Loosing my Burberry necktie, I rose from my glass topped mahogany desk that spanned the middle of my office on the twelfth floor of Hearst Towers in Manhattan. It had been a day hampered by much irritation. Thank goodness, there were no more appointments for today. Walking to the window that covered the whole side of the room, I looked at tall towers of other buildings. I stared at my reflection in the glass. Wearing a Hugo Boss suit, a mark of success, my face was lined with forty-three years of worry. I ran my hand thru my thinning grey hair and noticed my pallid complexion from years of indoor living.
The ringing of the telephone shook me out of daydreaming. “Mr. Thompson,” my secretary, Sara, spoke over the intercom. "You have a call from a Mr. Willie Thompson in Sharkie, Mississippi."
My hands were shaking as I reached for the telephone. My voice sounded hoarse as I said, "Willie". I hadn’t talked to my brother, Willie, in ten years.
“Louis, they found him”, Willie blurred.
“Found him”, I knew Willie meant our father, Roy. “How? It’s been years.”
“The people that got the old place were digging the well deeper. They found his bones.”
Memories flashed in my mind. Willie and I had to haul water from a nearby spring using the old gray mare, Sally, pulling a one-horse wagon. The water in the well was black and unusable. “Willie, calm down. Stop crying. There’s no proof. He was drunk and fell in”.
“Louis, the old boards were there. Someone had to cover the well after he fell.”
“Mama could have. We never touched him. He just fell. Let the county bury him as a pauper. God knows, you can’t afford a funeral and I don’t want him buried by mama.”
“Louis, why don’t you come home?”
“Willie, I just can’t deal with it". Replacing the phone without saying goodbye, I felt my chest tighten and my knees starting to shake. I could feel the blackness and sadness of my soul. I knew terror along with Willie, fourteen year old, Mary, and mama as darkness settled over the desolate land.
The house was built in an open field. Daddy had built it leaving cracks in the floors and inside walls leaving peep holes between the rooms. Many nights, I had watched while daddy beat mama. Around the back of the house, a pile of burnt cans and broken glass made the garbage pile. Small bushes behind it were used for excrement. Pages of a Sears-Roebuck catalog littered the grass. A run-down stable housed Bessie, the milk cow. A lean-to beside the stable was used for a corncrib. Between the house and stable, boards were over an old well. Closing my eyes, I could see images as if it was yesterday.
The whisky bottle made a crashing sound as it shattered on the woodpile. I remember hearing daddy yell, "Boy, you best hurry with that wood or I’ll beat the hide off you." Walking hurriedly with a load of wood, I heard him yell, "Don't slam the damn door”.
Entering the kitchen, I saw Willie trying to hide under the dining table made of rough boards. His six-year-old body was coiled in a tight bundle. Mama wearing a faded dress was trying to start a fire in the stove with one hand and holding the front of the dress together with the other hand. Most of the buttons down the front of the dress was missing. Her dark hair was over her shoulders as she looked at me. Her facial expression showed bewilderment. I knew she was silently begging me not to made daddy angry.
There was never enough food. The four of us had to wait while daddy ate his fill. Sometimes if there was a little extra, mama would hide it for me, Willie, and Mary. I was twelve and gave most of mine to Willie.
Mama didn’t know what happened at home while she worked. She hitchhiked to and from a waitress job. Most days, after work she had to go to her garden scrounging for food. She never asked if we went to school. We knew volunteering information would cause trouble. She thought all of us went to school. Daddy made Mary stay home most days. When we got home, her eyes would be puffy from crying and she would stay away from mama claiming a lot of homework. She would just look at my books.
In March, Willie and I got home from school to find daddy passed out, lying in the floor wearing only boxer shorts. Mary was gone. Many times, Willie and I had talked about killing daddy. Many nights he would rant and rave about religion. He would preach fire and damnation quoting Bible scripture long into the night. No one slept those nights. Mama would just smile her cowered smile saying he was the envy of Billy Graham. Seeing mama so sad about Mary, we knew we had to have a plan. He was too big for us to face.
Willie and I decided the next time he wanted to beat us we would run toward the well. We would take the boards off and he would fall in. The well was about six feet round. We dropped rocks into it to guess the depth. It was deep enough. After drinking all day, daddy would beat us after we got home from school. He didn’t need a reason. Any object close by was used as a weapon. Willie couldn’t walk for two weeks after being beaten by a singletree off the wagon. Mama never stood up for us. She was afraid of a beating but he always hit her so the bruises wouldn’t be visual. We never ran from him. Running would only cause him to beat harder. We planned to run from him the next time he was to beat us. Finding him in the kitchen drunk, I eased out the back to uncover the well. Minutes later, he yelled at Willie, "Come back here!" Willie sprinted through the back door. .I yelled "Run Willie!" We both ran for the well. We waited for him to catch us as he staggered toward the hole. Both of us dodged the well but he staggered into the hole. He screamed as he reached for air. If the fall didn’t kill him, he would drown in the black water. In the silence, Willie and I looked at each other. Neither spoke as we walked toward the barn to start our chores. This would be our secret. When mama got home, we told her we hadn’t seen daddy. Deep down inside, we were both surprised at what we had done.
Days passed into winter. Mama wondered what happened to daddy. She knew he wouldn’t leave without money or liquor. At night, she cried about Mary. I wondered if she knew Willie and I lied to her about daddy.
We stayed in the house suffering the winter. There were no quilts for the beds. Willie and I piled clothes, newspapers, and magazines on our bed. We had an old blue, air force coat that mama put on our bed. Many nights, she slept in a chair adding wood to the fire in the Franklin heater.
Times were hard as we grew into our manhood. Willie joined the army at eighteen. After three months in Vietnam, he was shipped home minus a leg. I was attending Ole Miss on a football scholarship and received a deferment. Drinking and visiting bars was my pastime. One night, I looked into a go-go girl’s eyes as men poked dollar bills inside her tights. Recognition flashed in our eyes. It was Mary. We didn’t speak. I never visited that bar again. Guilt overcame me and I wished we had killed daddy before Mary left home.
I can move trains, planes, and cargo ships all over the world. I am CEO of Hearst Industries, the biggest shipping organization in the world. I am responsible for the Emma Maersk, Wal-Mart’s transpacific ship from China to American markets. My power is with graphs, timetables and ocean levels. I don’t have the power to fight my demons. I can still see him damning the devil between swallows of corn liquor.
Removing a flask from my desk drawer, I take a big swallow, replace the flask and look out the window at Manhattan before leaving my office making my way through the red-carpeted foray to the parking garage. I would go home and drink myself in a stupor.
Early morning would find me in the glass windowed skyscraper taking telephone calls and keeping track of vessels on five oceans and airways hoping I wouldn’t hear from Willie.
Today the demons would be quiet but tonight, I would reach for the bottle.
Author: Revia Perrigin