by Marianne Renn
Why me? At twenty-six, I am the keeper of the heart, the holder of the ties that bind us together. I didn't ask, I inherited the task from Mom. And just like her, I wouldn't refuse.
The world is spinning and the children have to be fed, four mouths constantly open — He is ranting. — driven to school, homework drills. — He will stand trial when his mind clears. Washing, ironing and wondering what I will do.
What should I do? How can I help? Where is his baby?
Curtains billow in warm winds, blow dust through the screen and shift the blank sheet of paper I am trying to fill with the right words. Mom is dead. Why isn't she here to do this, instead of me? Sage from the hills flavors the breeze, brings sweet memories of my brother as he creates for my sister and me the story of the little girl who lives in the cake. Every night, before we sleep we beg him for more. He is nine and his patience is endless. – The pretty yellow flowers of my curtain shimmer in their white polyester field, flutter up and then down.
His blood runs in her veins. Will she hate herself? Hate that part of her that is him? How will she grow in hate? Will she know the good person he used to be? Before the drugs. – I have to cook dinner and the laundry waits.
Row on row of white cloth flutters, dries in the hot sun, the ultra-violet germ killer. It burns the microscopic violators of my children's skin. It warms my arms and hair, so I sit and soak up the magic rays until they burn little patterns in red patches on my open arms. I retreat inside, to hide.
How do I feel? What is stirring inside? Push it down. Everyone is looking to me to be the glue. I can't run away from this. (Where is my sister? Twenty-three and married three years, she could help. Why always me, and she gets to ride free?)
How do I feel? He can't be Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. What does that mean? He did it; he's guilty. How can I comfort him when he has done such a horrible thing?
The heavy pen moves slowly across the paper, stumbles on the perfect raised flower, on the plastic tablecloth underneath. I trace around and around it, but I can't find the words. I must find the words. He is waiting for me to tell him I forgive him, but how can I forgive him? Can someone else write this for me? But I mustn't let down. Start again. Fight the feeling. Don't look around, just straight ahead.
Details. The details. I can't know the details. I'm afraid of the words that will switch on the anger. – Math drills, reading drills, and Mommy and Me preschool class. –The rifle was so small. Only to kill rabbits. – Not yet three, my daughter's small pudgy arms encircle and comfort her twin brother, who cries. She is strong and waits to hand him off to me then runs to play. I dry his tears, stand near, and tell him one day he will be brave, like her. – How could she die from one small bullet? – I have to feed the children and wash all the sheets. They all wet the bed last night. – How could this happen? To us.
We will go to court to fight for the baby. She needs protection from the memories, the gossip, the bias. Don't tell the children. Not yet. Just wash them and feed them and drive them to school, and keep up the drills.
What do I feel? Thy will be done. Thy will? My will? His will? Why will I have to take on this burden? Why won't my sister? She is riding on me. Will David? No, David will disinfect his hands, wash his conscience clean. No help with the lawyer's fees, I will work at night, then get up and feed the children, and drive them to school, and do the laundry, and cook the meals, and pick them up, and go back to work. Why me? Let this cup pass from me. Thy will be done. No one offers to help. They let me. I will be strong and will be strong. They will let me be strong.
Raindrops pour down the windshield as I wait in the parking lot after work, in the middle of the night, for the squall to blow over so I can go home to sleep. Large, round, wet, insistent, they pound the shell around me, and I wait, hoping they will go away. But the weariness is stronger, and I drive, slowly, with wipers whipping back and forth, showing me a small opening in the storm, and I head through it and hope it will lead me home.
The baby. Her huge green eyes stare at me, and the long dark lashes flutter down then up. His blood, my blood, Mom's and Dad's. And the blood of her dead mother. All of us in one small being. She is in my arms, warm and soft and beautiful. Eyes wide, trusting me to provide, and the love pours unbidden like milk from my breast. And from that moment she is mine. We fly away and she doesn't cry. She looks happy and curious. But I worry she will scream, "Who are you? You aren't my mother!" And will she know Scott? And will she remember that day? She wasn't there. She has nothing to remember.
The building is red brick and the doors are locked so we knock. We knock to get in. The others shuffle, they mumble, they stare, on meds. I hold the baby tight. But Scott looks normal and happy to see his baby. She has nothing to remember, but he tells me at six months she screamed, and he smacked and smacked her bottom until she emptied her bowels in temper. At that moment I hate him. But I mustn't. I am the glue who holds us together — the keeper of the heart, the holder of the ties. I will be strong. Will be strong.
So I smile at him but pull her close, and vow he will never, ever hurt her again.
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Marianne Renn lives in southern California and enjoys reading, writing, traveling, and her family. After teaching writing to college students for twenty years, she’s finally enjoying the freedom to explore her own work.