Scones And Ash


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Scones And Ash

  1. 1. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 1 part one- turned earth # I hadn’t gone by my birth name for over a year on the morning that I was stacking fresh raspberry scones in their wire baskets and heard the expected threat behind me. In a hoarse, smoky whisper he called across the counter, “Hey there, Belinda.” Despite the heat radiating from the pastries, I froze. # Chapter One- My mother, a draconian bitch and drunk, named me Belinda for reasons all her own. First, she could never pass up an opportunity to piss my father off, and as he was absent from my birth, no doubt doing whatever absent fathers did at the tavern, she threw aside his selections. He‘d chosen possible names from the country he was born in, Ireland. He chose girls’ names like Brigit, Shannon, Grace, and especially Fionna, his favorite. But none of his selections mattered to my mother. She was of German extraction, and predisposed to dictatorial acts. The second reason she chose Belinda was because she thought it had a nice ring to it, sounding just like “belittle” when said the right way. That kind of thing mattered to her more than the behavior of my father. He was Irish and couldn’t help himself, but a daughter had an obligation to her mother, and she planned to use that allegiance whenever possible. Anyway, my name was the last thing my mother ever gave me for free, from there on I was made to negotiate for anything I wanted or cared about. She never understood the caring part, but tormenting me freshened the twisted rhetoric of her 1
  2. 2. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 2 emotional weather. She blew hot and cold, and I became a barometer measuring her highs and lows. When my father held me in his arms for the first time he forgave my mother’s choice of names. When he saw my ridiculous copper hair he cried copious tears, many of which landed on my face so it seemed I was weeping too. We were two of a kind, my da’ and I, much more than the tears and sentiment, we were bonded by a history I couldn’t know yet. Tears come easily to me too, fighting comes on faster, and I can carry a grudge for an eternity. That’s us, me da’ and me. # Almost every engaging tale begins with a senseless, yet meaningful death. My story is no different, other than the question of whether you think it’s engaging or not. This death is both supremely meaningful to me, and senseless in any context. He shouldn’t have died in the way he did, he shouldn’t have died so young, or in this exile country. His passing made me into a time-machine, gauging life in a before, and after he was gone. My memories of him alive haunt me always, and seem to whisper in my ear from a perch on my shoulder. Thoughts of him dead enrage me. He left me split apart, like he was when he came to America, leaving his real home behind him, but festering in his heart. We two, alike in life, shared a rich history. When I was fourteen my father took to sick; mentally sick, mortally ill, and just plain crazy. His illness began with a high fever and sudden disorientation. He fell over like a stout oak tree would in a terrible storm and was rushed to hospital by some of his co-workers. Not by my mother, mind you, she was doing better things, like drinking herself insensible. She was also insensible for visiting hours, refusing to attend to my da's 2
  3. 3. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 3 hospital bed. She was terminally insensible after that. Once he got to the emergency room he was placed in an ice bath, bringing his fever down to a safe temperature. But his brain was already damaged. Never all that stable to begin with, having lived half in and half out of the Celtic spirit world his whole life, he complained in a loud voice to anyone who would listen that a dragon had entered his body, burning away at his brain so that it could feed on his mind from the inside while remaining undetected. His uncontrolled fever seemed to support his ravings, even if they were wacko. So he was admitted to the psych ward. The sooner he went there the better, because the emergency room staff didn’t want his verbal lunacy poisoning the healing atmosphere in their pristine meat locker. They shoved him upstairs as quickly as they could. He was injected with Haldol until he couldn’t speak, until he was helpless enough so the doctors could survey the extent of his trauma. His fever was elevated, but not dangerously so, so he was sent for an MIR with enough sedative inside him to insure he wouldn’t move during the procedure. He couldn’t even move his mouth, couldn’t remember the noisy machine he was entombed in while it decoded his faulty wet-ware. On the return trip his fever spiked and nobody noticed until a nurse saw how inflamed his face and skin were. He was placed in another ice-bath, but couldn’t even sit up in the tub by himself. For fear of drowning him an intern and the nurse held his shoulders above the quickly warming water in the tub. His fever peaked in their hands, then descended into safety. But his brain had left the safe part long ago. The worse physical effect the second inflamed attack had given the poor man was that his skin, particularly his chest and arms, began flaking away in thin sheets, like snake 3
  4. 4. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 4 scales. I wondered then if he was right. Surely his brain damage couldn’t cause such a symptom? Could it? Either way, the next time I saw him he had livid red scratches anywhere he could reach with his nails. His hands were bound in thick gauze mittens, but even they showed red at the tips. He was given broad range antibiotics to fight whatever infection was responsible for the clinging fever. They didn’t work, because he didn’t have any infection other than a minor one from his self-inflicted scratches. No infection? What about encephalitis? No, the lumbar puncture showed negative. A tumor? None showed up in his MRI. Hepatitis? Some other horrible viral beastie? Nobody really knew what was wrong, so they labeled it, “persistent idiopathic fever”. It was a generic catch-all name explicitly implying ignorance. He was shipped off to a long-term care facility that didn’t discriminate against patients based on income or insurance. If he had been aware of his surroundings however, he would have raved and tried to escape regardless of illness. It was a facility owned and operated by the Gray Nuns of the Catholic Church. He lived alone inside his mind, or the dragon’s mind, for about two years. I reached out to him with British tea and digestive biscuits, even the rough cut, oaty “Hob-Nobs” he liked when I could find them. These small kindnesses helped pull him back into my world, and out of the creature’s, for a brief time. There were times when he was lucid, if you ignored his primary complaint, and the two us had an opportunity to talk about many things I bet most teenage girls never shared with their father. Like how he no longer feared death. In fact, he saw it as a 4
  5. 5. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 5 blessing, and tried to invoke it by heavenly petition every night and day. Being consumed from the inside out had made him skeletal thin and hopeless as any prisoner of war. This once stout Belfast iron-worker in the ship-yard who weighed twenty-four stone six was reduced to half his size, and all of his strength swept along away with his blazing brain. And hopeless? His mind was often chained down by strong medications, so he forgot who he was. But he told me he never forgot who I was, or where I was. He could always find the beacon of my blazing hair, so like his. Even when I was only a dim light in the fog, he knew I was out there, somewhere. His invalid state had given us a chance to connect at last, like looking in a mirror and seeing the other person sitting beside you. When I looked into that mirror I did so with the same agate blue-green eyes as his, my nose a pointer directly at his. I even saw his deep sadness and ensuing violence inside of myself. My mother knew better than to grind my ass when my eyes grew glacial like da‘s. She’d been the same with my father, wary when his eyes shone cold fire. After all, she was only Aryan dishwater blond, with no Irish poetry in her soul. But the unexplained fever still rolled around in his body like a fire dance, like flickering coals slowly roasting his flesh and burning his poetry away on a personal pyre. When the poetry was gone would be the true death of his soul. On my last visit he was clear enough to hold a discussion about where his life had brought him was when I became frightened for myself. He described standing in a giant’s circle outside of Belfast, and clinging hard on a solid tree while he listened to fey, long dead spirits call him with an unbearable attraction. All he needed to do was release his hands and he would exist for all eternity 5
  6. 6. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 6 with them, although it wouldn’t be in an mortal state. It is a tribute to his strength that he stayed and listened, then walked free of the grassy circle intact. He spoke in loving terms of the Giant’s Causeway on the northeast shore. The massive basalt columns rose heavenward over his head, and he knew for certain then that the giant Finn Mac Cool had fallen in love with a Scottish lass and built the bridge over the ocean from Ireland. In his haste, however, Finn didn’t build for duration, a common flaw with giants. His mortal love lasted about the same time as his stone bridge falling into the cold North Sea like a inept Atlantis. The ruins remain behind with their stories of greatness running around in my father’s once poetic, but failing mind. And he told me more stories, stories of heroes and cattle robbers, and the fey folk, the Tuatha de Danann. Then he started to explain to me how the serpent consuming him originated from my mother, how she infected him with a vicious meanness and an alcoholic bitterness. She put the fire in him because she was a fire witch, a soured, hopeless dragon herself. “It’s a firedrake she put in me,” he explained, “because of her Germanic ancestry, you see.” He was completely Irish in his personal mythology, so he believed the inexplicable had a very real place in everyday life. Thoughts of actual dragons weren’t too far away from his own spiritual misperceptions. He told me how he felt the rippling movements inside his chest, and how he knew the beast was almost done with him because of the cracking in his limbs as the beast stretched out its own. This, then, would be the end of its confinement, and his fragile cooked crab shell would break open to release the hot meat inside. But he had one last warning he struggled to give to me. As he began to burn up for the last time, he fought to stay rational enough to hold my hand and plead. “Be aware, 6
