Blood Victory

Page 42

In the weeks following her father’s arrest, Marjorie’s family, or what’s left of it, sit around the kitchen table each night while her mother stares absently into space, sometimes lighting a second and third cigarette because she’s forgotten about the one already smoldering in the ashtray. All that’s left of their dad’s kin is her near-senile grandfather and an older aunt who does more beer drinking than working, and they’re hunkered down in their trailer in Galveston as if prepared for a bomb blast. But her mother’s sister, Aunt Tanya, and Tanya’s husband, Earl, drive up from San Antonio as soon as they hear news of her father’s arrest. Occasionally, they bring Danielle a sandwich and a cold drink, sometimes pausing to gather Marjorie’s hair back off her shoulders when she’s forgotten to brush it, but for the most part they hover silently.

Shortly after their arrival, Marjorie’s roused from a nap by sounds she can’t name. A few minutes later she emerges from her room to find they’ve removed every photo of Beatty from the walls and surfaces of the house.

But aside from that determined effort to erase her father’s existence, each evening they say nothing as Uncle Clem rants and raves about the terrible judgment all of Lubbock is poised to rain down upon their family. People are already talking. Not just about Beatty but about them. They want to know how much Danielle knew and when she knew it. Marjorie will be next. Everyone knows she’s a daddy’s girl. Well, look at who her daddy turned out to be!

Marjorie endures these insults for as many nights as she can stand until she levels a gaze on her uncle that appears to freeze his blood.

She’s always hated Clem’s eyes—they’re big and bulgy and often rendered bloodshot by the previous night’s whiskey. In that moment she imagines picking up one of the butter knives from the dirty dishes no one can bring themselves to clear and driving it into his right eyeball. But in a manner that is both slow and methodical. Maybe while holding his head in place with one hand on the top of his skull so she can really get in there and make a mess of his brains. It’s the first time she can remember imagining an act of violence in this much detail, and it sends a pleasurable flush through her that’s similar to the feelings she gets when she rubs her private parts against a bed pillow.

But the vision seems to have power outside of her as well. Clem flinches, as if her contempt for him is a solid thing that takes up space.

“You hate me because you can’t stop looking at my breasts, and that makes you ashamed,” she says quietly.

If her mother possessed the energy, she might have reached out and slapped the back of Marjorie’s head. Face slaps had ended for good after Marjorie shoved back one night, around the time she turned fourteen. But this evening, all Danielle Payne can do is regard her only child with a vacant, dazed look, as if she thinks the girl even more of a stranger now that her father has been revealed to be a rapist.

Clem’s so outraged he shoves back from the table and storms out, bellowing something about he wouldn’t be around to help the family if they treated him with this kind of disrespect. And that’s fine, Marjorie thinks. Since Clem’s rarely any help to anyone at all.

But pointing that out would ruin the moment. Because something truly special has just happened. Marjorie can feel it.

Even though her words were sharper edged than anything she’d ever heard him say, she’s just spoken them with her father’s clarity and elegance. She’s channeled his quietly powerful tone right there in the kitchen he no longer occupies, in a house he’ll probably never visit again. In a house they might lose to the bank because it’s in his name.

She’s done more than just channel him, she realizes. His voice is hers now, because from the moment the drivers of that pickup truck had wrestled him to the side of the road, holding him there until the cops came, her father hasn’t said a word. Not a single word; he’s gone as silent as the prairie on a windless night.

And Clem, it turns out, is wrong.

Suspicion does not fall on Marjorie and her mother.

Instead, her mother becomes a hero.

The story of how her piercing scream had ended a rapist’s reign of terror is reprinted in papers around the country. The town is in agreement that if that driver hadn’t been passing them at just the right moment and if Beatty Payne hadn’t been quite so injured, Marjorie and her mother might have ended up in shallow graves so the Plains Rapist could keep his secret. And the cops had found a lot more in his trunk than the restraints he’d used. In a canvas bag they’d found necklaces, bracelets, rings. Tokens he’d stolen from his victims in what the papers called “a final insult intended to compound the degradation.” Beatty’s unwillingness to toss the bag aside in an empty field the minute he realized how injured he was is taken by everyone as evidence of the pure evil inside him. He wasn’t willing to leave the car by the side of the road because he feared discovery, but he couldn’t bring himself to part with the physical reminders of his brutal crimes, even temporarily, because he was truly depraved.

Her father adds nothing to the story.

He does not say a word to the police. He does not request a lawyer and says nothing to the public defender appointed to him. He puts up no fight as the charges are brought against him. All take this as evidence of his guilt, and he does nothing to persuade them it isn’t the case. After a psychiatric evaluation, he’s deemed competent to stand trial. He isn’t catatonic, hasn’t gone numb to the stimuli around him. He smiles at things he thinks are funny and nods and shakes his head in response to simple, everyday requests. Because of this, the judge brands his silence an act of defiance, not madness. And because his public defender can’t establish alibis for any of the crimes or determine a remotely reasonable explanation for why the restraints, the mask, and the tokens stolen from the victims were in his trunk, everyone is spared the indignity of a long trial.

Even though he refuses to see her, Marjorie’s sure her daddy’s silence is his gift to her, his way of ensuring their last real communication will be that doleful look he gave her in the car once he realized what her mother was about to discover. For his only child, he speaks no words that might give more life to the horrors that divided their family.

What else can he do?

His wife has deprived him of the chance to explain himself to the two people who mattered to him most. For all they know, his so-called victims are all liars. Maybe his worst sin is infidelity, and given what a shrill and terrible woman her mother is, how can Marjorie blame him? It isn’t like those sobbing, self-pitying women have been murdered.

None of it’s fair, and it’s Marjorie’s first instruction in how one person’s voice can steal another’s without interrupting them.

She wishes her mother would start drinking. She wants her to make a spectacle of herself, tarnish her newfound heroine’s reputation with some explosion of anger or grief. But Danielle Payne does nothing of the kind. She holds her head high, becomes more active in her church, does everything she can to make amends to the victims even while she publicly states it’s arrogant of her to assume she can. In the end, her church passes baskets, which allows her to keep the bank from taking their house, and when there’s money left over, she distributes it evenly among her husband’s victims. The model wife of a convicted serial rapist.

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