By Benjamin J. Gohs
Henry watched the others pretending not to watch him. Young. Dyed hair, tattooed skin, heavy lipstick and funny hats, retro slacks and grandma’s jewelry. He noted them with cryptozoological curiosity. Never could grasp the desire for uniqueness. Delicious tall legs, straight spines, slim fingers, joints without ache. Polite, proper, respected, known. Why would they want to be different?
A freak observing freaks. Or the pretense of. And they too scrutinized. Without subtlety. Without pity or, worse, overburdened by it. Henry was used to people gawking at his large head, small body, crooked legs. If a person could get used to such behavior.
He didn’t begrudge them their curiosity. Understood the ridicule. Some people think those that have had it rough are immune to the lure of bigotry, the magical qualities assessed against the wills of the small and large, ugly and downtrodden. But Henry knew better.
Line moved and henry ordered two hot chocolates. Warm and dry inside but crowded. Paid the four dollars and complained quietly through his nose about it all the way back up onto the observation deck to ride in the rain.
Mickey Mouse sunglasses she wore. Left much of the bruising the side of her face visible but covered blood-filled eyes. Didn’t matter much as they were the only two up top. Drops hard and fast came at them slantways up under their hoods. Four hours to cross.
“Want some?” Henry held out a cup, gave his a sip.
Georgia eyed her big feet.
He moved in and repeated and she flinched when he came too close and looked at him with pinched wrinkles and thin eyes.
“C’mon. It’s good. Yeah?”
Sister’s lower lip folded into a ledge of disagreement above that massive jutting chin. Brother sat, tucked her drink between his legs and worked a cigarette from his coat. That look of hers was one he promised he’d never again allow. Promised who?
Hiss of the boat cutting the lake as he finished his smoke and guzzled the oversweet drink.
“Well, take it now or I’m throwing it out.”
Stuck out her hand without looking and he touched the beverage carefully the center of her wide palm until big fingers closed around. Henry walked the deck and leaned the forward rail and lit another smoke. Boat closed in on all sides by the same downhearted prison block gray.
Droplets collected on the green bar, iron freckled with the blooms of rust bubbling under the surface, those silent terrible juggernauts of slow decay. He wrenched at the cold metal and thought it funny they always show guys in movies standing at their cell doors, hands on or through the bars. Spent most of his time inside sitting the floor in the corner, awake or asleep.
Henry heard something and looked back. Georgia drank her cocoa and chatted happily with her pink stuffed bunny Peg, sister’s head still cocked to hide her face as she’d been told. Rain beaded her hood, pearls of liquid glass growing in the mist and in his mind, and he was struck with a remembering that could be said, as much as any event, to be the invention of their current miseries.
Nine years ago. Wasn’t long after he began his stint in prison the trouble at home worsened. Mom had already been gone two years so, when dad had his stroke, Henry inherited two children. The family carpentry business couldn’t survive without its patriarch, and that was when the little man began hauling packages for Mesick. Good money. Flexible hours. Until he was caught with a portmanteau of chalk. Ten years in prison with a chance for parole in seven.
He hadn’t been in Jackson more than ninety days when Georgia and Rex came to visit. Younger attractive men could have no honorable plans for a woman like her. But what could he do? With mom gone and dad out of his mind?
You know what they do with mental cases don’t have any family?
Henry didn’t know but he could guess it wasn’t nice. And this way she could stay at home. Rex was a sous chef at the country club. He’d met Georgia in line at the grocery store when he noticed the clerk trying to give her the wrong change. How bad could he be?
“Love at first sight.” That’s what Rex called it. Georgia wasn’t good for much else but cooing and blushing and holding her handsome beau’s hand. While the other inmates saw their kids, wives, girlfriends, these two—the middle-aged subnormal and the too-good-to-be-true fiancé—shared their big news. They’d already married at the county courthouse and he’d be moving in though he’d already been staying there weekends. They wanted Henry’s blessing and, having no alternative, he gave.
