Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Short Story Good Intentions

We're more than 1/2 way through November, and the NaNoWriMo challenge to write a novel in thirty days. I'm at just under 30,000 words and am running behind the daily quota to finish on time. So today you get a short story from my files.

I don't know why I did it.

My frustration had been mounting and I didn't seem to be getting anywhere with my arguments. What was wrong with her that she couldn't see what was so obvious to everyone else?

The words had spewed from my lips; angry, demeaning, insulting words, so vile the intent could only be to inflict pain.

Callie was already hurting, and I had just given her the final punch to knock her down and out, figuratively speaking. I remember the shocked look on her face. Her eyes went wide and a little wild as she stared, her lips doing that guppy thing, opening and closing with no sound. Finally, she cleared her throat and looked at me.

“What did you say?”

“Callie, I'm so sorry.  I shouldn't have said anything.” I reached for her hand where it lay, still, on the table in front of her, but she pulled it back in angry rejection.

“What is it you think you know?”

“Nothing. Come on, Callie, I'll drive you over to Mom's. You don't want to go home tonight.”

“You never liked Rick,” she accused. She didn't move from her chair, in spite of my urging her to stand.

I knew we were not going to leave any time soon and sat back down. My plan to have this discussion with my sister in a public place, to avoid her usual histrionics, might backfire on me. The quiet statement she'd just made belied the seething emotions I knew she was holding in check.

“Did you take pleasure in telling me my husband was sleeping around?”

“No, of course not,” I said, trying to defend my actions. “I care about you and don't want to see you hurt.” As soon as the words left my mouth I knew it was the wrong thing to say.

I could see her take a deep breath, and braced, knowing she was about to let me have it. I would have to sit back and take it, and hope she didn't embarrass us both by yelling and screaming and pointing her finger in accusation as she usually did.

“You didn't think telling me my husband was sleeping around would hurt me?”

“Callie, I knew it would hurt, but I hoped it would finally get you away from him. That it would be the final straw, and you'd leave.”

“Are you jealous?” she asked, with such sincerity that I could only stare at her, dumbfounded.

“Are you jealous I still have a husband, and you don't?”

My sister always knew how to push my buttons, and she was hitting on all counts. This 'talk' that our mom had pushed me to have with her was turning out to be just as horrible as I'd anticipated.

“Why would I be jealous of your marriage? I've got more self respect than to continually let some man use me as a punching bag.” I was on a roll now, and couldn't hold back. The filter between my brain and my mouth was definitely not working.

“Do you think all that make-up is really hiding that black eye, or that I can't see the bruises on your arm?”

“It's not like that,” she said.

“Not like what? Are you saying he didn't hit you, grab you, knock you around?”

“It was an accident. He didn't mean it.” Callie said the words, but couldn't look me in the eyes when she said them.

“And was it an accident last month too? And the time before that, and the time before that? Don't be such a fool. You've been having these accidents for years.”

I should have been glad I'd finally made my point; but all I'd done was inform my sister that her shameful secret was not a secret after all.

“Come on, let's go,” I said. I wanted out of there before she broke down and became a public spectacle.

She raised her head and I was shocked to see the dry eyes, the lack of expression on her face, when I was expecting hysterics.

“How do you know Rick's been with someone else?”

“It's not important now,” I replied, trying to change the subject and get her out of there. I started to get up and felt her hand on my arm, her grip so tight I could feel her nails dig into my skin.

“Sit,” she ordered, her teeth clenched, her face hard, her expression grim. “You brought it up, so tell me.”

What was I supposed to do now, I thought. She seemed to sense I was reluctant to get into this discussion, and sat back, her arms crossed over her chest, more in control than I would have ever have believed possible.

“We're not leaving until you tell me what you know.”

I gave in and decided to tell her, I had been the one to bring it up.

“He was seen in a motel in Richfield, on a day when you said he was in Simcoe, at a conference.”

“Maybe I had the location wrong,” she said, quick as always to make excuses, and to make it her mistake, never his.

“He was with a woman, on the balcony of their room, and he was kissing her.”

“Who saw them? How did they know it was Rick?”

“It was the day I had the workshop at the Best Western in Richfield. A few of us had walked out the back to have a smoke, and I saw them on the balcony. He was too busy to look around and never knew he'd been seen.”

I could see her thinking about that day, for she had to remember exactly what day it was. I had asked her to get my son from school as I wasn't going to be home in time, and she'd said it was no problem as Rick was in Simcoe, on business.

It was going to be hard for her to come up with some lame excuse for him this time.

“Did you recognize the woman?” she asked her voice calm and patient.

