By: Wendolyn Thurston Forbes
Will he find me tonight? I peek from behind the translucent ivory curtain through the off-white blinds of my bedroom window. I’ve been doing this since I moved here thirty-five years ago. Georgie, my great-granddaughter, is in the living room watching Billy Graham. She thinks I’m changing into my night things. I am, but I have to take a peek.
Did you hear that? There’s a car pulling into the parking lot. I hope the driver doesn’t see me. But is it him?
Fifty-seven years have passed since I saw him last, his little fist thrust in the air like a leader rallying his people to victory. His body tightly wrapped in the baby blanket I bought at the Woolworth’s downtown. I paid a dollar and fifteen cents for that cotton blanket, ivory in color, soft as a kitten and thick as wool. I told the clerk that it was for my nephew. It’s not that I thought the clerk cared about my purchase. I didn’t even recognize her. But Princeton was a small town and I didn’t want to give people reason to start rattling off stories about how I spent my money. Perhaps she would tell Myrtle Jones in the toiletry aisle that I was buying it for my nephew, because Myrtle was the type of woman who would ask. And perhaps Myrtle would smile and say, “What a good girl. Her parents have sure raised her proper.” After all, I was only thirteen.
“Grandma! What’s taking you so long?”
“Just a minute, honey.”
I keep the lights out in my room and change into my night things when I know there’s no more company coming to visit and there’s just a bit of evening light shining through my window. I try not to change into my night things when it’s dark: who knows who might look in my window or what part of me they’ll see! Hurriedly I change into my satiny pink pajamas and slip into my slippers.
Raylene, my sister, was so angry with me when she found out. She thought I brought it all on myself.
“Always out with the boys,” she scolded. “This is just what you needed. I suppose you’ll learn now.”
Even after what he’d done, Raylene stayed married to Jack.
“Daddy, do you mind if Jenny stays with me through the summer? I need some help with the house. Jack and I have a lot of work to do,” she said.
Daddy shrugged his heavy shoulders, strands of his dark red hair falling loose from beneath his cap. He raised his arms, dust all over his shirt, overalls, and boots, his skin caked with the stuff.
Daddy looked at me, his eyes a brilliant green.
“Be good to your sister and do as she says, okay, Sugarpop?”
“Yes, Daddy,” I said and rushed into his arms. I breathed deeply the fragrance of clay powder and earth, the scent of our homeland mixed with my father’s masculine smell.
I didn’t have much to pack. Being the sixth child out of seven children, there wasn’t much to go around. Our mother had died of cancer when I was six.
“Don’t need to pack too much, Jenny,” Raylene said quietly as she sat on my bed and watched me pack, “you’ll be wearing my clothes before too long.”
Daddy didn’t suspect a thing.
I lived in the same house as the man who raped me. But back then we didn’t call it rape. In fact, we didn’t call it anything at all. Raylene watched me like a mother hen watches her chicks. Jack was always in a separate room, even when we ate our meals.
There was never a question of whether I would get to keep the baby. We didn’t talk about anything more than the day-to-day sort of stuff like the weather, the crops, family, and food.
I never voiced my desire to keep him. But at night when I laid in my bed I thought about Momma and how she looked when she was pregnant.
John was her seventh child, carried during the summer of 1938. I remember how my momma looked so beautiful to me and she would let me touch her belly.
“Right here, Jenny. Feel this? That’s your brother or sister in there saying hello to you,” she said.
I remember both of us laughing as I gently pressed my tiny hand against momma’s belly, strong and round.
After seven months, as I lay in bed and felt my baby kick against me, fat tears rolled down my cheeks. I thought of how no one but me would know about this moment. I glanced out the window of my room at the full moon. No one would know but me and the people whose business my life became.
The baby came unexpectedly. I was outside hanging laundry and it was a Monday morning. The September air was crisp and cool against my skin. When the first labor pain hit, I thought that it was the bacon I’d eaten for breakfast. I ignored the pain and kept working. Raylene must have known something was wrong because she hollered out at me.
“Jenny, get in here right quick! Leave the laundry where it is!”
I made it to the stairs of the house when the world around me went black.
When I woke up Raylene was by my side—and a blonde woman. They spoke so quietly that I barely understood, but I recognized “midwife.”
“Jenny?” the voice wasn’t Raylene’s.
I nodded that I could hear her.
“I’m here to help. There is a couple…”
I didn’t listen to the rest. I didn’t want to know.
I was too young. There were no papers. There were no names. The baby was born and it was given to a couple.
Momma always said to me, “The truth will set you free.” I keep my Bible on the coffee table for all to see that I am a good, God-fearing Christian woman. What truth will set me free? The past has passed and I have moved on with a husband, children, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren.
“Hey there, Georgie, you want some supper?”
“How about a baked potato?”
“Oh, yes! Lots of butter and salt, please!”
I’ve made my way out of the bedroom, through the hallway and living room into the kitchen. Stop.
I heard something rattle. Is someone at the window?
I tiptoe to the kitchen door, my slippers quietly rubbing against the linoleum floor. I peek from behind the rayon window dressing through the blinds and out the window, just a crack, just in case. I see the perpetrator: the aluminum trashcan lid blowing in the wind.
“Grandma! What are you doing?”
I drop the window dressing and quickly turn to see Georgie standing in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen, hands on her hips.
“Just looking out the window, sugar. I heard a noise.”
Georgie looks a little worried, her eyebrows arch a little higher.
“Who is it? Do we need to call the police?” She whispers.
I laugh a little and walk up to her.
“No, sugar. We’re alright. Everything’s just fine.”
Wendolyn Thurston Forbes lives in Asheville with her husband, children, three dogs, and three cats. This story, though a work of fiction, is based on actual events that happened to her great-grandmother—who, over time, created a softly worn spot in the window sill where she leaned for indeterminable amounts of time, waiting for her firstborn son to find her.