Monday, July 11, 2011

Nery Legacy (7): Setting Things Straight*

    It had been a busy week. The twins were home from college for the summer, and the school rivalry had come home with them. He’d broken up one fight when Court had shoved Brendan in the hallway upstairs. He’d wound up taking a fist to the chin, and the boys had lost their cars for the rest of the week. He didn’t care whether or not they were eighteen. They were his sons, and they were by God going to respect the rules of the house, even if their mother was too lazy to keep up with what was going on with their sons. Thank goodness for private schools. He wasn’t sure that he wanted Randy raised by a nanny, and he and Carrie were both usually busy with their careers, him in law and her in politics.

    But Malcolm had taken off the week from work, canceling all of his appointments and trying not to be pissed off when Carrie refused to help in the search for their niece. Mal was close to his brothers, and he thought of his nieces and nephew very much as he thought of his own children. If Charlie was missing, it was part of their responsibility to look for her.

    Today was a paperwork day. Malcolm had taken it with him to his brother’s house, where he made a few phone calls and then settled back to go over the documents that he would have to present to the court regarding custody of his niece Maia. Though Raph had been considering moving into the old family home, where Malcolm now sat at the kitchen table (and where their brother Ben lived with his wife and their two daughters, one of whom was currently missing), his older brother had decided that for right now, it was best he sleep on the couch and give his bed to his daughter, when Mal was able to get the final paperwork signed so that everything was tied up tight.

    Here with his brother Ben, everybody was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Charlie, Mal’s sixteen year-old niece, had gotten into a fight with her mother, and disappeared the next day. She’d left a note, saying that she was leaving and not to look for her, and that she’d left because of the fight with her mother. The concern that Mal had was that the fight had become physical. Ruby, Ben’s wife, had slapped her daughter when she found out that the sixteen year-old was pregnant, and when the police came to question the family about Charlie’s disappearance, the facts of the case had come out. So far, there had been no contact from child welfare, but Malcolm had learned that you never trusted the police, and you certainly never talked to him (which of course his brother and sister-in-law had done, breaking the cardinal rule of protecting yourself from a corrupt police system. Malcolm had taped a copy of the constitution to the fridge so that they could read it every day and remind themselves of their rights should the police get funny during the search for their daughter).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nery Legacy (6): The Real Consequences*

    As he took the note from his wife, Ben kept his right arm wrapped protectively around his younger daughter. He wasn’t sure whether or not Ruby was going to snap and lash out at either of them, and after the last couple of days, he found it hard to trust her. They’d had a very enlightening conversation the previous night before bed, when he’d taken a snack up to her so that she wouldn’t go to bed hungry, and he thought he understood his wife a lot better. He didn’t like what he’d heard, and in some ways it made him more uncomfortable, but he also had a new sympathy for Ruby, and he appreciated that she’d finally told him that she was actually jealous of her own daughter, the things that she was able to do, the things she got away with, and her relationship with Ben. He knew that it was a big confession for Ruby, and it had left her broken, crying in his arms for over an hour until she fell asleep. She’d been acting embarrassed all morning, and though he didn’t feel guilty for the strapping that he’d given her the night before, he did feel for his wife.

    More than anything, he was glad that it seemed Ruby had learned something about his daughters, and how he expected them to be treated. He’d threatened her with throwing her out, and he’d meant it. If anything like yesterday ever happened again, he’d put her out without another thought. These were his children, and as a man he felt that he was honor bound to protect them, even from their mother if it was necessary for him to do so.

    Feeling the tension in Clarissa’s body, Ben tugged her close to him and gave her a kiss on the top of her head, smoothing her red hair back. It was still the strawberry blonde of youth, and he could see how it was going to go the way of Ruby’s, a darker red as she got older. He hugged her hard, then rubbed her back. It had been a relatively mild spanking, only about half a dozen quick, brisk pops with the wooden spoon, and nothing that she wouldn’t recover from quickly, but she’d carried on as though he’d taken his belt to her backside. Rissa had always been known for drama, of course, and that thought made Ben smile. Maybe now, after today, she’d be thinking twice about the drama that she caused the next time she had an opportunity. He was going to have to be especially watchful once Raph was in the house with them, considering that his younger brother had a tendency to be surrounded by drama and the last thing that he or his thirteen year-old daughter were going to need was Rissa’s gossip.

