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Authors: Terri Ann Leidich

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BOOK: Family Inheritance
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“Thomas, are you okay? Where were you? Why are you so late?” The questions flew from
Helene's lips as her heart beat wildly in her chest.

“I'm fine, Mom.” His walk was unsteady, and his few words were slurred.

“Thomas, wait a minute. I want to talk to you. Your school called today about your
being absent a lot and me apparently signing the slips.” Helene stood firmly with
her right hand on her hip.

“Can we talk about this later, Mom? I've got studying to do.” His hand reached out
for the wall to steady himself.

A part of Helene's mind noticed his lack of balance, but she ignored it. “Where were
you tonight?” her voice sharpened as she slowly walked toward the stairs.

Thomas was halfway up the staircase. He stopped with his back still toward her, clutching
the banister to steady himself, but he didn't say a word.

“Thomas, please answer me.” Helene's voice was louder now. She stood at the bottom
of the staircase, her brow furrowed with worry.

Thomas took a few steps forward, widening the space between them. “I just needed
some space,” he said without turning to look at her. “Everything's just crowding
in on me. You understand, don't you?” His shoulders slumped and his voice softened.
“Mom, I thought you'd understand.”

Helene's mind refused to acknowledge his slurred speech and the implications of his
unsteady gait. Running her fingertips over her forehead, her words were firm as she
spoke. “You absolutely can't miss any more school. And you've got to catch up with
your homework. This has got to stop. Do you understand me?”

He still hadn't turned to look at her.

“Yes, ma'am.” He took another step up the stairway and then paused. “Can I be excused

“No, Thomas, we've got to talk about this.” As Helene moved up the stairs, her nose
picked up the smell of alcohol, and reality finally marched in.
What in the world?
Fear gripped Helene as long-ago memories of alcohol assaulted her mind, yet she quickly
dismissed them because they were a part of another life, another time. Pulling down
the blinders of love, Helene once more let denial envelop her in its firm grasp.
Feelings of overwhelm cemented her to where she stood. “Just don't miss any more
school, okay? Promise me?” she pleaded.

Chapter 3

Northern Minnesota

The houses in the government-subsidized neighborhood were tiny square boxes situated
on small square lots, and the streets were overrun with children in varying degrees
of dress. Many of them wore soiled clothes that had seen better days. Alice Hudson
trudged up the walk to her cracker-box house, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings.
She had lived in the development so long that familiarity blurred it into the background
of her consciousness.

When she first moved here, Alice had planted flowers, washed her windows, hung pretty,
fresh curtains, and even tried to dig up soil for a garden in the backyard. She had
been full of hope and dreams back then. Dreams of a happy family and a nice, neat
little house with a white picket fence. Now, the windows were dirty, the curtains
were gone, the garden had been overtaken by weeds, and her dreams were tiny little
specks in the back of her mind. The reality of life had weighed her down into acceptance.
She just tried to get through each day, dealing with as little as possible.

Alice huffed, and sweat dripped from her tightly permed hair down her face as she
dragged her five-foot-four-inch frame up the few steps to the front door. The elastic
band on her XXXL pants squeezed into her stomach as she bent over to place her grocery
bags on the stoop, then she leaned against the doorjamb for a moment to catch her
breath. Her youngest child, Sam, was out
there somewhere in that throng of kids.
He would have come home from school an hour or so ago, raced in to grab some Kool-Aid,
and then back out to play.

“Boy, it's hot today,” she complained to herself as she mopped the back of her neck
with her hand. The temperature was sixty degrees, very warm for an April day in northern
Minnesota, but with her massive frame, even a pleasant day felt hot to Alice.

Opening the door and stooping once more for the grocery bags, Alice slowly pulled
herself inside, and as she scanned her surroundings, exhaustion completely took over
her body and soul. The breakfast dishes were still on the counter. The table was
cluttered with empty cereal boxes, a loaf of bread, the peanut butter jar, and five
empty beer bottles. Alice hadn't felt like cleaning up before going over to Thelma's
to have coffee and watch soap operas, and since she had been gone, her husband, Jake,
had added his collection of beer bottles to the mess.