  7. 7. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 7 daughter, for the serpent’s presence inside you darlin’, for it, and the control of it, are handed down the female line.” I nodded my head, acknowledging his perception of what was rational was the speech of a dying man. I left him, knowing it was for the last time. It was time for him to go. And go he did, in one last fever spike of 108 degrees. The ice bath they put him in started to smoke and his brain finally turned to sloppy mush. The attendants had to wait to pull him from the water for fear of blistering their hands. My da’ went out with a blaze. One nurse named Odie, a black woman from the hot, deep south, stated as matter of fact she saw a creature leave my father’s body at the exact moment of his death. A doctor believed she was hysterical, so she was sedated, and sent off to be evaluated at the local hospital’s the psych ward. This pissed her off so bad she quit without returning, and instead took a job nursing in the hospital she’d been sent to. Conal had left instructions for his disposal with a close friend also from the old country. He was to be waked at his closest friend’s house, with dark stout and whiskey abounding. They were to play traditional music as loud as they could rattle, so he could hear it even from heaven afar. He was to hold a tumbler of Bushmill’s in his once meaty hand, and the glass to be refreshed as he sipped from it. He was to be able to look upon all the fine Irish girls, including myself, as we Irish toe-danced in a kicking leg circle. Finally, when the wake was done he was to be bodily cremated, again. He had sent money in an envelope to cover the expenses of the wake, the holy fire in the people furnace, and his friend’s trip home to be scattered across the Giant‘s Causeway. In the envelope was a brief note for the host of the festivities, and one for me. Mine read, “You are joy to a dying man. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, but I 7
  8. 8. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 8 was troubled and violent, as is, you know, your mother. It was the reason I married her. She had as much violence inside as I did. I thought she would be a fine sparring partner, but it turn’s out she’s just a drunk. Beware of her, she’s capable of incredible rage, and calculated indifference too. You can never be sure where you stand with her. Most of all, don’t trust her decisions concerning your safety. “Well, I’m going home now, back to County Antrim and the wicked sharp shores of the North Irish Sea. I don’t think I’ll ever be capable of cold again, so the razor wind there shouldn’t bother me much. “I will be with you always. Never forget that. I will. I swear that upon my soul, and on Molly, my mother’s, too. Think of me now and then, and I will sit on your shoulder and whisper spirit stories into your ear. “Be careful, ‘tis a harsh world to grow up in. Love always, dad.” It reduced me to hot tears in spite of the celebration surrounding me. That’s his death, and last poor poetry. The jar of ashes I saw was no twenty four-stone and six, but I’m sure they were spinning around inside the urn from his stay with the little gray nuns. That was what was left of the man fashioned from old-wives tales, supernatural imagination, and a prehistoric mythology he wore everyday like a hair-shirt. I gave the jar back to my father’s best friend, and wished him a good trip to Ireland and back. I sure wasn’t going there anytime soon. I was confused while he lingered, and angry after he passed. What about you? Did his struggle confuse you as you read it? Did his too brief life anger you for its pointless end? # 8
  9. 9. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 9 But how did these two troubled people find each other, much less have me? In between the fights, I think. My da’, Conal O’Conner, was a fine Ulsterman originally born in Country Donegal, who sought work in Belfast, and soon became an ironworker in the shipyard based on his size alone. Seeing spiritual and monetary poverty everywhere around him, he came to America in search of greater opportunity, and a warmer climate. Looking across the Atlantic Ocean at the atlas he decided to head for Michigan because it looked like a giant gloved hand waving hello to him, all friendly like if it were Finn Mac Cool. He arrived in Detroit in the blazing Michigan autumn and knew he’d found the place he was destined for. He believed the sharpness of the red and gold leaves was a celebration of his arrival. But winter came along with its sharp wind and sleet, not to mention the uncaring snow. He’d gone to the nearest Ford Motor Company assembly plant and was accepted, again, because of his size. He was twenty-four stone and six of manual labor toughed muscle, standing six two in his stocking feet. But the factory was warm in winter, and he could do his repetitive robot-like job while silently savoring W.B. Yeats verses in his head. # He worked second shift, and the practice of his co-workers was to go the local titty-bar for a few drinks before last call. That was how he found my mother. Oh, she wasn’t one of the exotic dancers, even tough she had the natural rack to be one. She was a smiling cocktail waitress, looking real good and hot at the age of eighteen, and she checked the big Irishman out more than once. He started leaving hundred dollar tips on 9
  10. 10. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 10 her tray. His needs were simple, a bed and a hot plate, a single book shelf for his poetry, so he didn’t feel the loss of his excess money. Ford provided quite well for the Irish immigrant who survived mostly on potatoes and ham and cheese sandwiches. The money turned my mother on; it started her moist motor running, you know. Then there were the weekends. Conal would get far into his cups near closing time and begin singing drunken immigrant songs from a island he’d never see again in a pure, haunted voice. Legend has it one night a bouncer tried to shut him up even though the clientele were rapt in attention to the big man. The bouncer went down with one mighty swing, and the other door-bruiser quickly decided to become a music lover. Except, except when my da’ was hurting inside for the lack of his old, poor home. He would begin singing “Danny Boy”. Everybody moved out of his range, and the rafters rained down dust from the volume of his melodic, homesick cry. It was during one of these “Londonary Air” solos that Greta approached Conal. Other people yelled out for her not to get close, not to speak to or touch. But the well-boobed woman touched him on the bulging bicep just as he reached way down inside for the boiling emotion which would send his vocal climax all the way back home. One woman screamed, the bartender ducked down below the bottles of fiery spirits. But Conal merely stopped singing and looked down at the woman by his side. Really looked. “Nice tits,” he said. His skin smelled of honest sweat and Bushmill‘s. “Would you like to come home with me tonight?” “Yeah.” “Good. I can leave as soon as the bar closes.” 10
  11. 11. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 11 “Yeah.” My father was much better with words when he was less intoxicated, or less horny. It was an evening to shape both of their lives, both with good, and bad. My mother loved my da’s hungry hands, and true to form, da’ loved her impressive bosom. Bells, whether of warning or marriage, rang in his head. He sensed an inner violence in her that matched his own, and so fell completely in love with what he thought was a real fighter. They had a lot of no-holds-barred-sex, and so a primal bond of some sort was formed. I think they both mistook that bond for love, because neither of them were ever capable of such selfless affection as true love. They were married by the mayor of the village da’ lived in, and they purchased a modest, and most definitely white-trash, grey cinder-block house. I came along not too far after, and Greta, my mother of haughty Germanic descent, quit her job to care for me. That arrangement lasted six months. Thank God she went back to work when she did. The couple next door to us didn’t have any young children anymore, and were thrilled when my mother asked them to care for me while she worked. The woman, Cordelia, was an excellent, loving provider, and the husband Richard was a steady anchor when ugliness occurred in my home. It occurred with regularity, and either Cord, or Dick, would hold me after the fact until I finished crying. The years I spent with them defined who I could be, if I chose to. I wanted to be like them, but I was so deluded by my parents as a child, and just too plain apathetic and naive as a teenager to make an intelligent choice about what I wanted to be. But I was so cocksure concerning the male species, considering them inferior, rough beasts. I’d find out how true that belief was later. 11
  12. 12. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 12 # Chapter Two- Yes, I was angry after he died, but I had a right to be. The whole time he was in hospital I was made to beg and plead with my mother in order to visit him. Cheek wetting tears were a persuading requirement too. But my tears weren’t of frustration with my mother, they were of burning rage. Regardless, my mother held the key to my visits, literally, the keys to her car which she would dangle in my face until I was miserable enough she could take pity on me, and that I would know she pitied me. Eventually I started to cry as soon as she started up her tirade instead of the car. I became a well-lubricated tear machine, a supplicate kneeling before the alter of my mother’s vain, stupid machinations. How could she not foresee I would return her kindness in turn when I was able to. And I was able to not so long after my da’s death. I wasn’t living with her on the day she was transported to the local hospital wearing a mustard yellow, all-over body suit. Her past came back to her on that day, as she’d always been seeking out her death in seedy bars, and now she‘d found it. Even way back when, while she waited for me to finish visiting hours with my father, she’d sit in the closest bar and drink non-stop bourbon rocks. I know she had an itinerate sort of death wish when she drove us back home. We should have died, many, no, every drunken time over. As it was, she was the one to die all alone. But before she did I held out her set of car keys over the bed, and dropped them on the blindingly white sheet. The years of torment were almost worth it to see her eyes wince as I returned her many previous favors. Priceless, simply priceless. Anyway, I left and never returned. She was even cremated all alone, and her ashes put 12
