Betty lived not too far from the sea in a small county called Tulsa. She would wake every morning to the crowing of seagulls, the salty smell in the air and the noise of the hungover fishermen in the neighborhood rising and packing up their nets, reels, lines and hooks to go to the work before the sun begins to boil the sea.
Betty was seventeen. She had fiery blonde hair which fell above her shoulders in curls. Her pale cheeks were sprayed with freckles and her eyes were round and glassy and shone with a childish bashfulness. Her lips were red as an apple and her nose sharp as an arrow.
She lived alone with her stepfather, who was also a fisherman. Betty was the type of girl you liked the moment you met her.
Betty knew the mischievous kids wanted nothing but free clams so she would wave back at them before playfully shooing them away yet she always kept an eye out for the genuinely well behaved ones among them and quietly rewarded them with a leftover clam after the day's sales.
There was always a smile on her face each time she walked home from the market at sunset. She would meet other traders from the market and share a short chat with one or two of them before they parted on different routes. The traders always complimented her fiery blonde hair, dwelling on the fact that it looked just like her mother's. She always smiled at the compliment but secretly disliked it. She preferred when her hair was compared to the blazing sun.
Betty loved being outside in the daytime. She particularly loved being at the market because she could roll her cart to different areas and set up shop in places where she could meet different people and have a chat with them. She loved the never ending hum and chatter of the market. It kept her mind distracted and gave her things to fantasize and dream about.
But her smile unfolded every evening on her way back home from the market. She was returning to the loneliness of her home and the evening chores that awaited her.
Her stepfather was always away when she returned from the market. He would return home at noon and eat lunch then proceed to the shack to drink at sunset with the other fishermen, returning late to eat supper and fall asleep.
Before leaving for the shack every evening, her stepfather would set the day's catch of oysters and salted herring on a table which she would arrange onto her wooden cart after washing them, in preparation for the market the next day. After putting the cart away, Betty would turn her attention to dinner, and this went on every day.
What stole Betty's smile more than the chores and solitude at home, was her stepfather. He was an abrasive fisherman and became even more abrasive after his evenings at the shack. He came home irritable and was easily irked by anything Betty did which he deemed wrong or unsatisfactory. For this reason, she was extra careful, making sure not to make mistakes that could antagonize him and cause him to flare up, yet he always managed to find one little fault or the other to complain about.
"These potatoes are cold." Betty's stepfather would query in his gruff voice.
"I could warm them up again." She would say, eager to be the pacifist.
"Why didn't you warm them up before I returned?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't know you were returning early tonight."
"No, you're just slow in the head. That's it."
Betty listened and took all of his insults quietly. Her mother had been married to another fisherman, who had been Betty's biological father, but one day he died suddenly in his sleep and her mother married her stepfather.
Betty's stepfather was short tempered and miserly. His head was completely bald but his face carried a heavy unkempt beard. He was a giant and had broad shoulders and the sturdy arms of a manual laborer. He always counted the number of clams and salted herring from his daily catch and whenever Betty brought in the money from the day's sale, he made sure it was all there, counting it avariciously. He trusted nobody and was pugnacious. Most of the other fishermen feared him and only associated with him out of necessity as he was one of the best fishermen at sea.
One day, when she was still a kid, Betty and her mother passed a shawl seller on the way back from the market. The seller had a cart like Betty's, modified with a frame from which layers of brightly colored women's shawls, veils, scarves and pashminas were displayed. Betty's mother stopped to admire the items and her eye immediately fell upon a bright yellow and red shawl with thin green and gold embroidery. She immediately knew that the shawl complimented Betty's bright hair.
"Two dollars." The seller said before Betty's mother could even ask the price. The only money they had was from the day's sale and Betty's mother knew that her husband would count each dollar and would know if she had taken out one penny but she desperately wanted that shawl for her daughter.
I'll explain to him, she thought to herself. He'll yell and blow his top but I have a right to this money too.
"I'll take the shawl." She finally mustered.
