Bessie wanted to leave. More than anything she wanted to walk right out the front door and never come back. But she knew He would kill her if she tried. Why, He didn’t even like it when she so much as looked out a window. He’d jerk the heavy drapes shut, bellowing that there was nothing outside for her, that everything she needed was within these walls. She didn’t know why He got so excited. Nothing out there, anyway. Smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, they were.
A three-mile, washboard of a lane snaked down the wooded hillside, its end the overgrown front yard of the house where’s she’d been born–and would most likely die. It’d been months since anyone had ventured down the rocky slope, and even longer since she’d made the trip up it.
Reckon the whole world has forgotten about me.
She moved listlessly around the dark-paneled living room, straightening the doilies on the sofa arms, smoothing the crocheted table runner on the sideboard, fluffing the embroidered throw pillows. She fussed with the tiny family of pink ceramic elephants that lumbered across the top of the Bombay chest, moving each piece a fraction of an inch, then moving it back.
She wandered to the cold fireplace. On top of the mantle, her mother smiled out of an ornate silver frame. The picture had been taken a few years before Mother had gone crazy, when she had still been able to smile.
That sweet smile had disappeared a few weeks after Father passed away. Mother’s face had become pinched, her eyes fearful, and she’d started talking about “Him”, telling Bessie that He wouldn’t let her leave the house.
“But Father’s dead,” Bessie had said.
Mother’s red-rimmed eyes had rolled toward the back of the house. “Not your father. Him.”
“Him,” her mother had repeated.
A few mornings later, Bessie had gotten out of bed to find her mother’s lifeless body sprawled face down in the open doorway leading onto the front porch. Most likely a heart attack, Doctor Palmer had told her. And three days later when Bessie had returned home following the funeral, He’d been waiting for her, and she had found out her mother hadn’t been crazy after all.
Now, Bessie kissed her fingertips, then transferred the kiss to her mother’s cheek. Sighing, she moved away. Her plump frame sank down into an overstuffed armchair. She pulled a half-finished afghan, knitting needles, and cream-colored yarn out of the wicker basket that rested on the floor near her feet.
Knit one, purl two. Knit one, purl two.
In less than a minute, she was back on her feet. She was tired of knitting, tired of crocheting, tired of quilting; she wanted to go out in the sunshine, work in the garden, pick red roses from the bush twining over the yard fence. It’d been days since He had allowed her outside, days since she’d felt the rich, loamy soil beneath her fingernails.
Bessie drifted across the room to the front door. She curled her fingers around the knob. In another room, something clattered like pots and pans banging together, and she jerked her hand away as if she’d been burned.
She wobbled away from the door, fear pushing her feet across the faded oriental carpet. Her breaths came in shallow puffs. Her heart thudded against her rib cage. Black spots danced in her line of vision.
Get a’hold of yourself or you’re gonna pass out, Bessie told herself. Relax. Take a deep breath.
She’d put on some music. He liked music too. Calm them both down.
She slid a 78RPM out of its sleeve. In moments, the music of Glen Miller’s Orchestra filled the room. Bessie closed her eyes, hugged herself, swayed back and forth, and was soon lost in the band’s rendition of “Imagination”.
Loud footfalls overlaid the music. A whisper of cold air washed across her skin.
He’s coming to dance with me!
Bessie smoothed her faded red hair, ran her hands over the gray wool skirt circling her hips, then turned toward the hall. A long shadow spilled in through the archway.
The shadow quickly retreated.
Again–tap, tap, tap.
Lord above, someone’s at the door!
Bessie lifted the needle off the record. She crossed the living room, peeled back an inch or so of the heavy drapes covering the window, and put her eye to the crack.
Two young men wearing white shirts, black ties, and name badges, carrying the Bible and other no-nonsense books, stood on the front porch. Bessie immediately knew who they were: Mormons, men of God.
Hope sprang inside her breast. Her prayers had finally been answered. God had sent someone to save her.
With a furtive glance over her shoulder, she opened the door. Two scrubbed innocent faces smiled in greeting.