  13. 13. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 13 into the rubbish bin. Her vain power reduced to dirt in the furnace’s flame, I thought I was free at last. # Oh shit, I forgot. A whole lot of things happened before she died, before the first crisis, so I suppose I should’ve told you earlier. It will have to be now, I guess, in order to maintain any semblance of a normal linear progression. I tried early on in this story to explain where I came from, and who I was. That’ll all change, but now you’ll know my real problems began at home before she turned yellow and went to hospital to decline into her wasted death. Sorry, my brain does that, avoiding unpleasant recollected events. Well, better late than never. # I sought escape, I lied and manipulated for some small freedom in my quickly closing in life. I became devious in the search for distance. I was one of the hardest scheming sixteen-year-old girls on the planet, but it wasn’t the constant effort I had to keep up that tired me out, it was the war zone I lived in every day. Every day I faced the- ‘pay attention or risk death‘ variety. My mother may have created it alright, but the real enemy came from outside and insinuated itself into my life like the fucking viper he was. I’m not sixteen anymore, and I have some distance now, but don’t mistake my report of the next months to be easy. I’ve lived with them for a long time now, for years, but they haven’t diminished much. In fact, some of the flashbacks are stronger now than they were early after the demon days. Sometimes I live in them, totally emotionally engaged, trapped with no way out. And then there are the nasty ones not even the medication can release. I am a grown women now, with a frightened young woman 13
  14. 14. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 14 trapped inside who sometimes relives her life in emotional memories full of pain and fear. # Freedom first came in the shape of a boy named “Stoner” Macintosh. I found, or should say I was found by the boy with the appropriate name. He smoked a lot of pot. He was also a four-point-oh student, and the son of the village’s mayor. Nobody jacked him around about his recreational activities. Oh, yeah, he also had the typical post-hippie era forest-green Volkswagen van. Yea. The first time he asked me out I had him drive me to Planned Parenthood where I started the pill. After those preliminaries, Stoner was the lucky stiff I spread my legs for. I wanted brief oblivion more than anything, and I paid for it in the only coin I possessed, my inner flesh. It didn’t feel quite right to me at the time, but then how would I, a child virgin, know? The experience was like an alien invading my body with some kind of probe, both emotionless and misdirected. It was a simple, payback fuck against my mother, and I paid plenty of times for my subversive freedom. We’d get pleasantly buzzed, have some same old single riff sex accompanied by The Grateful Dead on the van’s stereo, then go our separate ways to study, or whatever. He drove me to the hospital to visit my da’ the last times, and back to Planned Parenthood to score more pills. Our arrangement wasn’t innocent, because we used each other, but it wasn’t complicated either. The most complex we got was using a bong. But me, so cocksure about men, or boys, thought I had him by the short-hairs. I thought that sex was the sure way to control men. By their glands. Then I overheard him talking to another boy in the school hallway. His friend asked Stoner what he liked best 14
  15. 15. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 15 about me, what was most important, and would our relationship have any lasting power? Stoner replied, “The most important thing? Hmm. Well, jeez, that has to be her tits. They’re incredible to roll around on. Real rockets. Will it last? Don’t think so; she’s a year behind me, and I’m headed for the west coast as soon as school is over, and there are more breasts, I mean girls, out there. Ya know what I mean?” I certainly did know what he meant. My illusions about sex controlling men collapsed right there, but I felt no ill-feelings towards Stoner. I’d been in it for about the same reasons he had. I’d thought it was freedom for me, but I was wrong. It’d been no more than killing time for both of us. Did my mother notice my activities? Hell, she never once noticed that I was stoned because she was completely smashed all the time by then. She already thought I was the devil incarnate, but the brimstone she smelled on me was no more than pot smoke trapped in my clothes. Did I ever consider my substance abuse to be anything like hers? Did I ever notice my own morality backsliding into jaded promiscuousness? No, I was too busy plotting how to get outa there. In any way, outa there. # My mother still had the gray paint-faded house. Her wages and tips sharply decreased when the alcohol finally took control of what remained of her life. Da’s disability covered the small mortgage payment, but not much else. She got nervous one day, all of a sudden, like the issue had never existed before. She should have seen the holes and poor condition of my jeans, she’d have known then. If she had cared at all, I mean. What made her really nervous was a threat that she might run out of booze one 15
  16. 16. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 16 day. Anyway, one night at work she stumbles, literally, into Walter Taft. He feels up her breasts as he straightens her back up. She likes the brush of his busy hands, so she peers through her foggy gaze at the man who grabbed her. He reaches over and pinches one of her nipples and smiles like some teenage boy getting his first big thrill. He’s drinking bourbon too, so she sits down and has one with him. The good lord made them, alright, but the devil matched them up. It was surely a match made in a beer-sign lit, smoke choking hell for me. I will never understand how he said he worked for Ford too, but didn’t have a permanent roof over his head. She bought the story after fucking him in his car later that night, well, actually she fucked his paycheck, and then he moved in the next day. But he moved in a caravan, towing two children after. The teenaged daughter, Lilly, moved in with me, instantly shrinking my room in half with another twin bed. I didn’t really know where the little toad of a brother slept, I never cared to. I tried to think of somewhere I could escape to. Cordelia and Dick were getting up in years, and frankly, their moral code wasn’t the same as mine just then. Stoner was definitely out. Why didn’t I have any good friends? Even vapid classmates would be a step up from my situation, and I could get a menial job to pay rent to her parents. Definitely a pipe dream, one with Stoner’s heavy duty block of black hash in it. How could I have friends when I couldn’t bring anyone home to meet my family? Regarding my low position in life, isolation was still better than mortification. This was Michigan, and I was out there under the massive hardwood trees with the rest of the hillbillies and sauna crazy Swedes. It may have been spring, but Michigan releases its winter slowly, seeming more to savor the iron automotive punishment of 16
  17. 17. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 17 salt-caked streets and tree boughs groaning heavily under a late snow’s weight. I spent as much time outdoors as my fingers and toes could stand when I wasn’t connected with Stoner, but I understood this wasn’t a permanent answer to the claustrophobic and toxic conditions inside my house. So I tried. I did try. I ignored my roommate, and she silently agreed to the arrangement at first, a condition subject to change as the building crisis grew. Her little brother was too small to consider as a person, so I treated him like a non-entity. He never knew, having been emotionally abandoned as a newborn baby. He lived in a world made for one, which was probably the best for him, given what his reality really was. He was constantly searching for what was never there to begin with. I pegged him for a future serial-killer. Then my roommate became a bitch, for reasons I’d discover later, and I thought she made my life hell. She began to threaten me, to tell on my nocturnal habit of meeting Stoner, or anything else nasty she could make up about me. I hated her, and she hated me, plain and simple. One night I got home particularly late, and definitely still very stoned, and she went to my mother with the information. That was when I got “the talk“. I was just shy of sixteen and already knew a whole lot more about sex than most girls. I knew it for recreation, I knew as a sticky solace, and I still considered it as a possible pry-bar to lever against the male species. Well, c’mon, I was a little off with that last one, but I somehow knew it would be true enough in the near future. I thought I knew enough about sex to keep it nice, and safe. “You better be nice to Walter, Belinda (can’t you just hear, “Belittle”?), He pays the bills and keeps a roof over our heads. Got it?” Funny, I thought our house was still our “house”. When did that asshole take 17
  18. 18. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 18 over? Only after her little one-way chat did I understand her “nice” meant to sacrifice my body for the paycheck she needed in order to submerge her brain even deeper into liquid oblivion. She could no longer work, but she could still sip away on a highball glass all day and night. But to sacrifice my body, to him? The goddamn filthy beast? No, I don’t think so. # I was just past my sixteenth birthday, which nobody recognized or commented about, the first time I had the sordid brand of “nice” my mother meant shoved in my face. The image remains burned into my brain, and I can’t blind my mind to it, no matter how hard I try. I came home one night not exactly late, and snuck up the stairs to the bathroom first. Then I heard noises coming through the wall of my lit bedroom; deep guttural grunts, and sharp intakes of breaths. Honestly, I thought my roommate was having an asthma attack. I stood up, zipped up, and rushed to the closed door of my room. I opened it slightly, just a crack, only enough to put my eye to. I closed my eye immediately, already too late, and closed the door silently. Walt was porking his daughter from behind, at the foot of her bed. In the hallway rage blazed my cheeks fire red. Had it been one second? Two? Maybe three at the most, but I’d seen enough. More than enough. Walt’s dick was like a club, a sawn off baseball bat, and while her reamed her out Lilly looked like a delicate orchid being stamped out. How could she survive this brutality, on a one time, or maybe even a constant basis? I ran to the phone, meaning to call 9-1-1. Then a sickening thought hit me and 18
