of the novel-formerly-known-as-BEAUTIFUL BOY
James Robert Smith
James Robert Smith
Rebecca Tow stirred and rose from bed as soon as the engine from her husband's truck faded down the drive. She threw the sheets from her and sat up, feeling nauseous. Every time she felt sick this way, fear went through her like a mild electric shock. There was no way she was ready to face another pregnancy. Not after the first one had done such a number on her body. Of course the nausea was now nothing but the fear itself, but it still left her cold, all the same.
She looked down at her legs. Those were still good. Men still stared at her legs when it was warm enough to wear shorts or a dress. But she doubted that she'd ever get that pot to leave her stomach. It made her sick to look at the sagging bulge. Not even the exercises from that video she'd bought had helped her. She'd done sit-ups and gut crunches until she'd almost driven her husband crazy. She could feel the muscles building up under her skin, but damned if the post-pregnancy bulge had subsided a fraction of a goddamned inch.
The stench from the dirty diapers hit her when she sighed. So the first thing she did was start hauling the pails of them out of the bedroom where she carefully dumped the foul loads into a big black plastic bag in the kitchen. She needed to get it out of the house, and she didn't feel like getting dressed to do it. If she went back to the bedroom to retrieve her robe, she'd likely wake the baby. So far, Gowdy had not awakened, and she wanted to keep him asleep as long as possible. For once he did stir, her waking hours would not be pleasant. It would be one long day catering to that constantly howling, needy little bastard.
God, how she hated him.
Every day she asked herself why she'd not only gotten pregnant, but had carried the child to term. She could have kept the pregnancy to herself and gone to one of the free clinics a county or two away and gotten rid of it while there'd still been time. But, no--she'd gone through with it. The whole experience had been horrifying for her. The morning sickness had ravaged her stomach for months. The water retention had warped her legs. And despite the daily bouts of vomiting, she'd gained forty pounds during those horrid nine months. Opening the door, she sobbed, dragging the heavy black bag across the threshold and onto the rickety deck where once she and Philip had grilled steaks and hamburgers and hot dogs.
No more steaks, now. These days, it was peanut butter sandwiches and fried bologna. The thought of that, and the creeping stench of the shitty diapers made her gag.
Carefully, Becca pulled the bag across the deck, hoping that it wouldn't snag on a nail or a splinter. She'd pull, then rest. Pull, rest. After a while, she had the mass across the deck and maneuvered it down the six stairs to the ground that was once grass, but now red dirt and gravel. This was the hard part. She hadn't even put on slippers or shoes, so she was standing out there in the morning air, all but naked, trying to tug the eighty-pound sack of disposable diapers and baby shit to the edge of the woods.
All because, she reminded herself, they'd stopped paying for garbage pickup and so the edge of the forest was where they'd chosen to toss the trash. Just beyond a line of anemic pines the forest floor was lined with the garbage of the past six months of their lives. There were two broken wooden chairs, yellow paint peeling in long acrylic strips; a hundred plastic sacks of varying sizes and color failing to rot in the sun; rusting bits of truck parts removed and discarded; the air conditioner that had once been in the kitchen window and which had coughed its last before the end of summer. And a million other pieces of crap they'd tossed behind the evergreen screen of trees.
Pulling on the bag once last time, trying to get it over a patch of dead branches, Rebecca strained, doing her best to get the stinking bulk out of sight. She grunted and all but screamed. A thick oak stick seemed to reach up and snag the black plastic skin, tearing it. The bag went over, into the bit of forest, but not before disgorging a portion of its contents across her right leg and ankle. Looking down, she saw that her foot was all but coated in a cold, oozing, brown paint of baby shit.
There stood Rebecca Tow, once Rebecca Romney, once a girl in the running for Homecoming Queen (but too poor to be seriously considered), once the favorite of many of her teachers (but too poor to be encouraged as college material), once with dreams (but too poor to ever take them seriously). Now she was angry, cold, tired, beaten, her foot covered in human excrement as she stood almost naked in the pocked and diseased yard of the decrepit mobile home that she shared with a roving husband, an unwanted baby son, and a goddamned worthless hound dog.
She stared at the creeping shit on her foot. She raised her face to the blue sky. And she screamed.
