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Her mother rushed at her wielding the razor strop. Gloriana Pearl Fuller's dress and corset provided little padding for her slight build. She'd practically sell her soul to the devil to leave home.
Snap ! Gloriana dodged and fell on the floor, scraping her knee. Her head barely missed hitting a cast iron leg. The lash licked her calf. Snap !
"Come here, you little-"
Myrtle swung again and again. Flinching, Gloriana shrieked. It stung. She scrambled to her feet, covering her head and face with her hands and arms.
Her mother's bushy brows rumpled and her lips curved into an arc-of-hate, an expression that visited Gloriana in nightmares. Throughout her life, her mother had whipped her. Gloriana yanked a chair from under the table, blocking her mother's path, further enraging her. Myrtle shoved it aside. A pot crashed to the floor.
"You no account little-" She yanked Gloriana's brunette hair. With the other hand, Myrtle drew back the strop and struck Gloriana's back. "Come here!"
Snap ! As Myrtle readied for a fresh hit, Gloriana scurried around the table.
Her mother cornered her. Again and again she swung, striking Gloriana on the back, buttocks, and legs. Praying, Gloriana squeezed her eyes shut. Pain shot through her body until her mother's arm tired and the whipping ended.
"Don't ever leave this yard again! You hear me?" The heavyset woman bellowed with the tenacity of a drill sergeant leading a satanic army. "Not without my permission. You don't seem to learn." Her chest heaving, she hung the strop on itshook. "Next time it'll be harder. Now get out of my sight."
Sobbing, Gloriana wished her life would end. Her back burned from welts. Gloriana lifted her skirt, tore through the dining room and sitting parlor. Loping up the stairs two steps at a time, she passed her gleeful nine-year-old brother. Inside her bedchamber she pressed the door shut with her back. Breathlessly, Gloriana waited for footsteps, but merciful silence fell upon the house. She waited, her heart thundering. Five minutes passed and her mother didn't come. She was safe.
Her brother laughed, and sang, "Nah, nah, nah, nah!"
The sound carried. The four-feet-nine-inch, skinny-legged, blonde terror angered her. He enjoyed inciting her mother. Myrtle seldom spanked Trevor because he could do no wrong. Her aunt told her once that her grandmother whipped Myrtle with a strop. Perhaps her mother thought it normal to whip a girl child. However, Gloriana was no longer a child, for goodness sake. Couldn't her mother see that?
Thinking back, Gloriana remembered the crime; following her cat. An unthinkable act. A dog had chased it down the alley and past the barn. Gloriana feared the tom would lose its way. Stupidly she followed. She loved the cat. Needless to say, she had made a poor decision.
From the window, Myrtle had watched. Gloriana hung clothes on the line. All morning she kept her eyes on Gloriana's movements. The moment Gloriana stepped off the property, her mother followed. She grabbed a handful of Gloriana's dark hair, marched her home, pushed her up the steps, and through the back door. In shock, neighbors stood near a hedgerow, and watched the nightmarish scene and soon dispersed, appalled.
Her mother allowed Gloriana out of her sight on Sunday afternoons, when her friends visited. They gossiped and drank lemonade, tea, or coffee. Gloriana lived for the freedom of Sundays after church. As she stood with her back flattened to her closed bedchamber door, tears wet her cheeks. If she were to leave, where would she live? How would she earn money?
The pain subsided. Looking at the positive side, her mother hadn't picked up the razor strop lately. Wordlessly sitting at the dining room table, Gloriana scooted the bit of scrambled egg across her plate. She whiffed coffee and heard the rattle of the neighbor's automobile. She was not allowed to speak, although her brother Trevor talked incessantly. Trevor whined about how badly the neighbor boy treated him during a baseball game.
To her right, her father hid behind his section of the Marion Daily
Republican. He folded it and read the back page without noticing Gloriana's plight. Usually, he concerned himself with three clock repair shops. Rarely, did he come home. An unwritten rule existed. He was not to be disturbed with domestic problems. Conversation was sparse. Gloriana feared mentioning her troubles. Medium-tall and gaunt, he hunched at the shoulders and sniffed every few seconds. Silver streaked his hair and worry lines cut deep into his forehead. Gloriana wondered why he refused to go to church.
To her left, her mother raised her head from behind the front page and sneered. Gloriana lowered her eyes to her bacon, not wishing to provoke her. Elaine's father and mother accepted her without question. Why couldn't it be that way in the Fuller household? The grandfather clock chimed six times, reminding her that a day of freedom approached. She lived for Sundays.
"What's happening to the young people today?" her mother's voice cut into the silence. The family gazed her way when she lowered the paper. "I want you to look at this." She pecked a photograph of made-up young women who wore risqué, shapeless dresses. "Showing their ankles and calves. Look at 'em. Incredible."
"Mm-hm." Butch wagged his head and resumed reading his section.
"They get by with murder," said Myrtle.
Her dislike of Gloriana apparent, she frowned, and smiled Trevor's way. "Those ruffians who pick on you, the ones down the street, need me to come down there."
"Yeah," said Trevor, not understanding the implied violence.
"Like you, Gloriana." She gazed icily toward Gloriana. "If I didn't punish you, you'd be loose, like those girls in the paper. Some day you'll thank me."
For her brutal treatment, Gloriana could never forgive her mother. Silently, she finished eating and waited to be excused, knowing better than to speak in her own defense; her mother would slap her out of the chair.
"If I'd ever catch you going near any boys who don't belong to our church." She paused, thinking. "Or if I catch you mixin' with strange men, you'd get it real hard."
Who was she talking about? Boys were afraid to come near her. Her mother invented trouble. Her father put down the paper and interrupted. For once he stood up for Gloriana.
"Good heavens, she won't Myrtle."
"Butch, I beg your pardon. I know her a lot better. 'Cause you're never here." Gloriana's mother scowled, her German patience wearing thin. "Remember what I said missy. I don't ever want to hear about you with any strange men."
Much to her dismay, the hellfire and damnation sermon kept everyone past twelve o'clock. Patiently, she listened while fingering a page of a hymnal. The final prayer was said, the doors opened, and worshippers emerged into the sun, heading for their surreys and motorcars. The bell clanged and she bid friends goodbye. She ran-walked toward sidewalk, en route for the Sunshine Soda and Confectionery Shop. The Sunshine was the place to go. Other businesses were closed, because they observed the Sabbath.
Copyright ©2004 Karen Snyder