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V. C. Andrews


  Hudson #1

  V.C. Andrews

  Copyright (c) 2000

  ISBN: 067100767X




  My sister Beni and I were jolted simultaneously

  out of sleep by the explosive sound of a dish smashing against the kitchen wall. We heard the shattered pieces of china rain down on the pale yellow linoleum floor. I lay there, staring up into the darkness and holding my breath. Beni sat up to listen, her braids falling over her eyes so that she had to part them like a beaded curtain.

  "What was that?" she gasped. I was afraid to move, much less speak. The silence was like that moment after you see a streak of lightning and know there will be a boom rattling windows and your own bones. Sure enough, we heard Mama's tear-filled voice wail at Ken.

  For as long as I could remember, Beni, Roy and I had called him Ken instead of Daddy or Papa. Calling him by his name instead always fit our lips better. Something in the way he looked at us, especially when we were younger, told all three of us that he didn't want to be known as anyone's father, much less ours.

  "Go on, then," we heard Mama cry, "leave. You aren't much good to us here anyway. You never were." "If that's the way you feel, woman, then I might just go," he roared back at her.

  "Go, go, go," she chanted like a high-school cheerleader. The strain in her voice made the strings in my own heart strain to the point of snapping.

  "I will," he threatened. "I won't stay where I'm not appreciated. That's for sure; that's for damn sure."

  "Appreciated?" She laughed a shrill, thin laugh. "What's there to appreciate? Your spending all your wages on drink and other women? Your coming home and falling on your face? You haven't ever been here for me and the children anyway, Ken Arnold. We aren't even going to know you're gone," Mama assured him.

  "Ungrateful bitch! I oughta..."

  "Lay a hand on me. Go on. I dare you. I'll call the law, I will. Go on," she challenged.

  I sat up. It felt like tiny drums of fear were tapping beneath my breast. Quickly, I embraced myself. We had all seen him strike her before. It was ugly and tied knots of fear in our stomachs. Beni moaned in anticipation. She started to edge herself off her bed reluctantly, like someone being urged to run into a burning building.

  "Don't go out there," I warned in a loud whisper. "You'll only make it harder for Mama."

  She paused. Even in the dark, I could see the abject terror in my younger sister's eyes.

  Our older brother Roy came to our door, rubbing his right palm back and forth over his forehead as if he were sanding a block of wood. It took a lot more to wake him than it did us. Mama always said, "That boy proves someone really could be dead to the world when he sleeps."

  Roy stopped outside our open doorway. "What the hell's going on now?" he muttered, grimacing as if he had just swallowed some sour milk.

  "Don't get between them, Roy," I cried. Once before, he had, and Ken had hit him so hard, he had knocked Roy down and made his lip bleed and swell. Mama kept him from getting up and getting the worst beating of his life for sure.

  "Ahh, you deserve me leaving you," Ken muttered.

  Apparently, Mama had held up her challenge. She had fixed those hot ebony eyes on him and made him back down. The next thing we heard was the front door opening and slamming shut. It rattled the walls in the small apartment and then all was still for a moment before we heard Mama sobbing.

  I got out of bed and Beni and I joined Roy. All three of us entered the kitchen and found Mama seated at the chipped Formica table, her head down on her folded arms, her shoulders shaking.

  We had seen her this way many times before.

  "What happened this time, Mama?" Roy asked, his eyes blazing with anger.

  Mama raised her head slowly and with great effort as if it were made of stone. Her eyes were red and glassy with tears. She took a deep breath, her small shoulders rising and then falling quickly, resembling some puppet whose strings had been cut. She seemed to sink into the chair. When I saw her so despondent, my heart felt like a squeezed orange. My chest was so tight that I couldn't take a deep breath. The tears that had streaked down Mama's cheeks left jagged lines right to the tip of her chin.

