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Stepping Stones

chapter 2

by 

Carrie Michael

The train is not crowded, so I lay Angela across two seats and sit in a seat facing her.  She is grasping the smurf in her hands like a treasure.  I look out the window at the train station, knowing that this may be the last time I see Chicago for a while, knowing I am heading back into a life which once rejected me, and knowing I must swallow my pride, just as I had done with Tommy so many times, and do what is right for Angela.

“Your tickets, Miss,” a voice booms, pulling me from my thoughts and waking Angela.  I glare at the ticket collector as he looms over me, but he doesn’t seem to understand that he just woke up my sick little girl who desperately needs rest.  I whip the tickets out of my purse and shove them at him, angered by his disregard, angered by the people on the bus who refused to understand, angered by my sister’s tone of voice.  He scribbles something on the tickets, hangs them above our seats, and moves on.  I lay my head back on the seat, looking over at Angela, who is staring at me and clearly sees the anger in my face.

“I’m sorry, Angel,” I whisper, moving over to her seat and gathering her in my lap.  She gladly curls up, sucking on her fingers and closing her eyes.  “Soon things will be different for you.  For us.”

“Mama,” she sighs, falling back into the deep sleep only a small child can know.  Leaning my head back, I close my eyes and hold my daughter tightly, rocking her back and forth and softly singing a song that always sooths her.

Goodnight my someone

Goodnight my love

Sleep tight my someone

Sleep tight my love

I wish I may and I wish I might

So good night my someone

Good night……

The train lurches to a stop and a few travelers are gathering their things, shuffling papers, and straightening their clothes.  I wake with a start, wondering how long I’ve been sleeping.  Angela is sitting up in my lap, rosy cheeked, looking out of the window. 

“Hi, darlin’”  I kiss her on the forehead and notice she isn’t hot at all. Who knew a train ride could break a fever?

“Mama, look!”  she exclaims, “Peepo right there!”  I nod, looking at the line of passengers readying to board out on the cement.  She crawls off of my lap and to the window, placing her two little hands on the glass.  I pat her bottom lovingly and yawn, knowing we have a long trip ahead of us.  She is amazed with the people outside, and points and giggles at a couple kissing and hugging with a tearful goodbye.  I watch them in envy, knowing the love that must exist to experience such an I-can’t-live-without-you farewell.  Tommy and I didn’t have any farewell, except for the harsh slam of the door as he left that morning and never came back. That was enough for me. 

“Momma see?  Momma an Daddy?”  Angela looks in my eyes, and I know what she is asking.  She has seen the violence, heard the yelling, but she remembers the kisses and making up instead.  Precious child.

“Yes, Angel,” I whisper, twisting one of her curls around my finger.  I can’t tell her that she would see that between her father and me again.  I can’t bear to tell her that she won’t.  So I leave it there.  The train lurches forward slowly, picking up speed, and Angela watches the scenery and coughs loudly. 

I close my eyes and begin rehearsing my plans of what to say, what to do, when we get to Louisville.  Mother always told me that the best-made plans are well rehearsed.  For once I wanted to use her advice.  But I can't get the memory of Tommy's departure from our house out of my mind.

“Where are you going?”  Marilyn’s whisper permeated the room, and I covered her mouth with my hand.  I needed to use her bedroom window, since it was the closest to the pool house and my easiest escape.  She sat up in the dark, removing my hand from her face with a push, her blonde hair shining in the moonlight that dripped through the open window.

“Out,” I whispered back, “And it has to be our secret.”  I retied my tennis shoes and zipped my sweatshirt while she watched me in disbelief.

“Do you know what Mother will do if she catches you?  She knows you’ve been seeing that grease monkey—what’s his name.”  Her voice was a mini version of Mother's.

“His name is Tommy, and he’s not a grease monkey.  He is a great guy, actually.  Just a little…different, that’s all.”  My voice, even though below a whisper, couldn’t hide the underlying doubt.  I didn’t even hear it.

“He is gross, Cal!  He works in a garage!  He repaired your car!  We pay people to do that stuff.”  She sat on the edge of her bed and pleaded at me with her eyes.  I shook my head, pissed that she didn’t understand, pissed that she had fallen into the same old pattern that my mother and her mother and probably her mother had fallen into.  Snobbery passed on from generation to generation, and I wasn’t buying it.  But Marilyn was.

“Marilyn, just promise that you won’t say a word.  And I’ll be coming back in your window later.”  I headed toward her window.

