Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 “What do you want?” I asked the holder of the gun. “What did you see?” “Nothing. I didn’t see nothing. I was just passing by and the light from the window drew me.” “And you didn’t see nothing?” “No, I swear. I didn’t see nothing,” I said. “Liar.” The voice was right. I am a liar. I have been a liar for quite some time but I never lied to hurt anyone, I only lied to survive. After I ran away from home, I still had to find food and drink. Not as much and with less consequence but I still needed a roof for the cold nights, a bath, clothes. I had no money and I had no job, so lying was necessary to convince passersby into giving me a few coins. I was never so desperate to offer myself the way I had been taken. When I could, I found manual labor. The numb patch that was half of my face whispered I would have fared better had I not. I could have saved face was the bitter joke on me. It was the cause of my deformity. In fact, the day it happened was much like now, dark, cold, and rainy. I had managed to get a job cleaning up the scraps in a mill that processed leather. I worked twelve hours a day and made barely enough to live on but the work was inside and warm, in spite of the smell, the acrid rip of tanning solution and the ever present taste of old death. I was about thirteen then, small and timid. I admit. I was frightened of everyone, especially men and still am. The workers there must have sensed my fear. It appeared it was great fun for them to torment me. They would pretend not to notice me but as soon as I passed by, one would grab my shoulder. I would scream and pull away in a panic. The roar of laughter following me across the floor reminded me of my father and terrified me more. It wasn’t long before the other young kids working there joined in, hiding behind barrels and jumping out. I tried to hide inside myself, look only at the floor, but the days were filled with weak-kneed moments and fears of wetting myself. A tall machine centered the factory, one with great rollers of smooth stone that squeezed the chemicals from the sheets of leather and flattened them at the same time. A tall thin wheel fifteen feet high, spun slowly. The belt wrapped around the wheel turned a smaller wheel attached to the rollers. A stout engine, exhausting black smoke, and chugging like a cancerous locomotive, turned the main wheel slowly but the large diameter transferred speed to the stone rollers. Water and yellow chemicals formed a wave in front of the top stone. The excess ran to the floor and collected in a trough that carried it away to a collection vat to be reused. On the other side of the roller, flat, almost dry swaths of leather rode on the belt moving to the drying racks. “Flat Nack. Flat Nack. Hang him on the drying rack,” the younger ones sang around me. They pretended to push me onto the wet belt, the one that carried the tanned leather towards the rollers. They laughed as I ran from them, dropping my armful of scraps. The older men catcalled with them as they sliced away the skin from dead cattle and a few horses. The men scrapping away flesh and fat from the skin would sometimes throw globs of fatty blood at me. I hated wiping the slimy cold mess from my clothes or neck. No matter how hard I scrubbed in the bath, I couldn’t get the slimy feeling to go away. Perhaps the highlight of my life had been my landlady and her daughter. For all but a few dollars of my pay, she gave me room and board. At the dinner table, while her other boarders slurped and noisily gobbled down stew and bread, she would lay her hand softly on my head and slip a few cookies into the pocket of my jacket. Back then, my hair was much thicker and brown, I could feel her hand but could only imagine the warmth. At night I would close my eyes and place my own hand on my head and hold it there long enough for my body heat to penetrate, pretending it was her. When I tried to thank her for the cookies, she placed a callused finger across my lips that to me felt as soft as an angel’s, and winked. Her redheaded daughter, sitting across the table from me would smile then look quickly away, turning as red as I supposed I looked. I would have given my landlady my whole paycheck if she would have accepted it but she directed me to a place to buy clothes cheap and insisted I spend at least one dollar on candy for my self. I skipped the clothing store twice because I did not like the look of the proprietor sitting inside. The third time, a young bored woman sat there. I went inside and quickly picked out two pairs of pants and two shirts that looked like the right size. I gave her the money, which she took with the same uninterested look she had when I walked in. I found that I had greatly over estimated my size but not my height. Still, the ill fitting clothes were clean and cheap. I went to the drug store to buy my dollar’s worth of candy and once again, I was confronted by a man. This one however, was small, old, and pale. He wore thick glasses and was bald. I knew I could out run him if I needed to. I walked to the candy aisle and stood in amazement at the varieties. I had no idea, never having tasted any before, of what I liked. I ended up buying as much as I could for a dollar, getting a few of the round colorful things, and a few of the dark brown things that smelled a bit like coffee only sweeter. I placed my dollar and my candy on the counter and backed away. The small man took my money and placed my items in the bag. When he moved off to attend to other needs, I snatched the bag and ran out of the store. I got to the dinner table early that night and sat quietly as the guests filed in and sat at their customary places. Mrs. Beamersoft dished out tonight’s fare. I wasn’t interested in the food. I was waiting for her daughter Relite to arrive. Around me the mastication of ten hungry mouths slayed the gentle atmosphere. Dishes clinked and steam clouded my eyes as dishes of potatoes and beans passed in front of me. Relite entered from the drawing room. I could see the light gleam off her wavy hair. I saw her look directly at me when she entered and as was customary, look down when she saw me looking back. As timid as I was, I didn’t take my eyes off her. When she pulled her chair out, she paused. She looked quickly around. This time I averted my eyes but let them return to the scene as she looked back at the seat of her chair. I watched her hand reach out but I couldn’t see it because it was hidden by the table and long