June

Chapter 4

Mar. 21, 2022
Kathy Larson

She got pregnant. They’d been married nearly five years when it happened, and it surprised them both.

Sadie could not understand how she had gotten pregnant. She took her birth control pills religiously — Stan watched her every morning at breakfast — but more confusing was the fact that they rarely had sex. When they did it was always when Stan was extremely drunk. It was a rough, sloppy and often painful ordeal that left her feeling bruised both physically and emotionally.

As a young girl Sadie had often imagined herself as a mother. She modeled herself after her own mother, who had been, despite the horror of being married to a brutal alcoholic, a kind and caring mother, devoted to making sure that Sadie was cared for and loved. Of course, in Sadie’s imagination, the father of her child was nothing at all like her father — he was a conglomeration of all the shining knights, brave princes and beautiful, yet smart heroes of the story books she read. When she’d first set eyes on Stan she believed that she’d found the very embodiment of all her girl-hood fantasies.

When her doctor told her she was pregnant she broke down and cried. She had fled the doctor’s office in a panic, unable to explain why she had to leave so suddenly. She had taken the bus to the clinic, but chose to walk the 45 minutes it would take her to get home. Along the way she stumbled into a park and sat crying into the bunched folds of the sweater she’d worn to her appointment. A woman who had watched Sadie crying for nearly half an hour finally approached and asked if she was okay, was there anything she could do to help. Sadie had looked at her through swollen eyes, her face blotchy and red and said no, there was nothing anyone could do. She thanked the woman and said she’d be fine, could she please just leave? The woman smiled sadly then reached into her bag and produced a travel pack of Kleenex which she placed gently on the bench beside Sadie. That simple, kind act brought about a new avalanche of tears and Sadie had felt for a moment that she might go mad.

Eventually her tears abated, but not the sense of overwhelming sadness that had permeated every fibre of her being. How was she going to tell Stan this news? How would he react? The thought of a child growing up in their home, being loved by only one parent, having to suffer through Stan’s miserableness, his drinking, his anger and his tight-fistedness nearly brought the tears on again, but she stole a look at her watch and was shocked to see that she’d been in the park the whole afternoon. It was going on 5 o’clock. Stan would be home before her and he’d be furious that she wasn’t there. She got to her feet and hurried home.

She walked fast, but it still took her nearly half an hour to get there, and in that time she felt a seed of hope begin to grow inside. Maybe, confronted with the reality of a child, Stan would change. Maybe he would actually be happy, would be thrilled to know that he had fathered an heir. What if it was a boy? The thought made Sadie suddenly smile. A boy! Isn’t that what all men wanted? A boy child, someone to carry on their legacy, someone to share their skills and knowledge with? By the time she stepped into their driveway she was convinced that Stan would be as happy about the child as she was beginning to feel.

That fantasy lasted as long as it took her to get the words out.

He had been sitting in the faded recliner he’d picked up one day on his way home from work drinking a beer and scowling at the blank screen of the television. When she came into the room he turned and fixed her with a cold, empty look. Where the fuck you been? he said quietly. Sadie tried to erase the look of fear that must have been on her face, tried to smile, but the blackness she saw in his eyes was killing any sense of happiness she’d begun to feel. I was at the doctor’s, she said. That was this morning, he growled, and stood up out of the chair. It’s five-fucking-o’clock. Who you been seeing behind my back, while I’m killing myself at that fucking job that I fucking hate just so’s I can keep you in this fucking house? His voice had grown steadily louder and as he spoke he had walked across to her until he was towering over her, his hot breath, smelling of the corned beef sandwich he’d had for lunch and the beer he’d been drinking, blasting into her face, making her feel sick. Sadie stood her ground. Turned her head slightly to draw in a fresh breath of air, then turned to look at him with as much calmness as she could muster and told him they were going to have a child.