  She sighed deeply and ran her thin fingers through her hair, hair that had once had a healthy sheen to it and now looked dull, with strands of gray invading like a threat. I hated to see Mama age. Worry and trouble weighed heavily on the hands of her clock, rushing time along. I wanted her to be forever young with a face full of smiles and hope and a voice filled with laughter and song. For as long as I could remember, Mama had to work hard. She hated the thought of being on welfare. No matter how wasteful and neglectful Ken was, Mama wouldn't succumb. She had a steel rod of pride through her spine.

  "As long as there's an ounce of strength in these legs and arms," she would tell us, "I'm never going to let the government tell me I'm part of the problem. No sir, no ma'am, no. Latisha Carrol's got a long way down before she hits bottom."

  Right now, she looked like there wasn't all that much longer to go. Currently, Mama worked at Krandel's Market stocking shelves and packing groceries like some high-school dropout. She never complained about it, however.

  None of us had any kind of job, but when Roy was younger, to earn tip money he would go to the supermarket and carry groceries out to cars for people. Once an elderly white lady gave him a twenty. Mama felt sure she meant to give him a dollar and just made a mistake. She told Roy to wait for the lady and return it as soon as he saw her. Roy didn't want to. That twenty nearly burned a hole in his pocket, but he was afraid to spend it. Finally, he saw the same old lady and told her what she had done. She looked at him as if he was crazy and told him he must be in error. She doesn't make those kind of mistakes. He came running home to tell Mama, who sat back, thought and said, "Well Roy, if that old white lady's so arrogant she can't admit a mistake, then it's honestly yours."

  Ken told him he shouldn't have bothered trying to give it back anyway, but Mama always had a bigger influence on us than Ken did. I don't remember exactly when Roy lost respect for our daddy, but I think Ken knew all along that his son didn't look up to him. Maybe that was part of the reason he stayed away from home so much.

  "Your daddy's gone and left us again," Mama said.

  "Good riddance to him," Roy snapped.

  "You know I don't like that talk, Roy Arnold. He's still your father and you know what the Bible says about honoring your father and mother."

  "God wasn't thinking of him when he had that written down, Ma," Roy said angrily.

  "Don't you go claiming to know what God meant or intended, Roy Arnold," she fired back at him, her eyes filling with the heat and light of her passion. Mama always felt that holding on to her religion was the only glue that held us together. She wasn't a regular churchgoer, nor did she chase us to church on Sunday as faithfully as some other mothers herded their children, but she never let us drift too far from prayer and the Bible.

  Roy shook his head and lowered it as he slumped with fatigue.

  "I'm going back to bed," he muttered.

  "Y' all go back to bed. You've got school in the morning and I don't want to have to shake you girls awake, hear?"

  "Are you going to bed, Mama?" I asked her.

  "Soon," she said.

  I looked at Beni. We both knew she would stay up most of the night tossing and turning with worry. Bills were the ghosts that haunted our home, flashing their numbers on the walls in Mama's room, piling themselves on her shoulders. Ken never worried about our bills. It was always a battle to get him to pay for some of our expenses before he spent his paycheck, when he had one, on his own pleasure and


  Whenever Ken ran off like this, his paycheck disap
peared with him and whatever small amount Mama might have gotten from it was gone too. She didn't make anywhere near enough at the supermarket to take care of our needs.

  "Beni and I will look for work tomorrow, Mama."

  "No, you won't," she retorted so fast it was as if she'd expected my offer. "I want you girls

  concentrating on your school work."

  "But Mama, other girls our age are working part-time here and there," Beni protested. "Why can't we?"

  "So when do they do their homework, huh, Beni? They work after school. They drag their sorry selves home late and don't do any reading or writing, and then they work weekends and can't study then either," Mama declared.

  "We aren't going to college anyway, Mama. It doesn't matter," Beni said.

  "Why can't you try to be more positive, Beni? Ram manages to," Mama said, her eyes narrowing.

  Beni flashed an angry look at me.

  Mama shook her head and looked at Roy.

  "We'll be all right, Mama," he said. "I'm taking that job at Slim's Garage. be giving you as much as he ever did, probably more."

