Stopping Inertia: PROLOGUE
“I cannot see why your sister had the gumption to get herself killed in the city then be buried in the country. Now every cotton-picking Christmas, we have to drive 150 God damned miles to put lilies on her grave. You’d think she’d have some manners and, at least, make it convenient for us and bury herself in Arlington.”
“Daddy, we also have to put the lilies on Momma’s grave. It’s only noon. Can we please go back to Nethkin Hill and look for Clarence?”
“Mommy, I am not going back for that God damned cat!” As Daddy yelled at mommy, her eyes were tearing up, not because she was crying but because she was mildly allergic to the pollen in flowers. She was used to Daddy’s yelling and rarely cried when he lashed out at her. “And I will never understand what it is with the women in your family and their fascination for fresh flowers. Next year, we’re putting out plastic ones and skippin’ a year or two.”
“But that cat is my baby.”
“Yeah, well, look at that baby on the seat right there. Ya got that one to take care of now. I still don’t know how ya managed to get yourself in that condition. She’s your responsibility, not mine. It’s not my fault ya went and got yourself pregnant.”
“Daddy, I love Jane. But Clarence is a member of our family too, and I don’t think it’s humane for you to leave him there at the cemetery like that. He’s going to freeze to death in this awful weather.”
“You’re gonna have to face the facts, Mommy. That cat is gone and you’re never gonna see it again.”
“Why couldn’t you just wait a few more minutes to see if he was coming back?” She was actually starting to cry a little now. She was sternly angry at the fact that Daddy had such blatant disregard for the well-being of her and everybody she cared about. Daddy had never said a kind word to her parents who were both gone and her only sibling was recently laid to rest with only the fresh lilies to comfort her spirit. Mommy was alone. She would mourn the fact that she would never see her cat again. She wished it was Daddy who had been left at the cemetery, not Clarence.
“Because we’re gonna hit traffic when we get out of the country. I’m not gonna be stuck in traffic for the rest of the night. And you better just dry up before I give you something to really cry about. I’m tired of you messin’ with that thing. He runs away all the time and you’re fussin’ after ’eem and I’ve had eee-nuf! It’s as mean as a snake and he’s snapped at Jane and that’s the way it is. You’re lucky I didn’t do this a long time ago. I’m lucky the damned thing ran away on its own.”
As the old couple drove down the single lane highway, Mommy hid her face in a bouquet of lilies, choking back tears while Daddy pulled a pack of Winstons out of his left shirt pocket. Both were agitated and tired. Mommy’s wrinkles had deepened, and the full hair that once covered Daddy’s head was thinning, showing his pink scalp. It wasn’t long ago that the two of them experienced something that would change the vision they had of their twilight years.
They had not expected the recent arrival of their nine-pound bundle of joy. Rebecca thought she was going through the change of life. At the age of fifty-two, she never expected to be a mother for the first time. She had skipped her periods often in her youth, and as the years progressed, her menstrual cycle developed a mind of its own. So, after five months of no “monthly visitor,” she figured that her childbearing days were over and that was fine because she never really had the will to be a mother.
Rebecca had no idea she was “with-child” until 5:00 A.M., March 15, 1973. She went to bed incredibly tired. She tossed and turned all night until Henderson made her sleep in the spare bedroom. Her moaning was keeping him up and being one week from retirement with the Arlington County Police Force, he didn’t want anything to spoil the joy of a relaxing seven days at a desk. When she got up and shuffled into the spare bedroom, he drifted into la-la land.
Lying on the small, twin-sized mattress, Rebecca felt excruciating back pain. She tried lying flat on her back and studying the cracks in the plaster ceiling to get through the twinges of pain. She tried rolling to her side, she tried rolling to her back, but any position she found was the wrong position. The pain would subside after a couple of minutes only to return stronger, sharper, and longer than last time. Eventually, pain was all there was. She was trying desperately not to wake “Sleeping Beauty,” but the throbbing and cramping was too much for her. She had to call him for help.
“Henderson! Get in here! There is something wrong with me. I think that I’m having a baby!”
The mattress squeaked faintly, Henderson grunted, coughed, and drifted back into dreamland in the other room. After several sets of chirps from the living room cuckoo clock, Rebecca stood on the bed holding onto the curtains for support. In the most primal position a woman could be in for such an event, she yelled at the top of her lungs—the first time in her entire life. “Get in here now, Henderson, you selfish, chauvinistic, old fart! I am in serious pain and, for once in your life, stop thinking about sleep and get in here and help me!” As Rebecca belted out additional expletives, it happened—the baby came out.
Clarence had been watching the spectacle all night. He sat in front of the door watching Rebecca. He usually slept with her when she used the spare room on nights when Henderson snored. Jealous that he wasn’t getting enough attention and bothered by the shouting, he scooted out of the room and into their basement, behind the dryer, where he stayed for the next sixteen days.
Thump! Henderson reluctantly stumbled into the room scratching his belly and coughing. Henderson always coughed after a rough night of sleep. He repeatedly blamed the coughing on Rebecca and she would continually apologize for leaving the window open or the fan on at night, but she knew cigarette smoking was the real culprit.
