Read Ellen Foster Online

Authors: Kaye Gibbons

Tags: #Fiction, #Classics

Ellen Foster

BOOK: Ellen Foster
13.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill


Cast the bantling on the rocks,
Suckle him with the she-wolf’s teat,
Wintered with the hawk and fox,
Power and speed be hands and feet.

Inscription to “Self-Reliance,”
Ralph Waldo Emerson


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15


When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure out this or that way and run it down through my head until it got easy.

The way I liked best was letting go a poisonous spider in his bed. It would bite him and he’d be dead and swollen up and I would shudder to find him so. Of course I would call the rescue squad and tell them to come quick something’s the matter with my daddy. When they come in the house I’m all in a state of shock and just don’t know how to act what with two colored boys heaving my dead daddy onto a roller cot. I just stand in the door and look like I’m shaking all over.

But I did not kill my daddy. He drank his own self to death the year after the County moved me out. I heard how they found him shut up in the house dead and everything. Next thing I know he’s in the ground and the house is rented out to a family of four.

All I did was wish him dead real hard every now and then.
And I can say for a fact that I am better off now than when he was alive.

I live in a clean brick house and mostly I am left to myself. When I start to carry an odor I take a bath and folks tell me how sweet I look.

There is a plenty to eat here and if we run out of something we just go to the store and get some more. I had me a egg sandwich for breakfast, mayonnaise on both sides. And I may fix me another one for lunch.

Two years ago I did not have much of anything. Not that I live in the lap of luxury now but I am proud for the schoolbus to pick me up here every morning. My stylish well-groomed self standing in the front yard with the grass green and the hedge bushes square.

I figure I made out pretty good considering the rest of my family is either dead or crazy.

Every Tuesday a man comes and gets me out of social studies and we go to a room and talk about it all.

Last week he spread out pictures of flat bats for me to comment on. I mostly saw flat bats. Then I saw big holes a body could fall right into. Big black deep holes through the table and the floor. And then he took off his glasses and screwed his face up to mine and tells me I’m scared.

I used to be but I am not now is what I told him. I might get a little nervous but I am never scared.

Oh but I do remember when I was scared. Everything was so wrong like somebody had knocked something loose and my family was shaking itself to death. Some wild ride broke and the one in charge strolled off and let us spin and shake and fly off the rail. And they both died tired of the wild crazy spinning
and wore out and sick. Now you tell me if that is not a fine style to die in. She sick and he drunk with the moving. They finally gave in to the motion and let the wind take them from here to there.

Even my mama’s skin looked tired of holding in her weak self. She would prop herself up by the refrigerator and watch my daddy go round the table swearing at all who did him wrong. She looked all sad in her face like it was all her fault.

She could not help getting sick but nobody made her marry him. You see when she was my size she had romantic fever I think it is called and since then she has not had a good heart.

She comes home from the hospital sometimes. If I was her I would stay there. All laid up in the air conditioning with folks patting your head and bringing you fruit baskets.

Oh no. She comes in and he lets into her right away. Carrying on. Set up in his E-Z lounger like he is King for a Day. You bring me this or that he might say.

She comes in the door and he asks about supper right off. What does she have planned? he wants to know. Wouldn’t he like to know what I myself have planned? She would look at him square in the face but not at his eyes or mouth but at his whole face and the ugliness getting out through the front. On he goes about supper and how come weeds are growed up in the yard. More like a big mean baby than a grown man.

I got her suitcase in my hand and I carry it to the bedroom. But while I walk I listen to him and to her not saying a word back to him. She stands between his mean highness and the television set looking at him make words at her.

Big wind-up toy of a man. He is just too sorry to talk back to even if he is my daddy. And she is too limp and too sore to
get up the breath to push the words out to stop it all. She just stands there and lets him work out his evil on her.

Get in the kitchen and fix me something to eat. I had to cook the whole time you was gone, he tells her.

And that was some lie he made up. Cook for his own self. Ha. If I did not feed us both we had to go into town and get take-out chicken. I myself was looking forward to something fit to eat but I was not about to say anything.

If anybody had asked me what to do I would have told us both to feed on hoop cheese and crackers. Somebody operated on needs to stay in the bed without some husband on their back all the time. But she does not go on to the bedroom but turns right back around and goes to the kitchen. What can I do but go and reach the tall things for her? I set that dinner table and like to take a notion to spit on his fork.

Nobody yells after anybody to do this or that here.

My new mama lays out the food and we all take a turn to dish it out. Then we eat and have a good time. Toast or biscuits with anything you please. Eggs any style. Corn cut off the cob the same day we eat it. I keep my elbows off the table and wipe my mouth like a lady. Nobody barks, farts, or feeds the dogs under the table here. When everybody is done eating my new mama puts the dishes in a thing, shuts the door, cuts it on, and Wa-La they are clean.

My mama does not say a word about being tired or sore. She did ask who kept everything so clean and he took the credit. I do not know who he thinks he fooled. I knew he lied and my mama did too. She just asked to be saying something.

Mama puts the food out on the table and he wants to know what am I staring at. At you humped over your plate like one of us is about to snatch it from you. You old hog. But I do not say it.

