Copyright 2013. Alvin Walters Author. All rights reserved.
Stretching her slender arm to the other side of the bed, she feels the coolness of wrinkled sheets which tells her that he is no longer in bed. With eyes still closed, she pulls his pillow over to her face, lies against it and enjoys the smell of him.
The smell of his pillow reminds her of pajamas that she has folded away in her bottom dresser drawer. Two sets of men’s pajamas, one set, red and grey plaid, and another, navy blue. She had taken the pajamas from the Veterans hospital, over ten years ago, on the day her father died. They are the only material thing she had taken to remember him.
On occasions when she feels the need, she pulls out the now threadbare bundle, the fading scent ever so soft now. She holds it to her face and she is near her father again.
The two men she loved dearest, similar in so many ways. She often wondered, “Do we marry men like our fathers or do we create them.”
As always he has been up for hours. She hears scudding at the foot of her bed and looks up to see him pulling a brown argyle over his gray turtleneck sweater.
“Where are you off to,” the words barely audible through her sleepy lips.
“I have stuff to do. ”
“Um put on a coat, its cold out.” She replied, pulling his pillow closer and turning over and returning to sleep.
After a relatively warm winter the weather had turned rather cold, icy rain had been falling for the last three days. And the streets and sidewalks were covered with an icy slush.
An unrelenting slither of warmth settles on her left eyelid. Drowsily she recognized it as sunlight. She struggles to opens one eyelid and peered over at the huge silver outlined octagonal clock on the wall.
“11 am, time to get up,” she thought.
Slowly she peels away the covers; and allows her body to adapt to the cooler temperature of the room.
She lets one foot then the other reach the wooly white rug on her side of the bed. She grabs his winter robe which was lying across the large upholstered chair at the foot of the bed. She rushes to tie the sash against the chill of the cold room.
Through the sun room, into the kitchen, she reaches over to touch the red button turning on the Keurig for a single cup.
Walking through her office she presses the on button for her computer, and almost simultaneously twists the wane opening the window blinds.
Returning to the kitchen she collects her coffee cup, goes back to her office and sits at the computer. She has vowed to discontinue the practice of spending so much time on social media.
“Have to get the morning news and find out how everyone is doing”, she reasons and justified this action.
Thump, thump, thumpthump thumpthumpthump
“Damn squirrels, damn Elliot” she thinks, watching as one, then another streak of brown jumps from the roof and scurries across the street.
She swears that on more than one occasion, she has seen the same squirrel stop to look both ways before crossing the street.
She had told Elliot this and he had gotten quite a laugh out of this at her expense, referring to her need for psychotic medication.
He had to admit though, the neighborhood squirrels were an adventurous lot, especially the ones that would jump from the trees in front of an approaching car and sprint in the middle of the street, to see if they could avoid being hit.
Elliot called this game “Squirrel “as opposed to “Chicken”. Only once had he seen a squirrel loose, a fluff of brown fur lying helpless in the back alley.
Just two days ago she had almost purchased what had to be the perfect solution to the Squirrel- roof problem, if not the perfect solution then a solution. If she had followed her own mind, she would have….
The doorbell rings, she looks out the window. It’s the cleaners. Leaving her desk she crosses the living room, her slippers making clicking sounds against the travertine stone tile. In the entryway she opens the massive and ornate wooden double front doors, which once stood in a grand eighteenth century Spanish chapel. Elliot had brought them back on one of his many business trips to Spain.
Smiling she greets Ernesto who smiles back at her. Rosita’s and her husband Ernesto are housecleaners who come once every two weeks to clean the house.
“Happy New Year” he says mid-smile. “Happy New Year to you,” she replies and waves to the figure still seated in the tan SUV outside.
A quick view of the three golden glitter encrusted angels leaning against the wall, two four-foot green artificial wreaths lying in the middle of the floor, and other disassembled Christmas decorations strewn over the living and dining room convinces them that today was not the best day for cleaning. Next Monday, they agreed would be much better. This would give her and Elliot time to put away the decoration and get a much more effective cleaning.
Ironic, she thinks. Who would have every thought, that I would someday be able to hire a housecleaning service?
Back at the computer, she remembers a time some 20 years ago. She was a preteen girl looking into the pleading eyes of four of her younger siblings. They have not eaten in over a day and they were hungry as was she. But her concern at that moment was how to feed them.
They stood behind her as she made one more trip to the refrigerator which at this point contains only a half box of baking soda and an onion. An onion that someone had taken a bite of since the last time she looked into the refrigerator.
She looks at their tearing eyes and wonders how she could get to their grandparents. It was so much simpler before they moved. In Clover Grove both sets of grandparents had been within walking distance.