Even a stranger, a moderately intelligent one at that, had to be better than leaving two invalids up to god-knows-what. But they needed Henry to sign a document that would allow Rex to better care for Georgia. The little man pretended to think about it, pretended to read, and with a sick feeling of no other option, the form was signed.
First and last Henry saw of his sister until the day he was released, nearly seven years later. Late spring of this year. Green and white and yellow. Shiny with the kind of bright skies you could watch for hours trying to comprehend.
Lawn was long. Hadn’t been cut at least since the fall, he figured. Place had seven years of wind and rain to crumble the gables and tear off shingles and scatter a few more handfuls of dirt along the bottom of the ivory clapboard. But it was home. And it made him smile too big for his small face when walked into view.
Henry had on the same brown boy’s large suit that fit perfectly his 53-inch, 110-pound frame. In all his time in prison, even with the stress and awful food, he’d remained within a half-pound of his adult weight. But this was the first time in a long time he’d walked the long clay road to home and he was tired. Legs burned. Little back ached. In the warm May air, he’d sprouted a sweat. Ran a hand over his stubbled head and wished he had a hat so as not to scare Georgia.
Henry came through the side door, stopping long enough to notice boxes of empty beer bottles stacked against the window. Between the panes, a fly buzzed frantically in a long-abandoned and dust-covered spiderweb. Opened the kitchen door and the smell of bleach burned his nose. Georgia was on her knees, facing away, wobbling about. Sound of scrubbing hissed like water at full blast out the tap. She made big circles with mom’s old wooden brush. A can of Dutch cleanser at her elbow. The ammoniac tang mixed with the bleach and his nose ached until he sneezed.
“What the what?” Georgia spun on one knee.
“Spic-n-span.” Henry looked around the kitchen. Darker. Smaller. Same. “Jesus, beanpole.”
She looked up, the purple rise on her forehead slow in making sense to him. Her shirt was rolled to her biceps, arms cloudy with the fuzzy green phantoms of old bruising.
“Henry!” She hunched like a linebacker with both big fists on the floor and popped up from her knees to her feet and rushed the little man. She picked him up in a hug that made him have to piss, and the two twirled around the kitchen ballroom style. She was slick and musky, her clothes crusted with mustard, yolk, ketchup, and the faint smell of maple syrup—no, urine.
“Gonna break both our necks, yeah?”
She set him down. “You’re home?”
Georgia wiped her forehead and sighed with an exaggerated “phew” and poured a tall cup of red juice.
“Up the stairs.” She pointed the ceiling while she guzzled.
She gulped her drink and poured another.
“There coffee?” Henry pushed a chair against the silverware drawer and climbed up and opened the cupboard. There was a can but no filters. Folded a paper towel into the basket and spooned in the grounds and ran cold water.
“Don’t talk right.”
“Dad don’t?” Henry flicked the switch and got down and put the chair back. “Well, he really didn’t before.”
“How’s he gettin to the bathroom?”
Georgia finished her second glass and smacked her lips and belched. She had a childish ring of red all around her mouth. “Diapers.” She fought to quell the wicked grin curling her cheeks but broke out in giggles just the same. “Like a baaaby.”
“To your face.”
“Nutheen.” Georgia scowled at the floor.
“I didn’t touch none a it. You sayed me to and I did not.”
“Alright. That’s good. Gonna clean up and take a nap. Wanna get some pizza and a movie tonight?”
Georgia’s face brightened before dimming with recognitions. “We gotta ask first. Is it Tuesday? We have spaghetti on Tuesday.”
Pea-green carpet with the orange flecks was black and shiny in a broadening oval on the center of the steps. Maybe he’d pull it and see what was underneath. And the walls could use a fresh coat of paint. That old barn smell got stronger the higher he climbed. Perfume of comic books and Saturdays and green plastic army men and waiting for Christmas morning. The landing was piled with open garbage bags stuffed with clothes and books. Floor squeaked the same. Plaster more cracked and brown spots on the ceiling bigger, browner.