  "I don't want you giving up on school, Roy," Mama said, but not with a great deal of insistence. Roy was a man now, eighteen, with broad shoulders pumped with pride, pride she knew he had inherited from her.

  "Right," he said and flashed a deep-eyed look at me before he turned to go back to his room.

  Mama sighed again and then looked up at me.

  "Don't make the same mistakes I did, Rain. You take

  forever before you hook up with any man, hear?"

  "Yes, Mama."

  "And don't believe any promises," she warned. "Men are full of promises. They get some well of false hope filled for them the day they can begin to utter their first words, and they just dip into that well every time they set eyes on some unsuspecting female."

  "Okay, Mama," I said smiling.

  "Look how pretty you are, even woken up in the middle of the night. Come over here and give me some sugar so I can have a good dream tonight," she said and for a moment her eyes were young again, the eyes of the Mama I remembered singing to me, holding my hand, hugging me after bad dreams and kissing me good night.

  I embraced her and she held onto me a little tighter than usual, stroking my hair. It put a flutter of butterfly wings in my stomach. I could feel her bones shudder beneath her thin skin. She had lost weight, as if trouble shrunk her by the minute.

  "You children are my only hope now," she whispered. "Don't let me down, Rain."

  "We won't, Mama."

  "Beth's got a bad chip on her shoulder," she said in a tired voice when we parted. "I don't know why. I don't teach her to hate, but she thinks being black means being angry all the time. She needs to smile more. I was hoping you would teach her that, Rain. I was hoping some of your light would spill into her dark."

  "She'll be okay, Mama," I promised.

  "I know," Mama said, but she looked down when she said it so I wouldn't see her doubt and worry.

  "You go to sleep now too, Mama. You know Ken. He'll go off for a while and then he'll come back."

  "I know," she agreed. "Go to sleep, Rain. Go on," she urged.

  I started out of the kitchen, looking back once to see her take a deep breath, rise and pick up the pieces of the dish she had thrown against the wall. She dropped them into the garbage can and stood there with her back to me, her five feet four-inch frame shriveling a little more. Mama's bank account of hope was dwindling. When do the good get their just rewards? I wondered, and I was positive Mama was wondering the same.

  Beth was lying in her bed with her eyes wide open, smoldering like some house that had been set on fire.

  "Mama's always going to like you more than me," she snapped at me as soon as I entered.

  "No, she's not, Beni."

  "No? Why can't you be like Rain?" she mimicked, wagging her head. "That's all I ever hear her say anymore."

  She turned on her side so her back was to me.

  "She's just worried for all of us, Beni. She doesn't mean you're not as good as I am," I said. I went to her and put my hand on her shoulder. "Don't be like this, Beni. Not now, not with all Ken's doing to her and to us," I pleaded.

  She kept her back to me and spoke toward the wall.

  "She always had more of you in her eyes than she had of me, Rain. It's like she..." She turned to face me. " she owes you more than she owes me or something."

  "That's silly, Beth."

  "No, it's not," she said stiffening. "There's something," she said nodding, convinced. "There's some reason?'

  In the darkness her eyes picked up the small glow of the hallway light and glittered like new dimes.

  "I know you know what I mean, Rain," she said in a softer voice. "I know you pretend there's no difference, but I know you know."

  I started to shake my head.

  "Let's not lie to each other, Rain," she followed. "At least let's not do that."

  I didn't speak.

  She wasn't really all wrong. I always felt Mama looked at me in a different way. I just didn't know why and I didn't want to find out. I was afraid. I don't know why I had a stream of fear running through the back of my thoughts, but it ran, thin and silvery, like a thread of light I was afraid to touch. It was safer in the dark.

  I went to bed and lay there quietly, looking up at the ceiling.

  "I hate him," Beni muttered. "I hate him for what he's doing to us. Don't you?"

  "No. I don't hate him. I can't hate him. I don't understand him, but I don't want to hate him. He's our father, Beni."