“What are we going to do, Jules” asked the baby girl. This would not be the last time that her baby sister in distress would ask her this question. And again she would not be able to provide a suitable answer.
Jules, whose given name was Julianne, did not reply.
She could think of only one reason that their parents had not been home to provide dinner. They must both be dead. She couldn’t bring herself to say that to her siblings. But she wondered to herself.
Never before had they been without food for an entire night and day. While the meals could not qualify as exotic cuisine, they were tasty and filling.
The decision was made; she would have to walk to her grandparents to get food. Julianne took a few minutes to discuss safety with her younger siblings.
“Don’t get close to the heaters and don’t turn the gas on the stove.” Wrapping herself in her warmest coat, socks and boots, she set out for the long walk to her grandparents’ homes in Clover Groves.
Before jiggling the door knob to ensure that the door was locked, she yelled one last set of instructions. “Get into bed, pull the covers up and stay there until I get back.”
After walking for a half mile she heard the noise of a car behind her. Without looking back she moved to the side of the road. The car pulled up and stopped, she looked over to see her father’s weary, yet handsome face. He didn’t smile or speak, just stopped the car so that she could get inside. She went to the passenger side opened the door and got in. They did not talk all the way home.
Arriving at home, she followed her father inside. The smell of fried chicken and boiling rice greets them at the door. Noises of happy children clamoring filled the house.
Nobody asked about the parents’ absence. Nobody dared. However, in the months to follow, the father would be an emphysema patient at the Veterans Hospital fifty miles away and their parents would be headed to divorce court.
For as long as anyone could remember the Sumpners had lived in Clover Groves. Approximately 100 wood-shingled roof homes, dotted the clover covered hills of the community.
Alan Sumpners, Julianne’s great-great-great grandfather was said to be one of the founders of the community.
Clover Groves had gotten its name because of the thick patches of various shades of green clovers that grew on and around the trees and on to any unattended bit of earth. Because of the clover, most of the grounds in the Grove were in some state of green throughout the year.
Highway 47 which stretched from one end of the county to the next, cut a path almost in the center of the community, and was its main artery. Black tar paved streets which branched off the highway were its veins. At the end of each vein were groups of five or more homes where lived generations of families.
This was the community in which Julianne and all her siblings had been born and had grown up. It was the only home she had ever known. It was a community in which she felt safe.
Her paternal grandmother, Louise, lived at one end of the street, a cousin and her husband next door and her maternal grandparents, Ella and Corbin Sumpner, lived on the other end, just before the road curved. She, her siblings and parents had lived in the now vacant three bedroom bungalow between their cousin and maternal grandmother.
There are many legends about the Groves, but perhaps the most frequently shared and passed from generation to generation was of how the Clover Groves came to be.
According to legend, there were once identical twin brothers who went hunting for deer. They happened upon the most beautiful young lady that either had ever seen. She was picking flowers near the creek.
Each of the brother swore themselves to one day marry the beautiful maiden. The maiden could not choose between them, since they were equally handsome and brave.
The brothers decided that there was only one solution. They would fight until the death and the one remaining would have earned the right to marry the beautiful maiden.
Tearfully the maiden protested, to no avail, the brothers would not be dissuaded.
And so, weapons chosen and drawn, the battle began. Brian, the youngest struck the first blow, followed by an equally powerful blow from Breen, the oldest.
Soon blood was drawn, at the first sight of blood; the brothers knew that their love for each other was too great a bond. Neither could spill the blood of the other.
And so, weapons thrown aside, they began arm to arm combat. The two virtually equal in size and power, wrestled from moon to moon. For days, weeks, month and years they wrestled non- stop. As the years p. Year after year the struggle continued until their bodies became entwined. As the years passed their bodies began to stretch and transform into vines of silvery green clover. The vines wrapped themselves around and over every tree in the Groves. The battle continues today as the clover grows inch by inch.
This is a story almost every child who grew up in the Clover Groves has heard many times. Most people believe that there is some truth hidden in this tale, but no historian yet has been able to prove or disprove it.
Ella and Corbin Sumpner were the parents of nine children. Aileen and David had both died long before Julianne was born.
Aileen the first born child was hauntingly beautiful; an oval face, wavy dark auburn hair hanging to her waist and beautiful almond shaped deep hazel eyes. Aileen had been a feeble child prong to colds, flus, whatever illness the weather brought. Yet, she held a special place in her father, Corbin’s heart.
