After Elizabeth witnesses domestic violence, her father is suddenly killed in a car crash. Elizabeth is inserted into a new life: a new father and brother, and most unusual; a completely new name.
Grampa Terrence is a father figure since Grant’s parent’s divorce. Terrence is grooming Grant to be the next mayor of Louisville and will stop at nothing to see him appointed; no matter whose life is ruined.
As Grant patronizes Elizabeth’s restaurant one day, all eyes are on them. Like ostriches with heads in the sand, things have been concealed: a baby, betrayal, bribery…even murder.
Elizabeth sat at the table, watching her mother, Christine, frantically put the settings in place. The tune “Rockin’ Robin” sang from the small AM radio on the counter. Christine watched the clock on the wall above the table intently, like it was going to spontaneously combust.
“Mommy, can I go to Rachel’s house after supper?” Elizabeth asked, playing with the fork her mother had just placed next to her drinking glass.
Christine nervously pulled the fork out of her daughter’s hand and replaced it exactly how it had been before Elizabeth touched it. “No, your father wants you home tonight.” She answered tersely.
A frown crossed Elizabeth’s five-year-old face. She hadn’t seen her little friend Rachel in over a month. “How come I can’t see her, Mommy? Do you and daddy not like her?” she asked, her pony tail bobbing from the pink satin ribbon Christine had so neatly placed in her hair that morning.
Christine sighed, frustrated. “Yes, we like her just fine. Daddy just wants us all home tonight.”
“Tomorrow?” Elizabeth begged, looking up at her mother. One eye was open, the other closed, as if bracing for a blow to the side of her face.
Shaking her head, like her daughter had just asked a difficult question, Christine answered, “Maybe. We’ll see.”
Satisfied, Elizabeth turned and ran to the living room. She switched the metal dial to her favourite cartoons on the television and sat, cross-legged on the floor with her hands folded in her lap. The side door opened with a crash and Elizabeth looked over to say hello to her father. “Hi, Pumpkin.” He smiled, removing his overcoat and grabbing something from the outside pocket. Christine took it from him and draped it over the chair.
Charles grunted a hello to Christine, abruptly placing his briefcase on the kitchen chair. Christine bent slightly and chastely kissed her husband on the cheek. He looked at her like she was a dog who had just licked his ear.
“Have you been a good girl today?” Charles asked, approaching a beaming Elizabeth; his hands behind his back. The crinkling of cellophane was a dead giveaway. She nodded emphatically. Her mother watched lovingly from the kitchen as she stirred the bubbling gravy in the pan.
“I went to the candy store today.” His hands came into the little girl’s view and he opened his palm. A large package of licorice lay across his hands as he presented it to Elizabeth.
“Oh daddy, thank you!” she shouted gleefully, opening her arms. “My favourite!”
She leaned her face into the red-lettered package and inhaled the sweet smell. “Can I eat them after supper?”
“As long as you eat it all up.” He advised warmly; his index finger pointing at her. Charles walked back into the kitchen and opened one of the steaming pots on the stove.
“Dinner ready?” he frowned.
“Just about.” She answered, turning quickly towards the oven. She inserted her hands into the oven mitts, pulled on the metal handle and a plume of steam rose upward. When she reached into the oven, Charles waved his hand in front of his face and scowled, “Jesus, Christine!”
“Sorry.” She whispered quickly, removing the steaming hot pan from the oven. “You like your roast right out of the oven.”
“Roast again?” Charles complained. “Christ, maybe I should do the grocery shopping.”
Charles folded open the newspaper as he sat, awaiting his meal. His left ankle rested on his right knee and a lit cigarette hung from his mouth.
Christine ignored Charles’s comment, working diligently to get supper on the table promptly. As she delivered her husband’s hot plate of roast beef, mashed potatoes and freshly steamed vegetables, he boldly slapped her on the rear, causing her to yelp.
