I struggle to my feet, straighten my back, lift my chin, then he hits me again. This time I fall down and stay down while he counts, “…eight, nine, ten.” He walks out the trailer door and slams it hard. The latch don’t catch and the door pops open. I lay on the floor and watch Roy Tupkin cross the dirt yard and disappear into the woods.
My world’s gone sideways again.
“Sadie girl,” Daddy’s spirit voice comes soft from behind my open eyes, “you got yourself in a pickle this time. No two ways about it. That husband of yours won’t stop until you and your baby draw your last breath. You don’t even look like yourself no more. He broke about every piece of sweet in you. You gonna let him break your spirit, too? You gonna do nothing?”
I’m tired, Daddy. Wore out. Roy don’t just beat me, he beats me down. Let me rest a spell. I don’t know if I can lift my head just yet.
Now Daddy’s voice comes from the yard where a lone wind rattles late summer oak leaves so they sound like hollow bones. “If I could follow the bastard and kill him for you, I would, baby girl, but it don’t work like that.” His voice drifts toward the rusty red truck up on blocks. “Don’t lay there too long, Sadie. You don’t need rest.” His words fade, “You need…”
What, Daddy? What do I need? I listen for him but he’s gone.
Percy scampers in from the hunt with a dead chipmunk. He drops his gift by my hand. When I don’t move, he nudges it close until I raise a finger and touch the fur still warm. Then he crawls on the small rise of my belly and curls up. Purrs vibrate clean through to my spine.
I need to get away, Percy, but don’t know how. Gotta be careful.
Percy listens good but he’s short on advice. I can’t think what to do right off with my brain muddled from this morning’s beating, so I gather strength to move. Shadows grow longer, and cold air glides across the door jamb giving me goose bumps. I roll over gentle to my side, and pieces of green plastic radio, and little Percy slide off without complaint. I put my palms on the floor and push to my knees. My arms tremble. My heart pounds in my ears. A bloody smear on the floor marks where my head landed. I brush sticky hair off my temple, hold on to the counter and pull up, dizzy, one hand on my baby bump. I don’t know I’m crying until salty tears sting the cut on my cheek. I thought I’d used up all my tears.
“You know what you gotta do?” Daddy’s voice is back, burrowing inside my ear.
I do? Tell me and I’ll do it.
“You’ll figure it out. You got smarts you don’t even know about yet.”
Daddy loves me better in death than he ever did in life. In life, when I was ten, and my pale hair in crooked braids, me sitting on an overturned bucket in a corner of the kitchen, watching the men around the table gamble, he threw a night with me in the poker pot instead of five dollars he don’t have. Granny and Aunt Marris never heard what he did, and I don’t say cause they’d take a belt to him and take me away from him when he needs me. Daddy won the hand. Said he counted on it. But he would have made good on his bet if he’d lost. He won’t go back on his word.
Daddy hung bones on the walls inside our house like some folks hang pictures of Jesus or give-away calendars. They were mostly dried out skulls he found hunting or tending the still. He ran twine through their empty eyes and wound the twine on a ten-penny nail high on the wall. He had the skulls of fox, bear, bobcat and panther, and the ribcage of a bear. Daddy even had a man’s skull in the lot. Found it in a cave near a rockslide that pinned the poor soul down til he wasted away. Said it was likely a miner or a dreamer looking for rubies and stones we don’t find round here. At night, under moonlight streaming through the front window, those bones turned polished pale and glowed like pieces of ghosts.
Granny won’t set foot in our house cause of daddy’s bones. Said it was queer. Said it won’t natural. Said it was a heathen thing to do. I asked daddy why he brought such things inside when nobody else did. He grinned and said, “One time these bones was wrapped in flesh and muscle and brains. They might have fought a good fight to the end. But in the end, even the smart ones is just bones with all the power gone. Looking at them makes me think different about power and petty things.”
I hear he didn’t start hanging bones on the wall til mama left.
Some folks say daddy was a peculiar soul. Some said he was a thinking man. He was funny, kind and always a pinch of sad the years I knew him, cause the pitiful truth is he got nothing from loving mama cept me left behind.