Despite the horrors of B’s formative years, the rawest angst was short-lived.
After the terrible night when her negligence caused her father to fall, she had an awful dread come over her like a fog from the angel of death. She was too young to understand it. But as the clock moved towards four PM each day, she felt its presence . . . the black haze of trepidation. At five her mother would start dinner, a labor of loathe. B would start to withdraw towards her room. Her mother made sure she had a plate before she completely disappeared . . . not to be seen again before the next morning.
In the privacy of her room she would eat alone, save her doll Sally. Sometimes she would try to read but inevitably she would become fixated on the round, red clock on her night stand. She knew that her father was never home anymore before six, but six-thirty was possible. She listened for the sound of his loud muffler coming down the street. Her palms would become sweaty. As the clock floated past seven, she would start to feel that terrible feeling in her chest, like mice—hundreds of them—nibbling away at her heart, which was made of cheese.
If her father wasn’t home by eight, she couldn’t sit still but paced and looked out the window and prayed. Grandma Hayes taught her to pray for her mommy and daddy before she went to sleep. She prayed for her mom to be safe . . . and for her daddy not to come home. She wanted to tell Grandma Hayes about her daddy’s temper, but it was her and her mother’s little secret. Her mother warned her that if grandma ever found out about daddy they would never see him again.
B used to go to bed and pull the sheets over her head and lay dead still. But the night her daddy fell, hiding beneath the sheets hadn’t worked . . . so she started hiding under her bed. She didn’t feel safe there anymore either. While lying there one night she decided to crawl up into the five-inch space between the wooden slats and the bottom of the box spring. There she felt some comfort . . . at least emotionally. But the brown painted metal pressed into her face and her chest, but like an inverse cage, it seemed to keep her father out.
There were a few more nights that her father came to her bedroom, just like the night he fell. For reasons, she had no clue. But in his blunted mind he couldn’t make sense of the empty room. He would yell for her . . . “Beatrice, child . . . damn you . . . Beatrice . . . where the hell are you?” He would throw back the sheets and even once looked under the bed, be he hadn’t seen her. The rusty bed springs were her kryptonite. A safe place, or at least a safer place than anywhere else.
Her father would, to her good fortune, quickly give up and return to his bedroom, where he would either resume beating the hell out of her mom . . . or fall asleep on the bed still in his muddy carhartts.
But one night B’s prayers were answered. She had drifted off to sleep despite the cold springs cutting into her soft cheek. She awakened to the sound of voices . . . different than the sounds that normally inhabited the darks hours of their house. She could hear men’s voices and her mother’s sobbing. But no one came into her room. Looking at her clock, she knew it was too late for her father to come into her room so she slipped into the soft space above her safe place.
Early the next morning she was awaken by her grandmother’s tender kiss. “Angel, are you awake?” The dear old lady lifted her up and wrapped her arms around her. “Honey, your daddy has been in an accident.”
From that point, the next few days or weeks, B felt like she was sitting on one of those rides at Disney, where you seem to be motionless but it’s the world around you that is moving past. There were lots of people in nice clothes, food, crying, some laughing, soft music, flowers and it was over. Many times people would bend over and look at her and say things like, “Poor thing. I’m so sorry that you lost your daddy. God needed him in Heaven because he has a big house he needs your daddy to build.” Little did they know that B was hoping her daddy was in Hell.
In some ways, it seemed like a profoundly good break for B. However, the fact that she soon learned that her father had killed a young pregnant woman when he drove right though the red light, made her feel terrible. Was it her prayer that caused the terrible death of the woman and the little baby? If so, she would have preferred if her dad had come home and kicked her and kicked her and she, meaning B, had died instead.
But life seemed to return to normal. It wasn’t long before another man came into her mother’s life. He was a different kind of man, a very nice man. Her mother wanted niceness more than anything. B didn’t know but her mother had met him at church, when she was attending Al-non on Wednesday afternoons. She had only started attending shortly before her husband had been killed. B, who would stay with Grandma Hayes during that time, thought her mother was shopping.
Mr. Ward was kind to B. She did like that. Soon he became her father. She liked that too. So much seemed so much better . . . but something was still wrong. B still liked to sleep between her wooden slats and her box springs. When she was nine, she was too big and resorted to sleeping under her bed. She didn’t know why as the monster was now out of her life. But B was now broken.