HOME                   OVERVIEW                  AUTHOR                  EMAIL



THE  SUN  AT  MIDNIGHT

_________________________________________________________________________________________________


PART ONE: The Analysand from Hell


_________________________________________________________________________________________________



—  CHAPTER ONE  —


She still felt the blow. It was perfect, as if her face had been slapped off her skull, the cruelty transcendent, unlike any other shock she’d ever known. Her cheek burned; her head rang. And even though it may have distorted her life forever somehow she forgot. When the memory first cascaded back into consciousness however many minutes ago its violence seemed so immense and brand-new Melody thought she might vomit. She wanted to puke now. The little round carton sat within reach. But unaware thered be that reason to live she’d once again skipped breakfast.

 

Being horizontal wasn’t helpful. God this isn’t what I need —

 

“Yes?”

 

Dr. Gould’s urbane baritone, its source unseen in the void behind her scalp, probed with deft authority. Supposedly it didn’t matter but she’d been silent for too long. Because the thread had gotten tangled again. With the meter ticking at fifteen cents every ten seconds.

 

Breathe so he’ll know the patient’s not asleep.

 

She inhaled audibly. Briskly, no suggestion of apology.

 

In response he mimicked her. The dogs were circling.

 

Focus. Exactly how long. Twenty-three years, plus of course a few months so she hadn’t turned four and probably, maybe that was why she forgot or some of why besides why does it have to be so complicated when memories aren’t real like they seem? They’re just tiny electrical impulses inside your brain. It’s stupid to allow something that insubstantial to hold such power. To let it keep hurting you over and over. And, if memories are only phantoms, what about the original events—————-------a car horn blasted deep in the outside distance, four floors down over where Roxbury and Wilshire intersected, the sound shrouded and many times shrunken yet impossible to mistake. So, okay: that was real. Although not now, because it’s only a memory. But still the harsh illusory echo reminded her how much she hated the ever-present physical world. This mountain range of shit we muck around in like blind worms. Her own body included. If only she could lose the tired and heavy part of her and ascend, become the wind —

 

“And then?”

 

She remained silent. Even if she’d really wanted to she probably couldn’t have replied because her throat felt so constricted. Yet she desired, profoundly desired, a cigarette.

 

“You touched him. Was that all?”

 

Melody shook her head. Her bobbed hair made a dim crackling noise against the couch’s upholstered pillow.

 

“Did he have an erection?”

 

She had to cough to keep from choking — “Jesus Christ, he was a few weeks old.”

 

“Since when does genital expression begin at puberty?”

 

“Maybe he had one.”

 

“How did you feel then? Try to remember.”

 

“... Scared, I think. And fascinated, I guess.”

 

“What exactly was scary and fascinating?”

 

“It.”

 

“It?” the analyst sounded amused.

 

His prick, you asshole, she wanted to yell. What do you think IT means? But she said: “You know. His penis.”

 

“How was it scary and fascinating?”

 

“It was so different. I mean, I guess I’d never seen one.”

 

“How was it different? In what respect?”

 

“Honestly, right now I’m scared maybe the whole thing’s my fault. I mean the fact that he’s such a horn dog. Such a womanizer. Maybe I overstimulated him?”

 

“An isolated incident, brief at that, is unlikely to account for his present behavior. Although your mother was entirely right to stop you. But the panic and rage were unfortunate. And speaking of womanizing: I wonder if she already knew about your father’s, or at least suspected it. That might help a great deal to explain her reaction.”

 

“I don’t know. We’ve never even come close to talking about that.”

 

“I’m sure it could only be painful for her. By the way, it’s a lot more fun to speculate about your brother’s philandering instead of looking at your own feelings, isn’t it? Frankly, ‘scared and fascinated’ and ‘different’ seem evasive.”

 

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

 

“Really? You’re not?”

 

“How should I have felt?”

 

“Now you want a script? Am I your director?”

 

“Anyway, I can’t remember.”

 

“Yes. Well, sometimes rules are made to be broken. We only have six weeks until you leave for London and I’d like more momentum in place before the break. What do you think?”

 

“... I guess. What specific rules are you talking about?”

