If I had a gun, I would have shot him. Seeing as there was no gun, I picked up one of the big rocks I’d been hiding under that bush for ‘nigh on two weeks. I’d been working on my throwing arm for ‘bout a month and when I threw, he was hit smack dab in the middle of the forehead. A little stream of red dripped right down between those piggy eyes and I felt good.
Not expecting anything like that from the likes of me, he loosed his grip on Samantha. Quick as a whip, that little girl run straight for me, nearly tearing my skirt off in her effort to pull me into a run with her. But the anger was burning fiercer than the fear. I pushed her hands off me and she ran a little ways, putting me between him and her.
He had his hands on his hips and was glaring at me, letting the blood run down his face as though it were nothing. I leaned over real casual like and picked up another rock. Then he laughed, just threw that big ole head back and lifted his chin and laughed, like I was a one-trick pony. Bad guess.
I got him right in the mouth. Bingo I could hear the sound of it hitting his teeth and he bent forward, bringing both hands to his mouth, gasping and spitting blood.
“Please, Marnie. We got to run,” Samantha yelled.
He’d outrun me plenty o´ times before, so I picked up more rocks from my secret stash and peppered his big, ugly, hairy body. He kept his head down, trying to move toward me, but blind with his arms raised over his head.
I felt like David beating the tar out of Goliath.
Samantha started pulling at my skirt from behind and I knew it was time to run. I give him one last hard shot to the knees with the biggest ole rock I had and slipped a few more in my pocket. Then I grabbed her hand and we ran, me having to pull her back when she started toward the farm house. We weren’t going back there never again if I could help it.
The first time he raised his hand to Samantha, I decided what had to be done. She’s just a little kid, not incorrigible like the lawyer called me.
I guess I was proving ‘em right. I must be incorrigible if that ole bastard couldn’t beat the fight out of me.
“Where we going, Marnie?” Samantha asked, breathing hard, when we finally reached the road.
Still high on having made my move, the question took the wind out of my sails.
“I don’t know ‘zactly, honey. But we’re gonna hug these trees and head toward town. I’ve got money to get us on a bus and we’ll wing ‘er from there,” I told her, trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about.
The truth was I hadn’t got too much beyond the leaving. I had $23 hidden in the soles of my shoes, dollars I’d been stealing from the foster woman’s purse little by little.
Momma would say these shenanigans were another fine example of my not thinking ahead. She’d say I jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. But I’d rather be ashes than stand still while he ruined Samantha’s sweetness.
Foster parents my ass; I knew the word “foster” means to care for and encourage. Even Momma was better at that, even if her dearest wish was I’d never been born. Of course, the foster woman wasn’t all that bad, just beaten down to the ground was all.
Samantha was hanging back, like I was dragging her into deep water and she couldn’t swim.
“Listen, Samantha, things are gonna get worse back there. Trust me on that. I know you’re scared but we gotta keep movin’. The worst that can happen is they’ll catch us and send you back. I’ll end up in juvenile detention ‘cause I assaulted him but I can hack that. This may be our only chance to run.”
Getting to town was as good a game plan as any. He’d kept us tight to him and nobody knew our faces there. I didn’t think he’d call anybody right away, thinking we was most likely hid somewhere on the farm.
“Here’s our story. We’re sisters headin’ back home after visitin’ Aunt Emma in the country. She’s sickly and couldn’t bring us to the bus but I’m nearly 13 and mature for my age, responsible like, so Emma said we could travel alone. I’m Martha and you’re Sally. Okay?”
“Where’s home?” she asked in a real soft voice.
“Home is where our money takes us. Let’s take one thing at a time. Hey, look, we’re gettin’ lucky already,” I said, pointing at a gas station just a little ways ahead. “We’ll go in the restroom and wash up and I’ll get you a candy bar. You hungry?”
“Oh yes,” Samantha said. It had been a while since we ate that lumpy oatmeal the foster woman served everybody but him every morning. He got bacon, eggs and biscuits. When I went messing through Momma’s kitchen back when I was with her, I could usually find potato chips and coke or bread and jelly. I like toast near burnt, with grape jelly smeared all over it.