“Dammit, woman! You’d better have a good excuse for your language. Wakin’ me in the middle of the night is bad, Rebecca! Let me tell you one thing, if you ever use that kinda talk around me, to me, or…”
Henderson stood looking at the mess on the bed. He saw what Rebecca was holding, but he didn’t recognize that she held a baby girl that was covered in blood and afterbirth. To him, the mess looked like a small pumpkin covered in syrup and still attached to the vine. He was speechless. The longer he stood looking at the mother and child, the closer his bottom lip hung to the floor. A rush of blood streamed to his head, and he hit the carpet just as Rebecca asked, “Dontcha wanna cut the cord?”
Jane was swaddled so tightly that she could only roll her eyes. She managed, however, to blurt out a coo or two while the car moved gently down the road. She was placed on the armrest that folded down in the middle of the beige turtle fur bench seats in Daddy’s Chrysler Custom Newport. It wasn’t the safest arrangement for a nine-month-old baby, but Daddy refused to invest in anything that the baby would grow out of. Mommy looked through her tears down at her child with concern. How would she continue to care for her?
The past nine months had not been easy. Henderson never took Rebecca and Jane to the hospital. Rebecca had to drag herself into the bathroom while the baby was still attached to clean up all of the evidence of childbirth. She actually did a great job of cutting the umbilical cord. Nine months later, Jane’s belly button was formed into a perfectly round dimple.
Since Rebecca gave birth to Jane without the comforts of a hospital, midwife, or any other human beings around them, Jane’s existence was simply between Henderson and Rebecca. Jane had no birth certificate, no documentation, and no vaccinations or examinations. Rebecca feared what had happened was illegal. When she expressed her concerns to Henderson, he scoffed and said that there wasn’t any need since Jane wasn’t planning on getting a job or leaving the country any time soon. Rebecca still worried. She planned on sneaking out of the house while Henderson was sleeping to get a birth certificate.
Jane was able to see the tears in Mommy’s eyes. She cooed and sputtered at her while the old man fidgeted in his pocket for his cigarettes. Daddy popped the cigarette into his mouth and his nicotine stained fingers passed over Jane as he pushed in the lighter on the dash of the car. Jane was curious about the button and wished that she could free her arms to touch the shinny, silvery disk that covered it.
Pop! The lighter was heated and Daddy reached down for it. When the car hit a pothole, the lighter jumped out of his hand and landed on Jane’s chest with the hot coils facing her. She stared into the bulls-eye shape and cooed. Red thought Jane. Daddy quickly snatched the lighter but grabbed the wrong end and cursed it as he burned his hand. By the time he was able to get the lighter to the cigarette, it was no longer hot. He put it back into its housing and muttered at Rebecca. “Mommy, didn’t you see that pothole? Don’t you know you’re supposed to watch out for things like that when I’m trying to light my cigarette?”
“I wish you would stop smoking, Daddy. It’s not good for you, and I think that the smoke bothers Jane. Maybe you could wait to have a smoke until after we get back home?”
“I can’t wait that long. You’re trying my nerves with your nagging.”
Mommy looked out the window and thought that she saw a black shadow chasing their car. She squeezed her eyes together and shook her head before taking another look. She must have been imagining things. She turned to look at Jane and wiped a few ashes off her blanket where the lighter had been. Sweet, she thought. I’m glad that the blanket protected your delicate skin from the heat, Piglet.
Ever since Henderson and Rebecca left Nethkin Hill Cemetery, Clarence had been running alongside of their car. He had managed to keep up with them for more than two miles. The black cat was like a miniature cheetah chasing an antelope. Rhythmically, it raced to catch the vehicle. When the car slowed down and started crossing the double yellow line, Clarence zeroed in on his prey. Sprinting as fast as his paws would allow him; he passed the car and briefly sat on the edge of the road, instinctively knowing that Henderson was distracted.
Pop! The lighter was ready for the second time. Daddy seized it and put the hot end to the cigarette. Mommy was able to get a brief glimpse of Clarence on the side of the road. This time she knew she wasn’t seeing things. He was there licking his lips. Shocked and overwrought, she couldn’t speak.
“Watch out, Daddy!” was all that Mommy was able to get out as Clarence dashed in front of the car. Daddy turned the wheel as fast as he could to the left and the car was sent into a whirling dervish. He was never able to achieve control. Thankfully, mommy had rolled down her window in anticipation of Daddy’s smoking, because when Daddy hit the brakes, Jane was sent flying off her pedestal and out through the window. She landed on a tuft of leaves covered in snow twenty feet from the road.
Mommy and Daddy weren’t so lucky. Along the left side of the road, the guardrail was missing due to an accident exactly two days prior. When the big hunk of American-made metal stopped fishtailing, the rear of the car was left dangling over the edge of the mountain. Having breathed in the pollen of the lilies in her lap for the past five minutes, Mommy sneezed giving the car the momentum it needed to plummet down the side of the mountain. The couple may have lived if Daddy’s cigarette hadn’t ignited the gas that was leaking out from the severed fuel line.