 

“Our time’s almost up this morning, and you might be able to use a springboard for tomorrow. Normally I prefer spontaneity, and even silence can be productive. However, not lately in your case. So … I’ll cross my fingers and essay a little guidance.” A careful pause. “Did you feel jealous?”

 

“Jealous? Why? Oh, wait ... I get it. Duh. Female Penis Envy. Not that old chestnut.”

 

“You see it as a disparagement of women. But males have a comparable concern. It’s too bad you can’t be a fly on the wall in a men’s locker or shower room. The anxious sidelong glances, the furtive mutual comparisons. I know you’d find it entertaining.”


“... Okay, but they’re guys. I mean, what the hell am I supposed to do with a penis? I’m sure I didn’t want one when I was messing with Damon’s. I probably thought it was ugly.”

 

“Exactly how was it ugly?”

 

“I don’t know. It just ... was.”

 

“But still you touched it, didn’t you? Do you ordinarily want to touch something ugly?”

 

“Okay, but you see it’s hard to remember how I felt because that’s when Momma came in —”

 

Again her head spun, and her stomach clenched. But now, all of a sudden, there was actually something she wanted to tell the therapist. Only what was it? Something her mother said when she unexpectedly entered the half-darkened room and discovered Melody alone with Damon. Melody remembered the expression of incredulity on the woman’s face, the outrage in her voice and the ferocity of the blow ... but the words eluded her. Yet it was hugely important that she recall them. If only she could.

 

She opened her mouth to blurt this, then realized her analyst was speaking.

 

“... a reasonably productive session.” She heard the leather of his armchair groan as Dr. Gould shifted his weight in preparation to rising. It was also her cue to sit up and make ready to leave. So many times had the two of them enacted this brain-dead ritual.

 

Sometimes she’d thought about what might happen if she refused to go. Would her psychoanalyst call building security and have her ejected? Or summon the suavely thuggish Beverly Hills cops? Just exactly how would Jeffrey Gould, M.D. cope with that emergency?

 

“Look,” she said. “Give me another minute. I’m trying to remember something. It’s really important, I know it is.”

 

“Most of what we discuss is important, even when it may not seem like it at the time. We’ll pick up again tomorrow.” He was standing: she could tell by the radically different direction from which his voice emanated.

 

“No, it’s really important. I know it is. Please.”

 

Turning her head Melody saw the psychiatrist’s upper body looming, almost as if suspended from the office ceiling. The casual seersucker jacket today. Summertime. Light blue broadcloth shirt with its button-down collar. One of those diagonal striped ties whose multicolored pattern probably comprised a code recognized by other initiates of whatever exclusive group it betokened. He was staring down through his familiar horn rimmed glasses. Assuredly staring with impatience.

 

It was too much advantage. Or disadvantage. Reluctantly, she heaved herself into a sitting position, her legs over the side of the couch and the rubber soles of her sneakers planted sullenly upon the carpet. Now she felt defeated as well as frustrated. She stood, vaguely vertiginous and swaying almost imperceptibly, but at the same time watching Dr. Gould concurrently observing her ... a closed stenographer’s notebook securely gripped in one well-manicured hand. That notebook all about herself, but whose contents she’d never be permitted to see. And what was the expression on that so very distinguished, his annoying face saying? Hunching her shoulders inside the baggy sweatshirt she pushed her hands deeper into the pockets of her faded jeans, reflexively restraining unhelpful hostility.

 

She knew what the face was saying. It said: You are a pain in the ass but you help pay the rent, and of course you’re a celebrity and that’s useful too. And that’s okay, she decided, because I don’t like you either. I’ve wasted a year finding out, but I don’t like you one fucking bit. But wait: that’s not true. I need you too much not to like you. I need you to approve of me. I need your approval so much it hurts. God bloody damn you, you insinuating, untouchable son of a bitch.

 

“You know,” she said, “it’s not fair.”

 

The analyst surveyed her expressionlessly. Without replying.

 

“It isn’t fair,” Melody repeated.

 

“What isn’t fair?” He sounded vaguely bored.

 

“Five more minutes, that’s all I’d need. Five minutes.”

 

A mildly weary smile. “You’re not my only patient. Don’t forget someone else is waiting.”

 

“And they’ll still be waiting ten minutes from now. I hate it when you give me shit like that.”

