A small village in Western New York, 1971

I’d babysat several times for Ruthanne, so I knew the drill: bottle, bath, clean diapers, a change of clothes, then bedtime. She’d asked me to watch the baby while she prepared to go out. I sat in an overstuffed rocking chair in the living room trying to lull him to sleep. Ruthanne’s heels clicked on the wood floor, then went silent as she stepped into the bathroom.

A car pulled into the driveway. The crunch of wheels on gravel surprised me. I twisted around to ask Ruthanne if she was expecting anyone but she stood frozen in the middle of the dark kitchen. Her head shook and her arms pushed at something invisible. “Tell him I’m not here. Tell him I died. Tell him anything you want, just make him go away.”

A car door slammed, someone clomped towards the front door, then the pounding began. Bam! Bam! Bam! The sound reverberated around the room. It disturbed the baby who added his high cranky whine to the confusion.

A rough voice barked, “Ruthanne, I know you’re there. Answer the door, now!”

“I can’t stay. Stall him. I’m going to climb out my bedroom window and sneak to my car.” Ruthanne grabbed her purse and disappeared down the hallway.

“Wait! You can’t leave me here alone.”

“Crap, what do I do now?” I jiggled the crying baby and considered my options. I couldn’t call my parents. They were out for the night. I needed to handle things myself. The man beating on the door sounded furious. Was I willing to bet he wouldn’t hurt a teenage girl cradling an infant?

I rooted my feet to the floor like a linebacker and curled the whimpering baby into the protection of my shoulder. Cold air whooshed into the room.

I surprised him. He gaped at me from the open doorway; his arm raised mid-pound. He scanned me, then his eyes darted towards the baby. I was certain he was the father. He and the baby shared the same triangular-shaped face, the same high, square forehead and jutting chin. A jolt shuddered through him as if the revelation she’s holding my son had smacked him senseless.

“Ruthanne isn’t here. She ran away and doesn’t want to talk to you.”

He sneered at me then stomped off. The car door banged, gravel scattered as he spun away.

It took a while to get the baby settled down. Once I had, I prowled the kitchen searching for a snack. As I put the kettle on to make a cup of tea, Carly Simon’s “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be” came on the radio. The lyrics ripped into me and left me speechless. The song perfectly expressed my ambivalence about marriage. The years of watching my parent’s innumerable rough patches. My fear that the desperate longing for love in my 15-year-old heart would one day trap me. The baby I minded whose parents were caught in a mighty battle. I had to hear it again.

My hands shook as I called the request line to ask the DJ to please play it again. It took three hours.

 

Stereo Story #512

 

 

Nina Fosati loves portraiture and historic clothing. Beguiled, she regularly holds forth on her favorites @NinaFosati. Recent work has appeared in Ellipsis Zine, Disabled Voices Anthology, Persephone’s Daughters, and The Cabinet of Heed. More info at www.NinaFosati.com.