It was not because she was sickly or that she was the first born, that endeared Aileen to her father. It was her beautiful eyes. Her eyes seemed to have witnessed events centuries old. Eyes that reminded him of someone he had known long ago. Someone he had last seen when he was 5 years old. They were the eyes of his mother.
Aileen was never one to rely on her illness or weakness when it came to doing her share of work around home. At 17 years old she had become an active teenager girl attending classes during the day and spending her evenings between homework and helping her mother in the kitchen preparing meals for the family.
She had caught the attention of a local boy, who lived about a mile down the road. Michael and his family, the Crenshaws, were family friends. They attended the same church as the Sumpners. And both families anticipated making wedding plans soon.
One of Aileen’s chores was to feed the chicken and collect eggs from the hen house. It was spring and the evening light lasted a bit longer. There was a slight chill in the air. And so Aileen grabbed her yellow woolen shawl, which was hanging near the door and the basket for eggs and headed out the back door toward the hen house to retrieve eggs for the next morning breakfast.
Thinking to herself, she began to sway, “What a beautiful moonlit night, next month we graduate high school and then I become Mrs. Michael Alexander Crenshaw….. Mrs. M.A. Crenshaw…... Mrs. Crenshaw…..Aileen Crenshaw.” She began to hum as she kicked at small rocks in her path on the dirt covered backyard.
The hens came in all sizes and arrays of color combinations. She knew each of her mother’s prized hens by name there was Sky, the was Victoria, a yellow and white American Game, named because she was so feisty and protective of her chicks. There was the escape artist, Flight, an Ancona who tended to fly, jump and hop her way over thefive foot wire fences surrounding the hen house. Her favorite was the black and white speckled feathered California grey which she had named Dot.
As she approached the barn door, she heard someone calling to her, whispering, “Aileen, Aileen” Thinking to herself, “If that is Hugh and Carlton trying to scare me with another grass snake, then they will be sorely surprised when I hit them with this egg basket.’
Leaving the hen house, she went to the back of the barn and there stood Victor, one of her male classmates. To her, he looked like he had just crawled through a pig’s trough and smelled twice as bad. She had seen Victor around school but had never spent any time with him.
Before she could ask him why he was there, he pushed her hard against the barn wall and attempted to press his lips against hers. She pushed him back and raised her leg to kick him. But her leg was caught by another set of hands. She fell to the ground hard, kicking and attempting to scream; hands belonging to a third person covered her mouth.
Hands were forcing her against the ground, while hands held her legs apart, while hands tore at her clothing. As soon as she would rip one hand from her body, another would take its place. Someone, she couldn’t tell who pushed up her skirt and pull down her underwear. Tears covered her face as she tried to yell but only managed a muffled whimper.
She was fighting with every ounce of strength that she could muster. She could feel something slimy enter parts of her body that she had never explored. Blunt ended… firm… slimy. She looked into Victor’s green eyes and thought surely she was looking at the devil. She tore one hand loose and embedded her nails into Victor’s neck. She tried to lift her head so that she could bite into his face, his neck anything she could reach. But the hands holding her head were too strong.
On Victor’s face was the ugliest of expressions. An expression unlike any she had ever seen on another persons’ face before. He was making grunting disgusting sounds, sounds that were unfamiliar to her. Two other faces looked down at her, faces she did not recognize, were grinning while holding on to her legs and her arms. They too were making these disgusting sounds.
Unable to move her head, her eyes darted left then right searching, hoping, praying to see her father.
And she cried….. She cried because there was no one there to help her. She cried, because she had done nothing to deserve this vile attacked. She cried because Michael would no longer want to marry her. She cried because this was all her fault.
And ….she cried.
“Aileen, are you out here, Aileen,” she recognized her sister Anna’s voice. ”Aileen’
The three men released her and fled into the tall woods behind the barn. Victor whispered, “If you tell anyone, I will say that you did this because you wanted to.”
Aileen didn’t realize how long she had been gone. She had no awareness of time. She wobbled to her feet and pulled on her underwear and straightened her skirt. She couldn’t let her little sister, Anna see her so disheveled. Brushing at her hair, she walked to the front of the hen house.
“Here I am,” she said. “I thought I heard a wolf around the back of the hen house and I went to check, but there was nothing.”
Anna, in the dark of the evening, could not clearly see Aileen’s face. The two girls walked across thedirt covered yard, through the back door and into the kitchen. Aileen went immediately to the bedroom she shared with her two sisters. As soon as Aileen entered the bedroom, Amy, (Anna’s twin sister), looked at her and gasped.
“What happened to you,” Amy asked.
“Shhhh, I can’t tell you.” Aileen responded.
“Either you tell me, or I call for Mama right now,” argued Amy.