Henry stopped and peeked into Georgia’s room. The old man was sitting, propped by pillows. He stared at the window.
Old man looked his way.
Warm fog of accumulated waste choked him as Henry opened the door. Garden view was obscured by a milky sheet of polyurethane.
“Plastic’s still up from winter, pop.”
Old man groused unintelligibly.
Henry pulled at a bottom corner of the sheeting and yanked. Few staples jingled onto the old pink linoleum. A raspy plucking as he took the sheeting in both hands and leaned back, hauling in the material as it came loose. Checked the lock, ivory and rust, where the old enamel had split and piled on the frame. It was open. He looked around for a boost. Slid dad’s drab footlocker under the window. Screen had long ago been pilfered. But the breeze came all the same, breathing sweet spring into the musty hovel.
“Finally, I can breathe.”
“You know, pop, that garden could use a weeding.”
“Feels like heaven.”
“Maybe I’ll pick up some seeds, now I’m home. Yeah?”
“Been so goddamn hot in here I can’t stand it.”
“We still composting? Prolly not, huh.”
“Henry felt his chest swell for a brief moment.
“I’d give you a couple dollars but my wallet. Wife went into town. Does her shopping on Saturdays. Tell my boy. He’s probably down to the shed pulling his pud. He’ll give you some pop bottles for your trouble.”
Old man’s eyes were blank again. He looked not at but through the window.
“That’s alright. I got to be going.” Henry closed the door and listened, hoping to hear the admission it was all just a prank.
His room was fairly as he’d left it. Boxes and bags piled the corner. Needed a good dusting and someone on cobweb patrol. Tore the plastic off the west and south windows and jerked in a sneezing fit. He lay on the bed, balled his fists and worked them lightly on his forehead, slow and steady like a kettle drummer on an old movie slave ship.
“Now what? Now what? Now what?” Lulled himself to sleep on that quiet mantra and woke to shouting. Looked around, expecting bars and block. But it wasn’t guards or inmates having a row. Late but still light out. Short bursts of angry questions shot up the stairs, echoed in the landing. Thinking at first it was mom and dad but that couldn’t be.
“But Henry sayed we could!”
“I don’t give two shits what he said!”
“Don’t say me that!”
“Stop acting like a idiot and I won’t treat you like one!”
Henry scooted against the headboard. Cool on his neck. Worked the pack from his pants and tapped the plastic lighter and a cig onto the bedspread between his legs. Listened, looking dumbly at his rock-n-roll posters, and let the ash stretch before flicking it onto the bedside dresser. A door slammed directly below and the argument reduced to angry monologue.
Sounds were familiar enough for him to think, just for a second, mom was home, and dad wasn’t bedridden. All that was missing was the blare of the TV in protest, and Georgia running into his room to hide under the bed.
But there did come a rapping.
“Yeah.” Henry snubbed his smoke. “Come.”
Door cracked. Georgia squeezed her face into the opening, like a raccoon reconnoitering a tent for snacks.
“Yeah, come on.”
“We cannot have no pizza.” She sat the bed, hung her head. “It are Tuesday. We have to have dumb old spaghetti on Tuesday. Dumb old Tuesday.”
“No biggie. We can do it a different day. You want some help with dinner.”
“I’m not suppose ta.”
“Prolly a good idea.”
Georgia snuffled and wiped her face.
“I don’t want you to leave.”
Henry crawled over to pat her hand. She flinched and cried in surprise like a hiccup in the weeping.
“Easy there. I’m not goin back. My time’s all done.”
She blubbered gibberish.
“Let’s pick out a movie. Yeah?”
Burble and steam. Kitchen alive with clanging of long spoons, and the on-and-off of the faucet. Henry looked in on his way the living room.
“We got any beer?”
“He-He-Henry. G-good to see you.”
