We named the baby Richard, after my own four dead brothers. A boy-seed could no way stick with my mama, each she christened such died in infancy, and so up to me to name and perish. Albert said, “Call how you want,” both of us mute on the fear this Richard would be struck, the name cursed, but no, he had my eyes, my coloring, emerged like the wallpaper made dusky by the oil lamps. A wizened little old-man-baby brought to my full tit, as I was fresh then, not yet worn. Was Richard who wore me, month in and month out, seasons blending, weeks flipping, holidays on somersault like tea cups in an Alice story.
As Albert would have his way, three sons followed, while Richard took himself tall and grumped about. I saw the black in his eyes, piercing the iris as it did mine. Doc named it “blues,” brewed special tea, and then taught Richard how. Everybody drank tea then. Fast on, each boy took ill and died, youngest to oldest: the baby John, then Thomas, finally Will. Will had been Richard’s most loyal but Richard played best alone. The way I, too, often thought I’d fare feather in a rosier world—unfettered from Albert and his tearing into me, and me bound to it by the church-blessed ring.
Albert caught the dysentery, and nothing would hold in him. But three of us fit around the kitchen table with a seat to spare if the Father came by, which he did not on account the four baptisms had been paid for. I knew the rumors — that in Richard bred the hex, that our family caught the overflow. Children from neighbor farms called him “Reach-ard,” but with me he was helpful; he boiled the kettle, he brewed the leaves and twigs. Once Doc stopped his visits, home was our cocoon while outside raged all other wild things.
Richard, in rare speech, said, “Don’t open your door to strays no matter how hard they knock.” The boy was shading us, him and his twelve years, his imperious brow.
Such maturity Richard exhibited as infantilism stole over my husband. Albert relied on his chair for days as his skin took bone to heart, it became bone, polished as wood, gold as grain.
I myself grew tired, had suffered nine years of what women did to keep families running in the days before electric and plumbing. We were set a ways back from the rural route. “A house won’t run itself,” I would tell Albert, begging off but not let off, not never. This duty my memory, for Albert sat dead. I was ruined between my legs anyhow.
Richard helped me to the pillows as if readying me for a final something. I felt it, I tell you. His arms were planks, in them churned a sea that could snap my bones. By him and the Cro-magnum head that had begun stealing his features I’d be ate in one gulp.
The kettle whistled, then quit. The tea cup trembled in its saucer, and behind it my first born for a spell was blinkered out of my vision as he crossed the doorway, bearing curvy time, and his hands a threat to busting the china. I felt coddled as a young girl again, but Richard called out in his approach to me: “Crone,” then “Harlot,” then he croaked with passion as he bent his face to mine, “Pure, dearest mother.”
Don’t fault his falsetto, was only his voice changing. I undid the top of my gown, the mattress sagged with double weight, and at the press of his cheek I gave him my tit. The table bore witness, the lamp supped its last oil, my hum spiraled from Albert’s froze hung mouth.
Donna Vitucci’s stories, poems, and creative non-fiction have been published in print and online since 1990. Her novels IN EUPHORIA, SALT OF PATRIOTS and AT BOBBY TRIVETTE’S GRAVE are 5-star-reviewed. Her most recent novel, ALL SOULS, along with the others, is available through Magic Masterminds Press. A Midwestern girl, she has relocated to the North Carolina piedmont, where she enjoys gardening, reading, walking and yoga.