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Everything was still. Not even a mouse, as the Christmas rhyme went, could be heard from my dimly lit room. Ironically enough, it was the holidays in our household. The year was 1922, and I was determined to help my mother out in the kitchen.
The holly from the banisters mixed with my mother’s scent; a daft perfume with a slight hint of nutmeg. I wanted to help her with the various chores; she had many things to do, and I thought myself old enough to finally be able to give a helping hand. My father found this rather unusual considering the rest of my family lazed around in the living room, doing all assortments of things that were unaccommodating.
“But Daddy, I want to help Momma!” I whined, when he told me to leave her alone. I couldn’t help but form a blooming prejudice against my father; believing that women should be left in the kitchen and that no one should help them; it was their own duty as a wife. I believed otherwise, and I thought Momma always seemed frantic around the holidays. It wasn’t fair that she had to run around making sure everything was perfect when we sat on our lazy bums and did nothing. She would worry about burning the turkey and just had to make sure her rum cakes were especially delicious. I wondered endlessly throughout the years if she did this to please herself or to satisfy Daddy. It wasn’t until I hit puberty that I realized Daddy forced her to. I would lie awake on most nights, wondering if the painful screams from down the hall really were the ghosts that haunted our house like Daddy insisted; but sadly I was mistaken.
My father grimaced at me, not wanting me to make a wrong move. If I helped Momma she would surely be grateful. If I betrayed Daddy, well, he wouldn’t be. I decided, after several indecisive minutes, that I would defy my father and help.
I took a turn around the corner, eyeing the room carefully for any trace of my father, and shushed my little brother quietly. He pleaded me with his little puppy dog eyes to inform me of what I was up to. He was the one brother I truly loved. He ran to me with his new teddy in hand, and I ruffled his dark hair. “It’s nothing, Scotty, go play.” He stared at me unconvincingly but soon grew tired of standing and went to lounge near the fireplace.
I continued my sneaky ways down the hallway towards the kitchen, avoiding the rest of my family by chance. I was only four foot seven at the time, barely able to see over the counter. But my attitude was highly determined; I could handle any chore she let on. When I entered, I took a good whiff of the kitchen, eyeing the traditional apple pie in the corner, the turkey cooking in the oven, and the freshly baked ginger bread cookies.
I turned around, surprised and flustered, barging right into my mother’s apron. She chuckled lightly, hugging my shoulder. She was only five foot or so, able to hug me without a problem. She was needless to say, a pretty petite little thing. Her bobbed black hair tied back with a blue shiny ribbon, a figure flattering holiday dress, and her around-the-house slippers. They didn’t really go with her outfit, so I stared down at them, bemused. She giggled again, pointing to another pair of perfect high heels hidden behind the counter. She whispered softly into my ear: “I slip those on when your father peeks in.”
Part of me wanted to laugh to please her, but with every word, more and more, I hated my father. He did put a roof over our heads, but he never treated Momma right. Poor Momma couldn’t even relax in her own house.
“Convenient.” I stated. It really was, but still very unnecessary. I wanted so very much to tell Daddy how I felt, but I knew better. Momma laughed, turning away from me to fetch the silver ware. “Momma,” I began hesitantly, causing her to flash her eyes at me warily. “Can I help?”
Those words in many normal households would have been described as a beautiful gesture, but apparently they were like a strike of a belt in our own. She closed the cabinet, holding the utensils stiffly. “Honey, I really don’t think that’s such a great idea…” She trailed off, briskly pacing to the table to arrange the items. They clinked together in haste as she ignored my pained face. “Momma, is it Daddy?”
She stopped in her tracks, as if in slow motion. She put down the rest and walked over to me. Her eyes never left my face. My poor Momma. “What you have to understand, sweetheart, is that the times are changing. It’s rough on your father. You see, we were raised differently than you and your brothers. He means well, he really does.” I stared at her worriedly; I bit my lip.
“It sounds more like your convincing yourself,” I regretted the words as soon as I said them. My mother looked as if she’d been slappedâ€”like after she’s been with Daddy when he came home from his many late night “meetings”.
“Get out!” She called suddenly, her chin wobbling slightly. I never had seen Momma yell, especially at me. “Mommaâ€”” I was going to apologize, I didn’t mean for my words to take effect like that. Never like that. Before I knew it, I ended up with a red hand mark from my mother right on my cheek. My mother; the one lady in the world I trusted with my life, physically hurt me; slapped me straight on the chin.
“No! Odessa, get out now,” Needless to say, I left. I wanted to take everything back; rewind time to when I shared my opinion with Daddy. I wanted to cry, but I knew that would just alert questions from my troublesome and tattle tailing brothers.
It wasn’t until I reached my room that it happened. Right on Christmasâ€”right when my mother who I loved very much, hurt me like nothing else. It felt like a migraineâ€”a splitting headache. My eyes stung, my emotions brewed, and it throbbed just to keep my feet on the ground. My head was faced down on my pillow, my nose smashed against the case.
I shrieked as loud as a banshee, then. It alerted the whole houseâ€”as if it was on fire. I heard my brothers shout various things and my mother ran straight into my room. I couldn’t hear them at all. They were distant and fuzzy.
My eyes felt like they had been ripped or flipped over inside of my head, and I saw things. I saw my father, heavily intoxicated, walking to the porch of my house. I heard the voices and the speech of him slurring his words together as he entered our home and slammed the door. Then I saw her. My mother, appalled at the very sight of him. She was against the wall, her breathing erratic and heavy as Daddy grabbed her and threw her against the ground. I saw worse things, violation, obscene and crude gestures, until finally her heart stopped beating.
I wanted to scream at the vision; the glory my bastard of a father represented on his face. Then at his look of terror when he realized what he’d done. I couldn’t control any of it. I couldn’t warn them, couldn’t tell my father to stop. To yell “that’s my Momma!”
It wasn’t until my eyes felt sore, but my sight became less blurry, I noticed I was screaming those terrifying words. When I peered up, it was the person I wanted to see most. It was my mother.
“What are you screaming about, dear child? Odessa!” My eyes popped open; it couldn’t be. Could the dead possibly come back to life? But at that moment, I didn’t care. “Momma, you’re alright!” I breathed, embracing her close and blinking my eyes. Her scent was refreshing as ever. I saw from the doorway, my four brothers anxious faces. Especially poor Scotty’s.
Just when I thought it was all a dreamâ€”an ever so realistic and torturous reverie, I heard the front door slam shut. I held my mother tighter. I didn’t want to let go.
“Hush, honey. That was a big blow you just had. I’m sorry for the whole incident in the kitchen; something snapped and I just wasn't thinking. I do love you, baby.” She gave me one last hug and stood up. I tried to jump after her, but my legs were shaking heavily and I was unable to move an inch.
I reached out for her arm, and pulled her back. She chimed a laugh. That one smile I would remember forever. “I’m just going to go check on your father, get some rest, my love.”
I calmed myself. My dream couldn’t possibly be a view into the future. So, I just tried to relax, coaxing myself to stay calm. It was just a dream…just a horrible dream. But it wasn’t until I heard screaming, and then gasps of horror when I realized the truth. Scotty ran towards me, snuggling his head into my chest, sobbing in heart-breaking huffs.
“Momma’s…Momma’s…” I took a deep breath and hid my tear filled face into his dark shaggy hair. I finished the sentence for him. “Dead.”