Madge Takes Off
By ~ Pamila Payne
The first thing Madge realized when the afternoon sun hit her in the face, was that she’d have to completely revise her plan. She closed the door, shivering so much her teeth set to chattering, even though it was hot as blazes out. She stepped down off of the rickety porch and walked away quickly until she came to the edge of the barren, dusty yard.
She couldn’t help but look back at the house. The sight of it caused a wave of dizziness to come over her. She turned away and faced the road again quickly, but the dizzy feeling settled in her stomach and she fought the urge to vomit right out there in the damn yard. She set down the battered suitcase crammed with everything she had to start a new life, and rummaged through her purse. She found a peppermint drop, unwrapped it and opened her mouth just enough to get it past her swollen lip. It hurt to open her mouth even that small bit.
The thought came to her that her jaw might be broken and her stomach lurched again despite the peppermint. Good God, what must I look like right now, she wondered, shoving the waxed paper candy wrapper into a small side pocket in her purse. Another groping search found a smooth oblong case. She opened it, and fumbled with a pair of stylish, tortoise shell dark glasses, finally managing to put them on. Even though the weight on her throbbing face was uncomfortable, she was glad to have them. They were good and dark, real movie star glasses. She’d paid a pretty penny for them, but they were worth it. She squeezed the case shut with a satisfying snap and put it back.
There now, she could see without squinting. She paced back and forth, trying to get her thoughts straight. As far as she could see, which was very far in the flat, treeless landscape, she was completely alone and unobserved. She hoped the deepening bruise around her left eye was covered up by her sunglasses, but suspected anyone with half-decent eyesight would see she was all banged up.
She comforted herself with the thought that bruises heal and go away, but squinting will give you wrinkles for good. She had worked hard to develop life-long beauty habits, and she meant to keep them up. She had a list carefully stowed away in her purse, clipped from a Cosmopolitan magazine article of the ten most important beauty habits of the stars. Not squinting was number three. She figured that since she had started protecting her beauty a year ago at sixteen, she had a good chance of holding onto it for a while. Dedication and consistency were ever important.
She was able to pull herself back on track enough to think things through a little bit. She tried to be rational. “All right now, you’re a fugitive,” she said to herself. “What would a smart, mysterious woman on the run do next?” She knew the answer, of course, she had to find a safe place to hide and regain her composure.
She tried to think of somewhere to go, but made the mistake of glancing back at the house again. The house, little more than a sun bleached wooden shack, seemed to loom closer, fixing its two sun glared windows on her like accusing eyes. As she stood there at the edge of her front yard, she felt like everything inside her was falling down drunk, rushing into the dry ground like water down a drain. Did she really think she could just up and leave that place behind?
She shouldered her purse, picked up her suitcase again and started walking, one shaky footstep after another. She followed the dirt road west, which was just fine because that was the direction she wanted to be going.
“Begin as you mean to go on,” she said, one of her granma's favorite expressions, then nearly burst into tears when she realized how far off that expression was from being a comfort in her situation. She got her bearing back as she moved along getting less shaky, but still felt like the liquid parts of her were several steps behind her bones. She continued to talk to herself in a low comforting voice.
"You're just upset and hurt. Anybody would be if they'd a had to... do what you did. But you're gonna be fine, just fine. You just got to get out, out of Ozona, out of Texas, away from that old life once and for all."
The only place she could think of to go for temporary shelter, was Mr. Everett’s cold cellar, a mile up the road. She hoped she could sneak into it without being seen. It was likely those folks would all still be out in the apple orchards if she could get there quick. With four of the five Everett boys off in the service, as well as any other likely hired hands from round about, what was left of that family had a hard go of it.
Madge had a horrible fear of cellars, but after today, she figured she could get herself to do just about anything.
"Dear God," she prayed, "don’t let anybody drive up this road until I’m off it, and please, please don’t let anybody come around the house looking for me until I am long gone."
She headed on up the road in the stubborn Texas sun. White sparkles flittered before her eyes like tiny fireflies.
By the time she got to the edge of the Everett’s backyard, her head was pounding and her suitcase was just about pulling her arm out of its socket. She felt faint and queasy and she almost wouldn’t have cared if Mrs. Everett had come out of her back door and asked her just what the sam hell did she think she was doing? She probably would have just sat down in the dirt and told her everything.
Lines of laundry, work worn and sun faded, hung down bone dry and stiff. The slight, pointless breeze the hot day had to offer made the blue jeans and work shirts murmur softly in the sun. There was no truck in the driveway and the place was dead quiet, save for the crows somewhere far off and the occasional insect-like squeak of clothespins on the wires.