“Good afternoon ma’am,” the taller one said. “I’m Elder Fincher, and this is Elder Thomas. We’re here to share with you the teachings of Joseph Smith. Can we come in and sit a spell, tell you about his Restored Gospel?”
The lanky young men exuded righteousness. Surely, God walks with them, Bessie thought. Smiling, she swung the door wide. “Yes, please, come in.”
She motioned them to the couch, then took a seat opposite in a wing-back chair and folded her hands in her lap. Elder Fincher opened one of the books he carried. “I would like to read to you from the Book of Mormon, Mrs….er…”
“Miss Hays,” Bessie said.
“When God spoke to Joseph Smith, Miss Hays, He–”
A dull thud resonated from another part of house.
“Does someone live here with you, Miss Hays?” Elder Thomas asked. “If so, we’d like them to hear–”
A loud rattle, then breaking glass.
Bessie jumped to her feet. “It’s Him.”
Elder Thomas’s brow furrowed. “Him, who? Your husband?”
“You’ve got to help me.” Bessie wrung her hands. “He won’t let me leave.”
A door slammed, the force of it rattling the pictures on the walls. Both men vaulted up from the sofa, their eyes focused on the archway that led deeper into the house. Then, a rhythmic, thump, thump, thump began. And with each thump, chalky dust sifted down from the ceiling upon Bessie and the two Mormons.
Grasping his books to his chest, Elder Fincher stumbled backward. “I think we’d better go, come back at a more convenient time.”
Bessie grabbed his arm. “Take me with you. If you don’t…” Bessie knew this was her last chance. God didn’t answer a prayer but once. “If you don’t, He’ll kill me.”
Elder Fincher shook off her hand. “I’m sorry, but we really shouldn’t get involved in family matters.”
Frantic, Bessie again clutched his arm. “If you leave me here, He’ll kill me.” She looked up into his eyes. He had to understand! “Don’t you see…I let you inside.”
The thumps resumed, grew more forceful. The walls reverberated. Plaster rained down. Pictures crashed to the floor.
Elder Fincher pulled away from Bessie and stumbled toward the front door. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, dropped books and leaflets marked his passing.
Bessie stretched out her hands to his retreating back. “Wait!”
A firm hand grasped her elbow. “Come with me, Miss Hays.” Elder Thomas hurried her across the littered carpet, the house falling silent when they passed through the front door. Only the squeak of the old boards accompanied them as they rushed across the porch.
Elder Fincher cowered just outside the gate. “Hurry up!”
Halfway across the yard, Bessie looked back. She was finally out of there. She was away from Him. She was free! Thank you, Lord. She felt the warmth of the sun on her head and shoulders. Smiling, she closed her eyes and turned her pale face up to its brilliance.
A scream ripped the air. Bessie’s eyes flew open. Not five feet from her, Elder Fincher’s body flopped over the yawning picket fence and rolled across the yard as if it were a long, skinny tumbleweed. Up the steps it went, and back through the front door.
“Oh, my God…” Elder Thomas said. And then he too was screaming, turning end over end, legs and arms flailing, as he rolled back through the high grass, up onto the porch, and through the black maw. The door slammed shut.
“No!” Bessie pushed open the gate and ran. She had to get away, had to…
The air roared above her head. The sun gave way to shadows. She glanced over her shoulder and saw a confusion of boards and windows and shingles filling the sky. The chaos overtook her, swirled about her, and closed in. Slaps and bangs and clunks assaulted her ears. Then all was still.
And Bessie was in center of the living room, her feet planted firmly upon the old Oriental rug. The drapes snapped tightly together over the windows, not allowing even the tiniest sliver of light to peek through. The front door lock clicked.
Bessie turned in a slow circle. Every piece of furniture, every picture, every little knickknack was in its place.
As she was in her place.
She should have known He would never let her leave.
She sat down in her chair and picked up her knitting.
Knit one, purl two. Knit one, purl two.
Photo from Morguefile