The heroine of this gripping tale is a member of the largely forgotten class, whose small voices go mostly unheeded when they protest their fate. She is the child of an abuser, born into desperate conditions; she lives in a nightmare until finally as a teen she escapes under the cover of darkness, but the abuse she suffered has written an indelible message on her psyche and it colors her life. She becomes a news anchor, that's why so many people think they know Faye Lawrence ... but none do! Keeping secrets is not a choice for her it's a compulsion, it stems from the crushing abuse she suffered during the first fourteen years of her life. Her self loathing is a remnant of that abuse as well; it drives her incessantly to achieve respectability, and normalcy. She loves Kenneth Murphy with an insatiable yearning; he's her first lover ever! He returns her love, but there's a catch ... he already has a love. Can she win him? She struggles to find her ultimate destiny, and it's all complicated by her childhood tormentor when he comes looking for revenge! Will she ever escape his blood lust?
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Leaving FrannyA Dark River Crossing
By Waldref Brant
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Waldref Brant
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI remembered it all now, starting at the beginning. I had the misfortune of being born Frances Faye Beck, the oldest child in the extremely dysfunctional Beck family. There were five other family members: my mother, Mary; my father, Nick; Willard, the older of my two brothers; Charles, the youngest boy; and Sharon, fourteen years my junior, the youngest member of my family and the only one to live a normal life.
My family home was a hovel, built in a remote wooded valley miles away from the nearest human contact in Fenwick, a small North Dakota town. In this small community, my family was viewed as barely human by more conventional people. Our mysterious lives were fodder for many tales. Some were not true ... but most were.
There were countless rumors and unending speculation about our odd family, living in that secluded valley deep in the woods. There was a rumor, for instance, that my mother wrapped her thick grey hair up in a twist and affixed it to her head with rusty carpenter nails. Nothing warmed the hearts of the good people of Fenwick like a juicy rumor.
The funny thing is, my mother did wrap her hair in a twist and anchor it with nails. She used rusty nails because those were the nails she had access to, and because rusty nails didn't slip from her hair as readily as shiny ones.
The daughter of a prosperous farming family, my mother, Mary Lawrence, met and fell in love with my father, Nick Beck, a migrant farmhand, when he came up from Arkansas for the northern harvest.
It was no secret that my mother was a little slow mentally; she also became more and more eccentric as she aged, probably because of the situation she found herself and her children in. There were few conveniences at our disposal. We lived our lives longing simply for comfort and safety.
My father was a hard worker and physically strong; he was devious and cunning, but he was the type who was always down on his luck. Bad luck he generated himself with his irrational decisions and negative reaction to the constraints of civilized society. He drove an old beat-up Ford pickup that hardly ran and had no heater-but he owned a fine thoroughbred horse, a magnificent, high-strung creature that he kept in the stable and rode on rare occasions. To illustrate further: his home was not equipped with a telephone because he said he couldn't afford it, but his hobby was playing poker for real money.
He was a walking contradiction. He quoted passages from the Bible and lived by a code of ethics that would frighten even the most callous sinner. My brothers and I tried to stay out of his way. We learned early in life that we were nonpeople.
Nick's life of common labor and meager comforts was etched on his face. He arrived in the harvest fields of North Dakota having already lived a very hard life, a clandestine life kept in the strictest confidence between him and himself only. "Mind yer own business" was his only answer when questioned about his origins. "I come up from Arkansas, that's all ya need ta know," he would say, but when he removed his shirt on those hot August days in the fields, there were deep scars on his back and arms. Was it a sign of his past life, or an omen predicting our family's future?
If someone were to ask you what Nick looked like, you might say that he looked like Charles Manson. The biggest difference between the two of them was that Manson was almost diminutive, and Nick was huge. He looked as though he had fallen from Jack's beanstalk-lean and rawboned, with curly black hair dipping too close to his eyes. His eyes had the appearance of cunning and were too close together, deep-set and hooded, with bushy black brows.
It didn't take long before those dark eyes of his met those of pretty Mary Lawrence, my mother. He was attracted to her immediately. Pictures I saw of her when she was a girl showed her with brown hair, fair skin with freckles, and a broad smile.
I could readily see why he fell for her. She was lovely, well-groomed, and her freckled face with its broad smile betrayed an innocence that was very appealing. Her limited intellect and nonexistent experience led her his way. He was bigger than life to her. She was strangely drawn to him. She found herself thinking of him way too much. She felt guilty for thinking of his huge rawboned frame at night. His deep-set black eyes, hooded by thick brows, and his jet-black hair set him apart from anyone she had ever known.
She was a cloistered girl, in love with love. I have to believe that's the only explanation for her attraction to this man who was to become my father.
Chapter TwoLunch for the field hands was always served picnic-style on the edge of whatever field they happened to be working that day. Blankets would be spread out in the shade, if there was any shade to be found. There was always an abundance of different foods served up, but there was one staple: fried chicken. That was handy because it could be eaten with the fingers, and it was easily transported to the field. There were also pickles, buns sliced and buttered, and green onions standing in a glass, like a bouquet. There was always a feast for the "hands."
