Is Thunder in a November Rain?

(published as "The Blue Bedroom")

My name is Sharon Iris. Before my little sister was killed, she wrote “Death is like an icy river, moving through the warm land of the living…” She was only twelve when she died. But in the heart of memory, I am seventeen again. My sister is eleven.

As I watch my parents gather their private misery to move it to the far city, my father spends many nights away. Scouting, if you will. Looking for a house and a job. Establishing ties. My mother does not always go with him. Sometimes she is content to stay, mulling over her little life such as it is. Drowning. Suffocating in the depression that plagues her like a disease.

Each time it happens, she does her best to inject this pretense, that it is not the product of her own self. But she keeps it under the umbrella of discipline, whether for something I have done, or am perhaps going to do. Mercifully, my little sister is unaware that my mother has taken me into her bedroom at night in the name of punishment. What pleasure that burns my spirit is pain. When she stops, I wait for something, anything that will help me understand. But there are only vague questions spoken softly. My mouth trembles as I open it to answer. But there is not enough of me left to speak. It is a systematic unraveling of me.

But she is not done.

She bends me over the edge of the bed gently, and tells me to relax. My legs are tied together at the ankles with her stocking. She lays forward on my back, and is not shy as she pushes. Claiming to be checking me, to make sure I have not given away my virginity. The sense of loss, the depth of my humiliation is indescribable. There is no language breathed with flair. No words bequeathed in roses fair.

I am able to tell myself it is bearable. That it is good and right, so I’ll understand the evils of fornication. But even while it happens, the love I have is being replaced by fear, which threatens to blossom into hatred.

As I lay on the bed, I focus on the pale blue walls of her bedroom, softly lit by the glow from the street lamps beyond our small lawn. I know it is wrong, and I plead with her more than once to stop. But too much of this begging only makes matters worse, and I have already learned that the cane is many times more painful.

My mother’s grief has worked its way into my soul. Into my emotions. I have begun to react bitterly to my poor little sister, and to my Williamston High School classmates. Projecting my own problems with venom, until one day I am challenged, and a spoiled priss-pretty piss pot takes a threatening pose. From a lifetime of suffering; from a bottomless pit of pain, the pent up fury spins a whirlwind. Rage infuses my body until I am no longer a child of free will, but a woman of instinct. For the first time in my seventeen years, I raise my hand and strike another human being in anger. From blue and black fire I reach out to her, until her perfect nose is shattered, and I am on top of her on the cafeteria floor. Beating her. Trying to tear the skin from her privileged face and shove it down her throat. But the only thing I accomplish is my first suspension for fighting, and the loss of what little respect I’ve gained. I’m now fighting almost all the time, because in my mind, every little comment is sadistic abuse, and I simply cannot take the pain anymore without fighting back.

If the truth be told, I don’t think I have any real friends anyway. Maybe its my own fault. Some have told me I’m pretty, and I do hide a curvy, bosomy figure under loose shirts. But Holiness Pentecostalism carries a sullen expression. My blonde hair and old skirts are too long. I am a weird, antisocial bookworm.

But I never meant to be.

Where is it, I imagine, that their beloved daughter could have gone! She is a passenger on the river, until it passes Home. But Sarah Girl knew, that through our hometown, our land of the living, the Roanoke River runs icy cold. The pages of her journal--the desperation of my youth! The consolation of my years! Sarah girl, is thunder in a cold November Rain? From the grave, her voice calls out to me!

My fourth school fight in a month, my third suspension brings the call of another beating from my parents, which by now I am used to. My pencil thin father, David Iris, is a science teacher at my school, and my actress faced mother, a former teacher herself, is a charity queen busybody from here up into Virginia, and a star in our small town church. My suspensions are an embarrassment to them both.