Henry pulled back the spring-loaded handle on the refrigerator and let it clatter to its resting place. Chrome cloudy and pitted, and rust spots leading from the floor edge threatened to reach the freezer someday soon. An obese robotic cheetah.
“Dad used to paint this every spring. Easter break. Just flecks off eventually but it slows down the rust. Looks like that ain’t been done in a few years.”
Rex was stirring at the stove. Henry waited for a response. He pulled the handle back and let it go. He pulled on it once again until it was almost far enough to free the locking mechanism, and let it rattle to its resting place.
“Damnit.” Rex slammed his stirrer on the stovetop. Henry watched the tall man’s body stiffen, and he gave the handle one last flip before opening the door.
Rex grumbled while Henry checked the crispers. He took a brown bottle and shut the fridge with his heel and flipped the cap onto the table.
“I’ll slap a coat on her tomorrow.”
Rex sighed and took the pasta the sink and put a dinner plate over the pot and tipped it sideways, his arms vanishing in steam.
Henry guzzled half the beer and forced a belch. “How long til din-din?”
“Ready when its ready.”
They stared at each other for five long seconds before Henry raised his eyebrows and left the room.
On screen, a fat boy with ice-creamed cheeks pleaded with two bumbling goons. Rex hollered suppertime. Georgia stood quickly from the couch and turned off the TV and VCR before rushing away. Henry took his smokes and empty bottle and sauntered across the house, listening as low voices discussed him. Put his bottle in the empty side of the sink and rinsed his hands in cold water and grabbed another beer. There were three plates of plain pasta on the table.
Georgia agreed, her hand hovering above her fork.
“B-b-better be.” Rex took a small pan from the stove and poured a heaping amount of red sauce over his spaghetti.
“Just a touch.” Henry held a slim slice of nothing between his finger and thumb.
Rex dripped one spoonful over the noodles and waited.
Rex came around the other side and smothered Georgia’s plate. “And f-f-for my lovely wife, who j-j-just l-l-loves my sauce.”
Every time Rex’s hand moved too quickly or too close, Georgia’s eyelids fluttered and her face tightened in anticipation. Malaise filled Henry’s chest and he washed it away with more beer.
“Don’t you.” Rex stared at Georgia but her attention was on her food.
Georgia tilted her plate. Rex slammed the pot sending a geyser of sauce up his wrist.
“Look at me when I t-t-talk at you.”
She trembled and looked at Henry with shining eyes.
Release was long in coming. “Only teasing, baby. Eat. Eat.”
Georgia grimaced. Rex hid his face until his plate was empty. Henry sipped a third beer, dinner untouched.
“Too good for Italian?”
“Not too good for anything. Just taking it slow.”
“I’ll have it.” Georgia’s cheeks were orange, forehead flecked with sauce.
Henry pushed his plate at her until Rex’s fist made the table jump.
“W-w-wanna get fat?”
She looked away.
“She’s hungry, she’s hungry.” The little man tossed back the last of the foam and tasted the sweet and sour in his mouth and decided he’d have another cigarette. “Looks like she could stand a few pounds.”
“You got something m-m-more you wanna say? I swear. I work all day, handle the house, w-watch over your sick f-father and take care of my l-l-l-l-lamebrain wife and all I g-get are accusations?” Rex took the empty plates to the soapy side of the sink. “N-not hungry. She just l-likes to eat.”
“Whatever you say, man.” Henry put his bottle down hard. “Going to town. Need anything?”
“Ain’t gonna d-do themselves.” Rex wiped his hands on a checkered towel and threw it at Georgia on his way to the living room.
Henry waited for the sound of the ballgame before sliding his plate the rest of the way to Georgia. She covered her mouth and flitted her eyes to the door as she took big bites of spaghetti. Her joy was pure.
Henry showered and found clean jeans and a t-shirt still hanging in his closet. Clink and drag of fork on porcelain in the hall and he looked in on dad.