“Caly, think about what you’re doing!”  Her words passed through me like a ghost.  Nothing could stop me.

“Just don’t tell!”  I stepped one foot out and straddled the sill, looking up for a moment at Marilyn and her panic stricken face.

“But what am I supposed to say?”  I heard her words as I dangled myself from the window sill and touched my toes to the roof of the pool house.

“Caly,” she was at the window, sticking her head out, “What should I say?”

“Nothing!”  And I disappeared.  My car was parked around back, back where Daddy liked us to park them.  My heart raced as I quietly opened the door of my new BMW and got in, starting it’s fine motor with little noise.  Mother and Daddy were fast asleep anyway.  They’d never know I had gone…

Tommy was waiting for me outside the garage where he worked at the BMW dealership.  His uncut, messy hair was blowing in the breeze, his hands stuck deep into his dirty jeans as I pulled up.  The dealership was dark, and he had to have been waiting quite a while.  I pulled up next to him and put my window down, smiling.

“Get in,” I said.  He did.  The drive to his little apartment across town was silent.  I could smell the results of his day, the oil, the gasoline, the raw scent of metal coming from his hands.  Without touching them, I knew his hands were rough and worn and callused, his fingernails stained black underneath from working  on cars.  On my neighbors’ cars, on my car.  I glanced over at him a few times to take in his strong jaw line, his full lips, his straight nose and stubborn chin.  He was everything my parents detested, everything they forbid me to communicate with, let alone date.  He was the negative image of the men they had already picked out for me, like Bill Dougherty, the son of a real estate tycoon.  I had gone on 3 dates with him, mostly to please my parents, and he talked about himself the whole time. I hated that.  Tommy didn’t talk about himself.  He didn’t talk much at all.  I liked that.

“Turn here,” He said, pointing to the next street on the right.  I could see his little apartment, dark above the convenience store on the corner.  I had been there once already. 

We climbed the rickety stairs to his apartment, and the smell of oil and gasoline was replaced by the aroma of stale beer and cigarette smoke as we entered.  My friends would drop dead before they would enter a place like this.  There was a small dinette by the window, the table covered with beer bottles and overflowing ashtrays.  “Sorry ‘bout the mess,” he said, smiling shyly.

“It’s okay,” I replied, putting my purse down on the kitchen counter next to a box of Cheerios.  He turned on a dim light next to the old plaid couch with the rough upholstery and cleared the newspapers off. 

“Y’all want a beer or something?”  I nodded, feeling nervous like I had felt the first time I had come there.  He cracked open a beer and handed it to me, the foam dripping over the side of the can and onto my hand.  I wiped it on my jeans.  I watched him move back to the refrigerator to get one for himself and wondered what I was doing with him.  He was everything I was taught not to do, everything my friends made fun of.  Why, then, did I feel compelled to be with him?  I couldn’t figure it out.  I was going with my instincts, the instincts that they had tried to remove from me in my first year of finishing school. 

“You’re starin’ at me, Caly.”  His voice was playful, and I looked away and laughed.

“Sorry,” I said, moving closer to him, “I couldn’t help myself.”  He took a sip of his beer and wiped his mouth on his hand before leaning in to kiss me.  The beer, his lips on my lips, his hand on the small of my back, all of it made me melt in abandonment.  I let him lead me to the bed, to take off my expensive zipper sweatshirt, my thirty dollar white t-shirt, my imported silk bra, my Calvin Klein jeans, and my silk panties that matched my bra, and I let his rough hands explore me, his full lips taste every part of me until I shivered with pleasure and he pulled off his pants, making me forget about the tennis game I had in the morning, and the brunch I was hosting with my mother at noon.  He looked into my eyes as we made love, and I knew I had never seen in any other eyes what I found in his.  Tommy didn’t care about Daddy’s money, and he didn’t want to live in my big house or drive my expensive car, or have cigars and Cognac with the boys after dinner at the Club.    He wanted me.  Naked, without a thing on my being, he wanted me. 

It was nearly dawn when I dressed and left him silently, kissing his tousled hair as he slept.  I drove home, still feeling the roughness of his hands on my skin, the kisses he left on my shoulders, my thighs, my breasts.  And I wondered how it would ever work, if it would ever work.  I knew it would be trouble.  But I knew I wanted him and nothing could stop me.

I went through Marilyn’s window and into the house, and she didn’t wake this time.  Tiptoeing to my room, I sighed with relief, knowing I had wouldn’t be caught now.

