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Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Ruth’s joy blinded her. “Over and over,” she sang along with her radio. “My friends say I’m a fool. But over and over. I’ll be a fool for you.” She danced through her apartment, skipping from the bathroom to the bedroom to the kitchen. Her feet were light, and her smile was wide.

Just then, she heard the garage door open. She brushed off her skirt and waited for Donny to walk through that door. After the handle twisted, she saw his ratty fedora poked through. With glee that made him flinch, she greeted him, “Donny, you’re home!” Once he was inside, she hugged him, and he brushed her off.

“I’ve got some news to tell you,” she added, while he grabbed a beer from the fridge.

“Good news or bad?” He sat on the couch.

“Good I think.”

“Okay then, spit it out.”

“I went to the doctor’s today,” she paused and pinched herself. “I’m pregnant!”

She jumped for joy, but he threw his beer at the wall. “What the fuck, Ruth? How can you be happy about this?”

“How can you not?” She cried.

“We can’t afford a kid. You know that.”

“I don’t care about money, Donny. I’m having this kid.”

“If you’re so sure, then I’m leaving.” He stormed through the kitchen, and she followed.

“But you can’t leave. We’re having a baby.”

“You’re having a baby. I’m getting out of here.”

“What kind of father leaves his child?”

“How do you even know that kid’s mine?”

“Because I’m faithful. To you, to our baby.”

“What a load of crap.”

“Donny, I swear I would never --”

“What kind of woman does nothing, after knowing her man fucked another woman. You stayed with me. You didn’t retaliate. Instead, you got pregnant!”

“Because I believe in forgiveness, and I want to raise a family together.”

“Ruth, you’re too much of a dreamer. You gotta get your feet back on the ground.”

“Donny, you gotta man up and take responsibility.”

“I couldn’t care less about what you think. I don’t give a shit about you.”

Ruth slapped Donny. He brought his hand to his heated face and laughed. “Boy, was I stupid for thinking you couldn’t get any dumber.” He slapped her, causing her to fall to the ground. “For such a vocal woman, you sure are weak.” When she tried to get up, he kicked her stomach. She screamed and cried. “Why am I wasting my time and energy on such a dense woman?” He spat on her and walked out.

***

A woman with one suitcase to her name steps onto a Greyhound bus. Her waddle and belly helped her stick out and attract strangers’ help. The driver and a passenger helped usher her to the first open seat. As she sat down, one of them put her luggage in the overhead bin. She thanked them, looked out the window, and counted the minutes until she was home. To keep herself entertained, she’d sing to the baby in her belly. “Cause you got personality. Walk with personality. Talk with personality.” 

After days on that bus, she ate multiple helpings of her mother’s homemade ravioli. At the kitchen table, Ruth smiled and laughed with her family. Once Lloyd Price came on the radio, she pushed up from her chair and started to dance. She swayed and side-stepped, having left all her worries behind.

One year later, her parents insisted she go out for a night. While she went to the town’s only dancing club, the new grandparents watched over Maria and never took their eyes off her. A few miles across town, John asked Ruth to dance. Both their smiles and the conversation flowed with a frequency reserved for young lovers.

***

With chiming bells and a running engine, the newlyweds and their daughter headed to Chicago. They were off to find fresh beginnings. At a rest stop, Ruth and Little Maria sang together, “They still say I'm a fool. But over and over. I'll be a fool for you.”

Within six years, they had four children and settled into a routine. Ruth got the older kids ready for school, as John left for work. While she cleaned the house and took care of the younger ones, he’d sleep with his assistant. Once the kids got off the school bus, she’d greet them, and John would drink a pour of whiskey and finish his day of work. When he’d walk through the door, she’d serve dinner within one minute. On the nights she didn’t, he’d punch her in the stomach. On the nights the kids acted out, he’d spank them with his belt. As they grew older, John found more reasons to advance his techniques. After years of shame and guilt, Ruth asked John for a divorce and full custody. He gladly accepted with one last slap and a phone call to his mistress.

***

 Maria spread mayonnaise on two slices of bread and arranged some ham and cheese. Leaving the kitchen, she heard the TV grow louder. Once she saw the screen, she said, “Here, Mom.” She gave the sandwich to Ruth and sat in the chair next to her mother.

“Thank you, sweetie.” Ruth looked at the sandwich. “What is this?”

“A sandwich, Mom. Ham and cheese.”

While her mother chewed her first bite, Maria watched the music program on the television. “The Hits of 1959.”

“What’s in this?” Ruth asked.

“Ham and cheese, Mom.”

Just then, Lloyd Price came onto the television. “Over and over. I tried to prove my love to you. Over and over. What more can I do.”

“Mom, do you remember singing this song together?”

“What song?”

“The one on the TV, Mom.”

“What? No, I don’t know this song.”

Maria’s heart sank deeper than she thought it would. Ruth’s health had been going downhill for years now, but this moment stung.

“What’s in this?”

After she sighed, Maria replied, “Ham and cheese, Mom.” As her mother ate, Maria hummed along with the song.

June 09, 2022 23:18

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