  19. 19. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 19 took away my breath. Why hadn’t Lilly ever called for help? Or, after tonight’s assault, it would be her call to make, not mine. What if she denied the whole horrible scene? I decided I should talk to her before intervening on her behalf. Reasonable? I thought so at the time. So, I’m standing in the kitchen drinking a glass of water and hoping it would wash the poison from my mouth when Walt’s heavy step comes down the stairs. I looked around the kitchen I was trapped in and saw a butcher knife. I whisked it out of the wooden block it lived in and shoved it into my back pocket. “What are you doing up?” the son-of-a-bitch asked. “What? You’re just dragging your ass home at this hour?” His question left me an out. “Yeah, I’m just getting home.” He squinted at me like I was some insect he wanted to smash. “Yeah, right. You’re next, you know. I‘m going to enjoy doing you too, you little bitch.” With that said he made his way to the master bedroom. What did he say? I was next? When I went to my bedroom I still carried the knife. I slept with it under my pillow like it’d been delivered by the lacerated flesh fairy. # I’ve never lost that anger, that all-encompassing rage at all the players in the soul-killing arena happening right in my own bedroom. Walt was a piece of shit, for sure, and Lilly allowed him to shit all over her. But then there’s my mother. She knew, how could she not know, what was going on under her own roof? She allowed these atrocities by turning a blind eye to anything that wasn’t a paycheck under her roof. She gave Walt permission to ravage us all for a few bucks. So much for motherly love. Honestly, I 19
  20. 20. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 20 shouldn’t have expected anything more out of her. I tried talking to Lilly that night. Tried to, at least. “I saw what was happening in this room tonight. Want to talk about it?” She was instantly on guard, with her defenses flaring up hard and fast. She refused to acknowledge my statement. “It’s okay to talk about it with me, I’ll never say a word.” I believe she hated me more for her tears than anything I might have said then, or in the future. “You didn’t see nothing.” “Lilly, your father was assaulting you. That’s nothing?” “Yeah, nothing.” “Lilly, Lilly, I can help you. I can get him away from you. No more rape, and safe.” The concept horrified her. “No, I have to be with him. There’s nowhere else to go.” “No, you’re wrong, there are places you can go, with people who’ll take good care of you.” She moved on the bed and I saw a blood stain under her. “Oh my God, he really hurt you!” “It doesn’t hurt.” Then she began talking about what really did hurt. About how she had to act like she enjoyed it, or she’d get smacked around. Or worse, how he’d hit her on her abdomen, deep yellow and purple bruising fisted hits. A couple of times she couldn’t walk afterwards, and had to miss whatever school she was in at that moment. She told me that because of her treatment at her father’s hands they moved around a lot, mostly staying in motels or tiny apartments. The law followed them, but never had a case of anything but an asshole of a father. In a dry husk of a voice she said, “My brother has 20
  21. 21. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 21 to watch sometimes. My dad says it’s a part of learning how to be a “real” man. The look on his face is very scary, like he’s already planning how he’ll treat women when he grows up.” I shook my head. “Oh God, we have to get you out of this somehow.” Then her face twisted up into somebody different, somebody very ugly. “You know, if you were around more often, he wouldn’t be taking a go at me so often. This is your fault too, so how can you say such bad things about my dad? You’re part of it. And so is your pathetic mother. You’re all part of it.” While I couldn’t deny my mother was pathetic, I wanted to smack her for implicating me. The only involvement I had in this disgusting situation was as a future target for her fucking father. This mess was most definitely not my fault. Then she said her father had commented to her that he thought I was going to be a “juicy piece” when he got to me. “See, then you’re going to be like me. Just like me.” Her words sickened me as much as they terrified me. The girl had a dangerously distorted view of life, and got it honestly. The very air in my bedroom was twisted like it lacked oxygen to breathe in. There was no place in the house to hide. I could lock the bathroom door, but that was it. I made all trips into my bedroom as brief as possible, and mostly when he wasn’t around, I studied at the kitchen table, something I hadn’t done for years. I’d stay away all weekends, creatively explaining I sleeping over at a friend’s house. Yes, I had cultivated girlfriends at last. Not many, and no honest ones I could share my secrets with, but the few I had I used as much as I could in order to stay away from home. They had a circle of sleepovers that rotated between each girl’s home. Not 21
  22. 22. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 22 mine, of coarse, they knew better than ask with the insight girls have for other girls. Still, they accepted me into their carousel weekends. I noticed one thing in common with each of their homes. The hallways to the bedrooms were filled with photographs of the girls in a progressive order, from infant on. My house had no such massive photo album, and I believed it was due to only pretty girls having their pictures taken. With my hot copper hair and thin milk skin I’d never once considered myself to be pretty. I did get it though, it wasn’t necessarily just my looks which were vacant from our walls. It was my mother’s indifference too, or worse. So I played nice, something that didn’t come naturally to me, and was even sweet, something I’d abhorred in other girls. We did each other’s hair, even my strong waves, baked cookies, and talked about boys. They all knew of my involvement with Stoner, and asked point-blank what “it” was like. I had to think, the most these respectable girls had ever done was get their boobs felt up. “Like a silken injection of fleshy steel.” They liked that. A lot. The phrase even floated around the school, mutating at every telling. It didn’t give away my growing abhorrence to the act. We watched insipid chick-flicks. “Beaches”, “Steel Magnolias”, “Terms of Endearment”, “An Officer and a Gentleman”, “Pretty in Pink“, and “Pretty Woman”. What the hell, it killed time, and pushed away the war I’d have to return to. During one movie starring Whoopie Goldberg I became aware that one of our inner circle was gay. Foundling gay, and confused, but most certainly lesbian. Suddenly she was much more interesting to me. She became a lot more interesting to me. One Saturday was declared to be an “occult” night. Out came the Ouija board. Thank goodness the spirits stayed away, 22
  23. 23. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 23 particularly my father’s. He probably skipped out for fear of another girly movie to follow. But then Kim, the girl I decided I wanted, pulled out a trade size paperback on Chinese Numerology, and instructed how to put our numbers together, like birth-date, time of birth, and the like, and reduce them to a base number. That base number was to be our “life-issue”. Every girl was something different, and the explanations for each rang true to me. I went last. Kim looked up number 8, opened her mouth, then closed it again. She did this weird whole looking into my eyes thing before she spoke. The other girls got very agitated while they waited for her interpretation of my number, wondering why mine was so full of portents. “You are a number 8, Belinda. Your issue is power.” Power? What power did I have? “You will seek power, and learn about controlling that power if you want to survive it. You may use your power for either good or evil, but you will never stop seeking for more until you die. Your number is the same as the rulers of each Chinese dynasty, from prehistoric, to now. Practice, learn about your power as soon as possible to prevent it from taking you over, instead of you controlling it.” I didn’t know what to say. I was the only one there who had been handed such an ominous prognosis. Kim touched my hand and said, “You’ll be just fine. I know it.” For the next few weeks I retreated as far into the woodwork as I could. There was a curious chill coming at me on those nights. Perhaps the girls were worried I’d put a hex on them. I know there were times I would’ve liked to. Then something happened. The movie of the week was the romantic monster, “Titanic”. From the very beginning the movie was incredibly detailed and beautiful, and I thought I’d really enjoy it. Then came the scene where Rose is mounting the deck of the 23
  24. 24. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 24 great ship, and she reveals her face for the first time from under her large brimmed hat. One of my friends gasped, I think it was Sandy. “Belinda! Look at that!” I peered all over the television screen for something exciting, but found nothing. Sandy grabbed my shoulder roughly. “Look at Rose!” Then she hit the pause button. The other girls were looking back and forth from me to the screen, each getting more excited as they did. “Belinda! You look just like Rose! Can’t you see?” I could, but denied it. “No, she’s much more pretty than I am. We don’t look alike at all.” “Will you quit running yourself down? I’d like you better if you just accepted that you’ve got some very good qualities, and one is you look like Kate Winslet.” The wavy red hair was pretty close, and the wide spaced agate eyes, although mine looked more like Rose’s did when Jack pulled her away from the stern rail and the churning, freezing wake; eyes full of internal fear and rage, set inside a face helplessly fighting bitter resignation. I didn’t have the too-cute dimple in my right cheek, but the English oval face and juicy lips were mine, as was the British white skin and unseemly, womanly roundness. Okay, I could see that. “Yeah, I think you’re right after all. I’m a movie star.” I was debating this absurdity when I heard Jack’s voice addressing Rose rather harshly. “That fire inside you is going to burn out-” His words caught my attention, and train of thought. The fire inside; a popular topic lately. Kim said, “You’re very beautiful, even if you’re not a movie star.” I felt the magnetic waves of attraction from her bombarding me, more intense than from any boy I’d known. Did she think I was gay too? I shook all thoughts of sex right out of my head before they gave me away. The girls kept commenting on my theatric twin throughout the 24