The vendor quickly brought it down from the frame, spread it open and handed it to her to inspect. Betty's mom took it and folded it in half, forming a triangle, then wrapped it around Betty's bright hair.
"It's a beauty!" the seller yelped, "Why don't you get a matching shawl for yourself too?" he said, pulling out another brightly embroidered veil from the frame.
"Thank you, just this one will do." She declined, laughing.
Betty was as happy as a lark. Her mother stared at the new shiny cloth over the bright blonde hair and admired her daughter as they walked home pushing their empty cart.
When the two got closer to the house, the shawl was taken off, folded and hidden before Betty's stepfather returned from the shack. They both began the evening's chores before settling down to begin cooking.
That night when Betty's stepfather returned, he was particularly drunk and bellicose. He was always that way but on that night, it was like he brought anger home from outside. He walked over to the small square table and lazily pulled a chair.
"Why isn't my food already set?" He queried after sitting down.
"Its nearly finished, the chicken is what delayed us tonight." Betty's mother quickly replied.
"My supper should be set by the time I'm home, I spend all day working to put food on this table to have to wait." he argued.
"I'm sorry, it's almost ready now."
"Where is today's money?" he asked, ignoring her apology.
Betty's mother reached into the deep pocket on her apron where she kept a leather pouch in which all the coins and rumpled notes, the proceeds from the clams were squeezed into. "Right here."
"How much is there?"
"What?" the drunk fisherman spluttered. "I gave you fifteen dollars worth of clams to sell, where did the two dollars go?"
"I used it for something." Betty's mother confessed, a hint of confidence in her shaky voice.
"You used it without asking me?" he roared, standing up violently from the chair, sending it crashing behind him.
"I bought something for Betty."
"Was it yours to take?"
"Yes, I and my daughter spend all afternoon in the sun selling your clams, and you never give us anything for our work, you take all the money and drink it up at the shack." Betty had never heard her mother challenge her stepfather before and was taken aback by her mother's response.
"How dare you talk back at me?“ he exploded, hurtling forward toward the small framed woman. He grabbed a fistful of her long hair in his left hand upon reaching her and used his right fist to strike the back of her head repeatedly. He had deliberately avoided hitting her face, yet blood quickly began to stream profusely out of her nose and mouth until it stained her cheeks and soaked the fringes of her hair. Betty watched in horror as her mom collapsed to the ground. She winced as she watched her drunk stepfather pummel her defenseless mother with three more heavy blows to the back of the head until she went limp on the ground.
Betty began to cry, calling her mother's name from a corner across the dimly lit room. The carnage had unfolded so quickly that it had left her shaking and whimpering. Betty's cries seemed to wake her stepfather out of his madness. He stared at his bloodied knuckles and at the woman laying in front of him then turned to look at Betty who was crying even more forcefully now.
The raving savage stormed out of the house without a word.
Betty's mother was laid out in the same position on the floor but her eyes were half opened now. Betty rushed to the kitchen, returning with a bowl of water and a handkerchief. She soaked the handkerchief in the bowl and wiped the blood from her face. She scooped some water in her palm, pouring it over her mother's blood stained hair, crying as she watched the blood trickle down her palm into the water in the bowl which had turned dark pink.
Betty knew that the blood she had seen streaming out of her mother's nose was not good. She summoned all the energy in her elfin frame to help her mother up from the floor and into the bed they shared and covered her up with a blanket then lay beside her all night, sobbing silently.
Her stepfather returned much later that night and much more drunk. He had gone straight into bed without as much as a glance at the woman he had brutalized a few hours earlier. The next day at dawn, Betty sensed something really wrong. Her mother hadn't spoken or moved at all since she helped her into bed the night before. Betty became extremely worried and tried to inform her stepfather when he woke up the next morning.
"I think mom is sick."
"She's gonna be fine, I barely touched her!" He barked at Betty, shutting her up.
