I didn’t want any supper. My stomach was churning far too much to eat, thinking of Mama and the doctor’s prognosis. That she could die if she didn’t have the op. Then the months of treatment.
But we’d be there for her. That was the easy part. Raising the money, that was the problem. As Trenchard was the local banker, and her husband, she should only have had to ask. Like the Doc said, Trenchard was a highly respected businessman. To all intents and purposes the perfect husband. The perfect father. He’d provided a home for us when we had nothing. The fine house we lived in all belonged to him. A widower, Trenchard had no children. His wife had died young. In childbirth they’d reckoned.
Maybe she was no longer able to suffer his cruelty.
We had lived on a busted down farm when Trenchard had set his cap at Mama. How he’d suffer her little brats, he said, because he had claimed to love her. Folk believed John Franklyn’s kids and widow had come up in the world, but they didn’t really know Isaac Trenchard.
Counting the meagre bucks I earned each week eking out at Joe Miller’s garage resulted in about fifty dollars. Mama needed five hundred and more for her stay in hospital, and future treatments. Of course I could sell my guitar, but I guess that old guitar and the music was the only escape. The old barn back of the house and that old second hand instrument. Mr Peters at the store confided someone had pawned it, but never collected. I’d offered Mr Peters the few items I’d collected as a kid. The fishing rod Pa had bought me, for which I’d asked his forgiveness – though aware he would understand that it was for Mama – managed to fetch about five bucks. “Why don’t you ask your pa, son?” Mr Peters said.
“My pa is dead,” I retorted. Trenchard was one of the richest men in town, while he kept his family, though outwardly respectable, as poor as church mice.
I’d retreated to the old barn and told my brother Johnny he’d find me there when supper was ready.
Old Blue, the scruffy mongrel who seemed to bark at every shadow, had grown nervous. He was following me and Johnny everywhere. He hunkered down at my feet while I strummed and thought of Hank.
Why did Hank have to die? I’d written a song about him. Depression had weighed heavily when Hank Williams passed. Hank was found breathing his last in the back seat of a Cadillac in West Virginia on January 1st, 1953. With just a few bucks I’d bought all his songs.
I mourned his passing. Mama reckoned that I could break into Nashville, maybe even the Grand Ole Opry. Course that old bastard admonished Mama about encouraging me in my dreaming.
“That’s all it is, dreams,” he’d said. “You’ll never make the Grand Ole Opry or nothing else, boy.” It wasn’t that so much. Only when he derided Hank for being a drunk and a no-account, that’s what hurt. Nobody says that. Not about Hank. Nobody.
I’d threatened Trenchard, and he chided Mama about Pa not issuing enough discipline. I’d received a whipping for that. A whipping, and the resultant hate that nurtured deep within me.
A shadow fell across the doorway. Blue jumped up, heckles raised, a low growl beginning in the back of his throat. “Easy, boy.” I’d grabbed his collar. I guess he figured it was Trenchard, but the shadow scarcely belonged to his tall frame. Besides, a long pony tail bounced jauntily. Becky Rowan appeared in the doorway. My heart skipped a beat. Even Blue settled down at sight of the girl, as if with relief.
“Becky, what are you doing here?” I was pleased to see her of course. She was pretty, with the kind of blonde beauty that reminded me of daisy filled meadows, and running through them with her in bright sunshine. Yes I was pleased right enough, but fearful too in case he should catch her.
“I was just passin’.” With hands behind her back, she moved from one foot to the other sheepishly. “And heard your music.”
“Just passin’ huh?” I smiled. “But you live the other side of town.”
“I wanted to see you, that was all.”
Becky was eighteen, all sweet gingham dresses and the most beautiful blue eyes. Eyes you could drown in, like you was floundering in water. And I wanted her. There was no doubt about that. I knew she wanted me too, when I shifted that old stool up for her. She dropped her weight, composing a hand in her lap, the other around my waist. Old Blue raised his head. Satisfied that things were all right within his own little world. “If you want me to leave, Luke Franklyn, then I’ll go.” She pouted.
I didn’t want her to go. I enjoyed her company. We’d dated a couple of times. I’d tasted her once. It had been good. Now I guess she wanted more. Would have given it too, but I was too worried about Mama.
“No, I don’t want you to go.” I carried on strumming for awhile. “I’m glad you’re here. I need cheering up.”
“Mama,huh?” The smile faded from blue eyes.
“She got cancer, Becky, and she needs treatment.”
“Oh, Luke, I’m so sorry.” Tears appeared in her eyes. She reached for my hand and grasped it tightly. Becky was in love with me. That was plainly obvious. I think I could love her too. If we ever got wed, I’d treat her real good, the way Pa, my real Pa, had treated Mama. Always kissing her and that. Not the way it was with Trenchard. The way he would force himself on Mama. I knew he did, because I heard her crying behind the door after he’d slapped her into submission.