  25. 25. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 25 whole movie, especially when Rose stripped for her portrait. “Whoa! You’ve got much better breasts, Belinda.” I agreed, even lifting up my pajama top to display my pride. Although we’d seen each other in various states of undress before, I captured all of their attention. I thought Kim was going to faint she was breathing so hard. Nobody commented on her, which left some questions in my mind, but they did compare my boobs to Kate’s. I won. So, she was prettier than me, but I had a better rack. Everything balances out in the end. The incident explained things about these get-togethers. My role with the girls became clear to me after my physical declaration that I had the best tits between us all. They feared the dark, sucking hole of rejection as much as I feared domestic rape. Plus I was an unsavory kind of undomesticated pet, there to be looked down on, and welcomed only as better than nobody to look down on. Better than having nobody to be better than. These were the problems of life and death the girls were working out. I wished them luck. # Then something wonderful happened the summer I was sixteen. One of my girlfriends father was a music professor who also taught young gifted musicians during the summer at a music camp called Interlochen. The camp was way up north, just south of Traverse City, close to Lake Michigan. He told his daughter the camp was looking to hire some teenagers to do the grunt work while great music played in the background. They needed housekeepers and kitchen staff in particular. It sounded too good to be true, but I told him I could go for the whole summer. I didn’t explain that I hadn’t talked to my mother yet. This was an opportunity to get out of my living situation for months, and with the wages, maybe forever. 25
  26. 26. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 26 I sat down with my mother and explained it all. She was more blurred-eyed than usual, so I kept at it until she finally looked at me. “Gone for the whole summer?” I waited for her instant rejection and march towards making me cry. “Yeah. Listen mom, this is a great opportunity for me. A chance to make friends with kids who live all over the state, and a chance for me to get away for a little while, if you know what I mean.” Her eyes positively blazed, perhaps with a fire-drake behind them. “You don’t know anything about anything, smartass.” I thought she was going to hit me, but the booze that had once made her dangerous now made her arms heavy as stone. “As long as it’s a way to get you out of the house for a while. You think everything revolves around you, but it doesn’t. You’ll know better when you’re my age. You have other people to consider, ya know.” I didn’t really understand her little speech entirely. “Like who, mom? Who should I consider?” “Me and Walt for starters. And you treat Lilly like she was shit. But, no, up on your high horse you can’t see that, can you?” “Consider Walt? What do you mean?” “He keeps a roof over our head and puts food on the table. You need to treat him with some respect.” I was angry now. “Do you know what he does to his daughter?” “No such thing, goddamn you. You make up these lies about him, but they’re not true. You’re a little bitch, a little lying bitch.” She paused to take a drink and I smelled the whiskey weeping from her skin. “Go on then, go to that camp. Just get out of my 26
  27. 27. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 27 hair.” My mom. My ever-loving mother. Was there anything left inside her now? Who she had been while I was a little child was long gone, leaving this empty husk behind simply waiting for death to claim it. Yeah, I was definitely going away for the summer. # What clothes I had fit inside a tiny suitcase alongside my “feminine needs”. I waited outside for my friend’s father to pick me up. Walter was gone, but the dripped oil from his car remained, a dark splotch on melting asphalt. The smell of it, so like his body odor, nauseated me, so I stood at the curb, an anxious hitchhiker for parts unknown. The professor pulled up and stopped for me. “I’m so glad you could come. I think you’ll enjoy it.” I already knew I was scruffy looking from the too few haircuts, and the camouflaging, saggy clothing I had to wear for safety at home, but inside his blue Lincoln I also felt dirty and trashy. I just looked forward to being able to take a shower without danger. “I know I will.” As soon as the words left my lips I felt a hot flash rip through my body, and even though the car was air-conditioned, I broke into a fast sweat across my forehead. The sensation passed, but its memory remained within my body’s core. # Chapter Three- The camp was wonderful. The most wonderful thing about it was the fact that good old Walt wasn’t anywhere in sight, and Lilly wasn’t within earshot. I felt so free I didn’t notice how hard my job was. The four compass points for me were sheets and 27
  28. 28. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 28 towels, lemon oil polish, and bathroom floors and showers, including the fixtures. I loved it, actually loved it all. Even now I think of that summer almost every day, and relish the job and the boy I met there. In the long summer evenings I would walk around in the evergreen and deciduous tree and listen to snatches of free floating voice and instrumental melodies. I could faintly smell a whiff of Lake Michigan when the wind blew in from the west, and the sheltering pines were pure perfume. I didn’t have anywhere to go on my days off, or bartered transportation to get there, so I soaked up the sun, walked silent in the rain, and read the ridiculous romance novels the previous tenet of my cabin left behind. Not for one minute did I believe one word in them, but they were better than the television room and other staff members in it. I was definitely a loner now, and the camp allowed me to be one without accusing me of some crime. Ah, at last, the space to breath. It was on one of my days off I first saw this skinny, scruffy boy out in the woods practicing on a saxophone. He was at least as unkempt as I was in his thin-threaded, faded out jeans and sneakers so old the sole had blown out on one of them. I didn’t figure him for a student, but I thought he should be, for he was consumed by his music and the echo of it off the trees. He didn’t even seem to be aware of what he was playing, or where the next note would fall, so I knew he wouldn’t see me hiding behind a large tree. He played a little silver sax, like a bright clarinet, and the notes from his instrument were crystalline clear when they soared towards heaven. When his eyes were closed, most of the time, I studied him. He was maybe twenty, had wild hair like mine, although his was dark, not my waves of copper, and his fingers were nimble and fast. The way he tongued the notes it made me think he could play a girl as well as he did his metallic mistress. 28
  29. 29. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 29 In fact, the first words I said to him were, “With that tongue I bet you really know how to satisfy a woman.” He was hiding behind a maintenance building where he smoked dope, and he started at my voice, maybe afraid somebody caught him smoking. Or, maybe because I addressed him in that way. He stood staring at me until I pointed at the half joint the was holding, and asked, “Care to share?” It wasn’t long into the buzz that I told him how pot always made me horny. He agreed. We kissed until my knees gave out and he was holding me up. “I know a place,” I told him, then took him back to the moss-softened clearing in the pines where I’d heard him playing. It felt like home for both of us. We spent all night talking about who we were, and I got in right before it was time to get up. I wasn’t tired all day, because I’d been right, his tongue played pure music on my body. His name was Merrill Ashe, and I will never forget his mouth on me, so much like Kim‘s would be. There were times we’d lay on his bunk and tell each other what part of life brought us together. He shared many of the same complications I had. Dead alcoholic mother, wicked step-father who threw him out when his mother died, dirt poor but getting by, and even his shortage of regular haircuts. This sharing, as intimate as it was, wasn’t going to leave this summer camp, but it was fine, so fine while it lasted. That’s when I realized what was important. Everybody had to find something, or somebody, that was fine thing, a happy memory, just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To make an unbearable life bearable. I told him that. He was my one fine thing. In return, he told me that the first step he took on the path to playing serious jazz revealed his life’s mission, his fine thing to follow. And then he told me he could be himself with 29
  30. 30. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 30 me, like he felt when he was playing his saxophone, and that was a mighty fine thing too. The nights we shared were both honest, and finite. When the camp closed and school began we wouldn’t communicate, but we’d remember. For always we’d remember. On the day I left my mother actually came along with Walt to pick me up. I’m sure her reason was to check out how rich the school looked, and see how much I’d been paid. Merrill stood and watched me load up until he couldn’t stand the tension. He knew all about my mother and Walt, and he looked like he was going to scream. He came to me and held me tight for just a moment, a few breaths, then let me go. It was more romantic than I’d ever seen in the girl’s sappy movies, or read in the pulp romance novels I’d left behind for next summer. He was so caring, so reassuring, that when my mother started asking questions about him, and bad-mouthing me for getting involved with a college kid, I didn’t care. He was fine as any future female lover, right to the end. We had to stop at three bars on the way home so mummy dear could catch a buzz, but the memory of Merrill was a strong enough buzz to get me all the way home, and long after. # Sixteen and a half and I’m a junior in high school, taking driver’s ed classes, and probably failing trigonometry and physics. I got totally lost somewhere between an Archimedean Spiral and Boyle’s gas laws. Hell, I couldn’t figure why those classes would ever be important anyway. My life was way more physical than physics. Take the filthy beast for example. I was still dodging him at home, and didn’t see anyway around him other than to be, or even live, someplace else. I had what left of my summer’s wages, after mother made me 30