Georgia sat the edge of the bed, chopping noodles and shoveling them into the mouth with its sparse yellow teeth.
“Henry?” Old man sat up. His gaze different, knowing.
“Yeah. It’s me.”
“When did you, I mean, I thought you were gone. Gone-gone.”
“I’m back now.”
“Yeah. It is good.” Henry watched dad’s face and took in that old imperceptible visage of good humor and confidence. In the lines of his temples and scrunch in his cheeks, there again was the purpose that all amounted to the man lost over the last decade. But in the matter of a chewed mouthful the look was gone.
Henry walked the dirt road to the highway. Warm out still, even with Sun gone. Peepers in the cedar swamp sang so that the passing trucks couldn’t be heard until they came whipping around the bend, lights popping into life on the birch stand way the other side. Eight cars he counted before one took him the brick pub with the bustling backroom. He sipped his two-dollar vodka lemonade before the man he needed to see arrived. Watched the big man go into the back and finished off his drink and waited a few minutes for the buzz to creep in. Flagged a waitress and held up a five. “Another. And I need to see Mesick.”
“Stopped taking local bets at eight.”
“I don’t have—it’s not for a bet. He knows me. Yeah? I need to talk to em.”
Girl took the money and the empty glass and didn’t bother hiding disdain in her eyes. Henry got the OK and borrowed the cash and promised himself he would use it to get started doing something right. All the way to the off-track parlor he told himself he wasn’t going to give in, that he wanted to look around, see some old faces. And when he got there he counted the bills five times before putting it all on the longshot in a morning race in Seoul, the only horses running this late. Second the money was out his hands, a sick feeling inside filled with familiar old nervous anticipation and he felt calmer, happier even than when he’d parted the gates that morning.
Rex was still on the couch watching baseball. Henry went straight up and flopped on the mattress to let the room unspool. His chest fast and heavy, he closed one eye to slow the spins. Between snoring down the hall and shouting of the announcers downstairs, Henry couldn’t sleep. He used the bathroom and drank from the faucet and laid back in bed. Pulled a thick envelope from his pocket and counted it again. $3,700. The longshot. A Korean horse that would have been dogfood by the end of the week saved its life and Henry’s. Or prolonged anyway.
Closed his eyes and waited for the comforting drone of lights out. Lockdown for the night. Cage doors slamming, squeak of boot on polished painted concrete, slitherous echoes down long dark halls. Henry concentrated on the snoring. Something so simple and normal. Those were the bits that got him through. To cope with the unfamiliar, look for the familiar. And after he learned to latch the small things, the place wasn’t so terrifying. Forced detention, loss of control, dehumanizing of the self. But for Henry, what hurt most from moment to moment, was the theft of intimacy. Taking a dump. Showering without an audience. Eating late at night out of a refrigerator if he cared to. Feeling vulnerable. All things impossible under the searching eyes of State and Psychopath.
Dad’s raspy breaths put him to sleep but he awakened shortly after to a horrible screech. Or at least he thought. Sound was gone by the time he gasped himself into consciousness.
“Hello?” Henry looked around in the dark, sure he was back in his cell. Twelve-thirty by the orange clock light. He sat up and again the sound came. Cats fighting. But not outside. Below. As his awareness expanded he realized it was something else. Human. Not outside his widow. It was Georgia. Crying? Not exactly. Crunch and squeal of the old parental bed below his room twisted Henry’s guts.
He lit a cigarette and slid the windows as high as he could reach. The east frame went up most of the way but the southern casing got stuck by half. He took off his shirt and pants and leaned out the east window, smoking, and let the sweet night breeze fill his ears with a shush that drove away the maddening marital scene downstairs. Deafened to the shame, he sucked the cigarette just to see the cherry glow and coughed on the hot smoke. What was he going to do about Rex? What could he do. They were married. And there were papers.
