Urban Renewal (A Novel)
Gregory F. DeLaurier
The River listened. Always did, always had. It heard the moans and cries of those in this little City who faced the terror of life, of death, of pain, of fear. He heard their joy, a wedding, a birthing, the quick intimate wonder of sex for the first time in the back seat of a car at the drive-in. He heard their brutality, their kindness, their indifference, their acceptance, their simple wailing against all that conspired against them that they could never name. But still, it listened. And tonight he heard the girl.
He stood in the door way of her bedroom, as he always did, silhouetted by the dim light in the hall as he weaved back and forth, so drunk he could hardly stand. She pulled the blankets tight around her, as if that would protect her.
“Your Daddy’s here,” he said as he stumbled over to her bed. She could feel the fear rising up in her, the dread of what he might try to do to her this time. Her tummy hurt, she wanted to scream, to run, but she was frozen by the fear.
He stumbled over to her bed, stood over her, laughing that ugly laugh of his. “What’s the matter little girl, you ain’t afraid of your Daddy now are you.” He leaned over and started patting her hair, then tried to loosen the blankets around her, without success. “Goddammit,” he said as he slapped her little face peeking out from the blankets, “Take those fucking blankets away. You’re gonna do what I tell you to do.”
She tossed off the blankets as he started to unbuckle his pants. But just as he began to lie down beside her, she bolted. He grabbed at her but was too late. She ran down the stairs to where her Mom and her friends were sitting around drinking cheap wine and smoking cheap dope. She went over to sit by her Mom who was on the seen-better-days couch. Her friends sat around them on the ground, as there wasn’t any other furniture in the place. She leaned into her Mom.
“Goddammit little girl, what you want.”
“Daddy won’t leave me alone. I’m scared.”
“Well he’s your Daddy and can do what the fuck he wants. I tol you, gotta toughen you up. Get your ass off the couch and stand in front of me. The girl did as she was told.
“Now roll up your sleeve, and let’s show everybody how tough my little girl is.. Stick out your arm.” She lit a cigarette.
“Please Mommy no, it hurts so bad.”
“Shut up, you little bitch, or I’ll send you right back upstairs to your Daddy.”
She took the lit cigarette and placed it on her daughter’s arm. “Now keep it there until I say stop.” The crowd laughed and cheered.
The girl, her whole body shaking in pain, shut her eyes as tears welled up, and tried to think of anything that might make her forget the pain. But nothing did. She only let out a low mournful moan, that seemed to make them all laugh.
Then the front door was kicked in, and there stood Teddy, her cousin. He was Indian through and through: long black hair in a ponytail, short but with a thick body that was mostly muscle. The cigarette had rolled off the little girl’s arm on to the floor. Teddy picked it up, grabbed the little girl’s mother by the throat and shoved it in her mouth. He held her mouth shut as she tried to scream in pain. He finally let go, and turned to the audience: “Any of you want to stay alive, get the fuck out of here.” They all scrambled to get away. He turned to the girl’s mother, she was retching over the side of the couch. The girl was crouching down in a corner of the room. “Where is he,” he said.
“Up in her room, probably passed out by now.”
“You stay right where you are, or I will break your neck.”
She nodded OK as Teddy headed up the stairs.
He found the father sprawled over the girl’s bed. He grabbed him by the hair, pulled him off the bed, dragged him to the stairs and threw him down them.
The father lay in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, dazed and confused. ’What the fuck…” was all he managed to say before Teddy kicked him out through the space where a door used to be. He landed on his back in the dirt road. He tried to get up but Teddy was over him, kicked him in the mouth, then again, then again. He picked the father up over his head and threw him down hard. Laying on his back now. Teddy began kicking him again, anywhere and everywhere. He finally stopped, picked the father up by the front of his shirt and made him stand in front of Teddy. “I will tell you once,” his voice quiet, even, without emotion, “I see you again, I will kill you. Now go.”
The father said nothing. He turned and stumbled down the road, stopped for a second, looked back at Teddy, and then began, as best he could, to run. When he was out of sight, Teddy went back into the house.
The mother was drinking from a gallon jug of wine. He sat down beside her, and said in that same quiet voice. “She’s going with me. You ever go near her again, try to see her, I will kill you. And you know I mean it, don’t you.” The mother just nodded and took another hit of wine.
He looked at the girl crouched in the corner. “Go upstairs and get your blanket.” She did as she was told and came back down stairs. He took the blanket, wrapped her in it, picked her up and they left. He put her in the cab of his truck locked her seat belt, went around to the driver’s side, got in and started the engine.
“You’re gonna live with me now. You ain’t never coming back here. That’s OK with you.”
It really wasn’t a question, but she said, “Yes please,” looking out the windshield at nothing.
The River listened.