivering, that had changed little. Now the child approached four months of age, and Eunice’s inner vehemence gathered strength daily, making her contempt impossible to deny.
She had never wanted any children, but at least the first one was a guarantee that her husband would never leave her–not with the threat of losing more than half his assets hanging over his head. Having the whole of what she possessed rather than a portion of it was worth putting up with one child. This second one, however, the result of a moment of forgotten passion, really another sex act against her desires, was worthless to her.
What would follow was a given in her mind, clear as a Southern California sky after a rain. This child was the center of her husband’s attention, and she his wife was last week’s fish. Sure, he denied that with his usual salesmanship cajoling when her icy stares fell upon the two of them, but that did not fool her or mitigate her disgust.
‘How vain can that man be, naming her after himself?’
He had exposed the start of his obsession early on, insisting throughout her pregnancy to call the child Julie. She had hated that name from the start and told him so. Although there for every step of the way for him, and having rescued him from terrible blunders, he treated her as an afterthought. No, that was not right–she was a necessary but barely tolerated inconvenience to him. She had awoken in the hospital to find the birth certificate filled out, just as she had with the first one, with names he had chosen.
Purposely folding the bed covers back into a perfect triangle, she set her feet onto the awaiting slippers and turned to look over at Jules, her sleeping husband. They always fail us, she thought, just their nature–a flaw waiting for fate.
She had meant to stand and get Julie back to sleep, but with patterns of moonbeams echoing about the room, Eunice remained seated on the edge of the bed with her feet still in slippers and refused to move as memories came flooding back that made her cast about for answers.
‘Why did I deserve that abuse? What indecency did I have that made you turn away from me when I called?’
She had asked that very question tens of times almost every day for over two decades. She waited for God to speak to her, but she heard no reply so she searched within her memories for a cause. The same minor trespasses came to mind: a trivial curse when she bumped her knee on a pew, an unkind word to her grandmother, lying to her brother Tommy. Those were not real answers to her question so it was probably as her father had said in his last words to her. Somehow, she had failed God with the deep stains she wore.
That night when she was sixteen, she had been curled up on the bed wearing her long white nightgown with flowers embroidered around the neck, praying with all her might that her father might just go on to bed without another sloppy conversation. The periods of icy silence and cutting jabs between her mother and him had been bad enough, but by that point, talking with a drunk had become intolerable without disgust-soaked words filling her voice. Those prayers had been in vain.
The twenty-one year old echoes of her father bumping his way up the staircase filled her with a medley of hate, shame, and guilt. The sobbing and pain, the stench of alcohol, and the taste of blood inside her lip were still as real as that night when her pale eyes had felt about to burst from their orbits as if the pressure of her imprisoned screams were pushing them out. As always, she decided that desire was not on her bastard father’s mind that night. It was punishment.
More than punishment, her father was a first taste of what men really were. Her brother, who had deserted the family, and her husband, who like all men could not help himself around loose women, confirmed the message of that awful lesson even if they had never assaulted her physically. Her brother’s emotional abandonment had concluded with irreparable and devastating consequences. There was nothing that would rectify what he had done. Her husband’s throwing her over for an infant; however, was a grievance she would not permit. Something must change the course of his infatuation. She needed to prevail this time.
That damn baby was making more noise. Without more of a true-ringing answer to the question of why she had suffered so at the hands of men, she walked away from the bedroom, her head throbbing with every step and every cry of the baby.
Halfway down the hallway, she paused to take in the commanding panorama from high above the San Gabriel Valley. She loved this house, the prestigious address, and the outlook of the city that always gave her a sense of accomplishment. But, the baby’s cry broke the spell an instant later, causing her to sigh before she stole into her daughter’s room.
She walked through the full moon’s blue light that filled the nursery and looked down into the crib. The child kicked her chubby legs in gleeful anticipation, and her mouth arced into a pudgy heart that cooed her welcome. The child had begun to recognize her over a month ago, and she took that as a sign of intelligence. This child would be clever, probably not as smart as the son but crafty and, as a girl, able to manipulate her father.
Watching the child wriggle in its crib, she felt the night’s anger and disgust rise again. She hated this baby. She could right that wrong. It was all in her power. Jules would be sad for a while, but he would get over the loss. She would be there to help him through the pain. Babies die in their sleep all the time; she knew that to be true.
Julie started to fuss again and seemed about to let out a cry. Eunice bent over to caress the tiny, buttery face with the back of her hand. Solemnly she took the pillow from under the child’s head.
“Shhh, there there,” she whispered as she placed the pillow over the baby’s face and pressed it down along her ears.
There were sounds, painful ones that brought back her own vain pleas from long ago, but she could learn to live with those too. The infant’s legs started to dart frantically in every direction. Seconds dragged by as Eunice looked out the window.
How much longer could this take, she asked herself as the convulsions continued. She heard a click and decided it was the crib uttering a final creak.
“Mom?” she heard a second later and flinched.
Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she saw her son Gary slumped on the doorframe behind her. His red plaid pajamas hung from his lean five-year-old body.
Without hesitation, Eunice slid the pillow away, and the baby started to bawl. She spun in Gary’s direction and stomped her way close to him.
“Damn it Gary. See what you’ve done? I almost had her down, but you’ve ruined that.”
The boy, recoiling away from her, said, “I was having a bad dream.”
“And what can I do about that?”
Gary brought a hand to his mouth and started to gnaw on his thumbnail. He turned back to his room.
“Nothing, I guess.”