 

So she’d said it. She nearly apologized but caught herself. For once she didn’t want to apologize.

 

The smile remained, marginally burdened yet essentially unruffled. “It’s good, actually, that you can express your anger directly instead of referring it. It shows we’re making progress.”

 

“I don’t see what’s progress about me standing here and letting you patronize and manipulate me, which is precisely what you’re doing. Or trying to.” She realized she was trembling. And naturally he noticed.

 

“Trying to make me argue with you is a rather underhanded way of extending your time, don’t you think? And I might ask which of us is being manipulative — but then I’d be playing your game, wouldn’t I?”

 

“I’m not playing any game. I was trying really hard to remember something.”

 

“Good. We can pick up from there tomorrow, as I said. That is, if you want to pick up from there.”

 

“What about the times you’ve had me leave early? Isn’t that worth a credit of some kind? If you won’t give me the time then I’ll take the money. And didn’t you just say rules are made to be broken?”

 

The smile tightened almost imperceptibly. “I know you’d like to be the one in authority, it’s a natural resistance. But trust me: it wouldn’t work.” Elevating his arm slightly, Dr. Gould glanced at his watch. Then, throwing his gaze back upon her, he arched his eyebrows good-naturedly and without warning unleashed a new and vastly different smile, a smile of perfect self-assurance and astounding warmth, this composite facial action immediately rendering him irresistible. “Tomorrow, then?” he twinkled firmly.

 

Melody observed the analyst standing unmovable before her, framed on the wall behind by multiple shelves of undoubtedly important and unusually difficult books all of which he’d surely read with absolute understanding and, in spaces between, an astonishing assemblage of diplomas and certificates, most sporting primeval lettering and not infrequently affixed with luxuriant, light-reflecting seals. Amherst — you don’t pronounce the “h,” he’d once informed her — College, the Harvard Medical School, a captaincy in the United States Navy. Certification Boards, Hospitals, Institutes, Societies up the ass. He’d assisted at the psychiatric examinations of Franz von Papen, Hjalmar Schacht, Walther Funk and Alfred Rosenberg back during the Nuremberg trials. An erudite, charming, accomplished, brilliant man of the world. And what, in contrast, was she? An entertainer, a professional spectacle; also a depressed and disorganized young female who hadn’t experienced even a second of higher education. No contest. At least she could have the integrity to acknowledge that much. Her brief, pathetic mutiny had failed.

 

Obediently she turned to the featureless door that separated the office from the stark enclosed passageway designed to keep departing analysands segregated from anxious patients still in the waiting room. Thoughtfully protecting privacy, or calculatedly dividing and controlling? She felt the therapist’s eyes drilling into her back. Humiliation on top of humiliation. Keep moving. Open the fucking door and leave.

 

She was gripping the knob as though to crush it. Tears welled in her eyes. This is stupid. At least, from this angle he couldn’t see her crying. And so why didn’t she just open the door? How long had she been standing there? Now the too familiar thudding pain began to crawl out of its hidden burrow in the center of her skull. Again she fought an intense but pointless desire to puke. Pressing her forehead against the wooden panel she heard herself groan almost inaudibly. To hell with it.

 

Throwing back her head, gasping for breath, she felt as if she were being sucked through the airlock of some science fiction star-cruiser out into the infinite frigid vacuum of intergalactic space: she was almost ready to burst open: in the tiniest fraction of an instant her shattered flesh and exploded organs would begin tracing thousands or millions of separate trajectories ever-deeper into the universe ... and the noise. It took a moment before she understood she was screaming.

 

Wheeling around, abruptly silent now, she glimpsed the anxiety on Dr. Gould’s face as he glanced toward the unseen waiting room. It was altogether possible — in fact it was certain — that she’d been clearly heard through the intervening wall.

 

The large therapist had already moved in her direction. “Stop it,” he demanded breathily. His hands, one of which had released the notebook so it plummeted to the floor, reflexively grasped her arms just below her shoulders. “Stop it,” he repeated, nostrils dilating. The first impact of shock having passed he was free to experience offense as well as alarm.