Elizabeth entered the room, smelling the delicious aroma of her mother’s cooking. Her stomach growled as she sat beside her father. Charles reacted snidely to Christine’s unexpected response. “What, I can’t touch my wife?” he sneered.
Smiling sheepishly, she lowered Elizabeth’s plate to her and patted her on the head. “You want ketchup?”
“No, mommy, did you make gravy?”
Christine smiled, nodding and spooning up a dollop of gravy into the ladle, oozing it onto her daughter’s meat and potatoes.
“Gimme some of that, here.” Charles asked, snuffing out his cigarette in the crystal ashtray beside him.
They sat and ate their dinner in silence. Charles remained with his nose in the newspaper while Christine and Elizabeth obediently cleaned their plates. Christine dismissed Elizabeth from the dinner table when she cleared the dishes as instructed. Charles remained indifferent, still turning the pages of the paper.
As Elizabeth left the kitchen, Christine sat beside her husband and reached for the pack of cigarettes sitting on the table next to the wall. “Pass me your lighter, please. Mine’s out.” She said.
Reaching into his inside breast pocket, Charles briefly looked up from the paper and handed his wife the lighter. She lit it, blowing out an ‘O’ with the first drag and handed the lighter back to Charles. “You want a drink?” she offered.
Charles shook his head without looking up. “Any bills come in today?”
Christine rose and walked over to the console table in the living room. She shuffled through the envelopes, pulling out the electric and water bill. A letter from her mother, a coupon package and a flyer remained, which she left on the table. Charles lit another cigarette as Christine re-entered the kitchen, handing him the bills. He opened them with his index finger and slowly perused each one as Christine pulled three dessert plates out of the cupboard and began cutting the freshly baked apple pie into sections.
She called up to Elizabeth, telling her that dessert would be ready in five minutes. Charles grunted as he reviewed the bills and placed them in a pile, discarding the empty envelopes in the garbage bin beside his wife. “Any other mail come?” he asked.
“Just some junk mail.” She answered as she licked a piece of pie filling from her thumb. Charles walked over to the console table and inspected the remaining pile. Christine quickly remembered her mother promised to send pictures from her most recent visit, when she and some old high school pals had gotten together.
She remembered the invitation coming in the mail mere weeks before Charles’s out of town sales meeting. Being March Break, Christine packed up Elizabeth and herself, slating a vacation at her mother’s place as her excuse. Elizabeth loved visiting her grandma Suzie’s house since they lived up the street from a wonderful little hobby farm.
During their stay, Christine stopped in at her old stomping grounds; her school, the old café where all her friends used to meet after school, and the baseball field where she and Marcus Newbern shared their first kiss. The reunion was the night before they left to return home. Suzie had taken some photos of the gang all decked out in their evening gowns and tuxedos.
In all the years Christine attended high school, Suzie always favoured Marcus. He was tall and handsome with dark features and he was well-mannered. Marcus was very shy and quiet, but made his feelings for Christine apparent early on. Remembering how fond they were of each other, Suzie thought it best to take a picture of the two of them after all these years, so her daughter could have a keepsake.
Some things don’t work out for the best. Marcus’s father sent him off to the army after high school, and she never saw him again until the reunion.
Christine’s heart began to beat faster, listening to Charles opening up the envelope from her mother.
“What the hell is this?” he blurted, opening the letter.
“It…it’s just some pictures my mother took.” Christine turned around, facing Charles, who was holding a picture of her and Marcus up in the air.
“You wanna tell me just what the hell is going on?” his teeth were clenched and his fingers were crushing the photo.
“N…nothing’s going on, Charles.” Christine sputtered. “He’s just a guy, Marcus, from high school. They all are.”
Charles’s nostrils flared. “You told me you were going to visit your mother.” He seethed. “You lied to me.” his voice was a low, warning tone.