All but howling, she tried to run back to the trailer, but her bare feet kept her from moving as fast as she'd have liked. She kept thinking that, to cap off the event, the rural letter carrier would choose now to pull into their drive to drop off the mail in the red box that was hanging almost loose on its rotting post beside their place. There she'd be, in her dirty skivvies, stinking of crap, her hair a wiry mess in the dry air, her gut hanging out horribly.
But she was spared that, at least.
At the deck she paused just long enough to survey the filth on her leg and foot, deciding that she could hop to the bathroom without getting any of it on the floor. And it was just then that she noticed Purdy, Daryl's damned bird dog. The last of the six they'd once owned. Daryl had thought that he would breed high quality bird dogs and sell them for a profit. But they'd never sold a single pup and had been lucky to be able to give away the ones that had been born. This was the only one remaining. Daryl insisted on keeping her-the best of the lot, he'd said. He all but loved the dog. And so Rebecca hated it.
"Fuck you," she spat at the dog who had crept out from its pen under the deck to investigate the possibility of a filled food dish. No such luck.
Becca bounded up the stairs, narrowly missing a couple of rusty nails jutting out of the gray and weathered steps, pulled the door open with a curse, and went to one foot and hopped inside. There was no possible way that she'd be able to get to their single bathroom without making noise, so she didn't even attempt to make the maneuver quietly. Disgusted with herself and her situation, she hopped one-legged to the bathroom, her one hundred and twenty-five pounds shaking the trailer from aft to port. Dishes rattled on the counter. The windows shook in their loose frames. Chairs bounced on the floor of the dining nook.
Gowdy awakened with a howl.
"Good goddamn," she muttered. She ignored the crying child, though, and hopped like a wounded moron into the bathroom and sat on the side of the tub. Daryl had told her about the floor, so she was careful not to bounce on the soft spot in front of the sink. Settling down, she turned on the spigot and waited for the water to get hot. Daryl had left one of his bars of Lava soap on the side of the tub, and she used that to scrub viciously at the mess on her leg and foot.
Gowdy was getting cranked up, now, and his cries were almost sharp enough to cut eardrums.
The warm water felt great on her leg, so she put the clean one in beside the dirty one and let the warmth flow over it, too. The yellow-brown nastiness came slickly off of her and she let it flow down the drain. "To Hell with it," she muttered, and peeled off her underwear and stopped the tub to let it fill.
Gowdy screamed for a tit or a bottle. It didn't matter to him. Rebecca ignored him.
She turned the water from warm to hot and let it fill the tub beside her. She watched it creep silkily up her ankles. She lay back. The water began to flow over her thighs, still taut and firm; it crept up into the dark thatch of her pubic hair. She looked down and saw her potbelly become an island of flesh in the clear water. "Fuck," she whispered. Daryl would cheat on her if she let herself go. She was sure of it. He would be disgusted by her sagging body and go and find a more desirable woman. He would. There was no doubt about it.
Gowdy wailed, creating a sound of outrage that Rebecca could almost reach out and touch.
She closed her eyes, splashed the water over her milk-swollen breasts, into her face, over the top of her head. She leaned back until her face was submerged in the hot water, her knees jutting out into the chill air.
Gowdy's screams reached her, barely dented by the inches of water.
"Okay!" She rose from the tub, grabbed a towel from the rack and began to scrub at her body with it until her skin went from pink to livid. She wrapped it around her head, turban-style, and stalked back to the bedroom, which now only faintly stank of shit. There was a glare of total rage on her own face as her small feet stomped down the narrow, prefab hallway of flimsy wood and vinyl to where her baby waited, yelling for food and for attention.
And then, she stood over the second-hand crib, looking down at the red face of her son as he screamed, his eyes so tightly cranked shut that he was unaware of the presence of his mother. Rebecca stared blankly down at him, her hands curled into semi-fists, into claws. She reached down, her fingers making contact with Gowdy's soft and yielding flesh.
"God, I love you," she whispered into the infant's tiny ear. She buried her nose in his downy dark hair, so obviously the color of his father's thick shocks. She could see that his nose was the same as Daryl's, the chin the same. Only his green eyes were like hers. Rebecca pulled the baby to him and kissed him. He became quiet, and was very calm, very happy as she began to nurse him, her breast warm and sweet in his little, suckling mouth.
"I love you, little Gowdy. Your momma loves you more than anything," she said.
It truth, it was so.