 

She tried to pull away, but his grip lessened only partially. Her back was effectively pinned against the door. “Let go of me,” she said. Her voice was so hoarse she had trouble making out her own words. “I said let go of me.”

 

Dr. Gould’s hold relaxed both instantly and considerably but not entirely, which meant not enough. His tone, although stern, remained nervous. “This is how a patient in hospital might act,” he announced. “I’ve told you I dont treat psychotics, and I cannot accept such behavior in this office.”

 

Finally she pushed his arms aside and twisted free, “You’re not supposed to touch a patient, motherfucker.” She said that?

 

The psychoanalyst immediately retreated backward toward the center of the room, then executed a slow counter-clockwise pirouette and once again faced her. His countenance was flushed, its contours rigid. He looked more than ever like someone’s father. But hers was taller, more muscular, and Presbyterian.

 

“You must promise me,” he said after a moment, his tone civilized yet still offended, “that nothing like this will ever happen again.”

 

Please, I couldn’t help it. I’m scared. What’s happening to me? And I’m sorry. “I’ve had all I can stand of your condescension.” Inside she felt like a guilty and frightened child, but her voice sounded exactly like her mother’s.

 

“You know that quite a few analysts won’t work with stars,” he went on. “They say, ‘these people are demigods, not least in their own minds, so why should they accept the therapist’s authority?’ But I’ve refused to believe it has to be that way. Maybe I was wrong?”

 

“... That’s bullshit. I don’t feel like any kind of god.”

 

“In which case please characterize what we witnessed just moments ago. Not merely was it infantile: some might suggest it represented a deliberate attempt to control by intimidation.”

 

“Okay ... And let’s call it quits.” She was trembling again. The panic and the pain were hovering, waiting to reassert control. Just get out, why don’t I. Now. Yes. Run like hell. Once more her hand was upon the doorknob, around the doorknob, gripping the doorknob. She noted that the metal was slippery. From the sweat of her clammy palm.

 

“Naturally that’s for you alone to decide,” Dr. Gould’s voice sounded calm, fully professional once again. “I’d certainly never try to wheedle a patient into remaining in treatment. But I do feel obliged to say that this is not a good time to deny yourself help. Until this morning I couldn’t be sure, but now I am. The past few weeks have witnessed what I can only describe as an accelerating erosion of personality. The episode today was of course far more serious, but in retrospect something I should have foreseen. And I apologize for not having done so.”

 

Melody turned back. She felt as if he’d told her she was about to die. But she’d always hoped she could show courage in the face of death. Exerting all her power of will she met the psychiatrist’s gaze. “I don’t want your help,” she managed to reply.

 

“To be truthful, I’m no longer sure I can help you, I mean, probably not all that much, at least not at this immediate juncture.” He paused, almost as though for effect. “Except there's one thing. I could arrange for you to go away for a short while. In fact I urge it. You have six weeks open, and there’s an excellent facility near Laguna I know you’d find compatible. The staff is very informal, entirely low-key. You might even say it’s hard to tell Posada del Mar from a seaside resort. And once there you’ll have ample opportunity to decide how you’d like to proceed.”

 

So it was Snake Pit time. So natural, somehow. Like it had been heading straight in her direction all her life. Do not go gentle. “How much of the place do you own?” she asked.

 

He shook his head, clearly saddened by the irrelevance and insensitivity of her reaction.

 

“You’re scared I’ll leave here and do something weird and they’ll put your name in the paper,” she suggested wildly.

 

“No, that doesn’t concern me,” replied the doctor. “But I’ll tell you what does. It’s the fact that you’ve been progressively cutting yourself loose from all conventional moorings. For example, how long has it been since you last saw your little daughter? Or your husband?”

 

The universe went white. “That’s none of your fucking business,” she said.

 

“Youve made it my business. You do see that, don’t you? You came to me and you asked for help, and I took you on. And those people are part of your life, part of your consciousness on every level, ineradicable components of both your neurosis and your health. Of course you can continue to deny responsibility, but when you do, others suffer as well. You have obligations. Serious ones. Quite a few in fact. And anyway — don’t you want to maintain your resources intact for your own benefit?”

 

Melody stared at the psychiatrist without replying.

