Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Drama

Terry Collett


Your mother has brought you and your sister Maria into your father’s study. She says she has had enough of you both, but you know she means you. She has little time for you and hates to be reminded that you are as much her child as Maria is. She remembers only the discomfort and the pain of it all. The joy of giving birth seems to have eluded her, as beauty has eluded her features. She stands looking at your father with the expression of one suffering hemorrhoids.

“I was hoping for a little time to finish my studies,” Mr. Bellini says, turning his slight bulk toward you like a hippopotamus finding itself in a bathtub. “What is it that necessitates you disturbing me so soon?”

“I have had enough,” Mrs. Bellini states, raising her chin slightly, looking over her nose at her husband. “Nothing but lies and deceit. Mischief each time I turn my head.”

“It’s Anna,” your sister Maria says, standing erect as if she were posing for some role in a Shakespearean drama. “I don’t see why I should be blamed for her misdoing.”

You sit on the chair by your father’s table and look at him with your eyes pleading innocence and that martyred look which he so hates you to reveal. Your mother folds her arms and glares at you with her dark hawk-like eyes, and you know she is whispering under her breath that Mr. Bellini will do something to make you regret the disturbance of his studies.

“Can’t you deal with the child? Must you always bring her to me?” he says, looking over your head at his wife. However, your mother’s glare informs him of the negative and he sits back and sighs, returning his look upon you. “Anna,” he says in a tone that reminds you of a judge about to pass sentence, “I think you need to be taught a lesson.”

“She climbed that tree you told us not to climb,” Maria informs, her features stiff and white. “I told her not to, but she said she wanted to and so she would.”

Mrs. Bellini unfolds her arms and brings her hands in front of her stomach and clenches them as if she were about to strangle you. “See what I mean?” she moans.” And you sit here with your books and pens and letters and peace and I'm out there with these girls and the servants and the bills to pay and the cook asking about meals.” She stops and pushes her thin fingers through her dark hair.

Mr. Bellini leans forward and rests his chin on his right hand. “Leave me with the child,” he says, waving his left hand at his wife and Maria. They leave the room in silence, closing the door behind them.

“Must you be such a child?” your father asks, leaning back as if to look at you from a distance. “Must I always have you to contend with?”

You look at the door behind you and then look back at your father. “I don’t think Mother likes me,” you mutter softly. “She looks at me, waiting for me to do something wrong and once she's convinced that I've done something or else Maria says I've done something, here I am.” You release a little smile but your father’s stern features ignore it. You know he can lose his temper as fast as he loses his hair.

“How old are you now?” your father asks.

“The same age I was this morning, Father,” you reply unthinking, moving back in the chair so that you can feel the hard wood against your spine.

“I meant what age this day and year and minute?” he says, his voice stiffening and his face reddening like it does when he has wind.

“Eight,” you reply. You bring your small hands across your lap and look at your black shoes highly polished for church that morning by Sally Hawkins. “And three months and seventeen days,” you add for precision.

Mr. Bellini stands up and pushes his chair back. You notice a small piece of breadcrumb resting amongst his whiskers that seems to move up and down as he nods his head or speaks. He walks to the fireplace and stands with his back to the fire and stares at you. “I thought you understood how things worked in this house, my child,” he says moving the breadcrumb up and down. “Maybe I was wrong to imagine such a thing. Maybe you need to be punished again to remind you.” He looks at you and expresses a face of frustration.

Your eyes cannot be drawn away from the breadcrumb. It holds your attention as if it were some work of art that had been hidden from you for years. You dare not utter a word in case your fascination turns to humor and a laugh escape from you that might anger your father more than he is.

“Have you nothing to say?” he asks. “Silence your only defense?” His eyes are on you now and his hairy hand but a few paces away.

“There is something,” you begin to say but you clamp your hand over your mouth and stare at the floor.

“What?” Mr. Bellini asks. “What?”

The carpet you notice has a burn mark under his chair. And raising your eyes to your father’s chin, you notice the breadcrumb has detached itself slightly and hangs on for dear life on the extreme edge. It hangs like one about to consider suicide.

“Well?” your father asks loudly. His hands are on his hips. His feet are spread apart as if he were about to sprint off at any moment if his bulk were not too much for such a feat.

“There’s…” You pause. Looking over your father’s shoulder, you stare at the clock on the mantelpiece.

“There is what?” he bellows.

“There is sorrow in my heart for what I have done and I ask you have pity on me because I did not mean to be so naughty and if you will…” The breadcrumb falls to the carpet. “It’s fallen.”

Mr. Bellini frowns at you. “What's fallen?”

“My feet into Hell,” you mumble softly and to prevent yourself from breaking into laughter, you cry like one who has been punished and stands on edge of some dark room awaiting for blackness and doom.

“Anna, Anna,” Mr. Bellini says, moving towards you like a buffalo about to attempt a mating game. “I understand. Do not upset yourself, dear child.” His hands touch you as if they sought to bless and his arms embrace you and hold you to his tobacco-scented waistcoat.

His feet have hidden the breadcrumb. Your eyes are blinded by the tears. However, the memory of that drama will out last any of punishments or angry words. And as your father pats your hair, you see another breadcrumb lodged in his waistcoat pocket along side his watch. Tick tock. Tick tock.

***

Terry Collett has been writing poetry and fiction since 1972.

© Terry Collett

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012