She knew that the cold cellar door didn’t even have a lock on it. She took a very serious and thorough look around, and seeing not a hint of human movement anywhere, walked purposefully to the cellar door. So, there. If anybody did see her, at least it wouldn’t look like she was sneaking around. Her hand faltered above the doorknob however, unwilling to play along with her courageous intention. She felt that sick metallic taste rise up in the back of her throat. Tears began to slide out of her eyes at an alarming rate. It’s not the same, she told herself reasonably. It’s not the same. It’s cool and dim and clean and most of all, safe. You know it is, you’ve been in there before with all those cakes for Darcy Maynard’s wedding reception.
She recalled that the women in Darcy’s family had baked that girl so many different cakes, there was practically one per guest. All of them were so pretty and so… sincere. Her throat was on fire for need of water. She was shaking deep in the pit of her stomach again and the bile rose threateningly. She willed her hand to grasp the knob and turn it. She thought about all those beautiful cakes and began listing the varieties in her mind.
There were chocolate pudding cakes with caramel sugar frosting, the kind that forms a crust on the top that breaks apart when you cut into it. Go on, go in. And those high, fluffy angel food cakes for strawberries and cream. Step down onto the top stair. I recall there was an apple spice cake with a honey butter frosting that was just mysteriously tasty. Close the door now silly, you’re in.
She pushed her sunglasses up onto the top of her head and grabbed onto the handrail as she looked down the long steep stairs into the dim room below. Her heart was about pounding out of her chest, but the cellar was as she remembered, clean and dry and so wonderfully cool, even near the top of the stairs. Lemon cakes. Tangy and sweet, there's just nothing like tangy and sweet. Walk down. Oh, those lemon cakes with the butter cream frosting were the best of all. Just divine.
As soon as she set foot on the floor she was able to breathe easier. After the heat and brightness of the road, the cellar felt like heaven. A small dusty window next to the door let in enough light to take the scary underground edge off of the place. She moved to the farthest corner, right next to the big walk-in freezer that was the envy of Ozona and set her suitcase down.
The first thing she did, after struggling to replace her sunglasses in their case, was help herself to a bottle of Mr. Everett’s hard cider. Her hands felt like they were wearing mittens while she wrangled the cork out. Then she had trouble getting her mouth to cooperate with the bottle top, but she had come to believe that her jaw was still whole and attached as it should be. Just sore as hell.
The cider did her a world of good right away. It took the prize at the Crockett county fair every year. She felt guilty for stealing it, but when a person was a fugitive on the run, they had no choice but to take liberties with hospitality. If Mrs. Everett had of been there, she surely would have offered Madge a bottle. She sat down on a big bag of wheat berries and went through her purse for a tin of aspirin, found it, took a couple and slumped against the wall. She laid the cool glass bottle along the side of her face, removing it to sip the cider, then putting it back until the bottle lost its coolness.
She felt drowsy and scoured out. She set the bottle aside and got up once more to take hold of a big cloth bag of rolled oats that looked near enough a pillow to serve just fine. She made herself as comfortable as one could hope to get on grain bags and fell into a heavy sleep.
Of course she dreamed. How could she not? Her head was full to bursting with fear and pain and terrible grief. All her careful plans, all the working and saving and waiting and it came to this bad end. She was shook up inside and out.
And it never stopped shaking. All around her a huge, pounding electric disruption was in the air. She felt it go right through the middle of her. It was the absence of Grampa’s arms around her waist, it was him pulling away and pushing her down the stairs, no, not down the stairs, but down on the stairs into the cellar away from the house eater. It was a snarling beast so big that it seemed to be the very sky itself, tearing off the roof and tossing it away, chewing the walls with a horrible crunching of wood between teeth filled with splinters.
The storm doors slammed shut. "Grampa, you locked me in, why'd you lock me in?"
The darkness was absolute, but she could see so much in it, she could see inside her own brain and it was red, so, so red inside. There was deafening noise outside but her ears were filled with the fluid sounds of her own heartbeat — drums under water, drums under water.
Then she was falling and falling, bouncing off one black crow and onto the next while they cah-cah-ed and screamed and beat their huge dark wings. They made the wind, they took bites out of her as she fell, they blocked the way to the spinning tunnel in the purple sky where mother was. They let Granma fly away, but not her. She can never forgive them for that.