David tells me he is going to make me wish I had never been born this time. While (Linda) stands with her arms folded, I come very close to getting on my knees and begging them to have mercy. But at the moment of truth, she takes my father to the side and whispers something in his ear, then walks calmly to her bedroom. My father is a clear thinking man. I look to him for reason. For compassion. But he only tells me again how lucky I am, and orders me out of his sight. Images of the paddling already burn. As I walk away, I hear him insult my body, and to this day I am still tragically aware of my figure. I cannot starve my breasts and hips away. Even now I have to take deep breaths, in rhythm with my lifted pen, and remind myself that I am safely anonymous. Over what ground does my spirit go? Which learning hall do I roam? What Ivy leaf will bow itself--and grieve when I am gone? I am in the middle of this three day suspension. David is at work, and Sarah Maria is at school. This is the time before she died, my little watermelon girl of Martin County. Before she learned that “there’s no thunder in a November rain.” Before David and Linda beat her to death. Before the day of her funeral, when I found the Golden Iris, her little yellow notebook hidden away. Before insanity and suicide took my mother. It is late morning, and I am engaged in my schoolwork. Getting far ahead, as I am often inclined to do. Linda comes into my room as friendly as any mother ever has and sits down on my bed, calling me over from my little desk. Her hair is golden yellow. Her eyes are the bluest sky. She takes me by the hand and says to me…

"I have tried everything in my power to make you understand. But I think your problems run deeper than I realized."

Her voice is honey. She has the strangest look in her eyes. A complacent stare, indescribable. It unnerves me. I ask her if she is going to whip me, trying to garner sympathy. She laughs a little, with pity for my naivite, and says "No. That won't fix what's wrong with you. I didn't fully understand it myself, until I saw you giggling with those boys in church the other night. Everyone saw you."

With all of my heart, I swear I don't know what she means. Twenty five years later, I don't know what she means. My cold, northeast colleagues on the Ivy, they don't know what she means. They don't know I am 43 forever, by these pills and a glass of wine.

I keep telling myself that my mother was not crazy then. I tell myself that because I knew her. She was rational when Sarah was alive. But Fate decides over reason. Destiny overrides indecision. And what little light I have left begins to fade, when she calmly says to me: "This you will remember."

My room is hushed. I am so frightened that I cannot speak. Her demeanor confuses me so much I barely know what to think. She puts her arm tightly around my waist to escort me to her bedroom. The house on Sycamore Avenue is like a dead zone. Oppressively quiet.

Linda ushers me into her bedroom, telling me to close the door and to lock it. Her soft voice, her sweetness still has me on a razor’s edge.

“Take off your clothes.”

Maybe, a person can grow accustomed to fear. I don’t expect to be beaten this time. I expect her to check me. I understand that this is a part of her, and I have begun to consider that it might be better than the alternative, which is pain.

She ties my wrists behind my back. Her presence is so powerful, in such easy command that I cannot penetrate it with smirks or cynicism. I look at her. A pleading look. But I can only breathe a breath of defeat, and prepare myself.

I watch her stand in front of the mirror and gather up her blonde hair, pinning it by instinct. Skillful. Quick to her head. Her blue dress with the pretty flowers is a glimpse of freedom as she takes it off. Afterwards, she lets her white slip fall to the floor. And for the first time, she removes her bra and underwear.

This is simply the life I have. It is what I know.

She opens her wardrobe and I see her reach inside. I see her fair skin, her perfect body through the haze. Her back is to me, so I barely catch the slightest glimpse of what she picks up. It looks like a small tangle of thin leather straps. I notice that something is attatched. But in my ignorance, I have no idea what it is or what she is doing. My heart races as she makes sense of it all, and begins to fasten the straps about her hips.

As she approaches me, still fastening the harness, I call for her to forgive me for my lustful thoughts and to have mercy. She escorts me to the bed and lays me there on my back, gently shushing me. My spirit is as completely bound as my wrists--I can do nothing but beg her. A tearful, wailing “please” that seems to come by its own volition. She climbs on top of me with the skill of sin. Covering my mouth with her hand. Ushering my legs apart. Her breath is sweet and cold. Her eyes are blue with fire.

I cry. I plead. But she only removes her hand from my mouth and takes hold of my hair. My voice rings every splinter of this darkened room. The air is being pushed from my lungs…

And my life ends, when I feel something split me in two. I lose my breath and my will to breathe all in one. Her arms wrap around my body like ropes, and she makes one smooth, continuous thrust, and I feel it rip into me, tearing my soul to shreds. Truth screams the pit of my stomach, through my lungs and my throat, spilling into my hopeless future.

I shriek a death scream into every wall of this accursed house.




                                                                                        Elements- 2004