Christine’s hands began to tremble and her heart was beating out of her chest. Before she could brace herself, Charles lifted his right hand and smacked her across the face in a quick, yet powerful motion. The slap was loud and nearly knocked her over. Her hand came up, covering her cheek in a failed attempt to protect herself. As she turned back towards Charles, she saw Elizabeth standing there with a look of horror on her face.
“M…mommy’s okay, sweetie.” She said, unable to hide the quiver in her voice.
Elizabeth did an about-face and ran up the stairs. Charles was oblivious. He remained standing there, like he was waiting for an explanation and was becoming impatient.
“Why must you make me do these things?” he asked, like it was her fault.
“I …I didn’t do anything, Charles.” Christine insisted. “It was a high school reunion.”
“Why wasn’t I included?” he was still suspicious.
“Y…you had to work out of town, remember?” Christine explained, smoothing her hair, as if the gaping red welt on her face wasn’t as obvious. She knew there would be a fall out from her neglecting to tell Charles, but like everything else, if Charles wasn’t able to go, neither would she. She didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see friends; it had been too long.
Charles ripped the picture in half, then in quarters, and threw the pieces into the air. They fell to the floor like confetti. He glared at her as he walked closer, into her personal space. His eyes burned as he was nearly nose to nose with her. She stood still, wondering if he would strike her again.
Leaning with one side against the wall was Elizabeth’s prized doll house. Christine failed to see it, and as Charles crept closer to her, she stumbled onto it, knocking it over. The metal hinges holding the two sides together squealed as her body landed on it. She looked up at Charles pleadingly as she pulled herself back to her feet.
As he walked away, she let out her breath; unaware that she was holding it in.
When Charles exited the room, Christine sensed a presence. She looked up and saw Elizabeth’s little face buried into the spokes on the stairs. Her hands were on either side of her face, holding her head in place; like she was watching through a wrought-iron gate.
Christine felt a pang of guilt; had she went against her husband’s wishes and allowed her daughter to go over to her friend’s house, she would have spared Elizabeth witnessing Charles’s assault. Then she retracted the thought; Charles would have beat her twice: once for the picture and once for disobeying him.
The warm summer day enveloped Elizabeth’s shoulders through her sundress. The straps tied into a bow across her thin bones on each arm, as she rode beside her friend Rachel on the yellow school bus. As the sun beamed across her face, she shielded her eyes. Her feet dangled excitedly from the foam seat as she anticipated having the whole summer off after being in school her first year.
A screech could be heard for miles as the bus came to a full stop in front of Elizabeth’s house. Her brown sandals tapped happily on the steel floor and her backpack bopped, awaiting the driver’s dismissal. Elizabeth peered out the window and saw her uncle’s police cruiser parked in the driveway.
“Uncle Wayne and Aunt Marie are here!” she squealed, unable to keep her bottom fixed to the seat. Skipping across the aisle to the front door, she saluted Mac the driver and bid him a pleasant summer, before stepping off the bus, straight into Uncle Wayne’s arms.
“Hey, Pumpkin!” he giggled, lifting her up above his head and down again. “How was the last day of school? Looking forward to going to gramma’s?”
Wayne was tall and stocky; blessed with enough bulk to take on any assailant without a gun, should one come his way. He still wore his gun holstered when on duty, citing the rules of the Kentucky Police.
Wayne and Elizabeth’s Aunt Marie lived in Kentucky, where Marie worked as a Mary Kay consultant and Wayne was a Deputy for the Louisville Police Department. Marie and Christine grew up in Chicago, Illinois in a house where Suzie still dwelled, a mere hour from Christine and Charles’s current house. It was a favourable arrangement since Carl’s death eight years ago, leaving Suzie widowed. This made it possible to visit on short notice as the drive to Kentucky was only three or four hours from either home.
Wayne fixed it so he could use the police cruiser whenever he visited Elizabeth, even though he was out of his jurisdiction. Climbing the ranks in his department, Wayne was well respected and had concessions made for him often due to unpaid working hours and generally helping in the community without being asked.