  31. 31. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 31 give her half, with a, “shut your mouth and be happy I don’t take it all. You owe me.” What was left wasn’t going to get me very far, or at least as far as I knew I’d have to be from him, so I opened a savings account and hoped it’d grow on it’s own. Lilly was still pathetic. I couldn’t help but think of that way even though her circumstances were way worse than mine. I prided myself for successfully avoiding the son of a bitch, she couldn’t do anything about him. If she’d contact the police they’d try to smooth over the situation in the name of domestic peace, instead of thinking of something more protective. He’d beat her to a pulp. Oh, not her face so somebody would notice and report him, he wasn’t willing to relocate again, not away from the sweet situation he had in my house. But he would hurt her. Really hurt her. She’d told me when we were still talking that he was a pro at avoiding her visible areas while hurting her body as much as possible. Shit, I wanted to run away and drag her along with me. Fat chance of that happening. # One evening after spending some study time at one of my girlfriend’s house I was alone in my room changing into my flannel pajamas with my back to the door, when he grabbed me from behind. My pajama top’s buttons sprayed across the room, and his claw marks across my chest burned and bled. Then my bottoms were ripped completely away. I kicked and screamed at the top of my lungs, I flayed with my arms while I tried to kick him in the balls, but he was strong, way too strong for me to break free of his arms. He threw me face down on the bed and grabbed as much of my hair as he could, pinning me down while he loosened his pants and pulled out a penis as big as a pony’s. God, how he must have mutilated Lilly time after time, and now he was planning to do the same to me. 31
  32. 32. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 32 And then there she was, Lilly looking in through the half-opened door with a huge smug smile on her face. All the sympathy in me was pushed right out of my heart. Then my breath was pushed completely out of me too when he laid his weight on my back. I knew I was going to pass out and probably die, so I panted like a dog in order to stay conscious as long as I could. Then he jammed his club into me, and I screamed even though I had no air in me, louder and louder than I had before. Nobody was going to help me. I felt blood running down my thigh as a niggling detail compared to the deeper pain inside. I couldn’t even pant then because I wanted to vomit, but couldn’t do that either. He was killing me, and enjoying every bit of it. I felt under my pillow and grabbed the knife I kept there. The sharp side of the blade cut into my thumb and palm, but I didn‘t feel it. I grabbed the handle and slid it out. Walter began to groan and pulse his slimy seed inside me, and I felt a rage-filled flame reach out and heat the cold steel knife to sun yellow. I knew it was hot, so I swung the blade wildly and forcefully, and felt the handle stop when it struck something hard, like bone. I’d liked to have cut his dick off, but it was still pumping away inside me. But the blade dug deep into his thigh, and with the last of my breath I pulled the blade upwards like a zipper. Then he screamed, and pulled away from me to see what I’d done. That was when I ran. I knew that even with a knife I was no match for him one on one. So I ran. Wearing only a torn pajama top I ran next door to Dick and Cordelia’s house and pounded on their door. Cordelia opened it, registered what I looked like, and yanked me inside. Good thing too, Walt was following me and gaining ground. He pounded on the door. Many times. He yelled and beat on the door like he’d never get tired of doing it, but he stopped before 32
  33. 33. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 33 the cops showed up. # Cordelia pulled me back into the bathroom and looked me over. “Can I have a towel to wash up with?” I asked. I felt like I’d fallen into a pit of rotting garbage, and I’d never be able to wash the stink off. “No, dear,” she replied, “that’s evidence. I’ll get you something to wear though.” She came out of her bedroom carrying a set of pink sweats. Pink, sweet Christ. “Put these on, the Sheriff is on the way.” There wasn’t much left of my blood-streaked top to pull off, and the sweatshirt reminded me of how cold I was. Not just the chill from running around naked outside in Michigan’s treacherous autumn nights, but also the bone shattering cold of icy semen running down the inside of my frightened thighs. The kind of cold that leaves an icicle through your heart. # There was a polite but insistent knock on the front door. I heard it, but lingered back into the shadows of Cordelia’s kitchen, and tried to peer out through the front windows of the house. I saw two black squad cars pulled all of the way up to the front porch. Dick groaned when he saw the ruts they’d leave behind, but opened the door for them all the same. Two deputies stood together, successfully blocking any escape from any criminal. “Why don’t you come inside?” Dick was polite, but obviously pissed about his well-tended yard. “It’s cold out there, and you’re letting it in.” They came into the living room, waved aluminum report folders around, then finally asked what the problem was. “Somebody reported a rape?” 33
  34. 34. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 34 “Would you like some coffee, officers?” Cord said in a high, tight voice. She was uncertain about handing me over to them, regardless of my injuries. They declined her offer. “I’ll put some on anyway.” The tall dark-haired Deputy watched her walk back to the kitchen with a puzzled expression, then he shrugged. The shorter, sandy-haired Deputy with frigid blue eyes began asking questions of Dick. “What happened here tonight?” “The young lady who lives next door was raped by her mother’s live-in.” “Really? Where’s this girl now?” Cordelia pushed me in the direction of the officers. “She’s right here.” I think I grimaced at her with some anger, but went to the living room. “What’s your name?” the bigger one asked. “Belinda. Belinda O’Conner.” “Is this true? Were you raped?” He had an odd tone in his voice, like he didn’t really believe in rape. Even so, I answered, “Yeah.” Sandy man quickly asked his question before the big guy could ask another one of his own. “Does the man who raped you live next door?” I nodded. “Would he still be there?” I shrugged. How should I know? He looked at his companion and said, “Why don’t you go next door and see if you can find him?” Blackie’s eyes narrowed, but he got up and left anyway. I saw sergeant stripes on the sleeve of sandy-man’s coat. That explained it. “Are you badly injured?” How could you be injured goodly? Cordelia broke in with, “She’s bleeding, and in shock, I think.” 34
  35. 35. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 35 He looked into my eyes and I knew he had an icicle in his heart too. Why? “Are you injured, Belinda?” He remembered my name, how nice of him. Then the world turned too fast on its axis, and I hit the carpet. # I woke up in the emergency room, and when a nurse talked nicely to me I broke completely down. One kind comment tore away all the toughness I thought I’d had. They were planning on doing a rape kit, and photographing my injuries. I was no more than putty to them, and did what they required me to do. Somebody put a few of stinging stitches in me, which would itch like hell later, and cleaned up the gouges on my chest. I knew it hurt, I just couldn’t figure out which hurt the worst. Then the sandy-haired Deputy pulled the dividing curtain back and came to my bedside. He smiled, but it wasn’t false or patronizing. He meant it. “Hi, my name’s Deputy Brickman. You can call me, “Brick”. All my friends do. We didn’t get a chance to finish my report earlier. Do you feel up to it now?” Where was I going to go? “Sure, if you want to.” “They did a rape kit here, and there’s no doubt that’s what occurred. I’m sorry.” “Yeah, me too.” I started crying again. Deputy Brickman, I wasn’t too sure I wanted to be his friend yet, held out a linen handkerchief to me. “Go ahead, take it.” Like snatching a piece of bait, I took it from his hand. It smelled of crisp starch and leather polish, and I wanted to blow my nose in the worse way, but this was a real, cloth hankie. He smiled again. “Go ahead, I’ve got plenty more.” I blew my nose and it seemed the snot would never stop. He laughed. “Wow, you really needed that.” 35
  36. 36. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 36 “What happened at my house after I passed out?” “Well, you know, I find this sorta interesting. The man who raped you…” “Walt Taft. I hope he rots in jail.” “Yeah, well, when my partner got to your house there was only one beat-to-hell old car in the drive.” “Uh, that would be my mother’s.” “Okay. So, being careful, Craig has his weapon out and pointed forward when he knocks on the door. Then this little skinny girl, Lilly, opened the door for us and we went inside.” “Lilly was still there? He didn’t take her?” “She is his daughter. Right?” I nodded. “I’m guessing he was in a hurry. So, my fellow Deputy interviewed your mother.” “That must have been a treat.” “He asked me how you could live in that kind of situation?” “You’re seeing how I lived in that situation. I’ll carry the marks for the rest of my life.” “Marks?” “Yeah, marks. The fucker ripped up my chest.” “Would you show me?” he asked softly. I think he knew he was walking a thin line. Not that I cared, my chest was already in some doctor’s report in glorious color. “Close the curtain,” I ordered with a wave of my hand. He did. I peeled the hospital gown away from my butterfly patched, anti-biotic ointment smeared chest gently, not so much because of the pain, which really did hurt, but for the growing heavy 36
