by Thomas Moreau
The Good Lord once said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee … Unless a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.’
While I can’t say that my experience with death has reaped much fruit, I can say it has been enough. Death pays the ransom, they say. And to that I say ‘Amen.’ Death freed me, but also taught me that the weight it bears need not be lighter than captivity. The weight of glory.
Captivity is something I know a thing or two about. A teenage girl in the passenger seat of Frankie’s pickup truck. Smoking Marlboro Reds and listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Shakes and burgers at Cardinal’s drive-in movie theater. The way he looked at me with those baby blue eyes, leaning in for the first time his lips parted mine. From that moment forward I was his captive. A stupid little girl captive to love.
An eternal summer passed, and when all the leaves had fallen, I realized that my consent had been given without my consent. Winter came, and my “I do” became “I will” … or “I won’t”… or “I’ll do better.” And before I knew it, I was no longer captive to the delight of love, but to a conjugal nightmare … to a man who had become a monster. A man whose once baby blues became watery, black orbs, and all that remained of his smile were his teeth. Petting turned to slapping, and I grew to know his knuckles more intimately than I did his fingertips.
And the more I grew, the more I grew dependent on him. “Thy will be done,” I said with my black and blue eyes fixed to my shoes.
And so I bent … lower and lower I bent … until the bottom of his boot pressed my head against the polished floor. And when the floor fell through, I bent even further, digging and clawing and burrowing with the very fingernails he had broken. Thinking that if I dug far enough, I could conceal both myself and my baby boy deep within the earth, safe from his jaundiced eyes. Safe from the smell of his breath reeking of bourbon and other women.
Then one day, an angel came to me. Whether fallen or otherwise, I’ll never know … But his arrow dug deep, and a voice reached out to me deep within the recesses of the earth from which I hid. And it said to me, just like the Good Lord said to Lazarus:
“Ginny, come out.”
And I said, “No. I can’t. I won’t. I’m afraid.”
And it said again, “Ginny, come out.”
And in that encounter, I knew. I knew that if I was ever to come out of that tomb, then Frankie would have to be put into it.
It was one day shortly after my vision that the preacher payed us a visit, gave Frankie some fraternal correction about his vices. Said that it would either be liquor or confection that would be his death if he didn’t get more God in him …
Well it turns out, his was the latter, but only because mine was the first. Call it cirrhosis of the soul.
In my stupor, my unprocessed hatred for a man who became my master, I went to my older sister for counsel, and she told me:
“The kindest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Kill him with kindness, Ginny. You kill him with kindness.”
I’m not saying it was right or wrong what I did, or that it was the only option I had. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t … All I’m saying is that maybe, just maybe … understanding really is forgiving …
I think about it every day.
Every day I think about the evening he came home from the bar. I had already told my sister what I intended to do, and so she took baby Seymour for the night. Frankie, as usual, was ravished. And so I fixed him his supper. Pork chops and biscuits. He drank another bottle of liquor and demanded his dessert.
And so I presented him a slice of blackberry pie.
“Just like you like it,” I said. Except tonight’s ingredients were also the way I liked it. Two bottles of crushed sleeping pills, ground and powdered and sprinkled into the crust.
So I watched him wolf it down, every last morsel. Even licked the plate, the poor brute. He told me it had a chalky undertaste, and said a few other choice words I won’t bother to mention. And just like any night, he propped his feet up on the sofa, drunk as a skunk and growing drowsier by the second.
My black and blue eyes looked down at my shoes. But this time, they were my dancing shoes.
He asked me where I was going,
“Out,” I says.
“What fer?” he asks.
“To celebrate,” I says.
He asked me what I was celebrating, and I just smiled.
“Go to sleep, baby … Go to sleep.”
And he did. And I danced the night away with a belly full of Port and a ring line on my finger.
And I returned that morning a widow, with the angel of the Lord sitting next to the couch where he laid … Waiting for me … Or maybe waiting for him. And the angel turned its gaze toward me and said,
“Woman, thou art loosed.”
And I came to believe.
But I also came to believe that one day, this same angel would come again … and I would have to render an account to him for the unthinkable exchange that I had made for my freedom.
Thomas Moreau is a social worker living in Asheville, North Carolina. He has resided in the South all of his life, from the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina to South Louisiana. Authors who have influenced his writing include Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner and Charles Frazier. In 2011, his writing won first prize for the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics. Follow him on Twitter @thomasmoreau87.