Publish Novellas 9 January 2022
EPISODE 2 – GOD WILLING
When you can’t save everyone, you have to make hard choices to determine who deserves salvation.
Dialogue of four eldest children…
Mattie tells Leland to extinguish the match. “Stop acting weird, boy. Let’s go outside to do our chores. We can talk more out there.”
Leland begins feeding hay to the cows while Mattie milks them. Joann and 11-year-old Bettye enter the barn with eggs from the hen house.
Joann bluntly expresses herself, “I’m just gonna to say what everyone’s thinkin’. We need to run away. But we ain’t got no skills except farming and whoring. Nobody ’round here’s gonna pay us kids to farm.”
Mattie aims a stream of milk from the cow’s utter to squirt Joann, “Wow, I wouldn’t be so candid!”
Bettye asks, “Really, what we’d do for money? How’d we raise the five youngest?”
“I’m not sayin’ it’s right. We’d probably burn in hell for it. We could make good money doing what we already do most every night for free. I’m sayin’ it’s worth considering,” Joann reasserts.
“I don’t want my sisters to be whores. We obviously are in no position to take care of babies,” Leland replies. “No offense, Joann. Bettye, I hate to ask cause yer the youngest here. But ya offered to keep from gettin’ a beating, so has father started on ya?”
“Well, I see and hear what he does to Joann and Mattie and I expect something soon. It seems better than a spanking. When he looks at me bathin’, he says I’ll be ready when I grow some private hair. Sometimes he kisses me on the mouth different than he does when other people are around. But I’m still waiting,” Bettye replies.
“My poor little sister, it’s not something ya should look forward to. If we seem to enjoy it, that’s to keep him from hurting us. As the oldest, if I had offered myself more, Joann might not be pregnant. I rather him take me every night than start in on Bettye. Like Malcolm, we have tough choices to make,” says Mattie. “We need to draw a line in the sand on who can be saved.”
“Y’all don’t like me being blunt, but y’all still haven’t answered how’d we support ourselves,” Joann insists. “Seems I’m the only one willing to earn some money. Mattie has the most experience and said she is willing to do it every night at home.”
“There’s a difference between wanting and willing. I’m willing to sacrifice my body with father to protect my sisters!” Mattie shouts in defense. “Strange men can be more dangerous. There’s many ways they can hurt us. After getting what they want, how do we make them pay? We’ll also get pregnant more often without knowing the daddy. Turning abuse into a business ain’t no a plan. It’s what we’re trying to get away from.
“Malcolm filled my head with ideas about urbanization and industrialization. Factory workers are putting together parts on assembly lines. Mother did it during the war,” suggests Mattie.
Leland responds, “Perhaps in Detroit… Hershey, or Gloucester, not Fayetteville, West Virginia.”
“But there’s all kinds of factory work. Maybe we can package food or work for a newspaper. I’m trying to be optimistic,” Mattie says.
Leland replies, “With optimism, ya need realism too. We haven’t heard from Malcolm since he left. He could be too embarrassed to write us and say it’s not going well.”
Mattie speaks up in Malcolm’s defense, “It’s been less than a year. If he did write us, do ya think father would give us the letter? It takes time to save up enough money for all of us. But if we leave together and share a place, we can help each other, even if we all can’t find work.”
“So, that’s yer plan? We wake up one morning, eat breakfast, walk to the big city, and some of us kids will find jobs,” Bettye objects.
Joann chimes in, “Even if I could walk five hours in my condition, father would hunt us down in the car and tan our hides. Y’all remember how mad he got when Malcolm left.”
“I still don’t know why he spanked me—or any of us—when Malcolm is the one who left,” bemoans Bettye.
“We shouldn’t have to go on foot. Besides the car, we also have the wagon that we used to pile into together for church,” Leland says.
Mattie snaps her fingers and shouts, “Church! Perhaps it’s time for these arrows to aim for the church this Sunday. The pastor might be able to get help for us. But, either way, the following Sunday we’ll load up the wagon and roll out of here for the last time.”
“Are we really going to leave our younger brothers and sisters?” asks Bettye while stroking a horse.
“One is still in a crib. Mother will have to look after them. We can’t kidnap babies or nurse them. Also, nine of us would attract a lot more attention than four. When they get old enough, they’ll do like us. They’ll find a way out,” Mattie assures.