  37. 37. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 37 numbness in my arms. I think they wanted to sleep through all this too. I watched his eyes as I exposed my breasts to him. He was good, I’ll give him that much, but I had a set of gravity-defying balloons that were dangerous to any man. I’d seen how most men looked at my dressed tits like they were some juicy pork-chops they wanted to suck to the marrow. His eyes opened wide and his pupils got dark, and that was it. He was taking all of me in without once licking his lips. I don’t know long polite is to a criminal investigation, but the length of time his eyes rolled over me like a pinball seemed polite, at least to me. “Okay, Belinda, I’ve seen what I needed to see.” “I bet you did.” He blushed. “What did you do with Lilly? She really needs to be away from that fucker.” “Put into the hospital’s care. She‘s going to be evaluated before she can enter foster care.” “Psych ward?” His eyes narrowed. “Yeah. What do you know about her?” I bit my bottom lip. “What just happened to me happened to her, a lot. I tried to get her to call the police, but she said she had to be with him.” Brickman shook his head. “I’m sorry, I know you must have tried to help, but that’s a common condition.” “What about her little brother?” “She has a brother?” “Yeah, in training to be a real man like his daddy. You didn’t find him?” “No, no sign of any brother.” 37
  38. 38. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 38 “Lilly’s really messed up, you know.” “Yeah, well, when we were talking to her she completely disassociated. I’m not sure she’ll be able to return to this painful world. The whole time we were with her she kept asking for her daddy in a vacant voice. Over and over, until she realized he’d left her behind. That’s when the shade was pulled down.” “Oh, God, I’m so sorry for her.” “Not your problem. He did that to her.” “Yeah, I saw them once. That was when I decided to keep a butcher knife under my pillow.” Brick started. “A knife? You had a knife?” “Yeah, like I said…” “Did you use it on him?” “Yeah.” “How bad?” “Maybe some vein in his thigh. He was bleeding like the pig he is.” “Where is the knife now?” “Don’t know. Maybe I dropped it.” Brick pulled a cell phone from his belt and flipped it open. Looking at its tiny screen, he shook his head. “Excuse me, I have to go outside to make a call. Will you be okay?” Would I be okay when he was gone? And just when did his voice turn softer and more considerate? When I told him I ripped into the bastard? I don’t know, but it seemed like I’d garnered some real respect from him when I told I’d struck back. “Sure, I’ll be 38
  39. 39. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 39 fine. I should be getting out of here soon anyway.” “Hold that thought,” he threw back over his shoulder as he swept aside the curtain. Hold that thought? What? I wasn’t getting out of here soon? Then I really couldn’t think of anything else, until I twisted the sheet into a rope, maybe in case I’d need it to escape. He came back. “I put out an alert to as many hospitals as we can reach. If a man comes in with a stab wound anywhere around here they’ll get a hold of us.” “Good idea. What did you mean by, “Hold that thought,”? “Where are we going to take you? Do you really want to go home and deal with your mother right now? Do you want to go back into your bedroom?” Good thought, why hadn’t I thought of it first? It was my life. “No.” “So what do we do?” “Dick and Cordelia’s?” “Your neighbors?” “Yeah.” “It’s four in the morning.” “Let me call them.” “I’ll take you there if they agree.” I looked around but didn’t see a phone. Brick jumped up, but he wasn‘t going to share his official one. “Let me check at the nurse’s station, they usually have a cordless for patients.” He was back in a few seconds. His popping in and out and made me nervous with his urgent energy. Was I as urgent to get to someplace else other than here? Not really. Not unless it was completely safe. Not even to Dick and Cord’s. He handed it to me and sat down. I punched the numbers, and it only took three rings to connect with Cordelia. “Is 39
  40. 40. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 40 that you honey?” “Yeah. They’re done with me here at the hospital. Can I stay with you for the night?” “Of course, you needn’t even ask. I’ve put sheets on your bed because I was hoping you’d call. I’ll be waiting for you.” “Thank you, you’ve saved my life.” She quit the connection but I thought I’d heard a sob before the call ended. I turned to Deputy Brickman. “Well, I’ve got a place to stay tonight.” “I’ll have to interview your mother tomorrow, when she’s maybe not so shit-faced. I’d like you to be there. I’ll get you from the neighbor’s if that’s alright.” All of a sudden I could laugh again, and it felt so free I didn’t want to stop. Brick raised one eyebrow. It was a good interview trick, that eyebrow. “You want to talk to her when she’s less shit-faced? Good luck with that.” “It’s really that bad then?” “Maybe in the daylight you’ll see some mustard on her.” “She’s dying.” “There’s news. She’s been dying forever, and the only reason she’s still around is that she’s a dragon.” “Excuse me?” “A winged serpent, a fire-breathing reptile. You know, with scales and all that shit.” “Why do you say that?” “My father told me before he died a horrible death. He told me she had put a fire 40
  41. 41. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 41 dragon inside him, and it burned him up.” “C’mon.” “Fine, don’t believe me, I can’t help that, but it’s very true. She’s a goddamn dragon.” “Uh, right. For the sake of not arguing I’ll say I believe you.” “Whatever. Can I get my clothes now?” “They’re right here. I’ll meet you by the nurses station.” He carried away the phone. Did he think I’d want to make another call? To who? My girlfriends? Did I want to make another call? Shit, I was too tired and my thinking had dipped into a paranoia much like I got smoking pot. Too bad I hadn’t had near as much fun getting paranoid as when Stoner and I sucked in and exhaled great gouts of thick smoke. Oh, well. A middle aged woman not dressed in nurses scrubs came in while I was gingerly pulling up my sweat pants. I jumped. “I’m sorry, Belinda, I didn’t mean to startle you.” I made a vow right then to never turn my back to a door. “What do you want?” “I’m a social worker. In cases like this one we’ll need to make an appointment for a follow up on your case.” “Follow up? Why?” She sat down on one of the uncomfortable stools in the room. “Well, most girls suffer extreme depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome. You may not feel it now, but you’re a very good candidate for PTSD.” “PTSD? A venereal disease? You think that bastard gave me a disease too?” “No, PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, like I told you. I want to meet with 41
  42. 42. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 42 you at least one more time. I’ve got an opening in two weeks, at 3:30 in the afternoon. I’ve give you a reminder card.” She scribbled something on the back of her business card and handed it to me. I wanted it to slip out of my fingers and fall to the floor, but she made sure I had it tight in my hand before she let go. “There then, I’ll see you in two weeks,” she announced and left through the drapery. I turned the card over and found her name. “Anne Flores, LISW”. More initials I didn’t understand. I put it in my pocket. There was a phone number on it, if I chose to cancel the appointment. Perhaps I’d wait for a week, then bow out gracefully. I finally got released, with help from Deputy Brickman. The nurses all looked at me with pitying eyes, and one began to cry as Brick explained that I needed to leave. I thought that if she wanted to cry she should try having stitches in her ass. I know I almost cried when they rubbed against my clothes. # I climbed into the back seat of his cruiser and immediately felt like a criminal behind the steel mesh and bolted down shotgun. It wasn‘t a feeling I wanted, or needed, so I stared out the side window and watched for landmarks to guide me home. Well, not really my home, next door to it. We didn’t talk at all on the way, and probably couldn’t have anyway between the spitting police radio and the static and flashing light monitors. When we pulled up to their house, not on the lawn this time, he escorted me to the door with his hand on his gun. He wasn’t taking any chances that Walt would be outside. Cord opened up and I pushed past the gun-totin’ lawman with a low, “Good night”. I wanted to sleep for three or four days before I thought about anything again. Even Brick. Maybe mostly Brick. Cord took me to my old room and handed me a pair of pajamas that she’d 42
  43. 43. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 43 warmed up on the heat register, and kissed my cheek. For that moment, that one brief moment, I felt loved. I waited until she left the room before I cried into my pillow. Sleep was never so welcome before. # Chapter Four- I cracked one gummy and grainy eyelid half open when I heard the phone ring. The bedside clock said four-thirty. Am? Pm? I didn’t care. I’d slept all day, and would go on sleeping as long as I wanted to. I closed my eye. Cord came into the room. “Belinda? Honey? Are you awake?” I am now. “Yeah,” I mumbled into my pillow. “Deputy Brickman is coming to interview your mother, and he’d like to have you there if you can.” “How long?” “How long? You mean the interview? I have no way of…” “’Till he gets here?” “Oh, about an hour. He wanted you to have time to clean up and eat something.” “Okay.” Not very likely. “Why don’t you get up and take a shower first.” I didn’t respond. “Belinda? Take as long as you want to in the shower.” I hadn’t thought of that. A nurse had cleaned me up at the hospital, but I still had the stink of the beast on me. “Thanks.” She left the room and I dropped off the mattress, with just a hint of reminder about hidden stitches. I ran the shower until it lost its hot, scrubbing away at my skin with a soft washcloth, and then I dried off with a huge, soft, 43
  44. 44. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 44 and flowery smelling towel. I radiated bright, red hot, the same color as the scratches on my chest. I smeared greasy ointment on them, removing the butterfly bandages as I went. Nothing bled, so I figured I was better. Back in my bedroom was another set of sweats, and they were red as my skin. I’d never seen Cord or Dick doing anything like exercising, but if they chose to they’d be well dressed at least. The smell of bacon and the cackle of scrambled eggs met me long before I entered the kitchen. Cordelia was in her glory; taking care of, and providing for a child in the house. I saw how deeply she yearned for, and regretted not having a child in the house. I saw the core sadness behind her present happy face. From nowhere I asked myself if I was to be her child now. The answer was a simple, “I hope not”. I got a cup of coffee and sat down. “You know, you really shouldn’t drink coffee,” she said. “It’ll stunt your growth.” There was the mother talking, already. “Yeah, and eggs have too much cholesterol, especially balanced out with the fat overload of bacon. You’re cookin’ up some toxic mixture there. You want me to live out the day?” I didn’t say it like it was a joke. I was in no mood for mothers or jokes. “And many more.” There was a knock on the front door, and I heard Dick get up with his newspaper in one hand and answer it. I heard low voices, one was Dick’s, and I thought the other was Brick. Then the Deputy came into the kitchen. “Good morning, Belinda.” “Afternoon.” “I work second shift, it’s morning to me.” Then I remembered him working last night, thank God. “Do you always work 44