 

“It might be easiest if you wait downstairs in the emergency clinic,” he suggested with a sudden air of offhand bonhomie, as if proffering another splash of  ’47 Yquem to accompany her strawberry tartlet. “Someone can come directly up and show you the way. You’ll be able to relax in complete privacy. Don’t worry, they’re absolutely discreet, it’s a medical facility and everything’s as confidential as in this office. I’ll phone a few interim instructions and then be down in about an hour and —”

 

“No,” she said, rather loudly. She’d relax, all right. Pumped full of Phenobarbital. Stripped of will; a zombie.

 

“... Fine. Okay.” The analyst hesitated before essaying a pair of cautiously restrained steps in her direction, hands sequestered with almost blatant casualness in the pockets of his pants. He and Melody remained several feet apart. After a momentary pause he continued his genial advance. Six feet. Five .... “Better yet,” he announced cheerily, “lets go now, togeth —”

 

It came from a place she’d never seen on any map, commissioned by emotions too immediate for translation into language and executed, thanks to a near lifetime of relentless practice, with reflexive, athletic ease. But no more screaming: that was over. The form the response took amazed her as much as it did him. She observed her handiwork for a numbed fraction of an instant, then turned and fled without pausing to close the door.

 

Half-sprinting down the narrow exit passageway she recalled the scene in slow motion: Dr. Gould blindly groping toward his trauma with one hand while the other implausibly grabbed the pole of his beloved Gyula Pap torchière and man and lamp collapsed in valuable and noisy unison onto the carpet … and the strange crackling sound, almost like a death rattle, that erupted from his throat and how his heavy glasses sat briefly skewed half-sideways then fell too and his mouth kept opening and closing as though he were singing an inaudible spastic aria as on his knees he begged the cosmos with violent wordlessness for breath ... and of course that teary-eyed look he gave her: indescribableor maybe total incomprehension combined with sudden and perfect enlightenment: an expression resembling no other thing she’d ever seen on a human face. She felt like a murderer.

 

She found herself in the adjacent parking garage not knowing for sure how she’d arrived there, her hands shaking so uncontrollably she could barely unlock the door of her battered little Nash Metro or jam the worn key into the ignition. Were they already after her? First degree battery; felony assault. And what if she’d seriously injured him, maybe even permanently? Would anybody believe self-defense? Don’t even try to think, just find a lawyer. Probably a criminal lawyer. Call Dan and he’ll get some brilliant Mob mouthpiece. Upon the torn leather of the passenger seat lay that morning’s L.A. Times with an outsized photo and huge headlines about the wall the Russians or East Germans or whatever had just started building across Berlin. Earlier it had seemed important if only because Freedom Alley was scheduled to shoot in Hamburg but now it meant nothing. Her career could be in perfect peril — actually, more: everything she desired or dreamed of. “A likable kook” was one thing and had done its job brilliantly however MELODY KEENE KICKS SHRINK IN NUTS would never serve.

 

And what will it do to Damon?

 

But as the dust coated, dented economy car fled up Rodeo heading straight toward the hills, hurtling across the lethal Sunset traffic on the tail end of a yellow she realized one positive and immediate outcome: the pain in the center of her brain, instead of expanding into all-encompassing agony as her headaches almost always did, had vanished completely. And wheeling west at the rustic Mulholland crest to careen back along the rugged serpentine road to Malibu she understood that even if her future held prison, madness and oblivion she’d never felt a freedom so intense or pure before in her life.




—  CHAPTER TWO  —


What her mother said was: “You little whore.” To someone not quite four years old the word had no meaning, which is why Melody had been unable to remember it. Although neither could she forget.

 

The slap sent her reeling. Too shocked to scream she started to run from the nursery. Immediately a steely grip on her shoulder halted her escape. Dorothea McConnel was a thin woman, but wiry and strong. “Stay there,” she commanded, propelling her daughter onto an adult sized wooden chair nearby. Sobbing uncontrollably the child settled into the seat and hunched forward with her legs dangling, trying to disappear into herself as she watched the grownup lean over the side of the crib to soothe the suddenly restless baby and, naturally, investigate his diaper.