At first he was silent. He stared at her like he didn’t know who she was. The colour had drained from his face and he seemed to lose his balance, she thought for a moment he might actually faint. Then he had gone into the kitchen, grabbed his keys from the hook by the door and walked out without a word. He did not come back until the next night.

All through the night that he was gone Sadie sat at the kitchen table, starting each time she heard the loud engine of a half-ton cruise by out on the street. When he hadn’t returned by morning she went and lay down on the bed, not bothering to undress. Any feelings of hope or joy or happiness she’d had on her short walk home from the park were gone. In her heart she knew that Stan would never accept a child. When she thought of the unbearable unhappiness and loneliness her child would have to live with it broke her heart. She wept softly and silently until she finally fell asleep.

When he came through the door the next night he walked past her without a word. She set the table and laid out their supper. It was while he was stuffing a forkful of the shepherd’s pie she’d made into his mouth that he said, I told you I didn’t want no kids. He didn’t look at her, only reached for the beer that sat beside his plate. I know, she said quietly, it just happened. They sat in silence then, the only sound their chewing and the occasional clearing of their throats. When he was done, he looked at her and the last thing he said before pushing himself away from the table was, It probably ain’t even mine, anyway.

She cried the whole time doing the dishes, her tears splashing silently into the soapy water, and by the time she was finished she knew what she had to do.

They told her that it was a girl. Sadie named her June. Stan never knew that she carried the tiny body home or that she had buried their daughter beneath the protective, sheltering branches of the elm tree in the back corner of the yard. She placed a chair next to the spot where she buried June, and every day when Stan was at work she would sit and read aloud to her, her voice, filled with longing, filled with regret, but mostly filled with love floating softly up through the branches into the free and open sky.

The Farm

Chapter 3

by Kathy Larson
March 4, 2022

The first time, and there was only one other time, that Stan took Sadie to the farm, was for his father’s funeral.

She had asked him a few times before they were married when she would meet his parents, but he had said each time that they were so busy working that there just wasn’t a good time to make the trip. They’d have to stay overnight, because it was a five-hour drive and he wasn’t about to do ten hours of driving for barely a day of visiting. They’d go when he had holidays and they’d stay at least a week; give his folks a chance to really get to know her. It sounded good to her — she’d never been far out of the city, had never been on a farm — the prospect of spending time in the country excited her. In her mind she pictured green fields, lush gardens, and animals, lots of animals.

When Stan got the call that his father had died they had been married nearly 18 months. By that time she was sure he never meant to take her to meet his parents, and he wouldn’t listen to any talk of having them come to stay. Also, by that time, she knew not to push him when he’d said how things were going to be. Not that he ever laid a hand on her, God no, that was something Stan said he would never do and he was very proud of himself for that. It would be her own damned fault if he ever did, though — there was only so much a man could be expected to take, after all. If he had only known just what a useless, lazy, stupid waste of breath she’d become after she got that ring on her finger. . .

For the first few months after they were married she tried everything she could to restore things to how they’d been before. She ignored his moods, took on fixing up the house on her own when he protested that he was too worn out from slaving for her every day, put on a dress and fixed her makeup and hair for when he got home because he’d gone from telling her how sweet and pretty she was to how plain and disgusting she’d become. Nothing worked. Did she think he wanted people to think he’d married a whore? he’d spit at her. Is that what she did all day while he busted his ass to put this roof over her head and the food on her table — sat around playing dress-up and painting her face so that he’d forget what she really was? His mother had tried to warn him, he told her, but he hadn’t listened, and now look what it had got him.

Sadie never thought to fight back — she’d seen what had happened to her mother. She knew that Stan’s anger wasn’t really with her, just as her father’s hadn’t been with her or her mother. Sometimes, she wished Stan would hit her, then she’d have an actual reason to leave him, but to leave because he called her names, or thought she had tricked him into marrying her? That was insane. Who would believe that? Besides, where could she go if she did leave? She had nothing of her own anymore. He’d made her quit the waitressing job — only sluts worked as waitresses, he’d said, and seeing as how she’d got what she wanted with him, he wouldn’t have her embarrass him by throwing herself at other men. She reminded him of how she’d been when they met. That was all an act, he said, she’d played the poor little victim and he’d fallen for it.