It was so hot down there and the crows were flying into the walls, breaking their wings and crying and crying and crying while the house eater pounded on the door and howled to be let in.
While her father pounded on the door and howled to be let in, so he could eat her too.
The crows turned into great big flies bouncing against blank windows, buzzing everywhere behind her, behind her, there was something awful behind her. She stood at the kitchen sink in the house she had just left, her hands in cold dishwater. The plates and glasses were broken, she cut her fingers each time she tried to pick something up out of the water. Her blood made ink swirl patterns until the water was nothing but red and she couldn’t see the dishes at all.
She pulled her hands out of the water dripping blood. Something was behind her, something horrible on the kitchen table. She was afraid to turn around. The flies, big as bumble bees, were buzzing so loudly, she could hear them careening around the room bashing into everything. She saw one hit the window over the sink and fall into the bloody dishwater. The water churned with the beating of its wings, the kicking of its hairy legs, it was drowning.
She had to get her suitcase and get out. It was past time for her to go, why hadn’t she left yet?
She knew without turning around that her father stood over her, so close, too close, she couldn’t, his hands clamped down on her arms and he turned her around like she was nothing.
She should have woken up. The sight of that man’s terrible face should have shocked her out of sleep, she couldn’t go through that again, she couldn’t. She knew right then that she was dreaming. But she didn’t wake up, her heart just pounded harder and harder, beating the blood out of her throbbing, cut up fingers.
She looked into her Daddy’s gas flame blue eyes and she had never seen him so angry. His eyes were steel knife blades that wanted to cut her to pieces; they were cutting her to pieces. His face was inches away, his heavy body weighed her down. He smashed against her, pounding uselessly but hurting all the same, everything he did hurt, his eyes sliced, his fingers dug into her throat. Her face was on fire, she couldn’t breathe. He was killing her...
It was the light that finally woke Madge, a bright light from above her. She came out of sleep with the feel of her father’s hands on her throat, coughing and struggling to catch her breath. She sat up, stiff, aching, cold and bewildered. Her teeth chattered, shooting spasms of pain through her jaw as she turned her face up toward the doorway at the top of the stairs. The brilliant evening sun was streaming in around a small figure, its head on fire in an aureole of blinding light.
It hurt her eyes to look, and suddenly, she had a terrible feeling that she had just died in her sleep. Her father had crossed over into her dream and choked the life out of her, just like he’d wanted to. But, was she so insignificant that her death only warranted half an angel? She put her hand up to block the light and turned her face away. She heard the door close softly.
She looked again, and though sharp beams of sun streaked through the cracks around the door, she could see now that the small angel coming down the stairs was really just little Jesse Everett. Her impossibly red, corkscrew curls stuck out in every direction like a wild wind was blowing in her face and her eyes were wide and curious without an iota of fear in them.
The last time Madge had seen this child up close, she’d been so little. How old was she now? Eight, nine? She tried to smile, but only succeeded in cracking open the split at the corner of her mouth with another shock of pain.
Jesse hopped down from the bottom stair and walked over, her bare feet making child sounds on the stone floor. She peered at Madge’s face and whistled low and steady while shaking her head slowly back and forth.
“Got-dang, Miss Carter, you been beat up all ways to Sunday,” Jesse said.
“Don’t swear, Jesse.” Madge said primly, trying not to move her mouth too much.
Jesse crammed her hand into the pocket of her overalls and pulled out an improbably frilly white linen handkerchief, holding it out to Madge. “Your lip’s bleedin’.”
Madge hesitated to take the pretty thing from her, but Jesse, misunderstanding, assured her, “It’s clean, I ent ever took it out of my pocket all day.”
“I’ll ruin it, don’t you mind?” Madge explained as she took it from her.
“Naw, I got hundreds. Old Aunt Sookey don’t do nothing but sew hankies night and day. She’s simple minded, but she sure can sew.”
Madge pressed the hanky to her bleeding lip, nodding her head. She remembered Sookey, sweet old thing. What was she going to do now? This child would surely give her away, wouldn’t she? Looking into Jesse’s smart, amber brown eyes, she thought, well, maybe not.
“Jesse, can you keep a secret?” she asked quietly. The child leaned in expectantly, eyes big again and nodded her head. Madge paused, thinking, then said in a low conspiratorial voice, “I’m running away from home.”
“Because your Daddy beat you too much,” Jesse stated, in a whisper that was somehow louder than her normal speaking voice.
Madge wondered what constituted too much, but only said, “Yeah.”