    “Clarissa, go on up to your room,” Ben said, giving her another hard hug. When the child let out a sob, he paused, then cupped her face in his hands and gently kissed his nose. “You ain’t bein’ punished, baby girl,” he told her, brushing the hair out of her face where she’d dropped her head and it had fallen in her eyes. “You can take your book or some toys with you. Punishment’s over. Now Daddy just needs to have a talk with Mama.”

    “You are gonna divorce her!” Rissa cried, clear panic in her face.

    “No, baby. Not today.” He didn’t want to promise her that it wouldn’t happen, because he’d been close to that point yesterday, but today... Today he could see the obvious fear in his wife’s face, and right now he was more concerned about Ruby than he was about either of his daughters. She looked like a little girl herself, and for the first time in a long time, he thought he saw a glimpse of the woman he had married when they were still too young to know what marriage meant. “Go on,” he said to Rissa, giving her a little pat on her bottom. “I’ll be up there to check on you when Mama an’ me are done talkin’. I promise.”

Nery Legacy (5): The Day the Earth Stopped Spinning

    “Should I go wake Charlie up?” Mama asked Daddy quietly as she poured his second cup of coffee. Clarissa pushed her own cup forward, silently asking for more for her as well, and then turned to look at her father. She’d noticed how her mother was moving stiffly this morning, and she’d gotten the feeling that she’d been sent out yesterday so that they could fight some more. Most of the time when her parents had a big argument, her mother was much more subdued the next day, and Rissa was observant; she’d put two and two together a year or so ago and realized that her mother got punished the same way that her older sister did. Since Rissa herself almost always managed to skate out of trouble before it got bad enough to earn a spanking, she excluded herself from the assessment.

    “Let her sleep,” Daddy said firmly, looking up at his wife and then gesturing for her to sit down and join him and Rissa for breakfast. “She had a rough day yesterday an’ I think it’s good for her to get the rest right now. Don’t you?”

    “Yes Sir,” Mama said as she slowly, wincingly sat down in her usual chair and took a sip of her coffee. This morning they had fresh scrambled eggs with pancakes. It was a good morning, but then Rissa rarely had a bad morning. She knew that they were poor, but at ten years old, she didn’t fully understand what that meant. Her needs were provided for, and there wasn’t much that she wanted that she didn’t already have. The chickens laid the eggs, and most mornings they ate them, but the pancakes were a special treat.

    “I could go get her,” Rissa offered. “Charlie loves pancakes.”

    “That’s why I made them,” Mama said quietly as she shook salt onto her eggs and then buttered her pancakes. “I’ll keep some in the oven for her when she comes down,” she added with a little sigh.
    It was strange the way that her parents interacted the morning after one of their fights. Rissa didn’t know what to make of it, now or ever, and she looked from one parent to the other until her father shook his head. “Let her sleep.”
    When Daddy turned a knowing look toward Mama, Rissa rolled her eyes. “She’s gonna be sleepin’ a lot now,” she told her parents, staring at both of them as they turned empty looks back at her. “Because, you know, she’s pregnant an’ all that.” Clarissa knew that she wasn’t supposed to know about her sister’s predicament, but she was getting tired of being treated like she was stupid. It was one of the reasons why she’d been so busy on Facebook lately, finding things out before either Mama or Daddy could know things, like Uncle Mal’s divorce, for example. In fact, Rissa thought that she was pretty clever.