The crew would sit around on the blankets, talking and laughing. It was a time to relax, to replenish tired bodies. My grandparents didn't believe in rushing through this meal. To them, it was a time to rejuvenate spiritually and physically. My grandfather Mathew always offered up prayers for the crew and for the harvest.
According to my grandmother Nina, Nick would station himself near my mother, striking up a conversation with her. It was usually a silly, lighthearted exchange between them, teasing and flirting.
Unfortunately, by the time the harvest was complete, Nick had decided that he wasn't going back to Arkansas without her. One day they simply stole away and were married by a justice of the peace. Nick moved into the big house and took charge of my mother's life.
There is a distinct possibility that the happy union three weeks earlier between my uncle Paul and his childhood sweetheart, Patricia Garvey, motivated my mother to consent to the clandestine union. She stood with Paul and Patty when they took their vows; they had made their wedding a very private affair, with just family and a few friends. Neither Patty nor Uncle Paul welcomed a lot of fanfare but preferred a quiet honeymoon hiking in the mountains near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Mary could have been inspired by that event, but there was one glaring difference between them: Patty was loved sincerely by Grandma Nina and Grandpa Mat. Nick was not.
Things would have been different if my grandparents could have controlled this situation, if they had been forewarned, but it was a stealth operation and, by the time they found out, it was done. Nick was by no means their choice. My grandmother was heartbroken, thinking of her daughter living with him and under his control, but there was nothing she could do now. They were already married.
Grandpa and Grandma Lawrence staked "the newlyweds" to a spread of land about eight miles from Fenwick, their generosity spurred by a burning desire to rid themselves of their new son-in-law and to keep their daughter from moving back to Arkansas with him. They thought this was one way they could keep her close enough for them to keep an eye on her.
My mother told me that Pops started building as soon as spring broke. The need for space between the new in-laws was mutually desired. "I can't stand yer ole man," he would complain to my mother. He pitched a tent in the middle of the building site and spent long hours every day working on his new house. At night, he would collapse on a cot he kept in the tent until work time in the morning. By the time harvest rolled around again, he had a livable house. Barely livable!
The newlyweds stayed with my grandparents just long enough to work the harvest and then, as soon as work was completed in the fall, they collected their pay and moved into their new house. It was built low under the trees like some haunted house that could have slipped from the pages of a horror story. Mother would never have told my father what she really thought of that house, because she would never have wanted to ridicule his handiwork and run the risk of hurting his feelings. She moved in because it was Nick's house, and she wanted to please him. It was a mistake, the first of many.
In all the years our family lived in that house, it was never painted. That was the place to which my mother came when she left the warm embrace of her loving family and began her heartbreaking journey. She had chosen a cruel life.
By the time I came along, their first baby, the freshness of the marriage had worn off, and my father put Mom to work. He told her that she would have to start pulling her own weight. Chuckling, he would remind her, "Yer lucky I took ya in, with yer bein' a numbskull and all." She wouldn't respond in kind but would absorb the comment in the good-natured way her natural gentleness dictated.
Her workload left her exhausted every evening. She cared for me, her firstborn, often carrying me on her back while she worked in the field or gathered in hay for the cattle in the winter. When I could walk, I would follow behind her in the fields and entertain myself while she worked.
She tended a huge garden, preserved fruit and vegetables for the winter table, and cared for the animals. In the evening, she would come in from her work exhausted and disheveled to prepare the evening meal. Nick would complain if she took too long clearing the dishes away and tending to evening chores. He would let her know that he expected more from her by yelling from their bed, "A man's ole lady should be in a man's bed not playin' around out there all night."
During the next five years, my brothers were born in that tiny shack. They would call it home for most of their childhood years. Some children are just born unlucky!
Chapter ThreeHarvest time was about the only time there was any communication between my parents and my grandparents, other than the letters my grandma Nina and my mother regularly exchanged. My mother was never privileged to have postage stamps, but she would smuggle change to the mailman when she had enough put together for a stamp, and he would attach postage to her letters covertly.
She secretly lived for harvest time when she was alone with her family while Nick was in the fields. My grandparents savored the time spent with their daughter and grandchildren as well, but it always ended too soon and badly.
They would try to pry information out of my mother without seeming to interrogate her about her lot in life. They could see that she was not faring well. They would insinuate that there would always be a place for her and her children in their home. It was a promise that they never articulated, but it was definitely an invitation for her to leave him and come home.
Nick would hire on to work the harvest because the money was good. Always in need of money, he jumped at the chance to work. I can't think of too many things I admired about my father, but one thing he could do well was manual labor. He had the strength of two and would work from morning to night without complaint.
When he worked for my grandfather, he felt he had earned his pay many times over, because he was forced to put up with my mother visiting her family unsupervised while he worked in the field. Nick didn't want the crew from Arkansas to see her shouldering man's work, so he grudgingly let her stay inside to visit with her family.
