She was able to wash most of the blood off when she heard the door bell. She peeked outside behind from the curtain. Great, she thought, never better timing. Mrs. Potts, the sheriff’s wife, her next door neighbour was standing at the door.
She threw the rubber gloves and the apron into the sink, and ran to the mirror at the hallway. She tucked her hair behind her ears, and straightened her floral blouse at the waistline.
“Mrs. Potts, hi! What can I do for you?” she stood in a wide stance with the arms folded on her chest.
“Can I come in?”
She stepped towards Mrs. Potts, and the door closed behind her, “It’s not a good time Marylin, the kids will be home soon, and I have tons to do.”
“Oh, I baked fresh scones and pie. John's favourite!” she exclaimed, "I hope he'll like this too."
"Oh, he loves jam. And look at that vibrant red colour!’ she felt this urge to laugh.
“The secret is to use only strawberries that are fully ripe and turned completely red..."
And while Mrs. Potts explained every tiny detail of her unique jam making process, she wondered how many bottles she had to use to clean up the blood in the basement. She had already finished with the bedroom upstairs.
“I see.” she said.
“By the way, how is he?”
“He is great! Yes, he, he, uh ... couldn’t be better!” she chuckled like a teenage girl on a first date.
"Oh wonderful!" Mrs. Potts put her hands together.
“Marilyn, thank you. It is very kind of you! I’ll let the kids and John know that you stopped by!” she grabbed the box of goodies that was still warm underneath.
“All right then." she touched her forehead with the index finger, Oh! Almost forgot! Do you mind showing me the cushion that you made, the one you won the first prize with! You know, at the fair last week."
“It’s in the bedroom, and John is asleep. I’ll show it to you some other time.” she pushed down the door handle, "He still needs his rest."
“Of course. I can pop back in a little bit later?!” she said.
“I’d rather give it to you tomorrow morning, after the service.’
“All right. I shall see you all at the service then! Give John my warmest regards, would you?”
Before Catherine could respond, Mrs. Potts waved at her husband, “Jeff, come say hello to Cathy!"
Catherine's face went white.
Mr. Potts was about to get into his car, in uniform, holding a silver travel mug and a blue lunch box.
"Next time." he shouted, "Duty calls!" He tilted his head and drove off.
Thank God for that, she thought.
She waited a couple of seconds before she rushed back inside. She was rocking, swaying left to right, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. She made sure to say a loud 'hi' to her other neighbour, Mrs. Everette who was the local chatterbox.
She sat down at the kitchen table, her heart was racing and the palms sweating. She made a strong coffee and reached to the back of the cupboard. Behind the cereals, there was a rusty tin box. 'Just for emergencies' it said on the box. She lit a cigarette, leaned back and watched the clock pointer hitting 12.
Catherine knew that moving to a small town wouldn’t be easy.
She remembered when she had her brother over for a week, while John was on a Christian tour in the county. Not even a day later, people were talking about Catherine’s young "lover." A story like this spread like wildfire in Charlottesville.
She was born as the eldest of a family hard-working, middle class people, living in a busy city of Rochdale. In any big city, people minded their own business, most of them struggling to make ends meet.
Catherine and her first husband, Frank, grew up in Rochdale. When they started dating at fifteen, Catherine's late mother had always said that it was a match made in Heaven. He worked as shift supervisor and he made enough money to keep the family afloat. Five years into their happy marriage, she lost him in a fatal accident at the machinery factory. Luckily, Frank left enough money to pay for the funeral, and all their expenses for a couple of months.
Shortly after she became a widow, she found a job as a secretary at a law firm. For months, everything seemed to be back on track until her boss decided that it wasn’t. Once she turned down his offer to go out on a date. Another time she punched him in the stomach at his office when he forced himself onto her on a desk. Then he accused her of forging signatures on documents and lied in front of a board of men that he had seen her re-typing her work contract to get more benefits. He even said he had seen her signing the documents. Of course, it was all a big lie. But no one believed a 28 years old widow, single mother of three, so she resigned to preserve the remainder of her dignity.