She plopped the grocery bags on the counter, moved dirty dishes off to one side with
a sweep of her hand, and walked toward the living room to find Jake. Her foot caught
on the edge of the curled linoleum as she stepped out of the kitchen and almost fell.
She had long ago stopped asking Jake to fix anything in the house, because it just
made him mad, and Jake was mean when he was mad. Alice and the kids had learned to
pick up their feet so they wouldn't trip on the jagged edge.

As she headed into the small living room, with its outdated and worn furniture, Alice
wasn't sure why she pretended to search for Jake. She knew she would find him passed
out on the couch in front of the television. He hadn't gone out to try to find a
job again today, she was certain of it. He had made excuses about his back hurting
for the past two years. Why would today be any different? Besides, the welfare coming
in every month kept food on the table, and he always figured out ways to make sure
there was money for beer, so why work? Alice had accepted that things would never
be different. As her mother often said, “You made your bed, lie in it.”

And there he was, sleeping on the couch. She moved as quietly as she could, not wanting
to wake him. If he woke up, he would scream about the dirty house and the dishes
not being done. He would grab a beer or two, demand
dinner, call her fat and lazy,
then head out of the house to play poker with the boys. It was better to let sleeping
dogs lie.

As Alice walked down the hallway, she kicked a pile of dirty clothes out of her way.
The kids were running out of clean clothes to wear.
I'll wash tomorrow.
Slowly, she
made her way to her bedroom and closed the door. Then she lay down on the sagging
mattress, placed her arm over her eyes, and gave way to the peaceful oblivion of

It seemed like a matter of minutes before she felt someone pushing on her arm. “Mom
. . . are you awake? I'm hungry. You gonna make dinner?” Her eight-year-old son,
Sam, was tugging at her elbow. “Dad says to tell ya to get your lazy lard outta bed.
He's hungry and wants something to eat before he goes to play poker.”

Alice groaned and slowly pulled herself awake. Her dream was so nice. She had been
thin, lived in a clean house, her children resembled the ones in the magazines, and
her husband . . . oh, her husband . . . he was clean and smelled like Dial soap.
But best of all, he treated her special. The dream had been so warm and comforting
that it was hard to come back to reality. Alice didn't want reality. She wanted them
all to leave her alone.

“Mom, come on. Dad's getting mad, and I'm hungry.” Sam's hands were now gently pushing
on her shoulder as his voice rose.

Alice's eyes came fully open. She gazed at Sam, with his red scraggly hair and freckled
face. He was the oddball of the family. When Sam was born, Jake had been sure that
he wasn't his. In fact, he had really raised a scene at the hospital, refusing to
talk to her for two days and calling her a slut and a pig. Then his mother had come
to see the baby and told Jake that his grandfather had been born with red hair. Jake
had calmed down, but he had never apologized. Jake didn't apologize. He didn't seem
to think he ever did anything to apologize for.

Sluggishly sitting up, Alice ran her stubby fingers through her hair, tugged at her
wrinkled shirt, and straightened the elastic waist on her polyester slacks. She felt
disgruntled and dirty, disgusted with life, and madder than hell. She was not sure
why she felt so mad. Maybe it was because they had interrupted her dream, her only
chance at peace and happiness.

“Mom, for heaven's sake,” her daughter, Sarah, screamed from the kitchen,
“you left
the groceries on the counter, and the ice cream melted onto the floor. Now guess
who gets to clean up that mess! This whole place disgusts me!”

“Sarah, quit your bellyaching,” Jake bellowed from the living room. “Your lazy slob
of a mother can barely drag her carcass around. Just clean up the mess, and somebody
make me my damn dinner so I can get the hell out of here.”

Tears flooded Alice's eyes, and her shoulders slumped. “Mom, are you crying?” Sam
peered up at her as they walked toward the kitchen. A lump formed in Alice's throat.
She placed her hand on his shoulder and gave him a small hug.

“Damn it, Alice,” Jake bellowed as she walked into the kitchen. “You look like something
that just walked out of a garbage dump. Don't you ever comb your hair?”