I led Samantha around the back of the station and we found the restroom but it was locked. They make you go in and get a key to get you to buy something, I guess.
“Listen, Samantha, you stay out of sight. They’ll be lookin’ for two of us. I’ll get the key.”
I waited and watched. When a paunchy, middle-aged man got out of his Buick, gassed up and started in to pay, I fell in right behind him.
Like I hoped, he held the door to let me pass just when the young guy behind the cash register looked up. I hurried to the counter and asked for the bathroom key like I was about to pee my pants after a long drive with Daddy. I smiled at both him and my pretend dad as I rushed out the door and they smiled back.
Samantha was hunched up against the restroom door, her arms around her knees like she was cold on this bright, hot day. I could see she’d been crying, her face red and that pretty blonde hair a mess. I’d have to comb through it with my fingers. She had a real family once but her daddy lost his job and when the bank took their house, he run off.
Looking at Samantha now, I thought for just a minute maybe I’d done wrong by her. But when Goliath graduated to hitting on her as hard and often as me, that little thing would break.
“Hey, honey. Let’s clean up a little. What kind of candy do you want?” I asked, getting us inside the restroom.
“Something choc’laty, with nuts,” she said, giving me a wee smile.
My pretend dad was gone when I went back inside and I just had to hope the guy behind the counter wouldn’t realize I’d been left. I got a Hershey with almonds and paid for it when I gave him back the key. I would put off stealing as long as possible.
We were back on the side of the road and she was eating her candy when the station wagon pulled up beside us. Trees were too sparse along this stretch to hide us.
“You children need a ride?” the elderly woman asked, leaning over and opening the passenger door. If it had been a man, I would have said “No” but I smiled and climbed into the front seat, pulling Samantha in beside me.
“We’re goin’ to the bus station and sure could use a lift, ma’am,” I said. “Our Aunt Emma’s sick and couldn’t take us to town. Now Sally, don’t you go gettin’ any chocolate on this nice lady’s car seat.”
“Why, chile, the bus station’s clear across town. Your aunt shouldn’t of let you two walk all that way in this heat,” she said, crinkling her nose and shaking her head, already questioning Aunt Emma’s judgment.
“Well no, ma’am. She didn’t intend us to walk but to tell the truth, I used money she give us for a taxi for candy. She’d blister me if she knew we was hitchin’ but I wouldn’t get in a car with just anybody. You got a nice, kind face,” I lied. Those wrinkles around her pursed lips didn’t look like laugh lines to me.
Still shaking her white head, she pushed her glasses up a notch on her nose and got us back on the road. She didn’t look for traffic first and sure ‘nuff, a car horn blared and a good-looking young man in a bright red convertible gave us the finger as he flew past. She ignored him.
“Where you children headed on the bus? And what’s your aunt’s last name? I know most people living in these hills. If I don’t know her, I’ll bet I know some of her and your kin” she said.
“Cincinnati,” I said. “We’re headin’ home after visitin’ Aunt Emma Brown in the country. She hasn’t been here long and don’t get out much. She´s a widow woman and kind of sickly.”
Oh Lord, I thought, you’ve given me a nosy one. We’d have to get away from this one pretty quick.
When we stopped at a red light, she turned loose on me again.
“Hmmm, there’s some Browns out near Ettyville. Did she come here to be near kin in Ettyville?”
“Nope,” I said, deciding the less said the better.
“Hmmm,” she said again, looking at me with a sidelong glance I didn’t like a bit. “Where in the country does your aunt live?”
“Not near much of anythin’. She don’t have any close neighbors.”
She didn’t like that answer, I guess. She pushed down her glasses and peered down at me from over the top, trying to get a good look at my face.
Then, ker-boooom. A car came into us from my side and we were all sliding forward. My shoulder hit the dash as I grabbed for Samantha. The ole lady’s glasses flew up in the air. Damned if she hadn’t eased onto the gas when she was looking at me and drove right through the stop light.
It seemed like everything was stone still and I couldn’t hear any sounds at all. Then all hell broke loose. I saw a little flicker of flame where the two cars meshed together and people were yelling and all over us, opening the doors and reaching in to pull us out.
