As I promised on Friday, here is an excerpt from Evelyn Evolving, the book I am writing about my mother’s life. I know little about what happened when my mother was just an infant that caused her father to leave and her mother to abandon Evelyn and her sister, so this is what I made up, based on innuendo and fragments of memory from my aunt Viola.
I do know my grandmother liked her beer, so perhaps we could all have a glass of ale in her honor. Despite her faults – but don’t we all have them? – she was a very nice grandmother.
When the second girl was born and Fred showed little interest, Regina gave the child the first name that came to her – Evelyn Louise, using her middle name. Maybe that would spur some emotional bond. Since Fred wasn’t there to object, Regina could choose whatever goddam name she wanted.
Fred wasn’t much for visiting hospitals.
To his credit, Fred did come to take her home from the hospital after her two weeks of laying up, but once they were home, he wasn’t much help with the children. Babies both of them really. Viola was just barely two, and if the baby wasn’t screaming, she was. “She’s probably jealous,” Regina’s mother had said. “First children can be horrid about others. I was thankful to only have one.”
Five months later, Fred said he was going out for some smokes and didn’t come back. If she hadn’t been angry enough to kill him if he showed his face again, Regina would have laughed at the whole cliché. How many men had used that same line, and how many women had believed the husbands would return? Waiting for hours, then days, then weeks, only to end up being stuck at home with kids. No job. No money. And no hope?
A week after Fred left, a man came to the door asking about him. Regina didn’t like the looks of this well-dressed man – neatly-pressed suit, colorful tie and hat like any other salesman who tried to separate her from a coin or two. But his eyes were different. They didn’t have that friendly sparkle framed by laugh lines. They were hard and empty, and the man didn’t lead with some pleasant banter. Instead asking, “Do you know where your husband is?”
Regina hated saying the words out loud, but his eyes compelled her. “No. Haven’t heard from him since he left days ago.”
“He say where he was going?”
“Out. Just out.” Regina couldn’t bring herself to repeat the tired reason that Fred had used. This man would see right through that.
“Do you expect him back?”
Indignation stiffened her spine and gave weight to her voice. “If he intended to come back, he’d be here by now.”
The man took a half step closer. “Do not use that tone with me, little lady. You understand?”
He spoke softly, almost conversationally, but the menace was like ice in his deep blue eyes. Regina nodded, swallowing her pride and her fear.
“Good.” The man eased back, but the hard look in his eyes didn’t change. “Fred owes my boss money. A lot of money.”
Momentarily, Regina flashed on the large satchel Fred had slung over his shoulder when he’d walked out that Friday night. Was that…? She masked any outward reaction as best she could.
“It’s my job to get that money back.”
“Don’t know anything about your money,” Regina said, hating the way her voice broke over the words. “He left me with nothing. Just the kids and a pile of bills.”
The man didn’t respond and didn’t move. As they stood there, silent, a trickle of sweat ran hot down Regina’s back. What if he didn’t believe her? What if he forced his way in? Searched the place? She was trying to figure out if she could close and lock the door before he made a move, when he took a half step back. Regina fought to keep relief from showing as she maintained eye contact.
“When that husband of yours comes back, tell him Bernie wants his money.” He paused, as if wanting to give time for that to sink in, then added. “Understand? Bernie don’t like hurting women and kids. But he does what he’s got to.”
The man stood on the front stoop for another few seconds, then turned and left. Regina quickly closed and locked the door. Then she leaned her forehead against the wood.
Oh, Fred, what have you gotten yourself into?
I’d love to have any feedback you might like to offer. This is still a work in progress, so I am open to suggestions.