“Can you take me for a ride in the car today?” Elizabeth beamed. She loved to be driven up and down the barren fields so she could play with the sirens and various lights. Some of the state troopers would even call in on the police radio to talk to her briefly.
“I’m afraid today’s not a social call, sweetie.” Wayne’s face dropped. He put Elizabeth back on her feet and took her by the hand. “Your momma needs to talk to you. Here, Aunt Marie’s in with her.”
The storm door creaked open as they entered the home. Elizabeth noticed first that the radio was not singing the upbeat tunes it normally would be. Mom wasn’t in the kitchen baking cookies or roast beef. Instead, she sat at the table with her back to the door, holding her head in her hands while Marie stroked her back.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Elizabeth cried, rushing to her mother’s side. Christine hadn’t heard her daughter come in and tried to quickly hide the tears. She lifted her head from her hand swiftly and put it across Elizabeth’s shoulders.
There was an audible wince from Christine but she dismissed it, nodding “Mommy’s got some bad news, baby.”
Wayne turned his back and walked out of the room. He paced in the living room, as though he wanted to stay nearby but didn’t want to be witness to what his sister-in-law was going to tell his little niece. Marie grasped her sister’s hand and stroked the top of Elizabeth’s head.
“Daddy’s been in an accident.” Christine explained, pulling out a crumpled tissue from the front pocket of her apron. Her voice quivered and her eyes reddened again while tears streamed down her face.
Elizabeth looked at the floor, feeling tears prick the backs of her eyes. “What kind of accident?”
“A car accident.” Marie offered.
Elizabeth felt a pit at the bottom of her stomach. Throughout most of her childhood, save for the occasional business trip, Charles had been present physically, and the thought of not having him in the house was unsettling. She didn’t think of her father as anything but normal. His abusive behaviour and drinking was something she’d grown accustomed to. When she visited Rachel’s, despite Charles’s unexplained protests, it never occurred to her that the way Charles behaved was cruel, unfeeling and brutal at times. He supported her with food and clothes at best.
But to the six-year-old, she didn’t know any better. Charles was the only dad she knew. She loved him no matter how many times she’d witnessed his violence. She clung to every smile, no matter how seldom, and each kind word, though rare, burned into her memory. Trinkets brought home twice a year were kept sacredly stashed in a locked box, pictures taken at family functions were tucked like treasures inside her jewellery box.
Christine was expert at hiding her misery, no matter how much Charles wore his fiery temper on his shirt sleeves. Therefore, Elizabeth knew nothing of her mother’s numerous hospital visits, broken bones, stitches, concussions or the miscarriage she suffered months before that led to her sterility.
Elizabeth, old enough to understand only the simple differences between Heaven, Earth and God, would now have to face the death of her father, along with all the other horrifying experiences, at such a tender age.
She looked plainly at her mother, “I…is he?” she stammered.
Christine nodded and wailed, rising from the chair. She walked over to the window overlooking the kitchen sink, grasping the metal tub with whitened knuckles.
Wayne still paced in the living room. Elizabeth ran to him, hugging his legs and whimpering. “It’s okay.” He soothed, bending down to hold her tightly. “It’s going to be alright, sweetie.”
Christine entered the living room; Wayne watched her intently. She leaned on the wall by the console table, the same table where Charles had struck her the year prior, the same wall that housed the stairs where he’d thrown her when she was with child, and the same stairs where she’d had to look up and see her daughter witness her husband’s beatings countless times.
She lit a cigarette, blew a smoke ring out slowly, and looked directly at Wayne. The glances exchanged were cold, yet understood. Like a telepathic message had just been transferred between the two. Wayne held Elizabeth until her cries calmed, and then he rose to meet Christine’s eyes, still holding the young girl’s hand in his. His lips pursed as she nodded. He walked away, leading Elizabeth to the play room, still holding Christine’s gaze.