Learn About HJWTBy: Wynona Ward
he six year-old girl places silverware on a plastic red and white checked table cloth that is faded and worn with age. Her mother said in this day and age, which is 1957, every girl should know how to set the table. She sits in each of the missed match, wobbly kitchen chairs as she carefully places each fork, knife, and spoon. She wants to be sure each one is just right, she hopes her mother will be proud.
The mother, a short, slight woman, who at age thirty has already given birth to four children, stands at the cook stove stirring a kettle of stew. Her shoulders are stooped and her legs are striped with varicose veins. Her body tenses when she hears the pantry door open -- she knows it’s her husband returning from the outhouse. He’s been drinking; she could smell it on him when he first got home from work. When he drinks he’s always in an ugly mood. She’s cooked his favorite supper, perhaps that will help.
But, the husband starts yelling as soon as he steps into the kitchen. “Why isn’t my supper on the table? What’s that pig slop your stirring? “Venison again, that’s all we’ve eaten for weeks,” he complains bitterly. “Is there any beer in this house for a man to drink?” He lets out a string of profanity, as he bends his broad shouldered, muscular frame down to open the refrigerator door.
She’s terrified, the tears begin to build, she knows to keep peace she needs to be quiet, but she can’t take it anymore, she can’t bear to live any longer as if she is walking on her tip toes day in and day out. She thinks to herself, “It’s bound to happen again soon anyway, I’m going to go out of my mind waiting for it.” Without turning around to face him, however, she answers him in a deliberately quiet, calm voice, “There isn’t anything else in this house to eat, you’ve been out of work for three weeks. I didn’t have any money to buy beer today.”
“Don’t get smart mouthed with me, you dumb slut,” he shouts, as he grabs her arms and spins her around. His face, contorted with anger, is only a few inches from hers when he spits the words at her, “Think you’re the boss around here, well, I’ll show you a thing or two, I’ll show you who’s the man of this house.” He easily throws her small frame crashing into the corner, takes one step, and pins her against the wall by pressing his knee into her stomach. He grabs a handful of hair and begins pounding her head against the wall.
She knows from experience the beating will be worse and last longer if she tries to resist, so she holds her breath and accepts the attack. Disassociating from the pain, she wonders if her head will split and allow her brains to spill on the floor. After enduring countless beatings, this seems almost hilarious to her and she almost laughs, but then she remembers the children. “Stop it, stop it,” she pleads. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” she cries out.
He hesitates for a few seconds, long enough for her to catch her breath, but then puts both of his huge hands around her neck and starts squeezing. She is only able to get out one scream before no more sounds come from her mouth.
Meanwhile, the little girl who sees and hears all this happen runs over to her father and starts hitting his legs with her tiny fists. She yells, “Stop, Daddy, stop.”
The commotion continues long enough so the oldest daughter comes running down the stairs to see what is happening. At fourteen, she is already taller and stronger than her mother, but she is unable to pry the hands that have black and blued her many times, from her mother’s throat.
By the time the son, who was outside when he heard the scream, appears, the mother’s face is turning bright red and her eyes seem to bulge out of her face.
He flies across the kitchen, jumps on his father’s back and tries to choke him. His brave effort is useless; his small 9 year-old hands won’t even begin to go around his father’s neck. He knows, however, he can’t give up, last time his mother didn’t wake up for a long time, so he continues to hold on with his legs and begins pounding both sides of his father’s face with his fists, while he shouts in his ear, “Let go of my Momma right now.”
The husband does release the hold on his wife’s neck, but then reaches out and slaps the teenager’s head so hard she staggers backward and falls on the pantry floor. He reaches down, grabs up the six year-old who has just bit his leg as hard as she could, and tosses her under the table. He then deals with the son, who by now has lost his grip and is lying on the floor. The father expends more rage as he begins kicking the boy with his steel-toed work boots. The son crawls under the table where his younger sister crouches. Here they are both out of reach from the offending boots. But, then they see him turn back to their mother, who is gasping for breath.
The little girl screams as loud as she can and pleads, “Daddy, stop it, don’t hurt Momma no more.”
Even though his back and legs hurt badly, the boy charges out from under the table intent on attacking his father again, but for some reason, perhaps because he himself is panting, the father drops his hands to his side. The teenage girl rolls out of his way as he stomps out and slams the door without saying anything.
They all peer anxiously at the pantry door---will he come charging back in and begin again? No one moves, they wait--and after a few moments, moments that seem like an eternity, everyone begins to breathe easier.
The mother is the first to move. She goes to her oldest daughter to make sure she is okay, then tells her to go comfort her 3 year-old sister, who’s terrified cries can now be heard coming from the living room.
The brother crawls back under the table, sits beside his little sister and comforts her by giving her a hug. He tells her, “Stop crying, he’s gone, everything is going to be okay now.” She quiets her sobs, but her whole body continues to shake. It is so scary when this happens. She is glad her big brother and sister were home this time, otherwise what would have happened to her Momma?
The mother looks at the clock and murmurs to herself, “They must be hungry, I must feed my children.” She limps over to the cook stove, and with a dazed look on her face, once again, begins stirring The Stew.