Friday, 4 January 2013

Unedited and rough...but proof that I'm writing


It wasn’t supposed to end this way, you know - me, laying here birthing child number nine and contemplating the end of my life.  It’s the end. You can’t tell me any different. Childbirth is messy and painful, but not like this.
It’s been four years since the last one, since the last time I paid for being loyal to that man by bringing another of his offspring into this world. Don’t misunderstand. I love my babies. I love all of them with everything I have, and more with what I don’t have. They’re my one spot of joy in this strange life I chose for myself.
My name is Grace Margaret Brown Hayes. I was barely 17 years old when I married Hannibal. Almost ten years my senior, he was. He wasn’t an incredibly handsome man but, he was oh so charming. He convinced my papa in no time that he was going to be somebody.
He was going to raise those racehorses and make a proper life for me and our children. He was going to be able to give me the moon and then some. That’s what he told papa. What he didn’t tell him was that those horses weren’t for racing on tracks while men placed friendly wagers on the outcome. Those horses, those terrible racehorses, were for outrunning the federals. They were bred for the likes of outlaws willing to pay a pretty penny for them.
But me and my precious little angels, we all paid the ultimate price for those damned horses. Always running off in the middle of the night, loading up wagons with the little bit we could have just to stay one step ahead of those federals. Hannibal never lets us acquire much of nothing. The more we have, he says, the more we got to pack up and carry with us the next time we move on. You can’t go quickly if you got to load up a bunch of nonsense to take with you, he says.
Back and forth between Illinois and Indiana; so many times I felt as if the tenderest parts of my heart were laid bare on the path between. Why we have to run, I’d ask. Who cares what folks do with the horses we sell them? What they do once they have those horses ain’t any of our business. But, Hannibal doesn’t see it that way. The way he figures, the federals will find him just as guilty for selling those horses as outlaws are for using them to rob trains and the like.
So, we run. All these years we’ve run. Here Hannibal would come in the middle of the night, frantic and rushing, telling us we got 30 minutes to pack up what needs taking and get it loaded in the wagon. I don’t really know how he comes by his revelations that it’s time to move again. But, he does, and we go.
~
Much as we are now. Going, that is. Missouri it would seem this time. Hannibal feels like the only way to stop the going is to go further. He says as soon as this baby comes and I’ve healed we’ll be on our way again.  Maybe this will be the end of the going.
I hear Hannibal playing that fiddle of his. Soft and sweet to settle the children as the sun goes down.  I hear his sister Lizzie singing along as I’m thinking of how she hates that I call her Lizzie, and why can’t I call her Beth as the rest of them do.
I asked that girl to marry.
Won’t you go my way?
I asked that girl to marry.
Won’t you go my way?

Oh marry, never tarry.
Won’t you go my way?
Oh marry, never tarry.
Won’t you go my way?

Fitting, those words – marry, never tarry. Lord knows he married enough to suit himself. I’m wife number four, you know. He thinks me unaware that he didn’t divorce the others; that he just left them and went about his way.  Except for that Maryetta Shryock, she was fortunate enough to get her writ of divorce.

Of course, then there was that Boswell girl. That one he married on Independence Day while he was stationed in Memphis during the war. The way them southern girls are so damn proud of their heritage and such, it’s not farfetched to wonder what kind of respectable southern girl would marry a drunken union soldier in the middle of a war between the states.

Then there was the Canada girl. Melinda, I think. Perhaps this was the most disturbing to me of them all. They had borne one child already, a sweet cheeked baby girl named Launia Jane. He thinks I don’t know, but I’ve peeped a time or two into the cedar box he keeps under his side of the bed and on a few occasions I was able to get Lizzie to open up a little to me.

I found the photo of that angelic little babe tucked neatly into the folds of a letter from the cedar box.  It hurt my heart so to know that he would abandon such an innocent and, worse yet, that his beloved Melinda had another babe on the way. That little girl haunts me sometimes. Sometimes I even wonder whether it be my children who have Hannibal, or her children who don’t, that are the lucky ones.

I once asked Lizzie what she knew, only after making her swear not to tell that I’d been in the cedar box and that was how I knew what he’d done. She says I shouldn’t blame him so much for leaving that girl.  She says the Boswell girl’s brothers had tracked him down. That they demanded to know why he’d abandoned their sister, and that they intended to return him to her – either dead, or alive. They even said she had a boy by Hannibal and that boy needed a father.

She said that on the journey back the three of them travelled along the edge of the river. Thinking he would surely lose his life before they reached Tennessee, Hannibal took his chances with the current and leapt right off the back of his horse and into the river!

She says he thought it better to let Melinda think he was dead than it would be to crush her with the truth of the matter. That somehow, being a widow with two babies fared better for her than knowing that she was never really married at all to the father of her children.

I wonder then, what kind of woman am I that I would spend all these years with a man that I might not really be married to? I pray, especially now, that the Lord will allow me to make peace of that. Does it not count that when I married him I thought I was the only one?

I can just see now the sneers of those pasty faced women in church if they knew the secrets I harbor. The damn gossip mongers would spread my stories in no time, and all under the guise of “Christian” concern when what they really want is just to let everyone know that they have the scoop on my sorrows.

~
I’m worried now.  I haven’t the strength to move anymore. I lay here sweating buckets. That’s the price you pay for keeping warm in the winter, you birth babies in the summer.
Who’s taking care of my babies? Creasie, my oldest living girl, is only ten. That’s hardly old enough to bear my daily burden. She’s not strong enough to scrub out the wash, I’ve not yet taught her to cure the fatback when we slaughter the hog, or to make the maple pie that Sherman loves for his birthday. Had my sweet Clara Jane lived, she would have known what to do. I would have been able to teach her all she needed to know to care for my sweet brood.
Poor Lizzie is weary; hours of mopping the sweat off my brow and cleaning up bloody sheets. The sweet metallic scent of blood seems to permeate the walls of this room.  She can’t be doing it all, can she?


3 comments:

  1. I love it Erica mmore more more! Stanta

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is fantastic! More, we want more!

    ReplyDelete