It was exactly to month a year later, in 1970 when she met John while she was on vacation at her aunt's place. Mrs. Hamptons offered Catherine to stay with the children for the summer. Marefield, this quaint little town nestled in the mountains, was the perfect place to figure out for her what to do next. And to Catherine’s pleasant surprise, her whole family embraced the farm-style life; the children learnt how to care for the animals and understood the cycle of life on a farm. She loved the close-knit community and the thought of having people around that she could rely on.
John was the local priest, a well-respected, handsome bachelor in his early forties. He grew up as a smallest of five siblings in strict household where the last word was always his father’s. Physical and verbal abuse weren’t anything out of the ordinary at the Porter’s family home. John lost her mother when he was only 5, then his father became an alcoholic and committed suicide. John found him hung up the next morning.
When John met the young Catherine, he knew that he didn't have to look any further for the perfect bride. She was a shy, God-fearing person who had the same conservative view on life. They also shared similar beliefs.
He found in her what he had always been looking for: a fragile woman that he could control. John described her later as the angel descended from Heaven, a God-sent saviour.
Maybe, she wasn’t the kind of saviour that John had in mind.
The night before
“Go up to your damned rooms!” John shouted as he stood up from the table, and pushed the chair behind him. He had way too much to drink that night.
“You’re not my father. Don’t tell me what to do!” Richard, the oldest, 12 years old, shouted straight back at him, “I hate you!”
“You stupid kid! How dare you talk to me like that, huh?” he stood up and went up to him with rage in his eyes and a threatening gesture of the index finger. The other two younger children, Sam and Megan were shaking.
“Shut your little mouth or there will be consequences!” he whispered in Richard’s ear. His breath stunk of alcohol and cigarettes.
Richard stood up and hit him on his back as hard as he could. John turned around, and he smacked Richard across the face so hard that his lips cracked open. While John left to the kitchen, Richard got up and ran towards the staircase up to his bedroom. John was grunting and swore under his nose’ “I am going to kill you!”
Catherine sent the other two children outside to the backyard and told them to hide in the garden shed. She ran back upstairs to find both shouting obscene words and slamming doors. She stepped into the children’s bedroom when John pulled Richard out of the cupboard where he was hiding. He kicked him on his ribs and spat on his face. From the bed, Catherine jumped on his back, but he was too strong and tall to fall, she fell on the floor. John kicked her too on the stomach.
“Stop! Please stop!” Catherine grabbed him by his pants, but his rage took complete control over him. By the hair, he dragged her to their bedroom at the end of the hall.
“Get up you slut!” he screamed and unbuckled his thick leather belt.
She was lying on the carpet, face down, crying, “Please don’t hurt the children again! I am begging you”!
Before she could even blink, he lifted her up and pushed her on the bed. Her nose was bleeding and she spitted blood on the white bedding. She was shaking, and begging him to her go. He lift her skirt, pulled her underpants down and raped her.
She was screaming at him to stop, but seeing her taking up a fight made him enjoy the act more. Catherine wouldn’t have stood a chance in hell to fight him off.
Suddenly, John didn’t move anymore. The heavy panting stopped, and he collapsed like a house of cards on her. She opened her eyes, and looked around in the room. Everything was calm just like after a storm.
Richard just stood there, silent and still, with the murder weapon in his hand.
“Please give that to me, okay?” she smiled with tears in her eyes. His grip was so tight around the statue, that she needed both her hands to peel off his fingers.
“I am sorry Mama. I am so sorry!” he sobbed on her mother’s chest, hugging her tight as he could.
“It’s okay my boy. Shhh, it’s okay.” they both cried, “Thank you.” she whispered and stroked her silky brown her, and wiped the tears off his chubby cheeks.
“I didn’t mean to, it just happened!”
“You saved my life. You saved us all.” she glanced at the wooden cross hung up above their bed. She was praying to God to forgive Richard for what he had just done. She was ready to fight the devil himself if it was to protect her children.