Alice glared at him.
Look who's talking, you unshaven jerk. Why should I clean up
when you're such a filthy pig? Why should I take care of myself when nobody ever
takes care of me?

Quietly going to the cupboard, Alice pulled out three packages of macaroni and cheese.
She started cooking the macaroni, sliced in some frozen hot dogs, and pulled a can
of corn off the shelf. Pouring the corn into a pan, she turned to set the table.
“Sarah, wash off some silverware, will ya?”

“I've got homework to do.” Sarah finished cleaning the melted ice cream off the counter
and floor. Throwing the rag in the sink, she muttered, “Do it yourself.” Then she
stalked out of the room.

With a quiet sigh, Alice washed the silverware. This was not the life she had dreamed
of when she was a girl. She had always believed that growing up held some magic to
it and that somehow she would have a different life than her mother had. Now she
knew how wrong she was. Her life was just like her mother's. As she scrubbed the
dried food from the silverware and watched the crumbs slip into the drain, she sent
the last of her childhood dreams right along with them.

When the timer went off for the macaroni, Alice mixed milk, margarine, and cheese
into the hot, drained pasta and stirred it around. Then she set the pot with the
macaroni on the table next to the pan with the cooked corn, tossed a spoon into each,
and yelled, “Supper's ready.”

Everyone rushed into the kitchen. Jake flopped himself into his chair, the
spot he
deemed for the “head of the household.” Sam and Sarah slumped into their customary
spots, and Alice heaved herself into her chair. Jake scooped the macaroni onto his
plate, slopped a spoon of corn down next to it, and started shoveling the meal into
his mouth.

They ate their meal in silence, except for Sam, who chatted excitedly. “We played
this neat game after school today. Teddy's dad showed us. You kick this ball around,
but it's not a kickball. Teddy said the game is called soccer!” He took a sip of
water, then continued. “I got an A on a test today. And it was a 'specially hard
test too. Mrs. Williams gave me two stars on it, and they were red stars. That means
I did real good.”

No one responded to Sam. Instead, Jake regarded the food on Alice's plate. She had
taken very little. “Thank God you're cutting down. You look like an overgrown hippo.
It's about time you did something about that bulk you carry around.”

Sam lowered his head and finished eating without saying another word. Alice silently
nibbled at her food. The glare in Jake's eyes was intense, and out of the corner
of her eye Alice noticed Sarah carefully watching the interaction between her parents,
her eyes shooting angry darts at Alice. Sadness encompassed Alice as she felt her
husband's anger and her daughter's hatred.
Why do they both hate me? What have I
done? Am I that awful that my own husband and daughter find me disgusting?
A headache
grew at her temples.

When dinner was over, the house was quiet. Jake had gone to play poker, Sarah was
at Karen's, and Sam was outside playing. Cloaked in sadness and despair, Alice moved
slowly down the hallway toward her bedroom. The small, crowded room had a sagging
double bed and two dressers that were chipped and badly in need of paint. Clothes
were scattered on the floor all around the room and piled onto every available surface.
Alice didn't even notice her surroundings as she closed the door, locking it behind

In a daze, she stepped into the small walk-in closet, pushed through clothes that
were hanging on both sides until she came to a pile of old clothes in the back corner.
She pawed through the pile much like a dog digging in the ground searching for whatever
might be buried underneath. At the bottom, she found what she was foraging for—a
box of chocolate candy bars. Twelve delicious
chocolate nut bars that she had bought
just days earlier. She'd hidden them away for when she needed them. Tonight, she

Alice sat down on the bed with the precious box on her lap. She carefully unwrapped
a bar of chocolate, then lifted it to her mouth and shoved it in. Her movements became
jerky and sporadic, and her eyes glazed as she ate one candy bar after another.

She was a woman possessed.

Her mind didn't seem to be present as she stuffed the chocolate into her mouth, barely
having room to chew the first one before another bar followed. All too soon, the
twelve bars were gone, and Alice lay back on the bed. Calmness invaded her. As she
settled back to enjoy her sugar high, she sighed, grateful that she didn't have to
think about her pain or deal with Jake, Sarah, or Sam. The chocolate took care of

BOOK: Family Inheritance
11.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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