    “Clarissa....” Daddy said warningly.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nery Legacy (4): Just What She Deserves

    “Rissa, why don’t you go on out and see to the dogs?” Ben asked his daughter as he came down into the living room where his daughter was curled up on the couch with a book. It was the same spot that he often found one of his daughters. Both were heavy readers, especially with little else to do for entertainment. “Give me about an hour,” he told her, glancing uneasily toward the door to the kitchen. He just hoped that Ruby hadn’t headed out somewhere. He needed to talk to her.

    “But I’m readin’ my book,” Clarissa protested, looking up just as Ben turned his head to look back at her. He raised his eyebrows, and his ten year-old daughter got up with a huff and went to put her book back on the shelf, then crossed her arms over her chest as she headed for the back door and her sneakers. “Fine!” Rissa said, and Ben had to take a deep breath to keep his temper in check. She was ten, and just getting into that time period where things were likely to be difficult both for her and for her parents. He had to be understanding, even if he didn’t understand.

    Ben was sure that Clarissa had heard the conversation between Ruby and Charlie. There was no possible way that she could have missed it, with Ruby shouting the way that she’d been. He could only hope that Rissa knew to keep her mouth shut and not to be spreading rumors about her sister. Charlie was sensitive enough right now without having anything else sparking her insecurities, and the last thing that she needed was to have Clarissa telling people what was going on with her pregnancy.

    When Clarissa had left the room, and he’d heard the back door slam, Ben took a deep breath and went into the kitchen. Sure enough, Ruby was standing at the counter, putting together some dough for bread. The work inside was as never ending as the work  he had to do on the homestead, and he didn’t want to take Ruby away from doing what she had to do. But when she’d slapped the dough into a bowl and covered it to rise, he cleared his throat. “I wanna talk to you in the garage,” he told his wife. They were going to be having a very serious talk, and he didn’t want to have Charlie overhearing it. His older daughter was feeling vulnerable enough without overhearing another fight between her parents.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Nery Legacy (3): Troubles at Home*

    For a week, Charlie had been lying low. She tried to avoid her mother every chance that she got. Her father had relented and finally put his foot down with Mama, telling her that Charlie could work the homestead with him and do her lessons on the go. Though she didn’t particularly like the brutal hard work of the homestead, Charlie was grateful to the point of crying real tears when Daddy had told her that he would allow her to come with him instead of dealing with her mother all day, every day. She was still a little bit sore from the strapping that she’d gotten on the night that she’d broken her grounding, and she didn’t want to risk rubbing her mother the wrong way.

    It had mostly been a quiet seven days. She and Daddy didn’t talk all that much when they were doing their chores, and she found that if she didn’t bring it up, he mostly let her go without doing the lessons at all. It wasn’t that Charlie minded school; what she minded was the way that her mother was constantly on her case and always seemingly looking for reasons to be angry with her. The truth was that she was feeling pretty intimidated, especially after she’d snuck out of the house on Saturday.

    The nightmare that night had been terrible. It was rare that she woke up screaming in fear from a dream. In fact, Charlie thought the last time it had happened was when she was twelve years old. This time, a combination of the alcohol and the punishment had left her weakened, and she’d awakened feeling as though somebody was standing on her chest and strangling her. Daddy had stayed with her all night, rocking her until she fell back to sleep, comforting her and reassuring her that in spite of what she’d done, she was still loved. She’d needed it, and it still hurt her to think that her mother hadn’t been there when she’d needed her.

    Mama had always scared Charlie a little bit. Even when she was little, she’d felt very much as though her mother didn’t particularly like her, and more than that, she was sure that her mother didn’t love her. It had hurt then, but after last Saturday’s punishment, it was really sinking in for Charlie that her mother’s feelings for her weren’t ideal. She’d overheard fights between her parents that left her feeling vulnerable, confused, guilty and ashamed. She’d asked for some things that she’d wanted, and to hear her parents discuss how they couldn’t afford it, and her mother saying that she felt like Charlie was selfish and a brat... Well, those things had broken her heart, and she’d promised herself that she would ask for nothing else.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Nery Legacy (2): Playing Favorites