Her mouth was paper dry again. She glanced down at the hard cider bottle on the floor, still only a little less than half full, but her stomach didn’t want it. “You got anything besides cider to drink in here?” She asked hopefully.
“Coca-cola.” Jesse said happily, going to a crate on the floor that Madge hadn’t even noticed. She took two bottles from the crate, glanced at Madge, then reached behind the crate and pulled out a bottle opener. She opened the bottles deftly, put the opener back in its hiding place and held out a bottle to Madge, smiling slyly. “I pinch a bottle now and then,” she confessed.
Madge smiled painfully, still holding the hanky against her lip. “Are they going to miss you?” she asked, looking up at the door nervously.
Jesse gulped her coke and shook her head no. “I gotta bring in some butter for supper, but nobody’s waitin' on it. I just come in here —" a good sized burp interrupted her, "pardon me, 'cause I like it. Gets me out of the heat and I can sit and think in peace.”
She paused, then whispering again asked, “Have you got a get-away plan?”
“I do,” Madge answered, relieved that this funny little kid seemed to understand completely. Maybe her luck had turned now that… she pushed the thought aside.
“I just came in here to rest and wait for it to be time to get on the movie bus."
Jesse gave her a cockeyed look. "You think you're just gonna waltz onto the movie bus with a beat up face and a suitcase?"
The movie bus had been Madge's get away plan for so long, she'd forgotten that she had to think of another one. For several years Madge had been in the habit of taking the Friday evening bus out to San Angelo to go to the movie theater. Ozona didn't have a theater of its own and the Friday night bus was a small concession to the town's unmet entertainment needs. It left at five o'clock and returned at around eleven or so, depending on the length of the shows currently playing.
Willard, the bus driver always went to the movies too, so nobody had to worry about missing the bus back home. It was usually the same bunch of people, more or less, so Madge knew she wouldn't go unnoticed. She had planned to show up a little early, tell her prepared story to Willard to explain her suitcase and the fact that she wouldn't be making the return trip to Ozona. Willard was a sweet old guy who'd always insisted on dropping her off at her driveway on the way back. She would have asked him to keep quiet because she couldn't bear to have to say goodbye to everyone on the bus. She had counted on her reputation for honesty and her established habits to carry her out of town. But that had been before things had all gone to hell.
"Well, I guess not now. I'll just have to wait for it to get dark, so I can walk without being seen on the road.”
Jesse nodded frowning, then asked, “Where you gonna go?”
Madge took a deep breath. She had only told three people she was going to leave, all of them people she worked for. She had planned her departure on a Friday not only to make use of the movie bus, but also to collect her pay from her odd jobs. Although leaving without notice wasn’t very nice, she felt it was the only way. She'd told all of them a variation on a theme; she had an unexpected and immediate opportunity to take a very good entry-level job and attend secretarial school in Chicago. Or Atlanta. Or New York.
“Wait, don’t tell me,” Jesse said seriously. “That way I can say I don’t know if they question me and I won’t have to lie.”
This kid is priceless, Madge thought, drinking down the last of her Coke. Jesse was staring at her with concern.
“You ought to do something about the way you look…” she finally said, in a worried tone that Madge found alarming. She set the Coke bottle down and patted her face tentatively. Fortunately, most of the damage was on her left side, if you could say anything about a bashed up face was fortunate. She grabbed her purse and pulled out a compact and a little pouch full of make-up.
She flipped open the compact and got a shock that set her teeth on edge when she looked into it and saw her face. The split at the edge of her mouth hurt worse than it looked because it really was right in the corner. Her mouth was a little swollen, but not unmanageable. The swelling on the side of her jaw and along her cheekbone and brow was nearly horrific. The edge of her left eyelid was lost in a puffy lump that extended up and out into deepening shades of purple.
She closed the compact. She closed her eyes. All she could say was “Shit.”
Jesse pursed her lips, raised her eyebrows and looked away.
Madge took a deep breath and opened her eyes. “Okay Jesse, is there any water in here?”
Jesse brought some water and Madge set to putting herself in order. First she brushed and dampened her hair, setting it up in pin curls with her fingers and some bobby pins. She washed her face as best she could with the hanky and the rest of the water. Then Jesse held the compact up for her and she skillfully applied make-up to cover the bruised areas and accent her good eye. She started to try and do something with the banged up eye, but since by that time it was nearly swollen shut anyway, decided it was best to leave it alone.