table cloth. I did see her eyes open wide as she must have spied what was in the bag I had put on her chair. This time when she looked up, I smiled at her. She didn’t look away this time. My heart was pounding and my head felt light enough to float away. I hadn’t kept any of the candy. I figured what I never had, I would never miss which turned out not only true for candy but for other things. I continued to buy the sweets week after week and cookies, biscuits, and fruit continued to be slipped into my pocket and most importantly, the hand upon my head. No longer did Relite look away but presented me with the most beautiful smile I could have ever received. As life in the boarding house improved, conditions at work degraded but nothing they did could steal the cotton memories carefully packaged in my mind. I had become so engrossed in the images of Relite, that the kids jumping out of dark places no longer got a reaction. I would have thought this was a good thing. Tis better to have never been loved than to have been loved and lost is the real truth. A lesson brought home to stay, cold as fingers of the dead, hard as a slate of granite. As I said before, it was dark, cold and rainy. The factory was warm enough but cold drops of water found there way through the roof. The biggest kid that worked at the factory was also the meanest. His name was Concer. He was easily twice my size. I would always see him hanging with the men, wanting to be one of them I supposed. Always trying to impress them, he tormented me the most. In my new state of happiness, I guess he had been getting frustrated at not making me run screaming away. I was walking by the big wheel. The men were busy working at cutting, stretching, and scraping. It had been a gray wet day and everyone seemed inside themselves. I was. I was thinking that in two days, I would get paid and once more I could spend my dollar to give Relite another gift of sweets. A week ago, I had fought my shyness and had actually handed her the bag. Red as an apple, she whispered ‘thank you’ and ran away. Thank you. Had anyone ever said that to me? I was floating, hearing her small shy voice in my head. A hand fell on my shoulder. Instead of dropping my load of scraps and running, I turned to see Concer there. I just looked at him as if waiting to see if he had anything to say. From behind him, I heard the other men yelling out to him. “Oh, you sure scared him,” one said. “Look at him run,” said another. The fait accompli was the man that yelled, “You couldn’t scare a little girl.” Concer reached behind me and grabbed my waistband and started to drag me toward the wet belt. “Flat Nack time,” he said. For the first and last time in my life I fought back. I threw off the hand on my shoulder first and twisted. He tried to grab me again but I threw my scraps in his face. It surprised him and his feet slipped on the wet floor. He went down. The laughter of the men drown out the chugging motor. I looked down at Concer. A new fear raced through me. The look on his red bloated face and thin eyes told me I was in physical danger. I turned to run but he caught my leg. I went down too on the slippery floor of tanning fluid and rain. Concer picked me up and dragged me writhing under his firm grip. Closer and closer he pulled me toward the wet belt; not only the wet belt but the large cylindrical stones. I could hear the hissing as the fluid squeezed out. The belt slapped at me as he pushed me closer. I could feel the air pushed by the presses and my view was of the turning gray stone and black belt. I was inches away, screaming and twisting in every way to move back but Concer outweighed me by too much. I could hear him over my screaming. “Flat Nack, Dead Flat Nack,” he yelled into my ear. I felt myself lifted and placed on the belt. No longer held by Concer, the belt moved me toward my death. I reached out to push away but the spinning stone took my hand. I pulled back feeling the stone grind into my fingers. I suppose lucky was a term others would use but there was a hide on the belt and the wet leather allowed my hand to slip instead of being pulled in. Holding tight to the rail with my other hand, I gave a jerk but instead of my hand coming free it pulled my face too close and the stone grabbed it. It pulled me in and I could feel wet slimy leather pass on one side and the stone grinding away on the other. I felt my ear rip loose as I struggled without any leverage. Cruel world, cruel world, I pulled free and rolled to the floor. Had the workers not feared what the owner may do, they might have been generous and let me bleed to death. Instead, they carried me to the hospital. I could only see from one eye but what I saw on the faces of the doctors and nurses scared me. The next morning dawned as if rain had not existed. My entire face was wrapped in gauze and the pain on the side of my face matched that on my hand which was wrapped as big as a boxing glove. Doctors and nurses whisked up and down the halls but none stopped to talk to me. I slept. Three days passed through a fog of sleep and groggy wakefulness. Finally, although the pain remained alive, I was able to comprehend my surroundings. I was surprised when Mrs. Beamersoft walked into my room. She placed a small vase with three bright yellow flowers by my bed. She took my uninjured hand and held it. “I am so sorry this happened,” she said. “How bad is it?” I could only mumble through the gauze gap they had left for my mouth. “I don’t know” “I heard of the accident from one of the guest who didn’t know it was you but when you didn’t come home...” I saw another shadow by the door. I turned and my pain fled. There stood Relite with a smile and a small brown paper bag. I knew what was inside but nothing was sweeter than the sight of her. She smiled shyly and walked over to my bedside. “This is for you,” she said looking at the floor. “Thank you” I mumbled For the next three days both Mrs. Beamersoft and Relite came to see me. On the third day they arrived just in time to see the bandages removed. They stood at the foot of my bed as the nurse unwound foot after foot of gauze. “Move,” the voice holding the pistol to my neck said. He directed me toward the house. At least it wouldn’t be raining inside, I thought. I turned away from the window and the view of the crumpled body inside. Now fans - I am on my way to the Susan G Komen 3 - day 60 mile walk. Feel free to donate @ I will continue this story when I return.

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