I should have been concerned right then, she was not reacting with her usual emotional tirade.

“I think it was the woman from his office, the one with the streaks in her hair.”

“Monique,” she murmured, more to herself than to me. “I appreciate you telling me. I'd rather know than to continue letting him make a fool of me.”

“Callie, no.”

“I am a fool. For years I've let him tell me that everything was my fault; because I was too stupid, too inadequate, too whatever. If dinner was late, if his pants weren't pressed just right, if whatever it was I did that didn't meet his exacting standards. Well, no more.”

“Will you go and stay with Mom?”I asked, relieved she might finally extricate herself from the abusive relationship that was her marriage.

Yeah, I'll go to Mom's.”

We stood, gathered our purses, the bill already paid, and exited the restaurant to make our way out to the parking lot.

“Do you want me to drive you?” I asked, unsure about this new calm I was seeing.

“No, it's OK. I'll need my car tomorrow.”

When I hesitated she came to me, wrapped me in a one-armed hug and kissed me on the cheek.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Yeah, right.” I thought a thank you was hardly appropriate, but what could possibly be appropriate at a time like this.

I watched her cross over to her car, get in and start the engine. Without a glance or wave in my direction, she pulled out of the parking lot and turned in the direction of Mom's house.

Slowly, I got in my car and made my way home, glad for once that my son was at his father's for the weekend. I made myself a hot chocolate, added a generous splash of Bailey's and sat down in front of the television. I hoped the hot drink and the liqueur would help me sleep after all the coffee and the emotional conversation earlier.

It must have worked, for the ringing of the phone woke me about two hours later.

Now, here I was, standing outside, looking through the small window in the door, watching the team of medical personnel moving quickly and efficiently in an attempt to save my sister's life.

Had I caused this? I couldn't help but wonder. Callie had said she was going to Mom's, but she must have driven directly to the house she shared with Rick, and confronted him.

If it hadn't been for the neighbour who heard the screams and called 911, my sister might have bled to death on her spotless kitchen floor.

I still couldn't believe it. That bastard hadn't been content to beat her with his fists, he'd stabbed her with a knife from the knife block on the counter...and left her to die.

From what the neighbour told the police, and the police told me, Callie had stormed in the door, yelling at Rick; and a vicious fight ensued. He'd seen Rick strike her, and when she screamed, he told the police, Rick had kept on hitting her.

The sirens must have finally caught his attention, for he'd run like the coward he was. But not before he'd made Callie pay for her moment of bravado.

The police would catch up with him, he had nowhere to run. There was no way he could blame this on Callie, this time he'd pay for his actions.

I glanced back over my shoulder to where my mother sat in the waiting room. Just like me, she felt responsible for Callie's current situation. Nothing we had said over the years had made the least bit of difference, Callie had tuned us out, and we had backed off lest she shut us out completely.

I know how this abuse stuff works; it's like any addict and his or her addiction. Callie had to make the decision when enough was enough,  But the fact that she made that decision today, and faced Rick alone, was on my head.

I had listened to my mother when I should have listened to my instincts. Her intentions were good, she had wanted her child to be safe and happy, and knew that was never going to happen if she remained married to Rick.

Could I have picked a better time and place to tell her about Rick's affair? Could I have been kinder in the telling? For sure, I had let my frustrations over rule my better judgment.

Maybe I should have quit smoking like everyone had been bugging me to do, and I wouldn't have been out back of the motel that day. No matter how much I wished it, there was no magic spell, no genie in a bottle, that could grant me a wish to do this day over, and to do it better.

Through the window, I saw the doctor leave the group and turn in the direction of the door. Looking to the waiting room, I caught my mother's eye and motioned for her to come.

In surgical scrubs, the doctor exited the room and looked about. “Cassie Whittaker?” he asked.

“I'm her sister,” I said. As my mother joined us I took hold of her hand, “and this is our mother.”

“Your sister is one very lucky woman,” he said. “The wound missed any vital organs, though she's lost a great deal of blood. We're going to take her into surgery, and if all goes well, I think she'll make a good recovery.”

“Thank you so much. Can we see her, just for a minute?” I asked.

“I'll tell the nurse,” he said and returned to the examination room.

When we were finally able to see Callie, she was drowsy but awake.

She opened her eyes and held her hand out to us. “If you say I told you so, I'll kick your butt.”

“Wouldn't think of it,” I replied with a smile. “You always kicked hard.”

“I'm learning,” she said, fading into a drug induced sleep.

Mom and I just looked at each other and held on. “Not the way I wanted it to happen, but I think she finally got the message,” I said, the tears running down my face.


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