He’d even stopped her from refinishing and fixing up furniture. One day he went out to the garage where her supplies were and started throwing them all in the back of his pick-up. What are you doing? she cried, why are you doing this? Because, he’d answered, you have a house to take care of now, you don’t have time for this two-bit hobby anymore. She’d tried to stop him, saying that she could make money doing the furniture, help them save more for fixing up the house and for the acreage they planned to buy, but he had shoved her roughly aside and said he wouldn’t have her wasting her time and his money on such crap. Then he had looked at her with a cold smile and said, there ain’t going to be no acreage. You think I’m stupid enough to let you tie me down with a mortgage I’d never get out from under just so you can play the grand lady? Not gonna happen. After that she simply gave in. The man she had fallen in love with didn’t exist — he had been the one that had fooled her, and sadly she was the only one who knew it.

The days slid by, unremarked, and she busied herself with keeping the house the way he wanted it. She did the best she could to fix it up though he would give her no money for anything he considered frivolous. If she needed anything — there was no such thing as ‘wanting’ anything — he would take her to the local thrift store. In all the years he’d been alive she had never once bought a brand new pair of shoes or piece of clothing. Their dishes, pots and pans, all their linens, and most of their furniture had all come from second-hand stores. He gave her an allowance for groceries and she had to hand him receipts for every penny she spent. Over time she accepted that this was her life, and if it was not the life she had imagined it would be, well, that was, after all, just life.

When they arrived at his parent’s farm for the funeral Sadie was in shock. It was nothing like she had imagined; it did not match the descriptions Stan had detailed for her. The house was small and weather-beaten and badly in need of repairs and paint. Old vehicles and broken-down farm machinery littered the surrounding yard. Though summer was over, it was only the second week of October, and though nothing would be lush and green, everything that should still be living, wasn’t. The garden was an overgrown mass of dying weeds, the trees were nothing more than skeletal outlines against the lead-grey sky, and looking over a barely standing fence was a dusty brown cow that looked to Sadie to be starving. She looked over at Stan and saw that he was not phased at all by anything they were seeing. So, this had been another lie. She closed her eyes and clasped her hands tightly together.

Nothing could have prepared her for Stan’s mother. She had entered the house expecting to find an elderly woman bereft over the loss of her husband. Gloria was not bereft. Sadie knew that Stan’s parents were in their 70s, but Gloria could have been in her 50s. She was in the kitchen when they entered the house talking loudly on the phone. She had a cigarette in one hand and was absentmindedly tapping ashes into a juice glass sitting on the edge of the counter as she talked. She looked up and registered surprise at seeing Stan, looked over at Sadie and gave her a sour frown. Gotta go, she said, the prodigal just came in with his new wife.

Gloria was wearing a dark, bordering-on-the-colour-of-blood, red dress and black, patent leather high heels. Her poorly dyed blonde hair, done up in a loose knot, straggled down around her shoulders. She was heavily made up and the bright red lipstick she wore had bled into the lines around her mouth, making her look haggard and worn. Well, she said, if it isn’t Stanny-boy and the little lady. Sadie understood everything then, and in that moment of understanding felt such an overwhelming sense of pity for Stan that she reached out and took his hand. He startled at her touch, but did not pull away.

The funeral was a small, sad affair. The men in attendance came up to Stan, his mother and Sadie, and offered muted words of condolence. Most of the men avoided touching Gloria by keeping their hats in their hands, but when they got to Stan, they would loose one to shake his. He was a good man, they said. Hard worker. Really tried. Gave it his best. They looked at Sadie with curious expressions and congratulated her on marrying Stan. None of their wives came with them. When it was over Stan drove them back to the farmhouse, but not before stopping at the small hotel on the main street of town to pick up a case of beer and bottle of whiskey.