 

The world seemed huge and newly raw at that moment, although the room itself was small and almost oppressively old-fashioned, with dark wood paneling and wallpaper covered with little pale flowers like on someone’s dress. There was a tiny window in one corner that you had to stand on a ladder to see out of. Through it, a distant speck of white would be barely visible between the intervening rooftops and leafless tree branches: a section of the upper third of the Washington Monument. But the window’s existence did nothing to diminish the crypt-like atmosphere of the immediate surroundings. Both the nursery and the crib had once been Melody’s.

 

She understood, too late, that what she’d done was unforgivably wicked: monstrous in its wickedness. And now Damon had joined her in crying, but loudly and in spastic bursts as babies do. This could only be her fault as well.

 

Then with no warning her father appeared in the wide-open doorway.

 

“What’s the racket about?” demanded Dr. McConnel, his huge presence occupying nearly all of the narrow entrance. Apparently he’d just come upstairs after arriving home earlier than usual. Ordinarily he would have turned around and headed back the way he came upon hearing any sound of juvenile distress. Today everything had to be different. Luck wasnt running in Melody’s direction.

 

Still leaning down, Mrs. McConnel addressed her husband over her shoulder. “I found your daughter playing with the baby, Marcus,” she announced grimly.

 

Dr. McConnel seemed puzzled. “What’s wrong with that?”

 

“I mean,” the woman stood erect and faced the man, “playing with ... his privates.”

 

“.... Oh. My God.” Father glowered at daughter, who looked away, her jaw again quivering as she prepared to resume sobbing. “Look at me, young lady,” the father commanded, his tone ominously subdued. Tearfully, Melody did as he ordered. “Don’t you know better than to do that? Where the hell did you learn to do something like that?”

 

“Stop swearing, Marcus. Don’t you think the situation is offensive enough already?”

 

“We can’t have that sort of thing. Don’t you ever, ever, ever do anything like that again, do you understand me? Your behavior was sinful and obscene. I can’t believe it. What are you ... some kind of hussy? Do you understand what I’m saying? Now, go to your room and ask God to forgive you. You’ll burn in Hell, I tell you, you’ll burn in Hell if you ever do anything like that again. I mean, you’ll burn in Hell. Do you understand me? You most certainly will. And no supper tonight. And stop howling like that.”

 

“Marcus, do you really feel that’s an adequate punishment?” Mrs. McConnel’s tone was her personal blend of timeless female authority and wifely supplication seasoned with a coded soupçon of contempt. She was standing fully upright with her back poker straight. The posture conveyed its own supplementary message: this was one of those unusual occasions when this long-suffering young woman could not under any circumstances let her husband have his way.

 

Dr. McConnel grimaced. “What do you consider adequate?”

 

“Certainly at the very least she should be spanked.”

 

“Look at her. She’s already scared to death.”

 

“She’s only frightened of being punished,” replied Mrs. McConnel, unable to conceal her impatience. “If you don’t punish her, Marcus, she’ll never realize that actions have consequences. And she’ll never take us seriously again. She has to be forced to understand that this sort of behavior simply can't be tolerated.”

 

“I think she understands it now.”

 

“Marcus ...”

 

“Why me? Why does it have to be me?”

 

“You’re her father, aren’t you? You’re the ultimate authority in this house, aren’t you, and for once you’re here. You can’t expect me to take all the responsibility for disciplining her, can you? It simply isn’t fair.”

 

Dr. McConnel sighed. “All right,” he said. To Melody: “Get out of that chair so I can sit down, young lady. And then lie over my lap.”

 

“Marcus ... really.”                                                            

 

“I’m sorry?”

 

“Youd have her lie across your lap and then spank her bottom with your bare hand?”

 

“... Well ... what’s wrong with that? How else would you do it?”

 

“How I would do it and how you should do it are in no sense the same thing. Don’t you see how improper it would be? Picture it in your mind, Marcus.”

 

Dr. McConnel squinted his eyes and frowned.

 

“You’ll have to do it standing up, and with your belt or your razor strop.”

 

“Good God, Dot ... she’s hardly more than a baby herself!”

 

“I caught this baby, as you call her, playing with her infant brother’s private parts. His private parts, Marcus. In the old days they would have put her in the stocks and then whipped her.”

 

“Well, I mean, my Lord, we’re in the twentieth century now.”

 

“Which makes it acceptable to do what she did?”

