I couldn't sleep that night. All I could think was: what have I gotten myself into?
After tossing and turning for twenty minutes or so, I turned on my bedside light and grabbed my book. I always have a book on the go. In fact, most nights, it's a struggle for me to close the book and go to sleep. I've been known to read all night, even on work nights.
Tonight, it was Jane Austen's turn: Emma. As always, when it comes to Victorian literature, it took me a while to get into the book again. But before I knew it, an hour had passed as I tut-tutted to the ill manners of Mr. Frank Churchill, so I set down the book, turned off the light and tried to sleep again.
What - oh, what! - had I gotten myself into?
Bettany and Michael were asleep (or so I assumed) in the guest bedroom. We'd stopped in Peterborough to meet Pam before coming to my place, an apartment near the Beaches in Toronto.
Pam's apartment was on the top floor of a three-floor walk-up in a neighbourhood full of similar buildings. The unit was painted bachelor-beige. Cheap posters and pages from magazines were taped high on the walls. A futon couch and two folding chairs furnished the living room, along with a colour TV. A sheet was pinned across the windows for curtains.
Pam greeted us with her arms crossed over her ample bosom which rested on an even more ample belly. She watched as Bettany and I lugged the microwave up the six short flights of stairs and had us set it on the kitchen table. She offered us Diet Coke or water to drink. She passed around an open bag of chips.
She was not the least bit upset that Bettany had found alternative lodging, nor was she surprised that Jim had been "rough" with her. She asked Bettany if she had sought Christ's forgiveness for extramarital sexual relations and prophesied, "A relationship that begins in sin will end in destruction."
"I married him, didn't I? What's it going to take to make things right?"
"You know what it'll take, Bettany. You just don't want to offer up your soul to the Saviour. You would rather stew in your iniquities." Oh, she was good. Good enough to lead a Friday-night altar call, this one.
The sisters hugged each other good-bye, despite the evident tensions. Pam promised to pray. Bettany said she'd be in touch as soon as she had a permanent address.
"You and your sister don't look much alike," I commented as we got back on the road.
"Oh, yeah, that's because she's only my half sister. Our mother was never really good at relationships. Some of them lasted longer than others, but they all ended up crashing and burning in big, fiery sparks.
"But I'm not like her at all. This relationship is the last time I'll let a man get rough with me like that. I've learned my lesson." Had she said that for my benefit?
"Mom? Mom? Mom!" Michael was wide awake now, pumped up on the caffeine from the pop. He kicked the back of her seat. "MOM!"
"WHAT? Jesus, Michael! Give it a rest! Can't you see I'm trying to have a conversation with Carla?"
Michael was now crying loudly and kicking against the door. I glanced in the rear-view mirror; he was wearing a seat belt, but had slid down so that the waist strap was up around his arm pits.
Before I could pull over, Bettany had unbuckled her seat belt and reached into the back seat. I heard a smack of skin against skin. The pitch of his cry changed from whining to pain.
"Now be quiet!"
His crying went silent as he gasped for breath, then cried again with renewed fervour.
Bettany slumped beside me, breathing heavily. I could feel anger coming off her in ruby waves.
"Should we stop?" I offered.
"Look. If you want to dump us at the side of some godforsaken highway in the heat of summer, then just do it. Don't pretend you're trying to be Miss Fucking-Goody-Two-Shoes! I'm not going to pretend I'm anything other than who I am. I'm white trash. I get it. You and your fancy car and your own apartment and your full-time career," (she said the word "career" with an audible sneer) "you can all go fuck yourselves. Pull over. Let us out. Right here." She pulled open the door.
I screamed and pulled onto the shoulder, thankful that there was one.
"Bettany!" I shouted. "Stop! I'm not trying to get rid of you! I just thought you might like to take a minute to calm Michael down." I was trying to calm her down, while Michael continued sobbing. I'd never seen anyone become enraged so quickly, on the turn of a dime. I was afraid of her, afraid for Michael.
"You think I don't know how to calm my own child? Think you know better than me?" She was still yelling, still in a rage. "Fine. You take him. I mean it. You think you can do so much better, then please do."
"Bettany," I tried to mollify her, "no one could do better for Michael than you're doing. You're getting him out of a really bad situation," I said, though I questioned now, how much of a role Bettany herself played in the volatile home. "Look, I have some gummy bears in my purse. Maybe Michael would like some. It might distract him."
Bettany glared at me like a cornered dog. She grabbed the candy and handed it to Michael who stopped crying and started eating the gooey treat.
"Let's get going and we can have a good dinner at home. We'll all feel better. You've had a really rough day, Bettany."
I turned up the radio. Hall and Oates pumped up the beat.
Oh, here she comes
Watch out boy she'll chew you up
Oh, here she comes
She's a man eater
I wouldn't if I were you, I know what she can do
She's deadly man, and she could really rip your world apart
Mind over matter
The beauty is there but a beast is in the heart
For previous entries, visit my Fiction Friday page.