  "I don't care who he is. I do hate him," Beni said. "Sometimes, Mama's wrong. Sometimes, hating makes you feel better. It makes you...stronger. That's something you oughta learn, Rain. That's something you oughta learn from me."

  She was silent for a moment and then she braced herself on her elbows and looked over at me.

  "Maybe that's why Mama cares more about you," Beni said, sounding like she was solving her own dilemma, "maybe she knows you're weaker than me and you need more protection. Yeah," she said lying back on her pillow, "I bet that's it."

  She liked that idea. I could almost hear her smile of satisfaction. It helped her close her eyes and go back to sleep.

  Maybe she's right, I thought. Maybe I am weaker. Maybe Beni had a better chance to survive in this hard world because of the way she was.

  I turned over and traveled a different road to the same darkness.


  The Beginning

  of the End


  For as long as I could remember, we lived in an

  apartment located in a building complex everyone called The Projects. Even as a little girl I hated the name. It didn't sound like a home, a place to live with your family. It sounded just like the word suggested: some government undertaking, some attempt to deal with the poor, some bureaucrat's program. Beni called it The Cages, which made me feel like we were being treated like animals.

  I suppose at one time the buildings looked clean and new. In the beginning there wasn't gang graffiti scribbled madly over every available space creating the Books of Madness, as I liked to describe them. The streets in front weren't dirty and the small patches of lawn didn't look mangy and sick. Now the whole place seemed like someone's ashtray.

  Our apartment was on the second floor: twofifteen. We were lucky because we could use the stairway when the elevator was broken, which was often, and we weren't on the first floor where there was a greater chance for burglaries. Some of the tenants on the first floor actually had bars installed in their windows, which was why Beni named the complex The Cages. It didn't do any good to tell her that bars on cages were meant to keep animals in, not people out. She claimed the government wanted to keep us locked inside.

  "We're like some ugly pimple on the face of the capital. I bet the government people don't want foreigners to see us. That's why they don't take them through our streets," she declared, parroting one of Ken's fr
equent speeches of self-pity.

  I couldn't deny that there was a lot of fear and crime around us. Everyone had some kind of an alarm and often they went off accidentally. It had gotten so no one paid much attention to them. If there was ever an example of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, it was here in The Projects.

  Beni, Roy and I had only three city blocks to walk to school, but sometimes we felt we were going through a minefield in a war zone. During the last six months, two people had been killed by stray bullets fired from passing cars, one gang shooting at members of another without regard for innocent bystanders. Everyone thought it was terrible, but went on and accepted it as if it was simply a part of what had to be, like some nasty storm coming through. There wasn't much anyone could do about bad weather and most people had the same attitude about our street crime.

  Mama was visibly terrified whenever one of us went out after dark. She'd actually start to tremble. I began to think we weren't living much differently than people in the Middle Ages. When our teacher talked about the fortresses, the moats and drawbridges and the dangers that lurked outside the fortress walls back then, I thought about The Projects now. Beside having alarms and bars on windows, everyone locked his doors three or four ways with chain locks, bolts and bars and did the same with the windows. Many of the elderly sat away from their windows and shivered at the sounds of the night, the screaming in the hallways.

  From my window I could just manage to see the lights in some of the government buildings, and when we walked a few blocks east and looked toward the Capitol, we could see the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial all lit up with promises. We were able to take some class trips to the sites and even tour places like the Treasury Building where we saw money being printed, and the FBI building, where we learned about crime labs and fingerprints. We never saw the Congress in action, but we did visit the buildings.

  I sometimes felt like an astronaut on these class trips. It was as if we were being transported to another planet. We saw the fine homes, the embassies, how rich and prosperous people were. We heard about all the wonderful hopes these buildings and monuments represented, but we always returned to our reality where it was possible to witness a drug sale on the corner, or see an unattended child wandering near broken glass and rusty metal. What will become of him? I wondered. What will become of us? In school we studied about democracy and we were taught dreams that were apparently reserved for other sleeping faces, not ours.