That night, after he and his mother had gotten into a loud, drunken screaming match he had clawed his way into bed where he forced himself roughly on her. Sadie cried silently throughout the ordeal and when he had finally finished and rolled off her and passed out, she got up and spent the rest of the night sleeping in a lumpy, overstuffed and dusty-smelling chair in one corner of the room. He seemed not to recall anything the next morning, and when he asked why she had slept in the chair she told him it was because she couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to wake him, knowing he had to drive them back to the city. A look of relief, or was it shame, she asked herself, passed over his face; he accepted her lie and within an hour they were on the road. Gloria did not get up to see them off.

They barely spoke on the trip home, Stan was lost in concentration and Sadie spent the time processing all she’d seen and overheard. Armed with the knowledge that everthing Stan had told her about life on the ‘farm’ was all lies, and that he had very good reasons for those lies, Sadie resolved to do the best she could to prove to him that she was not like Gloria. She could win him back, she could help him become that happy, life-loving guy she’d met once again. Without looking at him, she said softly into the space between them, I love you.

He kept his eyes on the road, but she heard him sigh.

Getting Ready

Chapter 2

Kathy Larson
Feb. 22, 2022

Sadie stood at the sink, her right hip leaning against the edge of the counter. She was looking out the window into the backyard, but wasn’t really seeing anything. Her mind was stuck in a memory from four decades previous; the day she and Stan had moved into this house.

The apple trees in the back west corner were waving gently in the breeze, their new leaves and newly-formed buds seemed to glow almost incandescently in the bright light of this fresh spring morning. If there wasn’t a late frost, there’d be a bumper crop of apples this year. Sadie sighed. They had bought the trees at that little nursery where they had ordered the topsoil for the garden. Stan wanted a big vegetable garden, better and cheaper to grow your own food, he’d told her. She had looked at him in wonder, and with true adoration; this man she was about to marry was such a surprise.

He had grown up on a farm where everything you needed was either raised, harvested or made. Sadie had grown up in the city and the only garden she’d ever tended was the small flower bed her mother had kept. Her mother’s flowers had been the only bit of joy and colour in her world, and when she had died the flowers died too. Sadie had just turned 17 the week before her father finally put an end to her mother. He went to prison and she went into care. She’d never been back to the little house with the peeling blue paint and the sad patch of earth nestled beneath the front window.

She met Stan while she was working as a waitress at a little restaurant in a strip mall close to where she lived. By that time she had moved out on her own and had a small basement apartment in a three story walk-up. The apartment was cold in winter but lovely in summer. She had furnished it almost completely with things she’d found in thrift stores and on the side of the street. If something was at the curb and it looked serviceable she’d drag it home. The library provided her with all the how-to she needed in order to fix things up, and she soon discovered that she had a love and a talent for painting and refinishing furniture. Her little home was bright and airy, filled with colour, and, best of all, peaceful and safe.

The day Stan walked into her life everything changed. He was big, loud and had a laugh that carried her along with it. He’d been coming to the restaurant for a little over a week before he stopped her on his way out after lunch one day and asked if she’d be interested in going out sometime. Until that moment she’d thought she was invisible to him, just the mousy little waitress who brought him his club sandwich with extra fries, large water and a slice of apple pie every day at 11:45. Him, and the crew he was with had established a standing reservation with Gino, the owner of the restaurant, and everyday they trooped in and headed to the large table at the back where it was Sadie’s job to take care of them.

She was a good waitress; attentive, quick and anticipatory of their needs. This came, she knew, from living in an environment of terror. Her mother had taught her early how to read her father’s moods and silences and how to appease them when possible. This also meant, though, that she was constantly on alert for any signs of anger or discontent; she made herself as small and unobtrusive as possible trying as best she could to do her job and get out of their way. Most of them had given up trying to make small talk with her after the first couple of days, but not Stan. He always had a big smile for her, called her darlin’, and left her a decent tip each day. She found herself watching out for him and made sure that it was him she always served first when the orders were ready.