Henry woke at five with a throb in his crown and teeth. He looked at the ceiling and waited for the thousand footsteps, jingle of keys, hoots and expectant hungry groans, well-rested beasts anxious to be let from their stalls. They didn’t come. The old familiar wall rattled and ticked with the sound of water running through the aging copper. He found his pants on the floor and checked the pocket for the envelope and counted it before dressing. That one impossible bet, he knew, was enough to sustain his fool heart for a very long time.
Smell of coffee brewing knotted his guts but he wanted a cup anyway. Found a mug and pulled the pot sizzle-hiss-splash and poured too quickly and mopped the brown puddle with a clean dish towel.
“Pour me one.” Rex sat the table putting on his shoes.
“Cream and sugar?”
“Think I’ll do a little fixing up today.” Henry worked his gnarled fingers into the porcelain ears and soft-stepped the table. “Fridge needs paint. Yard’s way past a cut. And most these windows gotta be opened and washed.”
“Stop.” Rex took his cup between his thumb and fingers like he was holding a shot glass. “Stop already. You stayed last n-night without asking. And that’s whatever but this isn’t gonna be some kind a d-deal you can just come in my house and start t-t-taking over.”
Henry blew waves into his caramel liquid. “Your house?”
“G and mines.”
“Well, maybe I can have a few days to get myself straightened out. Yeah?”
“F-Friday. I got people coming this w-w-weekend and don’t need any headaches.”
“I’ll go. I got a cookin gig lined up. You can have this rat hole anyway. But, really man, you need to lighten up.”
Rex buttoned his chef coat. “Hell’s that supposed to m-mean?”
“Means stop putting hands on her. Or I’m gonna pay someone a hell of a lot meaner than you to come over here. Yeah?”
Rex halted at the door and jangled his keys and Henry started to line up for breakfast but stopped himself.
“T-t-tell your sister to l-listen better and I won’t have to.”
The little man’s teeth ached under the weight of his stiffening jaw as he watched the tall man go. Henry took his coffee out to the shed. Rained late in the night and the grass was cold and soaked his pantlegs to the knees. In the workshop, where there had been nails and paint and grampa’s brass tools, it was now filled with amplifiers, guitar cords, a drum set, and heavy metal posters on all the walls ands windows. Henry kicked the snare over with a clatter. He stomped back into the house, down the basement. More trash bags piled everywhere. Looked inside a few. Mostly clothes and books. Mom’s and dad’s stuff. Ornaments, keepsakes, Family photo albums. In the corner, three boxes. Top one with handles sticking out. Brushes, bolts, drywall screws.
“Not a drop of paint left? Are you kidding? Give me a break.”
Brushes were stiff and caked. Garbage. Henry stomped back upstairs into the kitchen.
“What’s a matter?” Georgia put away the cereal box and topped her bowl with milk.
“Nothing. Lookin for dad’s tools.”
“We had a rummage. Last summer.”
“Uck. Sold the good tools? Those were irreplaceable.”
“Rex telled me it was a bunch a junk.”
“I don’t care what Rex—I gotta make another trip back into town.”
“I can come?”
“If I had a ride you could. It’s too long a walk.”
“I’m a fast. I can go faster. Please. I can.”
Brother and sister hiked end of the road. Morning worktime traffic picked up but everyone seemed too hurried to notice them. An hour and nobody stopped.
“We’re gonna have to hoof it. Sure you don’t wanna go back?”
She gave that slow exaggerated nod. And as they walked, they talked.
“Where’s dad’s money goin?”
“Who’s been cashing his checks? What about your checks?”
She covered her eyes with her hands.
Henry pulled them away. “Is he mean to you?”
“Dad you mean?”
“No. Not dad. Rex.”
“I mess up things every times and it stresses his nerves.”
“Can’t let him do that. Hits you ya need to hit em back.”
“Nooo,” she sang with an embarrassed beam.
“I’m serious. He got no right.”
“Why?” Henry stopped, jerked his sister’s forearm til she faced him. “Tell me why not.”
