In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben has his first day off from working in the café in well over a month, and on a long relaxing walk in the woods he achieves enlightenment. Then he spends the afternoon painting the fence and mowing the lawns.
To read the whole BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 13. PUSH COMES TO SHOVE, left click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, right click and select “Save Target (or Link) As.” You can access the previous 12 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.
BAT IN A WHIRLWIND
Excerpt from Chapter 13. – Push Comes to Shove
I ambled over to the café for some supper, and Margie fixed me a chickenfry. Then over at the house again, I turned my radio on to WNOE and wrote to Betsy. I told her right off about how after three years I’d at last fallen out of love with Annette. While I was describing the old plowshare, the door from the living room into my room opened, and Daddy came in. Surprised, I turned from my desk and said hi. I couldn’t remember him ever coming in my room before.
“Hi,” Daddy said back. “You know, I been thinking on that problem in the magazine.”
Pleased that he’d found it interesting, I said, “Oh yeh, I worked that out this afternoon mowing the lawn.” The words were barely out of my mouth when Daddy’s face screwed up in the familiar rage. Instinctively I ducked, but he still managed to smack me hard upside the head, knocking me and the chair over backwards onto the floor.
He stood over me shouting down, “Just see if I try and help you again, you smart-ass son of a bitch!” With a kick in my thigh, he stomped out, slamming the door so hard the curtain rod fell off, the white lace crumpling up on the floor. Stunned, I lay there not even feeling the hit or kick, nor the least bit like crying. What had happened to wake up that monster in Daddy again?
I stood up slowly, furious about the injustice and determined not to put up with it anymore. It quickly grew into a cold, hard anger. Whatever spark of love I might have felt for Daddy this morning had just been knocked right out of me. Clearly push had just come to shove. Standing there with the chair on its back and the letter on the desk, I decided what to do.
From under the bed I took out my suitcase and started pulling stuff out of dresser drawers. First things I packed were my Frankie Avalon sweater with its floppy collar, and Danny’s striped shirt that I’d never given back. While I was choosing some other shirts, Mom looked into the room and saw me packing. “What are you doing?” she asked quietly, pushing the crumpled curtain back with the door, but of course she knew.
“I’m going,” I said simply. “I’m 18 and I’m going.” Gathering up shirts and pants, my arms were full. Mom stood by the chair lying there and cried. Janie looked in the doorway, all scared. For an instant I kind of faltered but went on anyway, “I’ll catch the Greyhound tomorrow and go on to New Orleans now.” Like Fats Domino, I was ready to walk there.
Mom sniffed hard and asked, “Why do you have to go right now, Benny?”
Her tears made it hard for me not to cry. “He hates me, and I’m going.”
“No,” Mom sobbed, “Daddy loves you. He just doesn’t know how…” As far as I was concerned, I had no feelings left whatsoever. Mom stood there by the overturned chair crying while I packed the shirts. Janie disappeared. “Please, honey,” she said softly and stroked my shoulder, “try and understand how worried Daddy is. He didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“What else does a fist mean?” I asked and wadded some pants into the suitcase. “I’m not staying here and getting beat up on anymore.” For a moment Mom stood there crying silently and then left. I heard the front screen door close.
In the King Edward cigar box on my dresser I found $380 after having paid my fees and buying some clothes from the catalog. It would just have to be enough, I reckoned. Take the Greyhound straight to New Orleans, and until I could get into the dorm, I’d camp out down in those willow woods along the river. A guy could do okay there for a couple weeks with all those big boats on the river and a grocery store probably not too far away.
That meant fetching my sleeping bag from the back room. Then I started packing my journal and old novels into a cardboard box. Maybe I should just have Mom send them to me, but I didn’t want anyone seeing all that stuff about Annette. Then there was all my huge record collection, the books on the shelves… I started to get really confused because I couldn’t take all that much with me now.
In a daze I picked up random things on my desk and then scribbled on the letter to Betsy, “Change of plans. Will write from New Orleans.” While I was addressing the envelope, Daddy appeared in the doorway again. I stepped away behind the overturned chair.
“I’m sorry,” he said with a choke, his eyes pained. “I don’t want you to go.”
“I’m going,” I insisted and wary of more blows, put some pens into the suitcase.
Daddy very slowly bent and picked up the chair. “But for your Mom, just stay till you have to go, like we planned, please.” His face turned very pale, and he looked away toward the door. “She’s all torn up about this.” When he turned back to me, Daddy’s eyes were wet. His next words came in a rush, “I really am sorry. I just wanted to do something with you, for you, I mean, because I…” I stared, and when he took a step toward me, I backed away. Covering his eyes, he mumbled, “Don’t go yet. Please. I… I do love you, Benny.”
If he wanted me to say I loved him too, I couldn’t lie. Inside, I didn’t love anybody anymore. My heart was empty without Annette or Danny or anyone. As Daddy wiped his face, our eyes met, and I saw despair there, more than just the grief of this moment. “When you sell this place,” I said, hoping sincerely, “things will get better.” And even better without me.
Daddy’s pale eyes looked real sincere when he said, “Look, Benny, I really do appreciate all the work you done, the fence and all.” Again he moved toward me, but I was near the bed and couldn’t back away, so he managed to get his arms around me, squeezing hard.
I stood there thinking we were really the same size now, and there was that distinctive smell he had. I hadn’t felt his arms around me since I was a tiny kid, and that lost look in his eyes. And he was actually asking me instead of ordering. So what were a couple more weeks? It would be a lot easier just to stay on, and it didn’t really matter now I knew how I truly felt. “Okay,” I conceded. Besides, the money from two more weeks’ work would come in real handy when I’d at last be on my own in New Orleans.
Daddy squeezed me again and much to my relief, let go. Surely my smile was as weak as his. “I’ll go tell your Mom,” he said. “She’ll be happy.” With that, he turned and left.