If I timed it just right, I could get a bath and wash my hair before Daddy got home. Since it was Friday night, I had even more time, I thought, because Daddy always cashes his check first. Mama was in the kitchen cooking hamburgers for us and a steak for Daddy. Steak was the one extravagance that Daddy indulged in on payday. I told Mama I’d be out to set the table, I wouldn’t be long. She told me that would be a good idea to go ahead and get a bath now, rather than wait. I found a change of clothes, my hairbrush, and my blow dryer, and asked my little brother Danny if he needed to go potty before I took a bath. He said, “no,” and he blushed. I said okay, and closed and locked the bathroom door.
As I put the plug into the claw foot tub, I imagined what it would like to relax in the tub and read a book, like the movie stars, but I knew that was unlikely to happen as long as I lived at home, so I decided to make the best of the time that I did have to bathe. Hurriedly, I undressed and lay back into the depths of the ocean, and put my head under the water. As the water fell, I imagined the tide rolling in on the shore, my waist-length auburn hair floated all around me like seaweed. I didn’t mind having long hair, because the Bible says that long hair is a woman’s glory, and I knew that I really needed all the glory I could get. It was a rare pleasure to feel warm water as my weightless hair formed a crown on my head, but when daddy revved up the engine, and then slammed the truck door, it got my full attention and I absolutely panicked.
With the water falling, I had not hear when Mama warned me that Dad had just pulled up in the driveway. I bolted upright, splashed water over the sides of the tub, pulled the plug and turned off the water. I was shaking uncontrollably as I reached for the towel to dry off. In my hurry to get out, I stumbled, and ran into the side of the tub. Fear seized me as I fumbled to untangle my skirt against my wet skin. I knew that I didn’t have much time if I wanted to save myself from him. I needed a miracle to get ready to open the door, but I was clumsy with fear and not making much progress at all. Daddy slammed the back door and yelled at Mom.
“Where’s Gracie Ann?”
I heard mama answer him with a loud voice of warning, “She went to the bathroom; she’ll be out in a minute. Why don’t I fix you a nice glass of tea? Dinner will be ready in a few minutes.” Daddy called out,
“Gracie Ann, Get out here and help your Mama.”
He looked over at Mom as if he had just realized that she had raised her voice, and got agitated even more,
“I’ll get her out right now!”
“I’m almost finished;”
I reached out and flushed the toilet to buy a little more time. If I responded, maybe he would stop yelling at Mama. “Girl, who do you think you’re fooling? I know that you’ve been taking a luxury bath, while your mama’s out here slavin’ away. Get out here, now.”
That’s when I heard him on the other side of the bathroom door. He tried to turn the door knob, but when he realized that it was locked, he started pounding his fist into the door. “Nobody locks me out of my house. You hear me? Unlock this door or I’m going to kick it in.” My hair was dripping, and it clung to my back; frantically, I tried to finish drying off, but it was just no use, I needed a miracle. I’ll just have to be wet, so I fumbled with the buttons on my blouse, and fought with the stuck zipper on my jean skirt, while Daddy continued pounding on the door with his fists. I was doing the best I could to open the door; if he would just stop beating the door; every time I heard his fists, I cringed in fear. I hoped that Danny had found a good hiding place. Usually he hid in the closet. I’d be so embarrassed if Daddy succeeded in breaking the door down before I finished dressing.
My hand trembled, as I unlocked the door, and opened it to face the fists of the man who I was supposed to honor. I saw his beet red angry face: the man I loved beyond all comprehension. Then, he brought his bloodied fists dangerously close to my face, and I closed my eyes, because I didn’t want to see his fists anymore and it would be easier if I didn’t see them. There would be less nightmares that way. I kept waiting for them to hit me, but instead of punching me, he lunged for me and grabbed my arm instead; and shoved me into the kitchen towards the sink. He threw me into the counter with such force that I had to grab the counter to keep from falling. It was all I could do to wipe the tears from my cheeks along with the water from my long dripping hair. I looked over at mom and saw her carefully whisper, “I tried to warn you, I’m so sorry.”
There was nothing left for us to do, but to get the tea in the glasses and sit down. Dinner was ready. Daddy, satisfied that I was working in the kitchen, staggered off into the living room. Then, I heard the soft creak of the closet door, as Danny tiptoed out and got to the table. I helped him scoot closer, as he sat down on the Sears and Roebuck catalog in the chair. He looked at me with those big brown troubled eyes, and I whispered to him, “It’s okay, Danny Boy, Sister’s okay. What do you want on your burger?” I tried to smile and half-succeeded, but the tears started flowing down my cheeks uncontrollably again, and quickly I wiped them away, and told Danny, “Sister’s hair is still wet.”
“Where is it?” Dad hollered out from the living room. Daddy had started his mad search for his bottle, and when he got up and headed for the kitchen: Mama got up too and stood between us. By this time, dad looked straight into her eyes, and said, “Find it.” and he turned away. Mom looked at me and whispered, “Gracie Ann, go check in the truck under the seat, and in the barn. If we find it soon, he may go to sleep.” I got up from the table, and went to search for his bottle. I found it under the truck seat in a paper bag, but it wasn’t Richard’s Wild Irish Rose wine this time. He was drinking moonshine. It was no wonder that he was so mean tonight. He had been to the bootlegger’s house again. I hurried back inside, and met daddy coming from the living room again in a frantic search for his bottle. I gave it to him without saying a word. He grabbed it from my hands without seeing me. He only saw the bottle. He took it, went to the sink, got a quart jar of water, unscrewed the lid of the Mason jar, turned it up to his lips, and tilted his head back as he took a lingering swig. I watched him as he picked up the chaser, and washed it down.
He went back into the living room without a word, and flipped the channel to “Gunsmoke,” I sat down and slowly ate my hamburger and fried potatoes without complaint or comment. Danny Boy did well tonight. He ate about half of his burger, and he didn’t spill any of his tea. He needs to eat better, I thought, as I raked the table scraps in a bowl for Jack, our collie. My arm, that was still red started turning purple and it ached so much that I had a hard time getting a firm grip on the plates. I was still shaking, and I thanked God that there weren’t too many dishes to wash tonight. Mama dried the dishes and put them up out of sight.
I remember one night in the middle of the week; mama had left dishes in the drainer while she drank a cup of coffee in the living room. Dad came back into the kitchen to get a beer, and he couldn’t find a can opener, so he took his arm and swept off the whole counter; dishes and all, I saw it coming; and I held my hands over my ears. Glass went everywhere as the clean dishes bounced, then shattered. Later, I picked up the plastics that had survived the crash; and I crunched through the glass as I washed everything again. While Mama dried the dishes and put them away; I swept up the glass. From then on, we drank from jelly jars.
Dad had settled back in his recliner. It wasn’t long before he was finally asleep.