Delaine’s Revenge by Tina Mattern
After a year or so on the sheep farm, my life went from pretty bad to really lousy.
Delaine, my stepmother, and my daddy, began hating each other; at least that’s what it seemed like to me. They started fighting all the time, and for a change it wasn’t just Delaine yelling at Daddy, he was yelling back. My daddy, who never raised his voice except to call the dogs in from the back pasture, was suddenly bellowing his head off, just as loud as Delaine. It was scarier in a way than when she was the only one mad.
The biggest fight I can remember came after Daddy found out Delaine had gone through his wallet and torn up the picture he had in there of my mother. That night, after the fight, Daddy took off with Uncle Ernie to town, and Delaine came up with a plan to get even with him and fix me good at the same time.
She came in and told me to get my coat on. She was smiling. I’d never seen her do that in my direction before and it scared the crap out of me. There was no way I wanted to go anywhere with her. No way! But she just kept smiling and pushed me out the back door to the car.
Something was really, really wrong; she was leaving Danny home even I knew that he was too little to be home alone. He started crying but she promised to bring him a present so pretty soon he shut up and we got in the car and left.
Uncle Ernie told me once about how cats can catch birds by hypnotizing them. They just stare real hard at the bird and eventually it gets so scared and confused, it gets frozen. Then the cat jumps on it and bites its head off. I knew just how that felt right then.
Delaine was pretending to be somebody I didn’t know. Somebody nice…smiling, humming and talking soft. Staring at me with that smile smeared on her face like day-old lipstick.
But even though I wasn’t believing any of it, I was afraid to move or talk or do anything that would tip her off that I knew she was acting. So I just sat there, frozen; glued to the car door; waiting for her to bite my head off.
She drove us around for a while and then finally pulled into the parking lot of a tavern called Big Al’s Place; it was small and dirty and there was a lot of broken glass in the gravel by the door.
There weren’t any other people around so I guess Big Al wasn’t very popular. I could see for myself why and I didn’t want to go in there one little bit, but luckily she told me to wait in the car because she would be right back. Which she was.
She had two six packs of beer and she put them on the seat between us before she backed the car up and drove it way over to the darkest part of the parking lot. Then she shut the car off and lit up a cigarette, still smiling that icky smile that made me feel like bugs were crawling all over me.
“How ya doin, honey?” she said, then I knew I was in BIG trouble and my stomach felt like it was trying to turn itself inside out.
The only person Delaine ever called “honey” was Danny. Not even my father. She called him “Eddy-bear” and “sweetheart”, unless she was mad at him then usually it was “asshole.”
“Doin okay, honey?” she asked me. Well, there wasn’t enough spit left in my mouth to talk so I just shrugged. I guess that didn’t bother her though because she didn’t yell or anything. She just reached over by my knee, which I jerked away quick, and got a bottle opener out the glove box. We never had any gloves in there but there was always a bottle opener for emergencies. I watched her flick her cigarette out the window then pop open a bottle of beer and take a big long gulp. “Ah-h-h,” she said, like the people in commercials do. Then she put the bottle down on the dash and opened another one.
I couldn’t figure that out. I never saw her drink two at the same time before, but I wasn’t about to ask any questions, no siree bob! She held the beer out to me and said, “Here ya go!” and I almost fell off the car seat, I was so surprised. I had asked for a sip of my father’s beer one time; it looked like it must be good from the way he was enjoying it; but just as he was going to give me a taste, Delaine had flicked her foot out faster than a snake and I found myself on the floor across the room before I knew what hit me.
“No beer for kids, you stupid asshole!” she had said, and I didn’t know whether she was talking to me or him. I guess it didn’t matter. Both of us got the point.
But now, here she was handing me a beer and telling me to “Drink up, sweetheart!”
Something was so wrong that it felt like there was lightening in the car with us… like before a storm; my hair felt like it was trying to stand up on my head and the last thing on earth I wanted to do was touch that bottle, much less drink it.
I was absolutely certain that the second that beer left her fingertips and was in my hand, that foot of hers was going to shoot out and get buried in my stomach up to the ankle and I would probably die.
So I shook my head real slow, and tried to sound polite. “No thank you, Delaine,” I whispered…and waited for the explosion. Saying no to Delaine was just not something anybody did, let alone me.
She didn’t get mad though. I couldn’t believe it. I could see the muscles in her cheeks jumping around and her eyes squinting tight at the corners and her knuckles got really white…but she didn’t get mad!
It was so weird that I started wondering if I had somehow fallen asleep and this was a dream. But I could smell her breath clear across the car seat, and I was pretty sure dreams didn’t have smells.
“I said,” she said quietly, like I’d never heard her speak before, and that smile was starting to look wobbly now, “Drink up.” The next thing I knew, I had it in my hand and was taking a sip.
As far as I was concerned, it tasted a lot like my pee-soaked mattress usually smelled, and one sip was definitely plenty. So I said, “thanks”, and handed it back to her, but instead of taking it she said, “Bottom’s up!” and took a big old drink from her own bottle.
I started to say no, but pieces of her regular face started to show through the new smiley one so I took a big swallow…and then another, and she nodded like I was doing good.
That first bottle was the hardest. Every time I took a drink, it made me gag, but after that, it got a lot easier. When it was finally finished, I put the empty bottle down in the carton, and she opened another one for me to drink. I had no idea why this was happening and she wasn’t talking except to tell me to “Drink up,” so I did, until pretty soon, it didn’t taste so bad, I just wasn’t thirsty and then I had to go to the bathroom. I definitely did not want to have an accident, and definitely not then.
But Delaine said I should just get out and go squat by the dark bushes at the front of the car. That seemed wrong but in spite of still being scared and my head spinning, I did it anyway.
After I got back in the car, I stopped counting how many beers she opened. The last thing I remember was thinking that beer tasted even worse coming back up than it did going down.