    The day had been pleasant. The weather was growing warmer, and Ruby enjoyed working outside. The garden was her baby, and it saddened her that her husband, Ben, wound up doing most of the work that she wasn’t able to do because she was inside home schooling their daughters. He’d talked to her about him taking over their older daughter’s education, but she’d asked him to give her one more chance. She had no idea how Charlotte felt about them being indoors together all the time, but if she had, she would have put it out of her mind, anyway. Ben was right; they had to act more like a mother and daughter than like sisters who were constantly sniping at one another. Separating themselves from one another wasn’t going to resolve their differences. This was something that they were going to have to work through, and Ruby wasn’t going to learn patience if she didn’t practice it.

    Because today was Saturday, however, Charlie was out with her father doing the chores that she had been assigned as punishment after the last big fight on Thursday. It was also a way, she hoped, to stop Charlie from continually asking about why she couldn’t see her boyfriend, Greg. The punishment, therefore, served a double-purpose of reminding Charlie to watch her language and the way that she spoke to her parents while also separating her, however temporarily, from a boy that both parents felt was bad for her. Besides, Ruby was pretty sure that Charlie would be exhausted by the time that she was done making up for the chores that she hadn’t done during the week. She’d found three more assigned duties that hadn’t been done, but this time hadn’t passed the information on to Ben, since it was apparent that they’d been left before Charlie had been punished for not putting the horses away on the night of the last big storm.

    Supper had been cleared away, and Rissa was in the living room, curled up on the couch with one of the Harry Potter books. Ruby wasn’t sure about Charlie, who seemed to have gone upstairs to shower and then retreated to her own room. Ruby stood in the kitchen, finishing off the dishes, when her husband came in through the back door. She went to the laundry room door and watched as he pulled his boots off. “I’m thinkin’ about orderin’ some more chicks,” Ben said. “Maybe get us some roosters. Work on sellin’ more of them. Or the eggs. Get a better production goin’ so that we can make more money.” There was a brief hesitation, and then he said, “I heard from Raph this afternoon.”

Nery Legacy (1): Rights and Responsibilities

   It seemed like the days were getting longer, though perhaps that was because spring was creeping into summer, and that was the way that things went that time of year. The days had been getting longer and longer since December, but that wasn’t what was really getting Ben down. He was finding, as time went on, that there was more to do than he could handle, and worse than that was the fact that the money just wasn’t coming in the way that it used to. The family was mostly self-sufficient, but they still relied on the sale of small livestock and their produce stand to make it through some of the more difficult months, especially when winter rolled around and they were surviving off the canned food that Ruby put together and shelved in the cellar for the rougher months.

    Ben was just thinking that maybe it was time to go big. Rabbits and chicks weren’t going to support his family, even if the chickens and the rabbits did produce both meat and manure that could be used to keep their gardens going. The family owned dairy goats and a single cow, of course, along with their three horses, which they kept for both work and pleasure, but that wasn’t going to do what he needed. They had the acreage from when his grandfather had been alive and left the property to him, but they didn’t have the livestock to breed and then to sell for meat or for dairy. He’d have to do the research to decide where they were going to go from here. He had a family to support, and Charlie was getting expensive.

    There was a lot on his mind as Ben walked through the back door of the house and shuffled off his boots. It took him several moments to catch the raised voices, and he frowned, then sighed and shook his head. One, of course, belonged to his oldest, and the other was his wife, Ruby. He ran a hand back through his black hair and ruffled it, then rubbed at his temples before stepping through the back mudroom into the kitchen in his stockinged feet.

    The kitchen was a war zone. Ruby stood on one side of the table and Charlie on the other. Charlie’s hands were clenched into tight fists, and her face was red with anger, tears streaking her cheeks. Ruby’s blue eyes were bright with her own fury, and her red hair looked unkempt. He’d begun to think of it as her “crazy look” that she got when things really deteriorated at home, especially during a schooling session.

    “Charlotte Nicole, go to your room,” Ben said to his daughter, keeping his eyes on his wife with a warning look. “I’ll straighten this out.”