Still another reason Mary wasn't expected to help in the fields when he worked for my grandparents was that he was still trying to prove that they were wrong about him, that he was somehow the best choice for their daughter. He made the ludicrous assumption that he could somehow change their opinion of him, or he probably just didn't want to get caught showing his abusive side. The certainty that he would not be employed by Mat Lawrence if he had any delusions that Mat's daughter would shoulder man's work surely figured into the equation.
Nick resented my grandfather Mat because he knew that he was barely tolerated by his father-in-law. The two men were polar opposites, and Nick was on the wrong end of the equation. Working as a farmhand for his wife's "ole man" galled him no end; he resented every word and every smile my mother and her parents exchanged. He suspected that she was talking about matters pertaining to the life they shared in the little house he had built. He warned her on many occasions that their lives were private and that she was not to share their private lives with anyone, including her parents.
"She's prob'ly in there runnin' her yap about me," he would growl. "Someday she'll learn to keep 'er mouth shut! I can't wait to git 'er otta here. Oh, she'll shut 'er Goddamned yap all right, er-al shut it fer her!"
The honeymoon was over.
I remember clearly the fear we all felt when it was time to leave my grandparents' home. I remember furtive glances made at his stony face. My mother would try to sidetrack his anger with pathetic attempts to chat lightheartedly about the day and the recipes she had gotten from her mother, but we all knew Mom was probably going to be beaten. Maybe we were all going to be beaten, who knew? I prayed that was all.
The abuse we had become accustomed to was escalating from occasional to constant, hard-core physical, mental, and emotional abuse. Nick became more inventive at creating punishments as time passed. He began ranting incoherently to justify his behavior. He would site visions of Jesus appearing to him, commanding him not to "spare the rod" in order to save us from ourselves.
It was as though all the powers in the universe were at his disposal, and we were the ungrateful recipients of his magnificent edicts. "Ya know why I had-ta do this," he would admonish us. "I knew you'd make me do it." Then he would prophesy, "Jesus told me ta watch ya. He told me ta keep an eye on ya." After he had taken his fill of whatever cruel perversion he wanted to indulge himself in, he would charge, "Now look whatcha made me do!"
Things were constantly getting worse for us. It was not safe where we lived. We were all in constant fear. I don't think there has ever been a man more feared than Pops was ... or more hated.
My mother prized an old hutch that her mother had given her. It reminded her of her family and the wonderful life they had provided for her. It was a nice old piece of furniture, the only one she owned. She would run her hand over the smooth surface of the hutch, remembering her mother and the home that she had left. It would comfort her in a way, until she remembered that stashed behind it was the cattle whip soaked with her blood and the blood of her children.
Any imagined slight, disrespectful glance, or neglected chore could trigger a flesh-ripping session with that awful weapon. A whipping usually drew blood and was, more times than not, the prelude to some heinous humiliation after the first passion of rage was worn out.
For instance, you might be beaten bloody and then put into solitary confinement for a few days or a week and sometimes more, depending on the infraction you were charged with, or how petulant dear Father felt at the time you were banished. Rations were meager when you were in solitary, and humiliating confessions and other degrading acts were required of you to get them.
When you got solitary confinement, you were locked in an old boxcar that Pops had confiscated from the junkyard, originally for the purpose of storing grain at harvest time. It was easily converted to the dual purpose of housing convicted family members, just by adding a lock to the door. Simple!
When the "box" was full of grain, he would use his alternate chamber, a hole under the shack that was meant for use as a cellar for storing foodstuffs. Like the "box," it had a dual purpose. The cellar was accessed by pulling a square piece of the floor away, exposing a ladder that ran down the mud wall to the mud floor.
The ladder also had a dual purpose. Old Pops was handy that way. An offender could be tied to that ladder in a standing position for a few days. That would get your attention. You were also vulnerable to many other little twists while hanging there ... whatever the "dear one" deemed appropriate.
My brothers were the recipients of this penalty more than I, but none of us were immune to being dragged into these horrible places. I remember the inside of these ugly dark places all too vividly. I was dragged there usually for a different reason.
Punishment was not always a whipping and then some form of reasoned finale. Sometimes it was spontaneous and meted out instantaneously with fist, boot, or knee, but it was always accompanied by the incoherent ranting and accusations of that mentally unbalanced pervert.
A back torn open by a cattle whip would always be preferred to a black eye or broken nose, for obvious reasons. My brothers and I attended school and were often in the public eye. We always hid our wounds; we were not allowed to disclose family business. It was against the rules.
We were taught early in life that nothing went beyond the four walls of our house, and I was grateful for that. I was glad no one knew about me or about my unspeakable secret. I knew instinctively at a very young age that the darkest of evils was forced on me by my father, and I was besieged with guilt and revulsion.
I have no idea when the molestation began. It was before I had the ability to reason or remember. I only know that I could not remember a time in my life when I didn't know the taste of my father's semen.
Excerpted from Leaving Franny by Waldref Brant Copyright © 2010 by Waldref Brant. Excerpted by permission.
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