“Thanks. The trouble is we don’t have the money. The operation’s going to cost five hundred bucks. Then there’s the stay in hospital. Doc Graveley said he could get her into the Westchester in Nashville, but that’s gonna cost us more than we can afford,” I said, aware of the frown knitting her brow.
“What do you mean you can’t afford it? Your pa is one of the richest men in town, and your mama’s husband. Surely he…”
This was the first time I had ever had occasion to be angry with Becky. I leaped off the stool, overbalancing it. I watched the stool roll off into the hay. Blue growled, heckles rising. I must have displayed my outrage, because Becky backed away as if I’d physically struck her.
“You’re just like the rest of em’, ain’t you?”
“What… what do you mean? I didn’t mean nothing by it.”
“I’m sure you didn’t, but why is it everybody thinks that Ike Trenchard would give us any money? Mr Peters at the pawnshop. Doc Graveley. Oh sure, you can afford to pay for the treatment, Mrs Trenchard. Your husband is wealthy. He gives Mama no more than fifteen bucks a week to buy food. Then he complains when she cooks the same stuff each night. No, Becky, you know nothing.”
“I was going to say, for an operation to save her life, even Ike Trenchard couldn’t be that heartless.”
When she wrapped an arm about my waist, and smiled in that dreamy loving way, I knew I couldn’t be angry with her for long. Maybe she was right. After all, he had married our Mama. In Sickness and In Health. Becky’s smile made up for everything. The erection demanding release inside my jeans made me realise something else too. When she offered her lips to mine, who was I to refuse? Even Blue’s agitated warning barks were ignored as he yapped wildly at my heels.
Only when the savage grip was pinned around my shirt collar, and two bony hands wrapped themselves about my throat, did I attempt to twist away. I was young and wiry, but even I was no match for that iron grip. Becky screamed. Anger seared through me when she was belligerently pushed down hard onto the straw. She was left sitting there, too stunned to move momentarily.
“So that’s what you were doing, boy?” Ike Trenchard roared. “Fornicating with that little trollop.” He pointed a smoke stained finger at the frightened girl. The white bodice of her dress was dirty and slightly ripped at the shoulder. “If you come anywhere near this place, and him,” the finger moved like a pistol targeting me. “I’ll get Mort Anderson onto you with a restraining order.” Mort Anderson was the local law around these part. He was also a good friend of Trenchard’s.
“You… you can’t do that,” I listened to the stammer in my voice like a fool. I was fucking twenty years old, but I was behaving like a kid. I was tall, but right now Isaac Trenchard was more than six foot. Trenchard was a skinny man. Much older than Mama. His features were narrow and hard. Cold grey eyes intruded beneath a low hanging brow. His clothes were immaculate. Long drape suit jacket, a bow tie fastened to a spotlessly white stiff coloured shirt. Ike Trenchard managed to resemble an Old West cardsharp. It wasn’t difficult to imagine twin pearl handled revolvers tied down on his bony hips.
“I can damn well do as I please. And what you looking at, boy?” Trenchard locked glances so predominantly, as if those glacial grey eyes were capable of ferreting into my very soul.
Unable to do precious little but mumble, “Nothing,” beneath my breath, I stretched a hand toward Becky to help her rise. At least now she could see that I hadn’t lied about Trenchard.
“Leave her, dammit! Just go,” he told her. Becky regarded me, a frown etching her brow. I reckoned she thought I should stand up to this man. I thought so too. I’d tried it once. It was Mama who got the beating for not discipling me.
“I’m sorry.” She was crying. Looking down at her torn clothes, she murmured something about Mama killing her when she saw it.
“Then you’ll tell Mrs Rowan, she has my sympathies.”
Blue hadn’t ceased yapping since Trenchard had put in an appearance. He was now barking raucously at our heels. In his infinite anger, Trenchard brought up a shiny boot, to violently lash out at the dog with the toe, enough to send the animal catapulting across the room. His little body connected with the door, before he slumped into stillness and silence. “Damn mutt. Doesn’t it ever stop barking? To think I have to feed that creature.”
I had hoped to scoop Blue into my arms, out of Trenchard’s way, but realised that I was too late, when Trenchard’s boot kicked Blue so savagely against the barn door, as if the animal was a ball, nothing more. ” You… you’ve killed him.” I accused. Tears dangerously close, I was determined to find out if the dog was alright.
“Leave him. I hope he is dead. It’s no more than it deserves. Useless critter. Like the fucking lot of you are useless. Now get inside that house, boy. You see they’re all waiting on you. Out here fucking that trollop.”
“I didn’t touch her.”
“Oh but you would’ve done. You had the heat of lust in your eyes, boy. The heat of lust. I was your age once. I had it beat out of me, the way I’m going to beat it outta you,” he threatened.
If Trenchard was ever my age that was doubtful. The sheer fact ‘the heat of lust’ was beaten out of him, served to explain a great deal.