Why don’t you eat? he wants to know.

I don’t have a appetite, I say back.

Well, you better eat. Your mama looks like this might be her last supper.

He is so sure he’s funny that he laughs at his own self.

All the time I look at him and at her and try to figure out why he hates her so bad. When he is not looking I give him the evil eye. And my mama looks like she could crawl under the table and cry.

We leave his nasty self at that table and go to bed. She is sore all up through her chest and bruised up the neck. It makes me want to turn my head.

We peel her dress off over the head and slip on something loose to sleep in. I help her get herself laid in the bed and then I slide in beside her. She just turns her head into the pillow.

I will stay here with you. Just for a nap I will stay here with you.

Now at my new mama’s I lay up late in the day and watch the rain fall outside. Not one thing is pressing on me to get done here.

I have a bag of candy to eat on. One piece at a time. Make it last. All I got left to do is eat supper and wash myself.

Look around my room. It is so nice.

When I accumulate enough money I plan to get some colored glass things that you dangle from the window glass. I lay
here and feature how that would look. I already got pink checkerboard curtains with dingleballs around the edges. My new mama sewed them for me. She also sewed matching sacks that I cram my pillows into every morning.

Everything matches. It is all so neat and clean.

When I finish laying here with these malted milk balls I will smooth the covers down and generally clean up after myself. Maybe then I will play with the other people. But I might just lay here until the chicken frying smells ready to eat.

I do not know if she hears him go out the back door. She is still enough to be asleep. He goes off in the truck like he has some business to tend to. And you know and I know he’s gone to get himself something to drink. Then he brings it into this house like he is Santa Claus. He sets his package beside his chair and then eases his lazy self into place. Yelling at somebody, meaning myself, to turn on the television set. I could chew nails and spit tacks.

The yelling makes my mama jump and if she was asleep she is awake now. Grits her teeth every time he calls out damn this or that. The more he drinks the less sense he makes.

By the time the dog races come on he’s stretched out on the bathroom floor and can’t get up. I know I need to go in there and poke him. Same thing every Saturday. This week in particular she does not need to find some daddy hog rooted all up against the toilet stool.

I get up and go in there and tell him to get up that folks got to come in here and do their business. He can go lay in the truck.

He just grunts and grabs at my ankle and misses.

Get on up I say again to him. You got to be firm when he is like this. He’d lay there and rot if I let him so I nudge him with my foot. I will not touch my hands to him. Makes me want to heave my own self seeing him pull himself up on the sink. He zigs-zags out through the living room and I guess he makes it out the door. I don’t hear him fall down the steps.

And where did she come from? Standing in the door looking at it all.

Get back in the bed, I say to my mama.

Mama’s easy to tend to. She goes back in the bedroom. Not a bit of trouble. Just stiff and hard to move around. I get her back in the bed and tell her he’s outside for the night. She starts to whimper and I say it is no reason to cry. But she will wear herself out crying.

I ought to lock him out.

A grown man that should be bringing her food to nibble on and books to look at. No but he is taking care of his own self tonight. Just like she is not sick or kin to him.

A storm is coming up. And I will lay here with my mama until I see her chest rise up and sink down regular. Deep and regular and far away from the man in the truck.

I can smell the storm and see the air thick with the rain coming.

He will sleep through the thunder and rain. And oh how I have my rage and desire for the lightning to come and strike a vengeance on him. But I do not control the clouds or the thunder.

And the way the Lord moves is his business.


When it is morning I hear my daddy come in the house. He does not sneak. If he had a horse he would have ridden it right up the steps. He has forgotten last night and he is foolish enough to think we have too.

My mama has got her own self out of the bed. I must have slept hard not to hear her. All my clothes are on that I wore yesterday. It will save me some trouble this morning.

He’s got her in the kitchen by herself. I know he won’t hurt her with his hands. He might throw a cup or a fork at her but he won’t touch her to leave a mark.

I try not to leave her by herself with him. Not even when they are both asleep in the bed. My baby crib is still up in their bedroom so when I hear them at night I throw a fit and will not stop until I can sleep in the baby bed. He will think twice when I am around.

And I have to see now but the door is shut. There is something in the kitchen I need so I go in there to get it.

She is sitting at one end of the table and he is sitting at the other end going through her pocketbook. Some of her heart pills are on the table rolling around loose and the bottle is in her lap.

Give the bottle to me and let me put the pills back in it. They cost money, I say to her.

That’s all the pills she’s got left. She took almost the whole goddamn bottle, he looks at her and tells me.

Vomit them up, mama. I’ll stick my finger down your throat and you can vomit them up. She looks at me and I see she will not vomit. She will not move.

Well I’ll just go to the store and use the telephone.

But my daddy says he will kill me if I try to leave this house. All the time I knew he was evil and I did not have the proof.

He would kill me and my mama both with a knife. He looks at the two of us and rubs her pocketbook, patient, like he sits and waits for folks to die all the time. He wants me to put her back in the bed.

Hell, all she needs is some sleep, he says. Take her back there and see if she don’t sleep it off. And he gave me a guarantee the pills would not hurt her bad.

BOOK: Ellen Foster
13.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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