The harsh headlights of Hattie’s current husband’s filthy Toyota pick-up, aggressively slithered in through the windows of the house, between the slits in the Venetian blinds. The truck gurgled loud, and breathed as heavily as the man behind the wheel, as if he was selfishly trying to take all of the air for himself. Air felt ashamed to fill his lungs. Go back where you came from.
The truck was blue and white; Blau und weiss. Catherine and I could feel an ominous presence as he sped up the crumbling driveway. Why did they have to return? It was his house, a ranch style house in Whitestone, that lodged aversions. We were often left alone, to fend for ourselves, but if you asked us, and no one did, we preferred to be unsupervised. Be gone.
Let them go and fumble with their own irresponsible devices, to their rank hangouts or to the seedy casinos of Atlantic City. Bet it all on black. Go ahead and engage in a feeble attempt to hit big. It was never going to happen. Hattie and him longed to apprehend that quick fix. Quite possibly the only commonality between the yoke. The change never poured from the slots. No cache of chips were ever cashed in. They chased it, and when luck ran out it would Hattie’s fault, she was the jinx.
What drew people together, I thought. Why do two people who don’t seem to enjoy each other’s company get together? I understood what kept them together. The thoughtless arson of every bridge they trespassed. I wanted to be wrong for her sake. Deserving or not didn’t matter, I wanted better for her. They were only together because they had no one else and were too weak to be alone.
It dawned on me that I might be that weak.
I had always felt like a Gustave Courbet painting. The Desperate Man. The reason I’d pushed everyone away and distanced myself was to prove that I could be alone. I sabotaged everything regardless of the pangs I felt sleeping alone.
It occurred to me that I never heard my revised version of my parents saying I love you to each other. If he ever said that to me I wouldn’t have believed him. No truth in that stained smirk. I also had ears and I heard what he thought about me through the walls. The conversations, arguments are more apropos, traveling through the house with no regard for our feelings. I didn’t want anything from him. It is difficult to fathom that love is even a thing.
They would return to his house in the witching hour, drunk and broke, and angry with each other. That was normal and at times I even felt bad for them. He resented Hattie for his misfortune. She was his bad luck charm. Those nights were long, tense and sleepless. Catherine and I dreaded them. It was always the same. A night of chaos and turmoil, a morning of shamefully averted eyes and concealer and heartache. Why couldn’t the house just crumble to dust with us in. The Ushers pitied us. We were raised in putrefaction.
“Please, promise Mommy you won’t say anything about what happened to anyone.”
We vowed to Hattie to conceal the truth from everyone. We masked our hatred. I wasn’t proficient at that. The affirmation instilled in her children a suspicious and fretful perception of the truth and made them fearful of saying the wrong thing or revealing too much. It wore on the conscience then and continued to do so through adulthood.
Nothing in the house belonged to us, everything was his, we were reminded of that regularly. Nothing here is yours. Nothing. Not the cracked brick facade, the green fence, not the television or the contents of the fridge. Hattie spelled her name on the refrigerator with magnetic letters, and underneath I arranged more letters to read, is the mother of immorality, she did not find it humorous. Those magnetic letters were not ours.
We should have never been there in the first place but we were, and had to eat it, all the shit. It didn’t take much to incite him, the look of Hattie’s pouting face was sufficient. “You think I need you?” He screamed in her face, and I watched and did nothing. “You and your fucking kids? You pieces of shit. Leave. Go. Go on. This is my house. My house. You hear me? Get the fuck out, cunt.”
I’m fairly certain this was not the proper way to express love, but what did I know?