  45. 45. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 45 second trick?” He smiled with grim humor. “Yeah, I get to deal with all of Michigan’s various entertainments; drunk drivers, loud parties, and drunken domestic complaints.” He sat back a second, then gulped. “Uh, I don’t mean yours'.” “No offense taken,” I said as I stared down at the tabletop. “I’m glad you were here.” Cord turned around with the egg skillet in her hands. “Then you’ll have some breakfast with us.” He tried to argue, but I can’t remember anybody winning an argument over her cooking. He sat down next to me. “Coffee?” I asked. “Yeah, that’d be good.” I got up and poured him a cup, then set it in front of him. He sipped at it. “Mmm, that’s good.” Cordelia laid plates in front of us and we both dug into them. I thought I wasn’t hungry. Brick wiped his mouth with a paper napkin when he finished, and got up to get more coffee. “Belinda?” holding out the pot. “No thanks. I’m trying to limit the number of times I have to wipe today.” Cord spun around. “You’ll not talk of that horror during breakfast, and I’m sure the Deputy doesn’t want to hear it while he‘s eating. Okay?” Thanks mom. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” “I mean, it’s bad enough you have to talk to that miserable woman again.” In the happiness of the kitchen I’d forgotten what I had to do next. Not because I felt happy, but because it really was the last thing I wanted to do. Deputy Brickman saw my face fall. “We’ll make it short, Belinda. No need to drag out the pain.” Without any segue, Cord burst out, “But where is she going to live?” Cord asked 45
  46. 46. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 46 about me. “Could she stay here?” He looked me in the face. “You’re sixteen now, you have a choice. I’m guessing you don’t want to live over there,” with a pointing motion of his head. I shuddered. “No.” I thought about Dick and Cordelia, and how they lived the well-deserved retirement life. I’d never fit into their style. “Listen Cordelia, I’m young and disruptive and obnoxious as a teenager can be. I’m not sure you’d want me around for very long. You like peace and quiet.” Brick actually seemed to agree with me. “You have how long until you graduate?” “A year and a half.” Brick leaned back into his seat and moved his mouth around in deep, unspoken thought. Then he rubbed his lips. “Ah, look, you don’t know me from Adam, but I just can’t let you get lost in the system, which is what would happen to you if these fine people decided to throw you out.” He smiled at Cord when she opened her mouth to disagree. “I’m joking. Ah, about you, not the system.” He turned back to me. “I’d be willing to check into the foster care availability.” He looked at both of us for some affirmation, and didn’t get it. “You can live on your own, Belinda, but I’m guessing you can’t afford it. Why don’t you let me check things out? What can it hurt?” I nodded, and heard a gasp from Cordelia. “No, I’m not leaving you permanently. I just want to know, that’s all.” Cord registered my comment with the slightest dip of her chin. “Well, may as well get the nasty stuff over with,” he said and looked at me. I got up and put his plate and mine next to the sink. “I’ll do these as soon as I get 46
  47. 47. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 47 back.” Cord didn’t look at me. Outside, Deputy Brickman walked across the frost-crisped grass and then stood on my house‘s porch. “Get your clothes, books, and anything else you need while I’m talking to her. I don’t think you’ll be coming back soon.” I opened the door and the scent of whiskey almost choked me, and Brick leaned back and took in a deep lungful of outside air, then nodded to me to progress inside. “Mom? Where are you?” My, but wasn’t being polite? “Hey, is anybody here?” The house was silent, and it reminded me of what happened last night. It was silent, too silent. I was now feeling like some disposed garbage, and I wanted to burn the place to the ground and cast salt on the earth beneath it. She came out of the bedroom using all her limbs to navigate. Her arms reached to the walls kept her from falling down, and her feet, once given the compulsion, couldn’t stop until she landed in her chair. She looked at Brick with yellow eyes. “What’d you want?” “I need to interview you, Mrs. O’Conner, about what happened to here last night.” “I already told that pig who was here last night. Nothin’ happened.” Jim motioned for me to go and collect my possessions. “Nothing happened? Then how do you explain Belinda’s injuries?” “She’s a lying little bitch, is how. She does this shit for attention.” “So, are you saying you weren’t at home at the time of the assault?” “I was here. But there weren’t no assault.” “Why did she have to run to the neighbors house in torn pajamas?” “She’s a slut. She don‘t care if she‘s naked or not.” 47
  48. 48. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 48 I heard her last comment from up in my room as I tried to fit the pieces of my life so far into a battered suitcase. I yelled, “You sorry-assed sack of shit!” as loud as I could. I was trying to squeeze one more pair of torn jeans into the case when I saw the blood stains. They were splashed all over the floor. I stared at what I’d done. Me. Where had I found the strength to strike back with no air in my lungs? Hadn’t I felt a strong burning inside before I hit him with the knife? I seemed to remember I did. I did feel a flame of some sort, and it saved my life. I carried my school books in a back pack, and the few clothes I had in my single suitcase and walked down the stairs. Setting them by the front door, I knelt in front of what had been my mother at one time. “Why did you betray me?” I didn’t expect an answer, at least a sensible one. “Why, goddammit? Why?” “I told you to be nice to him, didn’t I? And now I’m going to lose this house. All because of you. You’ve always been my burden to bear, and now you want to hurt me even more? It‘s more than I can bear.” She sounded so sad when she answered me, but then she gulped and looked that her end table for her whiskey glass. Not finding it at hand, she glared at me with pure, undisguised hatred. “You’re lucky I don’t put the fire in you too, bitch. I’d burn you up like I did your goddamn father, curse his goddamn name!” Before I knew it I’d slapped her so hard the force of it turned her whole body in the chair. She didn’t move, and I was scared I’d broken her neck. What fucking irony that would be, she’d have the last laugh, again. Then she turned to face me. “And you’re just like him!” “Good!” I shouted, spittle flying. Then I got in her sickening sweet smelling face and hissed, “You can’t hurt me, or anybody else ever again. You don’t have the fire 48
  49. 49. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 49 inside you anymore. You put it out with all your drinking. You don’t have it anymore,” I screamed at her, “I do!” What the hell was I yelling about all of a sudden? My mouth made the words, but my conscious mind wasn’t telling it what to say. Where was it coming from? My burning hate for her? Then I leaned over and whispered right into her ear, “I’ve got it now. Me. Not you.” She didn’t look at me, but her frame seemed to collapse in on its self, a burned out husk even tiny fire demons wouldn’t go slumming in. Until she got to hell, that is. “Uh, Belinda?” Brick asked softly and took my elbow. I want to get a couple of photos of your room, if you don’t mind.” I’d forgotten he was in the house. I pulled my fangs back in and smoothed back my hackles. “Sure.” Now he looked frightened. “What the hell was that all about? Yelling that you had the fire now?” “Nothing. It didn’t mean nothing. I just wanted to pay her back some.” He looked away, but I could tell he was still thinking about my outburst. In my bedroom he looked over the scene with eyes wide in disbelief. Blood had spurted everywhere. “Craig, I mean the other Deputy, told me about this, but I didn’t believe him. If Walt went very far he probably bled out and died.” “That’s a loss,” I spit out. “No, you did good. Very good. I sorry he had to assault…” “Rape, Deputy Brickman. Not assaulted. Get it right. Raped.” He tossed off an apology, “Sorry. Anyway, you did good, Belinda.” “Let’s get out of here,” I muttered. I’d seen enough blood, my own, and the filthy 49
  50. 50. Robert McCool, Scones and Ash 50 beast’s too. It was time to leave this mausoleum. I grabbed my set of house and car keys I’d left behind last night. They were mine, I’d earned ‘em fair and square with all my past pleading, bargaining, and begging. Besides, I couldn’t see my mother driving very far, so I figured I was doing the world a favor when I snagged up her set too. Brick led me out of the house without a goodbye to my mother, with my suitcase in his one hand and the Department camera in his other. “Hey, when you develop those could I make a poster of the best one?” Again, I didn’t mean it as a joke. All I wanted to do was to go back to bed and smother myself under covers. He laughed and shook his head. “You know, I don’t have a clue about who you are, other than the Stoner connection, but I like you. Uh, as a person who rises above fear that is.” My mouth was open. The Stoner connection? “Hey, I’m a cop, Belinda. We know things about the community that we need to know in order to keep the peace. No harm on your part, no foul. Okay?” He looked into my eyes. “Besides, he the mayor’s son, and the mayor is a poker buddy to the whole Sheriff’s office. Can’t let the royalty get in trouble, can we?” I knew my face must be green with nausea. The last thing I wanted to think about now was sex or pot. “He’s headed for the west coast, you know.” I felt like retching. Brick did see my sickening complexion. “Then you’ll stop seeing him.” It wasn’t a question. I nodded, and added, “You really don’t know who I am at all if you think I’m not afraid.” I was, of just about everything, and everybody besides Deputy Jim Brickman. I decided it was okay to call him Brick now. # 50