I showered and got into my clean sheets, falling asleep almost the instant I put my head to the pillow. 

The train lurches to another stop, and I open my eyes to see Angela’s face in front of mine.  “Mommy sleep?”  I nod and smile at her.  I don’t know if I was really sleeping or just deep in the memory.

“I hungry,” she whined.  It was almost 6pm, dinner time.  I had packed the last of the milk and a peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and apples in a small thermal lunch sack that Tommy used to use every day for work.  Surprisingly the milk was still cold and the sandwiches weren’t soggy yet.  Angela settled down across from me, happily eating her sandwich and coughing between bites.  Her cough was still bad, but she seemed to be in better spirits now that the fever had died and she had gotten some sleep.  Her eyes brighter and her cheeks were not as flushed.   I was relieved to know that she probably only had a cold.  I nibbled on my sandwich as my mind took over, retracing the last time I saw Tommy.

I watched him as he tripped around the small bedroom, throwing articles of clothing around on the floor, obviously looking for something.  He thought I was asleep, so I laid still and didn’t make a noise. “Goddamn!” He muttered, “Where is my fucking wallet?”  

I didn’t respond, although I’m sure he meant to get some response out of me.  He opened drawers on the dresser and slammed them, and I prayed that Angela wouldn’t wake up and start crying.  He was in one of his moods where he was best left to himself.  He grabbed a duffle bag and threw some of his things in it, some underwear and socks, a few t-shirts and two old pairs of jeans.  

My heart raced, and I couldn't believe what he was doing.  He found his wallet in the back pocket of some jeans on the floor and shoved it into his bag, first checking for the cash that should be there.  Grabbing his hat, he headed out the bedroom door and I heard him storm into the kitchen, opening and closing drawers and rummaging through papers.  

I got out of bed, my fear turning into terror and put on my robe, tiptoeing to Angela’s door and pulling it shut.  I had to find out what he was up to.  I was breathing heavily, scared to death of him in this kind of state, but I took a deep breath and stood at the kitchen doorway.

“Tommy, what are you doing?”  My voice was soft and shaking.  He looked up at me, and I saw the anger in his eyes.

“Where’s my damn checkbook?”

“Where are you going?” I cried, watching his fury increase.

He threw a pile of papers onto the kitchen table and slammed his palm loudly on top of them.  “I asked you where my goddamn checkbook is, Caly, and I want you to answer me.”  I stepped backward, my chest thumping.

“I don’t know, uh, look in that basket there,” I said, pointing a shaking finger at a small wicker basket on the counter.  He grabbed it and started throwing things out of it and on the floor until he found the checkbook at the bottom.  He shoved it into the old grubby duffle bag.  “Tommy, where are you going?  Why did you pack?”

“None of your business, bitch,” he hissed, “I have somewhere I need to go.”  The words cut through me like a knife through butter.  I leaned on the door jam and watched him put on his jacket, feeling my stomach tightening with anger.

“You can’t just leave me, leave us!”  I felt the tears flooding my eyes and falling down my face.  Part of me was horrified that he would leave yet there was some excitement there, too.

He smirked at me, coming closer.  “Look at you.  The hell I can’t leave,” he said, grabbing my hair and yanking on it hard.  His breath smelled of whiskey and cigarettes.  I stepped further into the hallway, and he pushed his way by me, stepping on my toes.  I yelped in pain like a wounded dog, but he kept walking.

"Tommy!  What about Angela?”  My voice was shrieking now, as I stood there holding my toes in my hand, my vision blurred by tears and pain.  “She is your daughter!”

“Go to hell, Caly.  And leave me alone.”  He said this walking out the door, not even turning around to look at me one last time.  I watched his rough hand grab the doorknob and yank the door, slamming it hard enough to rattle a plate hanging on the kitchen wall. I limped to the front window and saw him get into his beat up pickup truck and drive away with a squeal.  

Falling to the floor, I sat stunned, holding my toes, wondering where he was going, what he was doing, what I would do, what I would tell Angela…and then I heard her cry for me from her room.  My big toe was still throbbing but I stood and walked normally, not wanting Angela to know what had happened.

She was standing next to her little bed, her hair in tangles, her eyes wide with fear.  I went to her and held her, sitting on the bed and rocking her back and forth.  “It’s alright, honey,” I said, smoothing her curls and holding her tighter, “We’re going to be okay.”  Of course, I was trying to convince myself of that more than her.

**Look for the next chapter of Stepping Stones on 12/17/00**

Copyright©2000 Carrie Michael