A man lifted Samantha off the floor and another reached in for me. When he touched my shoulder, I yelled “God dammit, that hurts. Let me loose.”
By the look on his face, I knew them were the wrong words to use in this situation. He let loose though and I crawled out on my own, holding up my good arm to ward other people off me.
It’s all over now, I admitted to myself. I hadn’t even got us to the bus station. At the hospital, they took Samantha one way and me another. A man doctor peppered me with questions as he examined me but I just looked at him like I was in a daze. He said my shoulder was bad bruised and I might have a slight concussion. Looking me over some more, he commented that I had bruises all over my body. Most of them came from the foster man, of course.
They gave me some pills to swallow and in spite of myself, I fell asleep for what must have been a long time. When I woke up and crept to the door, there was a cop stationed outside. They must of already found out we was trying to run.
I saw a lady with a briefcase coming down the hall and scurried back to the bed. Sure ‘nuff, she was coming to grill me. She had on a gray, wrinkled suit that looked like she’d been traveling in it.
“I am Miss Warner, Marnie, and I’m here to try and sort out this mess you’ve made. What, may I ask, do you have to say for yourself?” she asked, after setting herself down on a chair beside the bed and taking papers out of her brief case to read my life. “What on earth made you do this, running away and taking a child that age with you?”
“Where’s Samantha? You didn’t send her back to them foster people, did you?” I asked, holding my breath. He’d be hell bent for vengeance now.
“She is safe and sound, back with the Davises. But you didn’t answer my questions.”
Safe and sound ‘til the fuss dies down, I thought. Better come clean.
“The foster man is a beater, ma’am, the kind that probably hung kittens in a tree and set their tails on fire when he was little. He’s just out-and-out mean people. I got Samantha out of range of his fists and now you’ve gone and put her right back,” I told her, looking her right in the eyes, sincere like they like it.
Sighing, she looked hard back at me and I tried to keep that steady look, wanting her to see I was telling God’s truth.
“Marnie, we badly need families like the Davises to care for the many homeless children in this world. They can’t have children of their own and are willing to work with children, like you, who are troubled and can be...difficult to handle. He’s a simple man, a farmer, and has no record of misconduct. We investigate homes thoroughly before accepting them into the foster parenting system.
“You, on the other hand, have been in and out of juvenile detention since you were 10 years old. Your poor mother said you set fire to a car belonging to...a male friend of hers...for no apparent reason. She said you are a skilled liar who tries to shift blame for your actions to others.”
I already knew how this would end. Touchy-feely Jimmy Flaherty got off scot-free and I took the rap. Nobody cared what he’d tried to do to me in that fine car I set on fire. No sense wasting my breath.
“All I’m askin’, ma’am, is that you find another home for Samantha. If you’ll do that, I’ll go along with whatever you got in mind for me. I know I’m incorrigible but Samantha deserves better.”
“Incorrigible? What do you think that word means, Marnie?”
“I don’t have much education but I ain’t stupid, ma’am. It means lost, not worth savin’,” I said, trying to look remorseful.
“Every child is worth saving, Marnie. Incorrigible means you have shown yourself to be, thus far, incapable of immediate reform. I personally do not use that word and it does not have to remain a stamp on your forehead forever. I believe I can help you erase it but we have to start with a little honesty. You seem very protective of Samantha and I find that hopeful. But right now, let’s talk about how I can help you.”
“You can’t, ma’am, I truly am incorrigible,” I said, trying to steer her back on track. “But Samantha can be saved and you can do that for me.”
“Has anyone tried to save you, Marnie?”
“Yes, ma’am. My granddaddy was a good preacher man. He tried his best but he died. Of course he owed me. He should have let my mom have that abortion.”
Miss Warner’s eyes widened. She rubbed her forehead and let out a sigh.
“Marnie, Mr. Davis said you threw rocks at him for no reason, a cowardly and vicious act. That man lost two teeth. Obviously, we cannot send you back there and other families are going to be reluctant to take you with this most recent stain on your record. I believe you have had a hard life but violence will not make it better. I hope you’ll let me help you find a better way to deal with your problems.”