If only she had known, she thought now.

Their courtship had been fast and they were married within six months. During that time he had only ever been patient, kind and indulgent with her. The few times he had stayed at her apartment he had praised her on her ability to make something worn and destined for the garbage look new and usable again, but he wasn’t crazy about her ‘wild’ use of colour. Things were better painted neutral, everyday colours, he said, that way they didn’t stand out, they could fit in anywhere. She saw the wisdom in this and soon began painting things in shades of white, beige and pale grey only. They were still lovely, she thought, but they lacked a sense of life, of vibrancy, but if it meant pleasing him then it was a small thing.

They found the house a month before they were married. It was in an older part of the city, a real fixer-upper — completely neglected, the real estate agent had said — but it had a huge back yard and the price was right. Secretly, she was disappointed that they weren’t going to buy a new house in one of the new neighbourhoods that had sprung up on the outskirts of town, but Stan was adamant about not throwing his money away on crappy construction just to line the pockets of shyster councilmen and their crony business partners. He convinced her that they could make the house look new again with his carpentry skills and her knack for painting and decorating. It would be a solid investment, one they could make a good profit on, and someday they’d build their own new home in the country on an acreage. It was such a convincing argument and she could see how excited he was at the prospect of redeeming this shoddy, worn little house that she couldn’t help getting swept along by his enthusiasm.

The got married by a justice of the peace. There was no honeymoon. He got drunk that night and she cried herself to sleep. In the morning he went and picked up the rented moving truck and they piled her few belongings into it and they moved into the house. They had taken possession two weeks previous and had spent that time cleaning and painting walls, removing old, stained carpet, replacing broken fixtures and, as her mother had once told her, simply nesting. It had been fun working alongside him and he had been full of smiles and laughs and had grabbed her up in big bear hugs whenever they completed one of the projects they’d set themselves. What happened, she wondered. Did I do something wrong? Was he disappointed because their wedding night hadn’t been more special?

When he came back from returning the truck he had a bottle of whiskey and a two-four of beer. She had never seen him buy booze before and seeing this made her think of her father. An involuntary shudder ran through her.

Sadie had told Stan very little about her background, but she had told him her father was an alcoholic and that he had beat her mother to death. He had held her while she told him this and stroked her hair and kissed her gently and promised that he would never let anyone hurt her ever again.

Unable to stop herself from shaking she approached him carefully. “Stan?,” she said in as small a voice as she could, “why are you so angry?”

The look he have her was so cold and filled with contempt it stilled her breath. “I ain’t angry,” he said. “I’m tired. You’ve had me working like a goddamned dog and now I need a break.” He stalked to the refrigerator and put the beer inside. “You got what you wanted — a hardworking husband, a nice house — but this ain’t no free ride, sweetie. You got to earn your keep.” He pulled a glass out of a box, filled it half full with whiskey, added a splash of water from the tap. “I’m hungry. Make something to eat. I don’t care what it is.”

It hit her then. The inevitability of it. Everything, her childhood, her mother’s death, the group home, all of it had all been preparation for this day. She turned inward into the dull and dingy kitchen and began preparing his meal. He stayed outside and waited until she called to tell him it was ready.

A steady, loud beeping interrupted Sadie’s thoughts. Startled, she sloshed coffee over her hand and was mildly surprised to find that it was cold. With a rueful smile she placed the mug into the sink. The tree removal company she’d hired was here. She slipped into the new, bulky, bright yellow sweater she’d bought last week and stepped out into the sunshine, waving at the young man backing his truck into the driveway. Her smile broadened as she walked past all of the colourful plants and flowers spread out across the patio. She’d canned her last damned jar of applesauce.