Betty's mother died two days later and only Betty knew the real cause of the death. Her stepfather had lied to the police and people in the neighborhood that she had a severe fever that quickly took her in her sleep but Betty knew her stepfather was responsible. She was twelve when this occurred and had kept the secret with herself for five years while still living with her stepfather. A mere child with nowhere to go.
Betty had sworn to run away if he ever touched her but to her surprise, he never did. She suspected he felt guilt about beating her mother and causing her death and didn't want to repeat it a second time, an event that would certainly raise eyebrows in the neighborhood. He had grown increasingly distant over the years and drank more and more, an attempt to numb the guilt tearing at his soul, Betty figured.
The image of her mother's bloody hair left a permanent imprint in her mind, an imprint she tried not to remember as she grew older but was always reminded by the compliments from the traders at the market about how much it resembled her mother's.
One evening, Betty was walking home alone from the market. She had sold all her clams and herring that day and was particularly happy so her smile shone even brighter. She made her way toward the market gate where a few vendors sat gossiping. Betty waved at them as she passed, praying none of them would mention her hair.
"Hey young lady, come here!" One of the vendors called out to her.
"Good day mister, clams are finished for today" Betty said, slowing down.
"I don't want to buy clams, come closer" He insisted. " Do you remember me?"
"No sir, have we met?"
"Indeed we have," the vendor said "I never forget faces, I sold a shawl to your mother once, I remember watching her put it over your hair, just like hers. You were such a tiny girl then. I never forget faces."
"Oh my God, its you!“ Betty screamed delighted.
"Your orange blonde hair is unmistakable, it looked just like your mother's. Where is she anyway? Didn't come to the market today?" He inquired, looking around.
"She died of a fever years ago."
"God rest her soul." The vendor said, clasping his palms together and looking to the skies. "I hope you kept that shawl for memory."
"Indeed i did, in fact I'm gonna wear it as soon as I'm home." Betty said, smiling euphorically.
For the first time in her life, she hurried home. She had forgotten how elated she felt that first time when her mom wrapped the shawl over her head when she was a little girl and the memory made her nostalgic. She wanted to relive the moment again and as soon as she got home that evening, she parked the cart by the door and ran inside the house. She made her way to the chest where the shawl had been hidden away for years and opened it. She took out the shawl and folded it in half, forming a triangle, just like her mother did that evening when she bought it, then wore it around her head. She danced and pranced about, imagining her mother there sitting at the table watching her. She remembered how her mother flattered her with exaggerated compliments everytime they danced together at home like that and beamed with an intrinsic happiness.
In the middle of her quiet dance, she heard the unmistakable footsteps of her stepfather approaching the door from outside.
"What are you cooking tonight?" The man's gruff voice questioned curtly no sooner than he had walked in.
"Just some stew." Betty replied, struggling to conceal her breathlessness.
"Don't add as much meat as last time, you ruined the pot."
"Yes sir." Betty said, bringing down a can of tomatoes that sat on the shelf.
"What is that?" Her stepfather asked, walking toward the half open chest.
"What?" Betty asked, turning around in horror.
"This." He said, pulling the yellow and red shawl from the chest and holding it up.
"It's a shawl."
"Is that what you've been spending my money on?"
"No, my mother gave it to me."
"You liar, you've been stealing from me!" He thundered.
He stormed across the room toward Betty and slapped her in the face. It was the first time in Betty's life that the man had laid a hand on her. Her cheek smarted and she stood frozen in shock. Her mind was immediately flooded with memories of the night her stepfather struck her mother.
He went over to the makeshift fireplace under the stove and threw the shawl into the crackling flames then walked back to her and slapped her again, knocking her over the box of fishing equipment. The tools came crashing out of the box and onto the floor. He began to take off his belt and Betty scampered on her elbows and knees for safety over the fishing equipment scattered on the floor.