 

“No, of course not. That’s not what I meant.”

 

“I know it isn’t what you meant. And I am not trying to be cruel. Truly I’m not. More than anything I wish none of this had happened because then punishment wouldn’t be necessary. But I do believe, in the depths of my being I do believe, that what is needed right now, really needed, more than anything, is her father’s intervention. Please, Marcus. Her whole future may be at stake. This absolutely, absolutely must be nipped in the bud.”

 

Dr. McConnel hesitated. Then grimaced. Then, once again, sighed. Then unbuckled his belt and slipped it from around his trousers, which were still secured aloft by a pair of wide green suspenders. Carefully he made a loop out of the leather, grasping this implement of discipline firmly in his fist. As gently as possible under the circumstances he seized Melody’s right upper arm with his free hand and hauled her to her feet. “This will hurt me at least as much as it does you, young lady,” he informed her. Even through her terror Melody smelled the odor of disinfectant her father carried home from the hospital on his hands and forearms. And, on his breath as he leaned over, the more familiar home-scent of tobacco and liquor.

 

She shrieked as the belt slashed across her buttocks, the pain just as hideous through the thin cloth of her dress and underpants as if she’d been naked. Desperately, dancing and wriggling in place, she struggled to free herself from his grip, but he was far stronger even than her mother. Three, four, five. The punishment hurt horribly, but she sensed that his heart wasn’t really in the task: if he’d wanted he could have made it worse. She was howling almost as much from the indignity as from the pain. And Melody McConnel also knew who her real torturer was: not the man reluctantly beating her but the woman who’d goaded him to do it and now stood watching the scene so stolidly, her face betraying no emotion except, perhaps, a hint of vicious satisfaction.

 

Melody hated both of her parents at that moment, but hated especially the woman, hated her more than she’d ever known it was possible to hate. She wished this creature would die and leave her alone with her brother and even her father too — die and not ever come back. She didn’t want a mother like this one. This witch who said she was her mother.

 

Her father had stopped strapping her, but she was still wailing uncontrollably. Although she could hear him say to his wife: “That’s enough.”

 

“You and I were whipped harder for less when we were even younger, Marcus. You’ll never stop currying favor will you?”

 

“I said she’s been punished enough. She’ll never do it again — will you?” Dropping his belt onto the chair to free both of his hands and again leaning down he grabbed his daughter’s shoulders and spun her around so she stared up at him, her face registering shock and fear. “Will you?

 

Between great gasping sobs Melody shook her head: No.

 

“Do you really, honestly think she might say ‘Yes’?”

 

Dr. McConnel pulled himself erect, abruptly letting go of the child, and wheeled on his wife. “Shut up,” he said levelly.

 

Dorothea McConnel stared at her husband without replying.

 

The man threw back his broad shoulders and stuck out his chest, still youthfully muscular beneath his shirt and indeed made more impressive by a nascent accumulation of mid-life fat. In spite of her pain and humiliation this action caused Melody to feel indefinably excited. “If you want to beat her to death then go ahead. Is that what you’re after? Maybe it was a capital crime?”

 

“Thank you, dear. I can manage now.”

 

“What does that mean? Are you being sarcastic?”

 

“No, I am not being sarcastic.”

 

“… All right. By the way, I hope you don’t plan to put supper on late. I have to go out.”

 

“We’ll eat shortly.” As Dr. McConnel turned on his heel and strode out of the nursery, awkwardly re-looping his belt while he disappeared, the child could hear her mother murmur, “And have a drink first.”

 

Enviously, bitterly watching her father leave, Melody wished she could defy her mother as he’d done. Even though he took his time before finally doing it. If she were her father she’d apologize for having whipped a child and then she’d make this woman get down on her knees and beg forgiveness for being so cruel.

 

And after that she’d beat her until she screamed. Louder even than Damon was howling. And Melody knew she’d never been picked up and cradled, cuddled and kissed and soothed like her brother was now, oh his mommy’s precious, her sweetheart, the most wonderful baby boy in the whole world.

 

But she also felt glad not to be noticed.



Copyright ©2012 by Nick Mann, all rights reserved


HOME                   OVERVIEW                  AUTHOR                  EMAIL