“It almost seems they would be better off in heaven,” says Leland.
“We all would,” Joann replies.
“There is a Promised Land on earth. So dust off yer Bibles and hymn books. This Sunday we’re goin’ to church,” Mattie concludes. “Now, let’s take these eggs and milk into the house so mother can make breakfast.”
Mattie and Jamie discussion…
To reduce the shock of leaving, Mattie preps her mother, Jamie. On Friday she says that the four children would like to go to church on Sunday.
Jamie says, “It would not be wise for Joann to go in her condition. What happens in the family should remain… private.”
“But mother, she is the one that needs the most spiritual encouragement,” Mattie protests.
“Perhaps that’s true. If my hands weren’t full with the other five children, I would like to go too. I’m thinking of how ostracized yer sister will feel as others gossip about her,” says Jamie. “Yer father will not want reproach brought upon his house.”
“What if I go with Leland and Bettye this week? If it seems appropriate, Joann can come with us the following week,” Mattie suggests.
“Yer father is the one ya need to convince,” Jamie replies.
“I’ll do my best. Something else I’m curious about…. Ya don’t have to answer…. What father does… to Joann and me…. Does it make ya jealous or angry with us? I don’t understand why he needs us… unless ya not able or willing.”
“My sweet child, these are not things a mother should have to discuss with her daughters. I can’t tell y’all to like it or hate it. Yer father is sick from the war. So he expresses his love in that way. The alternative is violence. I didn’t approve of his beating y’all bare behinds. But what could I do?
We’re all family—even Joann’s baby when born.” Bowing her head in tears, Jamie admits, “Look how many siblings ya have. I don’t withhold myself from yer father. Sometimes…, I hope ya understand…. Sometimes… a man needs more love than one woman can give.
“By satisfying yer father, y’all girls aren’t hurting me or making me jealous—whether y’all experience some pleasure or not. The Good Book says to honor yer father. That’s what yer doing in my mind. So for peace in the household, it’s something I’ve come to accept that calms his moods.”
“Perhaps I shouldn’t say, but sometimes it can feel nice, even though it’s wrong. I don’t want to like it but resisting makes it painful. He often asks for extra things. They’s as embarrassing to say as for ya to hear. Through the years, it wasn’t clear if ya didn’t understand what was happening or knew and hated me. Hearing yer acceptance makes me feel less guilty, I guess. We don’t have to talk about this again.”
“I know what Leland likes. It’s alright. Y’all girls don’t have to tell me. But pregnancy may result from some of it. That’s something we can talk about and I can help y’all with,” Jamie assures.
“I’m surprised ya never lectured me on adultery and say we’re honoring him. But this talk was good, ’cause yer not mad at me for doing whatever. I don’t feel embarrassed around ya any more.”
“Do me a favor, please. Be careful what y’all say to the pastor. If yer father lets y’all go, listen to the sermon, pray, and receive prayers. But don’t say anything that puts me or yer father in a bad light.”
Without uttering another word, Mattie concludes with a hug before walking to the bedroom she shares with two sisters.
Mattie and Joann converse…
Joann is eager to ask, “Well, what’d she say? Can we all go to church?
“We’re going to have to ease ya in. This Sunday, Bettye, Leland, and me can go and talk to the pastor. Next Sunday, we’ll all go,” says Mattie.
Looking dejected, Joann says, “Y’all planning to leave me behind… because I’m pregnant.”
Sitting next to her on the bed, Mattie places her arm around Joann and assures her, “Ya just dunno how much I love ya. I’m takin’ ya outta here even if I have to fight father! We just need to ease into this idea of going to church… so father won’t get suspicious. Between us, I’m not showing yet, but I suspect I’m pregnant too. We need to support each other.”
“Why can’t Leland be the one that stays behind?” asks Joann.
“First, he’s gonna drive the wagon. Second, mother is afraid yer going out in public while yer showing will put father in a bad way. Over the next week, ya can sew a shawl that hides yer pregnancy. Cut apart empty burlap sacks from the feed meal and work in some ruffles or lace. It should be both pretty and warm. That’ll solve father’s objections for the following Sunday when we all leave,” Mattie assures.
This excites Joann and restores her confidence. In appreciation, she kisses Mattie, who returns the kiss, holding her tighter and longer than expected. Joann then begins sketching ideas.
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