I took my eyes off her and waved her away. I was through talking. It weren’t no use.
“Alright, Marnie,” she said quietly. “I’ll let you rest for now. We will continue this conversation after you’re settled in our county center. Here’s my card. You can reach me most any time you want to talk.”
Laying the card on the sheet covering my stomach as I didn’t reach for it, she packed her papers back into her briefcase and went to the door, where she turned. I could feel her eyes on me but I wouldn’t look back.
“The doctor wants to monitor Marnie’s condition for the time being but I expect she will be picked up early tomorrow morning for transport to the county center,” I heard her tell the guard. “She should be watched carefully between now and then.”
“I been watching that kid for hours. There hasn’t been a peep out of her. My relief will be here in an hour to take over. She’ll be looked after, miss,” the guard said.
I waited a good while and then did my cat walk to the little closet near the bed. My clothes were there. I dressed real slow, trying to avoid the hurt areas as best I could and smothering a gasp when I took that red flag of a bandage off my shoulder.
When I peeked out, the cop’s gray head was tilted up against the wall. He looked sound asleep. Carrying my shoes, I crept out into the hall and stood very still. He was kind of fat and breathing heavy, deep in the dream world, I thought. Then I saw it. His gun was practically hanging out the holster, all but ready to fall. He’d gotten sloppy with this piece-of-cake job watching a kid who didn’t make a peep. Probably loosened his holster to give that big belly some breathing room. I reached down and touched the gun lightly. It was just enough to make it fall into my open palm. I slid it into my pocket and I was gone
I didn’t put my shoes on until I was through the first exit door and on the stairs. I sailed through the lobby like I knew where I was going, walking fast as I could with the shoulder screechin’ “Slow down.”
With no holdups, I figured I could make the farm in ‘bout an hour. By the time they decided to check with the foster people, I’d have things under control. I was carrying way more than a slingshot.
Poor Granddaddy would say he’d lost two lambs now. I remembered how proud he’d been of the game I could put on our dinner table after he taught me to shoot. He said I was a dead-eye shot.
“I’m incorrigible, Granddaddy, but I can save Samantha,” I told him out loud as I got close to the farm.
“Incorrigible. Incorrigible. Incorrigible,” I whispered to myself as I come up in view of the house. A hard, strong word.
And there he was, standing on the front porch, just glaring out at the world like he was waiting for me.
When he spotted me walking right up, he opened his mouth and I could see the cuss words foaming there, ready to be spit out. He swallowed them when he caught sight of the gun.
Holding up one of his big hammy hands, he said, real soft and slow, “Now Marnie, we’ve had our differences but let’s talk about this.”
“Had our differences” sounded like a line he must of learnt from the likes of Miss Warren. I decided to cut to the chase.
“Let me tell you right out I know how to use this thing and if you know guns, you know it’s no pea shooter. I don’t think I’ll kill you... but I wouldn’t think a thing about shootin’ you in the knee,” I said in a voice that didn’t shake like I was afraid it would.
Motioning with the gun and training my lion’s eyes on his, black and bad and full of hate for me, I somehow managed to scoot him back into the house. At my direction, he sat in the chair beside their phone. Mrs. sad-faced Davis came into the room with Samantha and stood stock still when she saw me with the gun.
“You and Samantha sit over there on that couch, ma’am. Your husband here is going to make a call.”
Without a word, she led Samantha to the couch and they sat down. I smiled at Samantha to let her know everything would be okay but her big eyes were on the gun in my hand, not my face.
Keeping my distance from the big hulk in the chair, I put Miss Warner’s card on the floor and sent it sliding to him with my foot.
“I want you to call that number. It’s Miss Warner’s phone. Tell her it’s about Marnie and it’s urgent.”
He no longer seemed to be in the mood to want to talk and just did as I said. Looking down at the card, he dialed the number.
“Miss Warner? This is John Davis ...No, we’re not fine here. This crazy little girl named Marnie has a gun pointed at me ... and ...” he said.
