Qualified Entry: Fiction Category
By: Lois Fowler Barrett
Mondays were never good. Loretta Pulliam had the day off from a part-time job. She and her husband of less than three years went shopping for yet another new vehicle. Nothing was agreed upon. He wanted to “mull it over,” a phrase she had come to dread. It always meant she would be spending a large sum. He had no reserve funds, but as her attorney said, she was vulnerable to people she loved.
They returned home to relax in the living room, Loretta biding time, Lance resting a disabled back. Only one and a half years after the wedding he was totally disabled. Still his mind was churning. He doggedly pursued how they would buy this big ticket item, and should they?
Loretta reflected — this new house with it’s vaulted ceiling, three bed rooms, two baths, a large yard, wasn’t that enough? We just sold the motor home I bought and the house I paid for in the south. We sold the camper and pickup I had before we married. He’s never satisfied. For a moment resentment filled her heart.
Sitting beside the couch on a stool, looking into the expression on Lance’s face, she brightened. There he sits, all handsome and self-satisfied and self-righteous that he takes care of me. I just can’t remain serious with him looking like that.
Loretta puckered her lips, smacking the air with a kissing sound, thinking it cute.
Wham! The sudden flat-handed blow twisted her fifty-nine year old neck. This was a first. Men don’t hit women. Loretta waxed silent with pain. Stunned, mouth hung open, she finally closed it, jumped up and started to hurry away. I just wanted him to know I love him. Well, not exactly true, I wanted to be a smart-alec.
As she backed away, anger overrode fear. Unversed in this sort of action from a man, she moved, pushed right up in his face and spat out words born of anger— devoid of fear:
“Don’t ever hit me again,” she pinched out of stiff lips. “In fact, pack up your stuff, get in your truck and head south where you belong, old man!” Then naive Loretta turned her back.
Injured back no hindrance, Lance leaped from the couch and in seconds, slammed her from behind. Loretta felt herself propelled across the room where she bounced off the coffee table, prostrate on the floor. As she attempted to rise, he jerked her to her feet and slung her head-first against the bedroom door jamb. She crumpled down — half in-half out of the entrance — Lance astride her back, pounding, pounding, would the pounding ever stop?
Lord, I’m coming home flashed through her mind, born in the panic of never-before experienced fear Eternity passed — the pounding stopped. The sixty-one year old abuser rose to his six feet. Exhausted, a surgery-riddled back screaming for relief, he moved long legs to step over her body and enter the bedroom. Quick-tempered Lance was instantly sorry but could not say so.
Suffering, Loretta couldn’t believe this. She remained still, a puzzled mind sorting out the event. They had attended church yesterday and he seemed okay. He loved going to church services every time the door was open. In fact, it was his criteria for moving north. She was submissive in that aspect, in spite of believing one time a week on Sunday morning was enough.
Loretta opened her mouth, but no sound came. Voiceless, afraid to utter a sound, she questioned his action. What happened to him over a little fun? Her late husband had never dared lay a hand on her, no matter what she said or did. What to do next? Should she lie still — rise — run? There was no sound from the bedroom. Loretta dared to move.
Pulling legs up to her chest in a fetal position, she checked for broken bones. Okay so far. She straightened out, pushed upward with both arms, then raised up on knees bruised and hurting. From there she crept to the dining table, pulled up and stood, hand on the top. Contrite, the battered woman wanted only to understand her fault, without fear.
A chair was handy, Loretta sat down, considering her predicament. Facing the bedroom door to watch for Lance, she groped behind the chair, blindly reaching for a stand holding the telephone. Fingers found the receiver. She lifted it, gingerly bringing it forward.
Suddenly he was there again. He must have heard her dial, even though he professed hearing problems. He yelled in a strange voice.
“You call your son, the cops, your brother, anybody, I’ll do it again.”
Abject fear enveloped her psyche. His fist was too close to her face. She hung up.
Be calm, be calm. Don’t rile him again. He’s stronger than you — you’re aging. Wait a few minutes, then speak. You’ve not dealt with this part of him before. Lie about what you’re actually doing, then follow up.
“I’m just calling the bank to find out if they’re open,” she said softly, then lost control of
the resolution to remain calm, and said, “We need to separate our money before you pack your clothes and go back south where you came from.” Oh, good lord! What a stupid statement? Fortunately Lance didn’t respond. She looked at him, noting he appeared confused.
His hearing had digested only the part where they should separate the money. As doubt invaded troubled thoughts, he remained silent. Uncertainty filled grey eyes below a wrinkled brow as Lance turned back to the bedroom. From the closet, he pulled out a suitcase and began a random search for his belongings.
Lance, too, was stunned by his actions. What just happened? This is the end, this woman is not anything like my late wife. Why did I do this?
Was he sorry? Yes, but every once in a while a woman needs the snot slapped out of her he rationalized, then justified the act by asking himself: didn’t I tell her this more than once during this crazy marriage? I cain’t learn her nothin’. She knows it all. High and mighty, that’s what, with all her education. And that mouth —
Loretta sat still, thinking how she despised battered women, deemed them cowards who couldn’t leave an abusive man. Now here I sit, scared, bruised, full of pain in the left side above my waistline. What to do?