The mirth in her high cheeks slackened and she pulled her arm free. “Be. Cause. I. Love. Him.”
They didn’t talk rest of the way to Ma’s Restaurant. Henry sat Georgia a table with a red pop and asked for an application.
Older woman behind the counter handed him a form and a pen.
“You do time?”
“Can you cook?”
“Better if I don’t know why. Do you steal?”
“You kill anybody?”
“You plan on killing anybody?”
“Alright. Forget the paperwork. I need a body who can start tomorrow. Cash. What’s your pal over there do?”
“Nothing. I mean, she’s a good worker but she doesn’t work. She’s uh—”
“I need a dishwasher, too. Think she could handle it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Sure.”
Brother and sister had lunch there to celebrate. Henry had never seen Georgia so excited as she did at the prospect of having her own job, her own moneys.
Late when they came home from shopping and seeing a movie. Rex already in a rage when Georgia told him the good news.
“It’ll be good for her.” Henry patted her hand. “She needs to get out the house.”
“You stupid b-bitch.” Rex threw the cutting board into the sink and chopped onion flew all over the counter and rained with a thrum against the window above the faucet. He slapped his hands clean on his pantlegs.
“I’m sorry.” She sidled to him, cowering with her hands in the air, clenching and opening like a toddler’s in want of sweets, as she did. “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.”
“This’s gotta stop.” Henry’s words came just as Rex backhanded Georgia. She cowered and held her mouth, all three suddenly silent.
Henry ran across the room and punched Rex in the crotch.
Rex let out an angry laugh and shoved the little man to the floor and went to Georgia. “I’m sorry, baby. W-w-was an accident.”
Georgia backed against the refrigerator and jerked her arm free of his grip.
Rex held her face, kindness gone from his voice, squeezing until she yelped. Slammed her against the metal door and put his hands around her neck. “The hell is your p-problem?”
“No, goddammit.” Henry sobbed in his rage. He scurried around the table and fought to pry the tall man’s hands from the choking girl. “Let go. Let her go I said. Now!”
Rex released her long enough to punch Henry in the forehead.
“Henry, no.” Georgia gave Rex a two-handed shove to the chest. He fell straight back as though she’d tipped a chest of drawers. Back of his head caught the table on the way down. Rex didn’t move after that. The kitchen was still and the air too heavy for Henry to breathe.
“They’ll never believe me. Oh my Christ. We’re both goin to prison.”
Georgia hit her knees and shook Rex’s body. She mumbled that it wasn’t on purpose over and over again until Henry led her upstairs and sat her with a coloring book and crayons.
“You stay upstairs for now. Yeah?”
“You’re go-een?” Her chin quivered and big tears dripped from her cheeks.
“I can’t. I need to check on Rex.”
“Is him sleeping?”
“He’s sick and I need to take him somewhere he can get better.”
“And you will be right back?”
“It’s prolly gonna be a while. So just stay put. And don’t forget to check on dad.”
“You hafta make him better so for he can put to a baby in my belly. Promise you will do it.”
He did promise. As he promised he would never let anyone hurt her again.
S.S. Badger’s horn sounded and Henry jumped out of his daydream. He looked around. Georgia made Peg dance on her lap. Pink fur laid flat under the rain’s weight. He sat with her.
“What you doin?”
“Nutheen.” Her head jiggled in defense of the accusation.
“I know. But he’s gone. Does it hurt?”
“You promised. I wanna go home.”
“Don’t you get it?”
“Where are we go-een to?”
“I don’t know. Gibtown. Maybe.”
“What means that?”
“It’s where all the freaks go when they’re not working the carnival. If we can get work there, nobody’ll bother us.”
Georgia cocked her head and closed one eye. “What means freaks?”
“You and me.”
“Brudder and sister?”
The horn sounded again and land appeared off the port side.
“I wanna go home.”
“We can’t ever go back.” Henry watched their destination slowly grow and repeated that desperate plea to the wind and the rain and to himself.