Beyond All Desiring
by Judith Laura
an excerpt from the beginning of
Sara moved slowly but purposefully, glad for the coolness from the window air conditioner. She rummaged in her underwear drawer. Pushing aside the bras she rarely wore now and the pastel underpants that didn’t cost any more than the white, she reached the bottom of the pile and peeked under the petticoats, one black one white. Yes, they were there: eight small books—four gray and four maroon.
She checked for them every Monday. That was the only way she could be sure that if she had sent one out it had been returned. When she was younger, she had been able to keep track of such everyday details easily, bound more by the regularity of the work week. But after she retired from the General Services Administration when she turned 72, she had to develop a system to jog her memory. She could have asked Marge to help, or even Janice. But that would mean confiding in them things she didn’t want them to know. Not yet. Maybe never. There were things in this life better left unknown.
Like where Harry had worked. He could never tell. Even her. So finally he told nothing at all. Just as she would tell nothing about the one whose name on the small books—one gray, one maroon—she wouldn’t read, wouldn’t say. Though she knew he was real. In silence she held him in her heart against the memory of the Terror—when they ripped the other one from her and took too that deepest part of her.
Late April it had been, a week before her eighteenth birthday, in the tiny apartment where her family lived above the furniture store in Trenton, two blocks down South Broad from the center of town. She ran to the bathroom and shut the door tight behind her, wishing for the zillionth time she could lock it. She begged Mama and Papa to fix the lock because her two brothers sometimes burst in on her when they thought she was taking too much time. But Papa had said, “We don’t need locked doors in the Lyons home. And anyways, I don’t have no money for a new lock, so dammit Sara you just hurry up.”
No doubt he was telling the truth about the money. All through the Depression he had been out of work off and on, and even when he had work, he didn’t earn much. Sometimes all they had for supper was bread and milk. Sara remembered sneaking from her room—the one thing she had all to herself because she was the only girl in the family—and going to the icebox in the middle of the night to see if there was anything to eat. Usually the milk was gone, but if she was lucky there would be a half slice of bread—the other half of a slice broken off by whichever of her brothers had gotten there first.
Mama kept telling Tom and Carl to knock on the bathroom door if it was closed. So they knocked first, but then if they were in a bad mood they walked in on Sara, especially her older brother Tom. Since Carl had turned 15, he had burst in on her once. Before he had just made a pain of himself by knocking louder and louder but not actually coming in. Either way they both made her a nervous wreck.
Sara bent over the toilet bowl, retching without vomiting. She couldn’t even speak when the knocking started and Tom called, “Hey, Sara. Make it snappy, I gotta take a piss.”
That hateful word “piss” made her retch even more. The word always reminded her of the time when she was seven years old and she had seen them—Tom, Carl and their friend Davey—pointing their pale peckers ahead of them in the alley, seeing who could send their stream furthest. Piss was the sound their urine made as it arced over the alley trash before spattering against the wall. When the three boys realized Sara was watching, they turned their floppy hoses towards her. But she ran away, escaped in time.
She threw up into the toilet, but it was just a little bit of yellowish junk.
“Sara! I’m knocking politely now but not for long!”
Tom’s pounding was anything but polite. She vomited again.
He was bending over her. She hadn’t even heard the door open, then close again.
“Christ, Sara, what’s going on in here? You sick?”
She flushed the toilet, hoping he’d forget what he saw, or at least not realize its significance. She squeezed past him to the sink and turned on the faucet full force. Her hands shook as she splashed water on her face.
“You look a wreck, Sara, but your cheeks are still rosy.” He paused, but not for long. “I’ll be damned. It’s not some flu, is it?” Tom took her by the shoulders, his face so close his nose looked blurry. “Is it?” he yelled. “No! You’re something else again, aren’t you!”
“Just keep quiet, can’t you?” she gasped.
He slapped down the toilet seat and then the seat cover. “Sit,” he hissed. She did as he commanded. “Tell me,” he insisted. . . .
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