She knew the barbaric animal rage that had taken hold in her stepfather the night he beat her mother had taken hold of him again. Betty scrambled to find anything amongst the scattered fishing tools to shield herself with but found nothing. She reached for the machete instead which her stepfather sometimes used to butcher the bigger fish he caught and sold in parts. Betty pulled the machete out from under the net that had fallen over it and stood up, turning around to face her stepfather who was already approaching her threateningly with his belt in hand. He froze when he saw the weapon in Betty's right hand.
In one fell swoop she let the edge of the blade land on the man's cheek, the blade broke through his jaw, crushing his teeth, and blocking his oesophagus. He choked, sputtering like a slaughtered ram and fell to the ground with a heavy thud, convulsing.
Betty stood over him with the bloody machete in her hand and spatters of her stepfather's blood on her freckled cheeks. She was rooted to the ground, watching, as the huge mass of the fisherman writhed until he became inanimate.
Betty's hands began to shake as she realized what she had just done. She threw the machete on the ground and knelt next to the body, staining her dress with her stepfather's blood which had already formed an oval crimson pool on the floor. Her glassy eyes fearfully inspected the body for signs of breath or movement and when she saw none, she went into shock and ran out the house.
A few passers-by saw her running but had not noticed the blood on her coal colored long dress. They assumed she was just in a hurry.
Betty ran all the way to the old brick police station, just a few streets from the market square and threw herself on the floor at the entrance. A police officer at his desk saw Betty and quickly got up and ran to her, kneeling beside her.
"What happened? Did someone attack you?"
Betty said nothing, she had only just noticed the blood over her dress and was staring at it in surprise.
"I think she had an accident." Another officer said, joining them on the ground. "Help me lift her up onto that bench."
The officers helped Betty up and sat her on the long wooden bench at the reception. They both frantically searched for any injuries and cuts, assuming that all the dark red liquid which was on Betty's dress and the tiny drops splattered on her face was her own blood.
A third policeman approached them at the bench, he had Captain's stars on his epaulets and wore a flamboyant aureate aguilette, so Betty assumed he was the other officer's boss. His furry brows were furrowed as he stared inquisitively at the blood stained girl.
"What happened here?" The senior policeman asked, puzzled.
"I killed my stepfather" Betty said, as cold as an icicle, staring at the floor as if she could see something beneath it.
"What?" The Captain said, taken aback.
"I killed him" she said, finally turning to look the man in the eye. "He was gonna beat me to death me just like he did to my mother."
"Now, hold on. Calm down." The first policeman interrupted, unable to believe the meek girl in front of him had taken a man's life. "Is all this blood...?"
"No, it's not mine."
"Take her into the bathroom and wash this blood off." The Police Captain ordered. "Call a doctor to come look her over."
"Get Tony to get two of the men and go inspect the house." The Captain continued. We have to make sense of this madness."
New clothes were brought in for Betty after she had been shown a bathroom stall to wash and clean herself. The Captain ordered food brought in, of which Betty ate very little. She had grown very fatigued and struggled to stay awake. The Captain, now sitting across from Betty in his small office, asked her again what had happened.
"He killed my mother." Betty said weakly.
"How do you know that?"
"I was there, he hit her head again and again and she stopped moving. She died in our bed."
The Captain listened, visibly saddened and shaken by Betty's account. He placed his elbows on the table between them and dovetailed his fingers. "I've sent officers to the house, and they actually found a body there." He began with no change in his tone. "We're going to have to keep you in the Waco jail tonight till the lawyers come in on Monday."
"I just want to go to sleep." Betty said. Her voice had gone frail.
"Yeah, they'll give you a place to lie down there. We're gonna take a picture and prints first, then they'll get the van and come transport you there."
The Captain led her to a room where Betty's mugshot was captured. Then he personally smeared the black ink on her fingertips and guided her hand onto the paper to take her prints.
"What's your name?" he asked her, pulling out a form from a cupboard.
"Betty what? We have so many Bettys in America hun. What was your stepfather's name?"
"I don't wanna bear that surname anymore."
"Well I have to put something down."
Betty went quiet for a while, then raised her head up defiantly.
"Put down Machete Betty."