May 10, 2022
by Kathy Larson
“You ain’t worth the powder it’d take to blow you to hell,” his mother hollered as he angrily spun the beat up pick-up in the dry dirt, sending a cloud of ugly brown dirt into the air. Choke, you bitch, he muttered, bitter tears stinging his eyes. The truck fish-tailed and he drove down hard on the brake sending even more dirt and dust into the air. For a moment it felt like the truck was going to skid, he felt it slew beneath him, the tires grabbing for purchase in the loose, chalky dirt of the driveway. Panic hit him hard in the chest, he would not, would not, WOULD NOT, have her make fun of him for losing control. Worse, he could not let his father see what she had done to him. Again.
The second his father had left to go into town she’d been on him.
‘I’m so lonely,” she’d cooed as she slipped into his bed. She had started running her hands across his shoulders, down his back. Instantly, he had felt himself grow cold and he’d stopped breathing, hoping she’d just go away. Sometimes, when he was younger, that had worked. She’d come into his room, always when his father was sound asleep, exhausted from working in the fields for 10 – 12 hours, having had to come in and fix himself something to eat because his wife was passed out cold on the couch.
No matter how tired he was, or hungry, Stan’s father would always come in and fix something for them to eat. Sometimes it was just fried eggs, canned beans and toast, but at least it was a meal. He’d walk over to where his wife lay sprawled out and cover her with a blanket, then say in a quiet, sad voice to Stan that she was the most beautiful thing in the house. Stan would say nothing, though he wanted to tell his father everything. He loved his father. More than anything. That’s how she kept him silent.
He had turned nineteen a week ago. The truck was a gift from his father. It wasn’t new, but it was sound. His father had had his friend Mel give it a good going-over, and aside from some rust it was in good shape. Perfect for a young fella to get around in, he’d said as he handed Stan the keys. The look of love and pride in his father’s eyes was something he’d never forget. Then his mother had stepped out of the front door, a tall rye-coke in one hand, a cigarette trailing from the fingers of the other. “He’s just gonna get some slut knocked up, now he’s got wheels,” she said from behind his father. She fixed Stan with a cold stare then smiled and winked. Stan felt sick with guilt and dread. He gave his father a long hug, said thank you, then jumped in and drove into town.
He had been spending as much time away from home as he could from the time he was about fourteen. He played whatever sport was in season, slept over at his friends’ places as much as he could manage, and in the summer would spend his nights camped out by himself down in the coulees that ran behind his father’s land. When he could he’d steal some of his mother’s booze and he’d spend those nights getting drunk and trying to forget the things she made him do.
He’d been gone for most of the past week, sleeping in the truck when he had no place else to go. There were no girls, he couldn’t bring himself to even imagine being with one. What girl would ever want anything to do with him? He imagined they’d be able to see straight through him, see what he was, and it terrified him. It also made him angry. Angry at his mother, angry at himself, and, worse, angry at his father. Why didn’t his father see what she was? Why did he make excuses for her, protect her, forgive her for all her nasty, evil, lazy, disgusting ways? When he thought that way about his father it made him feel even worse; what kind of son was he?
He had thought often of telling his father about what she was doing with him, but shame, and the fear of what it might do to him stopped him. “It’d kill him, you know,” she’d whispered in his ear one time, “if he ever found out.” Then she had chuckled and said, “Maybe, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.” He knew he could never tell. So, he did his best to stay out of her reach.
He’d come in late last night, hoping that she’d be passed out and he was right. He’d slipped into his room and fell into a deep, exhausted sleep. When she slithered in behind him and he felt her dry hands upon his skin he nearly screamed. Instead, he lay there not breathing and hoped she’d get bored or mad and just go away. She got mad. She grabbed his hair and tried to pull him towards her. He wrenched his head away from her and she yelled out in pain. He was trying to get himself out of the tangle of sheets but she was trying to pin him down onto the bed and get herself on top of him. He saw red. “No!” he hollered and pushed hard backwards sending her sprawling. He was out of the bed and grabbing for his clothes and keys, intent on getting away and never coming back. His mother stared at him in surprise and then she threw herself at him trying to slap and punch him like she had when he was young and had tried to avoid her. One of her hands raked across his face and he felt her jagged nails open a gash across his cheek. He reached out and grabbed her by both wrists. He wanted to hit her so badly, wanted to hurt her and make her feel the way he did.
She went limp in his grasp and her head rocked back on her long, thin neck. He held her that way for a endless moment, then let her fall backwards on to the bed. ‘I hate you.” he said. “I never want to fucking see you ever again.” She lay there, half naked, hair spread out like a tattered crown against the dirty sheets. Then she opened her eyes and stared at him. “No you don’t, you love your momma,” she said, and laughed.
Stan dressed as quickly as he could and ran down the stairs. He wanted badly to see his father, to say goodbye, to tell him that he was leaving and that he wasn’t coming back. His father had left for the city, early, for an appointment at the bank. Farming hadn’t been going so well these past five or six years, the drought never seemed to end, and when rain did come it came in such torrents that it washed away anything that had managed to eke into existence in the dry, barren soil.
He rushed down the stairs and out through the front door. I’ll call him later, he thought, and tell him that I’ve gone looking for a job. As he pushed through the door panic made him stop. Where was he going? What could he do? He stopped, the door open before him, and hung his head. This was all so wrong. Maybe he could tell his father. Maybe he would understand. Maybe he would forgive him. Then he remembered the adoring, love-blind way his father would look at her and he knew it was hopeless.
He heard his mother stumbling down the stairs and he knew this was his one and only chance to be free of her. She screamed his name. Swore at him, begged, pleaded with him to not leave her there alone. “He makes me sick,” she screeched, “you’re the only thing that’s kept me alive all these years.” He turned to look at her and for a second felt a shred of pity for the lost thing that she was, then he remembered all that she had put him through, remembered his father’s love for her and forced himself to let the door slam closed behind him.
He threw himself behind the wheel of the truck and turned the ignition. “I’ll tell him.” she screamed. “I’ll tell him that you tried to rape me. Your own mother!” Stan felt himself go still, felt all the air sucked out of him and as he turned to look at her he felt as though it were all happening in slow motion. His hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly he thought his fingers might break. Then he drew in a deep breath and got out of the truck. He walked towards her, stopped at the bottom step and stared up at her. “If you do,” he said in an eerily calm voice, “I’ll kill you.” He looked straight into her eyes and could see that she understood. He turned away for the last time and got back into his truck.
It was a month before he found the courage to call and speak to his father. All he heard in his father’s voice when he did was love and sorrow. Your mother is sleeping, he said, we won’t disturb her. When the call was over Stan sobbed with relief.