How the Stories End
No one would understand why I’m here, so I’m sure you don’t either—at least you don’t yet. But I promise you will. I’m going to tell you a story and then you’ll understand. There is a method, as they say, to this madness. Oh, and you will have the opportunity to help with the ending to the story I am about to tell you.
Let’s see—our story begins with a child, a child whose favorite Saturday morning were when her mother would sit beside her on the floor and watch cartoons. Her mother would wrap an arm around her then our child would snuggle in real close. It was one of their mother-daughter rituals, played out when the mother didn’t have too much housework to do. What you must understand is that the most delightful part of this ritual was the mother laughing and giggling right along with the child. Yes, this simple act on the part of the mother transformed those cartoons into something magical, a memory to be cherished. I’m sure you see that when our child was five years old, the only cruelty to exist in her world could be seen in “Tom and Jerry” cartoons. Very quaint, don’t you think? Or is that sort of childhood existence antiquated? Quaint or antiquated? What do you think? Little of both, I’d say. Quaint in the “AWWW” kind of way. Antiquated in the “Leave It to Beaver” kind of way.
The mother of this little girl was dating this man whom the girl first called “Mister Frank”. Eventually, this man graduated to being called “Uncle Frank”. Then just as our poor girl had grown used to calling him “Uncle Frank”, her mother asked her to please call him “Dad”. Our girl wasn’t really thrilled with this development but complied with the request upon realizing that Frank’s steel blue eyes were going to be at the dinner table every night. The girl figured that since Frank was going to be there and yelled at her only if she played too long on the jungle gym when he came to pick her up from school, he deserved the title. Starting to understand now? I thought so.
Well, one night when the girl’s much older brothers were staying with their real father, this girl’s mother and new dad decided to have an evening out. She watched her mother put on her make-up, waiting in anticipation of their favorite ritual. The last step of her mother’s make-up procedure was applying lipstick. The moment came. Her mother turned to her and said, “Do you want some lipstick on like Mommy?” The girl nodded. The mother laughed, applied a little lipstick to her daughter’s lips, and then lifted the little one to the mirror so that she could inspect her grown-up lips. The girl, like all little girls, thought her mother the most beautiful woman in the world. But unlike most little girls, she knew that she would never be beautiful like her mother. But that is another story, for another time, and a totally different situation.
Soon after this small, touching mother-daughter moment ended, the mother read our little one a story—Sleeping Beauty or Snow White or Cinderella, which one doesn’t matter. This isn’t a story that needs details like that. Suffice it to say that it was one of those stories that we pour into the minds of little girls so that as adult women, they suffer a strong sense of disillusionment with the world. After the story, the mother tucked the girl into bed and whispered, “Don’t be afraid now. Kathy, from next door, will be right downstairs if you need anything.” The mother leaned over and kissed the girl goodnight. The girl felt her mother’s eyelashes flutter against her cheek. You see, the customers in the restaurant where the mother worked often debated whether those eyelashes were real or fake—they were so unnaturally long. But the girl’s mother never used mascara. Starting to understand your situation here, aren’t you? Yes, very good. But let me continue with our story. Pay attention now. Remember, you get to help with the ending to this little story.
The mother turned out the light and closed the door. The scent of the White Shoulders perfume her mother always wore lingered to give the girl comfort in the dark. You know, she never, ever felt fear of the Boogey-Man who’d snatch her away as she slept and then cut her up into a thousand little pieces to eat—as her older brothers promised he would do one dark night—because that scent, her mother’s scent, protected her.
That night, the little girl of our story could not sleep. She tossed and turned and played with her stuffed animals. She even thought about going downstairs to the sitter, Kathy, to see if she could watch TV, but she knew that Kathy prided herself on being the dutiful teenage babysitter and would not allow it. It felt like forever before she heard the front door open and her Mom’s voice. After she heard the babysitter leave, she opened her bedroom door and started to go down the stairs. But that sound. Yes, you know, the sound of angry voices pounded up the stairs and against her ears. She crouched down, like this, and held onto the poles in the banister.
The blasting sound of a hand hitting a face shattered the angry voices. Then silence. An oppressive silence. Like the depth of sea where implosion occurs. Then she heard her mother’s soft, careful footsteps, the click of the lock on her bedroom door, and finally the muted clatter of the chain latch being pulled across the door. After that, the girl heard only that silence again.
Pounding. Pounding. The girl felt sure the house was being pounded apart. The crunch of the chain latch breaking finally stopped the pounding. Dad yelled things the girl didn’t understand. Her mother whispered something. The blasting sound of skin hitting skin again and again thundered against the girl’s ears. The thud of something hitting a wall shook the poles of the banister which the girl’s tiny hands held. Then that blasting sound thundered again and again and again. Frantic and rhythmic.
Finally, a searing whine of silk ripping stopped Frank’s yelling and that blasting sound.
“No, Frank. No.” She heard her mother whisper.
She heard Frank snicker and grunt, “Do you want to wake up your precious little girl?” The girl didn’t hear her mother say anything more. The only sounds the girl could hear after that were her heart pounding, her mother’s muffled crying, and Mr. Frank’s grunting.
The girl’s mother usually came upstairs to her room and hugged her until she’d wake. The next morning was not usual. The mother called her down to breakfast. The girl went downstairs to the kitchen and sat at the table. Her mother turned around from the stove with a plate of scrambled eggs and her left eye protruding from its socket. The only thing holding the eye in place was the nearly swollen shut lid. The entire left side of her mother’s face was splotched with red, green, purple, blue, and ash black bruises. You’d think there would be a few spots of regular flesh colored skin left. But there wasn’t.