“Mama! Mama!” Megan and Sam ran into the bedroom.
“Are you okay?” - Catherine smothered them with kisses.
“Is he dead?” Megan, the 7 years old pointed at the pool of blood on the cream and blue carpet.
His eyes were still open. Catherine took a clean white sheet and covered his body. Before she covered his head, she stopped, “I hope that one day, God will forgive you. Even if I couldn't.” she gently closed his eyes and pulled the sheet over his head.
It was little after 1 PM only when the children came home. Mrs.White felt sick so they could all skip their last two classes.
“Where is he?” Richard asked, and looked around opened the doors in the hallway.
“How was school my darlings?”
“Mom! Where is he?” he raised his voice. He seemed edgy and irritated.
Catherine pointed to the white door with a padlock.
“Are you all hungry?” she smiled as she pinched little Megan’s rosy cheek.
“No Mom, we had snacks at school.” said Megan.
“Can we go and play with the twins? Please mom! We don’t have homework for today.” Sam said, “please Mom!”
“Sure my sweetheart! Here, grab that brown bag for some cookies, I made them this morning.”
“Thanks Ma! Love you!”
“We won’t be late, I promise.” said Megan and hugged Catherine around her slim waist.
“Take as long as you like!” She waved from the front door.
Richard sat at the dining table, exactly where he had sat the night before, and was starring at one point on the kitchen floor, “I lost my temper, exactly as he used to. You always told us to stop and think before we do anything. And I killed him because I was angry! I couldn’t stop Mama." he cried.
“You saved my life. And most importantly, you gave a chance to us to start over, as a family!”
“But I killed him, and I will go to prison!” he buried his face in his hands.
“Stop. You did what you thought was best in that situation. I’ll do everything I can, we, us together to protect you. You’ll never go to prison. I would never let them take you!” she kissed him on the forehead, “And I am sorry that you had to see what you saw. He was a terrible man.”
"But I killed him. I took someone's life. How does that make me a better man than him?" he asked.
"It's not about who is better than others. It's about what one thinks can do to others."
John was lying there, in the exact same position since last night, arms and legs spread out, facing the ceiling. His head was in a pool of blood that grew bigger and turned darker since last night. There was hardly any white spot left on the sheet.
Catherine grabbed a couple of black bin bags, rubber gloves, a bucket and a ball of string. Richard lifted his head, and she pulled a bag on, and tied it tight with a string at the neck. They wrapped his whole body from the top and the bottom in plastic, and put an old rug next to him. With all the force they had, they pushed the body onto the rug and rolled him in it.
“How will we get him upstairs, then into the boot?” she asked.
Richard suggested to use the wheel barrel. He pulled, and she lifted the legs into the barrel.
She parked the car in drive way all the way to the back, with the boot facing the wall. They pulled the body into the trunk, but the lower limbs at the knee didn’t bend. Richard grabbed a hammer and a saw, and broke both legs by the knee. Catherine was standing there watching him dissecting him.
Megan and Sam were waiting in the dark, all packed up and ready to leave.
Catherine locked the door, and took a last look at the house that she always hated. John’s late wife’s parents gave the house to them as a wedding present. She decorated the house the way she wanted. All the curtains, rugs and even some of the wallpaper were floral to add depth to the bedroom.
The hundreds of tiny blood spatters nicely blended with the petals of the red roses on the wallpaper.
They drove to the lake, outside town, next to the pig farms to dump the body.
Finally, she was free. Free from John and his endless abuse. The man, the priest who used to preach about wisdom, love and forgiveness in the morning, and heated, raped and abused her and the children at night? Because he was a priest, was he given the permission by the higher powers to do what he did? I don’t think so, she thought.
But most importantly, as everyone else, he had a choice to become a better version of himself.
“Mama, where are we going?” Megan asked.
Catherine glanced at the long road ahead then smiled into to the rising sun, “Wherever God takes us.” And she tossed the house keys out the window.