She ended up with her deep auburn hair hanging in waves all to one side. She’d always kept it a little longer than was common and she was glad of it now. Little rhinestone pins kept it swept back behind her ear on the good side, exposing a fine jawline and a high, enviable cheekbone. She had to wear a bit too much lipstick to even out the swelling on her mouth, but at least she had a stunning red shade to depend on. The addition of her slouchy felt hat pulled low over her left brow, allowed her to pass off the damage as style.
She knew it would still be hot outside, but couldn’t bear to wear the slightly winterish hat without balancing it with a light cardigan sweater over her summer weight skirt and blouse. Jesse watched all of Madge’s transformation quietly, nodding her head appreciatively and uttering soft sounds of approval when she saw that an element of the new look was successful. She helpfully pointed out the darkening bruises on Madge’s neck and suggested a scarf, which Madge thought was a very smart idea. She just happened to have a sheer, oversized square with big splashy red roses printed on it that matched her lipstick.
When she’d done all she could and the light was growing dim, Madge put all of her things away, tidied and closed her suitcase.
“Well, let me get a look at you.” Jesse said.
Madge stood a little self-consciously in front of Jesse, turning around to show all sides of herself. She searched the child’s face for approval while Jesse studied her appraisingly.
After what seemed like an age to Madge, her critic nodded and said, “You'll pass, if nobody looks too close.”
“You go get that butter now and scat, it’s getting dark," Madge said simply, as if she’d see her again any afternoon.
Jesse retrieved a pot of butter out of the icebox, hesitated at the bottom of the stairs and said, “I hope you get away like you want to Miss Carter, I won’t tell.”
“Thanks Jesse, you take care,” Madge said and turned away quickly, feeling like she was going to cry again. She heard the child walk up the stairs and pause at the door. She turned around and looked up at the small, wild haired girl in overalls cradling the pot of butter, the only person who was rooting for her.
“I’ll send you a postcard when I get somewhere exciting,” Madge promised, and dared to smile a little on the good side of her mouth. Jesse beamed and went out, closing the door as softly as she had coming in.
Jesse sat before the mirror in her bedroom, looking at her reflection with a critical eye. She had a hard time imagining what she might look like as a grown-up woman, but she had hopes, and plenty of role models tacked up around her mirror. She was the youngest in a family of boys, so she was a tomboy. And that was fine, for a ten year old. But as she gazed into her own eyes, sassy brown according to her dad, and fringed with long blond lashes, she did have hopes.
She glanced up at the postcard, a picture of New York City, tucked up among the movie star pictures she'd cut out of magazines. She wished she had a picture of Madge. She took the postcard down and looked at it, as she had countless times since receiving it. She turned it over and read the brief message written in a pretty, feminine hand,
It was postmarked NY, NY - November, 1942. Almost a year after Madge had left. She had been thrilled to get the postcard, because it meant that Madge had made it, she'd got away. She was also pleased to have proof that the rumors were lies. Jesse hadn't believed Madge had taken up with those gangsters out at that motel off of Old Indian Road. But people did like to talk. They had talked plenty when Cain Carter had been found dead, burned to charcoal in that shack of his. But Madge had been gone more than a week when that fire happened. And everybody knew Cain was a hell on wheels drunk.
Jesse tucked up the postcard and dreamed of being beautiful and glamourous and living in New York City. It was comforting to know she had a friend there. She was saving her money and she was making a plan.
(c) 2009 ~ Author Pamila Payne
Pamila Payne is the real deal. An author with a novel that won't stop there. An author with talent that runs the same rampant way . . . She hangs out with dead guys at a joint called The Bella Vista Motel. You can find out a whole lot more about what's daunting in a desolate destination right here. You should. Lives depend on it.
Aboard the mighty Harbinger*33, Pamila is an anchor to the written word. She knows razzamatazz and noir and cutting edge and calls 'em when she sees 'em; a colleague to writers past the sail around Inspiration Point. I'm so glad she put up her California movie star glasses to let us sneak a peek into one of her upcoming epics.
Pamila Payne shall be showing up more ~ AT THE BIJOU, spotlighting a serial thriller that makes even Noir look soft around the shadows . . . with a smoky presentation of deep throated intro by THE BIJOU's very own theatri-cool version of Harry B Alfred Sanderford Hitchcock. Watch for it on upcoming Double*Feature Tuesdays & Thursdays.
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showing high'class features ~ around WebTown . . .
showing high'class features ~ around WebTown . . .
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Remember Folks, you read it here first,
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