“Tell her you’ve got a confession to make. Tell her you’ve been hitting on us and tell her to come right away and get Samantha,” I told him.
I could hear Miss Warner’s sputtering voice on the line but she went silent long enough for him to say the words.
“I have ... a confession. I lost my temper at times with Marnie. As you know, she can be a very trying young girl,” he said.
“Ahem,” I said, waving the gun slightly. “Say these words. Say ‘I have hit them.’”
“I ... may have ... accidentally hit them,” he said.
Close enough, I thought. I motioned for him to hang up and he did. Then I sat down on a chair across from him and we waited.
It wasn’t long before I heard two cars pull up outside and Miss Warner walked in, sandwiched between two policemen. The fatter one was the one whose gun I took and he gave me a look that showed more exasperation than fear. I very slowly laid the gun on the floor in front of me and sat up straight.
As soon as the fat cop retrieved his gun, the Davis man stood up with a “hmmmphhh” and gave me that familiar glare that still made me sick inside. His look told me he was resuming control now that I was unarmed. I couldn’t help drawing back, imagining that heavy hand coming through the air at me one more time.
“That is one dangerous girl you people put in my house. You see, of course, that she had a gun on me when she ordered me to tell you I ... hit ... the girls. That is not true. She is a liar,” he yelled at Miss Warner.
The defensive look on Miss Warner’s face when she looked at him and the steely-eyed glare she shot me made my stomach drop some more. She already had me pegged as a liar. The word hit the mark for her as sure as a bullet would. There was a lot more yelling from him before she motioned to the cop to take me out to the car. He had hold of my arm when Samantha came flying across the floor and wrapped her arms around me. With the side of her face up against me, she pulled the cop’s face down to hers and whispered something.
Stepping away from us, the cop turned to look at Miss Warner.
“She says Marnie isn’t lying. She says it’s him that’s lying.”
“That little girl will say anything to keep Marnie out of trouble but trouble is where Marnie lives,” he roared.
“Mister Davis, please, let’s talk this over calmly,” Miss Warner said, and the cop standing beside her chimed in with a “Settle down, sir.”
I started to tune it out. As brave as Samantha was to say it, this finger-pointin’ could take a while. The only ones who weren’t competing for center stage was the cop holding on to me and the foster woman. She was sinking back into that beige couch like she’d like to disappear into it.
I tugged at the cop’s arm and he leaned in to hear me.
“Ask his missus if he’s hit us. She knows that he has,” I said, feeling like I was shoving someone else off the boat to save the two of us.
“Mrs. Davis ... Mrs. Davis ... Mrs. Davis” he said in a loud enough voice to get everybody’s attention. “We have to ask you. Has your husband ever hit either one of them?”
There was dead silence as she lifted her eyes to him. She opened her mouth but no words came out.
“Mrs. Davis,” Miss Warner said. “We need you to answer that question. You’re a Christian woman, I know, and we placed these children in your care. If they should not be in this house, you need to tell us so.”
“Adele,” that ugly man said.
It was one word, her name, and he said it softly, but the icy menace in it was so strong the other policeman stepped forward, placing himself between the husband and wife.
Her head dropped down as though he’d already slapped her and it took a few minutes before she raised it and looked across at me and Samantha, who was still clinging to me tight, head buried in my stomach.
“The children ... should not ... be in this house,” she finally managed to breathe out in a whispery voice I could barely hear. The cop who still had hold of my arm led us out to his car without another word.
I wanted to whoop as the cop drove us away from that house but I held it in. I can still feel the taste of victory on my tongue when I think back on what happened. Samantha was out of there
Of course, I felt bad for the foster woman and even while I was holding Samantha’s hand in the back of that cop car, I knew it might be the last time I’d see that little girl. What Miss Warner calls my “violent tendencies” do not make me what she considers a good influence.
Miss Warner has assured me Samantha is in a good home and safe. I’ve got no choice for now but to hope the lady’s judgment on that score has improved. And I’m still arguing with her about the words she used to describe how this little David dealt with the evil giant.
It was a vicious but not a cowardly thing I did for Samantha.