She dialed a number known by heart: her bank. A friend answered. Loretta needed a familiar voice. She stifled a sob, she would not cry — not in front of anyone. The woman of iron had an image to maintain.
“We need to change bank accounts tonight if you’re going to be at the bank,” she said, adding a specific request that it be done in private. The whisper of her voice told Shirley this was not an ordinary transaction.
“I’ll wait for you,” came the answer.
No one should witness the bruise on her face—makeup covered the redness.
Shirley was waiting at her desk when they entered the bank and rose to assist them. Loretta hurried to a private room with Shirley. She had known this woman for years, in fact they attended the same church. Lance was an unknown acquaintance for Shirley. That sorry man was left standing at a teller’s window.
Loretta pulled up her blouse revealing to Shirley a large, ugly spot – already turning blue – on her left side. Unexpectedly, Loretta’s resolve to not cry ended. Shirley said nothing. Lance was courteous withdrawing his money, his nature in public. Everyone here who met him liked the sweet and gentle man. He hid his temper well. Hadn’t he been appointed a deacon back home in the south where women knew their place? He entered the room — papers signed — it was over. He had relinquished her money spent on the first home down south. Only recently did she spend it to buy here, moving against his wishes.
Back at the house – the one with so much promise for Loretta – Lance hurried in and out, packing things into his truck. Finished, he eased through the door for a final check on his meager possessions. He made sure Loretta saw tears in his eyes and running down his cheeks. He was practiced at doing the little-boy-sorry-sympathy thing.
Loretta concentrated, alert, noting his pistol in a pocket. This parting lacked compassion on her part. She had already arranged to meet with her attorney one of the trips to his truck when he couldn’t hear. For a moment she held back , then relented. Her chin quivered. They hugged and parted.
Of course she called her family, scared and crying. Minutes later her daughter entered the house. When they heard Lance had a pistol, Loretta was urged to find another place to stay for the night: with them. She refused.. Never would Lance hurt her that way —he just lost his temper.
Her daughter Suzie grew angry and said, “Don’t come crying to us if he hurts you again.” Of course she would say that. She was experienced in abuse. Besides, hadn’t Lance already alienated Loretta from part of the family because of hitting one of the little ones for no reason. Loretta knew Suzie would notify the entire family. They would admonish her.
Tuesday morning Loretta appeared before her attorney, leaving a contrite man waiting outside in his pickup. They came separately: he from a motel, Loretta from home. It was quick. He was called in after she made the accusations, agreed to pay not only for the divorce, but alimony as well. Alimony went against southern pride, but he knew she could have jailed him, the attorney her friend, not his. Papers signed, Lance departed. He need not be present at the courthouse he was informed. This was okay with him. He couldn’t wait to distance himself from this crazy woman. His family had been right. She could never fit in.
On Wednesday Loretta became single again. She expected to feel something, but there was nothing. I don’t even feel grief, not like I did when Walter died. I should have stuck to my vow to never marry again. It was all just too fast.
In retrospect, Loretta could only question: How had this happened? A promise of tender love to cover the dry spell of the last twelve years gone in a moment. Another sad week in a senseless life.
* * * *
Half way to his southern refuge, Lance’s fantasies of having a woman of substance vanished in black despair. What went wrong? Two lonely, past middle age people just couldn’t get it together. ‘Besides,’ he thought, ‘her money played out and I cain’t afford her no more. She don’t understand about my temper. It don’t last long. Belle accepted it, why not Loretta? Didn’t I tell her that before we sold the house she paid for, before we moved her up there to a home in the north? I didn’t want to move. Divorce was mentioned, but it was just that, a mention. It’s too cold up there anyways. Besides, she owns a mouth I cain’t stand. I told her that a month after we married. She’s just too hi-ka-falutin’ for me. Now that I’ve had so many back surgeries, I don’t need a woman. Goodbye.’
Practical-minded Loretta sat in the empty house wondering, can I live on twenty hours work a week, even with the alimony? Yes, I can. I’ve got a secret, old boy, I didn’t spend all of it. I’ve got a pension coming when I reach sixty. I’m a survivor.
Soon the telephone calls began. Both expressed regret. Lance had to obey his pastors to go north and repair his marriage. He always obeyed them. She acquiesced.
Weeks passed, and the decision to return was made, yet Lance grew fearful as he neared the house. He almost turned his vehicles and headed back.
He wasn’t alone in anxiety. It’d been only three months, and here he was, towing a trailer. Loretta’s heart quickened. He’s still handsome. But where did he get money to buy a trailer? He charged it of course. She realized how fruitless to pay off his credit cards when they first married, yet smiled.
Lance parked the trailer behind the house until marriage. Never would he offend God by staying in the house. That wasn’t “right.” She had to know he was sorry. Hadn’t he come back?
Against all she learned about battered women, naivety, loneliness and fear stifled doubt. It never occurred to her he would ever break his promise to never hit her again.
Loretta noted the dark ski. It was Monday again. She took him back again and again.