The mother saw the look on her daughter’s face and said, “Don’t worry. I was trying to get up into the attic this morning to hide Christmas presents and I fell off the ladder. I’m okay.” The little girl ate her scrambled eggs and toast and went off to school.
Oh, you know the girl’s mother and Frank divorced the following fall, don’t you? It’s sort of funny, you know—the few words the girl’s mother would say about Frank. When the mother thought that the girl was old enough to understand the answer to her questions, the mother explained, “Frank had been a friend for years. Used to come into the restaurant all the time. When your father and I divorced, Frank was after me to marry him. And I’d always said no, laughed it off as a joke. But your father gambled. Took too much money from the business and well…Bills piled up. This house was all I had. They put it up for auction to pay those outstanding bills. Frank found out about it all, went to the auction, and bought the house. He said he’d throw me and my kids out on the street if I didn’t marry him. I couldn’t find work. I was blackballed in the restaurant business. The house was all I had left. I did what I had to do.”
I did what I had to do. There is wisdom in those words. And this wisdom was not lost on the girl in our story. As I am sure, it is not lost on you. You know, the girl never did tell her mother what she had heard that night. Oops, that’s the first lie I’ve told in telling you this story. I want to be true to the facts of our story and honest with you so that you understand. The girl did tell her mother what she’d heard, but, you see, it was too late to matter then.
But for you to understand why I’m here–why I do what I have to do today, I must advance our story in time. It’s been twenty-two years since that night, and the girl of our story is grown. She visits her two-year-old twin nieces and her five-year nephew on a Saturday morning. She cooks breakfast for everyone. Her brother and sister-in-law wander off to take care of various household chores. The kids sit, watching cartoons, and she sits on the floor next to her nephew. The twins toddle over and sit in her lap. Yosemite Sam is flattened to the width of a pancake and stars whirl about his head. A second later, Yosemite Sam has popped back into shape. The girl draws her nieces closer and rubs her nephew’s head. Her nephew laughs at the cartoon and then looks up at her. She laughs with him, and that makes him laugh even harder at Bugs Bunny’s next exploit.
Now do you understand? Do you see why I had to follow you when I saw you at that gas station? You didn’t know I was following you—I know. I arranged to purchase this that day. I never realized so much paperwork was involved in such a purchase. I find it has a coldness that is appropriate for our story and it provides a plethora of possible endings. I am not sure how our situation, our story, ends to tell you the truth. Are you? But I do know where to end the story of our girl and where your help is needed. Yes, I see that understanding beginning to dawn in your faded eyes.
We will return to our girl some months after Frank and her mother separate. Frank wants back into the whole marriage and stepfather thing. So dear, Frankie boy takes her mother out on a date. The girl is at home with one of her older brothers. Late that night, the girl’s mother hobbles into the house, her right arm and leg scraped and bleeding. The girl and her brother, Tom, were watching television in the living room. Tom ran to the door and scooped his mother up and carried her to the sofa. Tom kept whispering, “What’d he do? What’d he do?” But their mother didn’t answer. Tom got an ice pack for his mother’s ankle and kept asking her what had happened.
Finally, she said, “He was upset and threw me out of the car. I’m okay though. Nothing is wrong that won’t heal.” Her ankle would look like a tree trunk the rest of her life, odd looking detail on such a small-boned woman. If only you’d had the opportunity to see it.
Frank came back to the house that night. There was something more he had to do or say, I suppose. When the doorbell rang, Tom ran into the kitchen, his little sister running behind him. Their mother screamed for them to return to her. Tom snatched the big butcher knife from the drawer. Then he ran to the front door and opened it, his sister standing beside him. The mother screamed. The girl couldn’t hear what her mother screamed. All the girl could see was Frank’s cold steel blue eyes. Tom kept the screen door locked and told Frank, “Go away or I’ll use this.” The girl focused her eyes on the lock of the screen door. She willed it to open. She knew God had to make that lock move. She knew her brother’s thumb would miraculously twitch. The lock and door would open. Tom would do it. Jesus would answer her prayers. Mama said Jesus always listened to little ones. Jesus would give Tom strength. She would help her brother.
Frank laughed. “And what’s a pimpled faced shrimp gonna do with a big knife? You let me in my house, you little bastard.”
Well, the girl’s neighbors had heard the commotion, their huge construction worker neighbor, Mr. Mike, came outside at that point. Remember? I know you do. “What’s going on out here?” he said in that huge bass voice he had. He scared Frank. Didn’t he? Frank ran to his car—like a frightened puppy with his tail between his legs.
Now you understand. Yes, I can tell by the expression in your faded blue eyes, you finally understand the story. You know. Maybe you think you understand why I am here.
But there is one part of the story about the girl that only you can tell. You tell me how it ended. Then together we will write the end to your story together. We will write without anger. Without passion. Without compassion. We will write it as a simple ending. A way to tie up all the loose ends to the story of this girl, her mother, and the man with faded blue eyes. However, before we can do that, you must answer one question.
Was it all in the little girl’s head? Or when she was standing beside her brother, was she screaming, “Kill him! Please, Tom. Tom, kill him!”
© 2019 M. A. Morris
I am a retired teacher, enjoying said retirement. I have been active in the gay and lesbian community since I threw away my Ken doll at the age of four.
You can read more of my writing at Hearing The Mermaids Sing