A young girl finds a way to get even with an abusive parent.
|Betty looked at the white marble steps of the Baltimore row house. She climbed up and down them since she began to walk ten years ago. She could not quite remember the first time she scrubbed them. It was one of those things she always did. It was a chore, then it was a punishment. |
When her father died three years ago, anything Betty did wrong resulted in scrubbing the steps. White, they had to be white, like Mrs. Robinson's next door. Mrs. Robinson used bleach. Mama wouldn't let Betty use bleach. Consequently, they were never white enough and scrubbed over and over again, usually after a slap in face.
Once upon a time, Betty thought she could overcome the need to scrub the steps. There were good grades. When she brought home all A's last year, Mama punched her face. "Go scrub those steps, you stupid girl." Betty remembered hearing the vodka bottle coming out. Mama drank most of the day anyway. When she could not afford liquor, she sent Betty to the bar down the street for a "growler" of beer.
Another plot was to be bad. Betty spilled ketchup on the steps just to see her Mama's reaction. The result was a split lip, a black eye and a night spent outside.
Today, things were going to be different. Betty climbed the steps, opened the door and saw Mama for the second time that day on the couch, a bottle of wine dribbling on the floor. The room reeked of tobacco smoke.
She retreated out the front door and walked the block to the hardware store.
"Mr. Patrick?" She looked up at the man behind the counter.
"Betty! What a nice surprise. Are you here for that paint I mixed wrong the other day?"
"Yes. I want to paint my room."
"Betty, it's red, like a fire engine. You sure your mother won't mind?"
"Oh, no, Mr. Patrick. She said it would be OK."
The clerk handed over the gallon of paint. "Here - I'll throw in the brush."
"Thanks, Mr. Patrick!" She waved goodbye as she walked out the door.
She perched herself on the marble steps and opened the paint can with a screwdriver. Mr. Patrick was not kidding - it was red. She swirled it with the screwdriver making creamy circles.
"Hey, Betty. What are you up to?"
"Hi Tommy. Just doing a little painting." She smiled up at one of her classmates.
"What are you going to paint?"
"I don't know yet, but isn't this the best red you ever saw?"
"It is. Looks like those candied apples at the fair."
"See ya, Betty. Gotta meet my dad."
Resuming her swirling, Betty felt herself drawn into the paint, soft and red all around. Finally, she picked up the brush and the can of paint and took both into the house. She started with the couch. It would look better in red. Of course, Mama was in the way. Well, she thought, I'll just paint her red too. She started at the toes. Should she paint her clothes or just the skin? There was a lot of paint; she would do the entire body.
Betty and the brush worked their way up Mama's legs. She painted the cushion of the couch on the way. She maneuvered over the belly, the breasts, up the neck, back to the arms. Finally, only Mama's face was left. She stood and examined her work. Some paint was dripping off the couch, but considering, it was a clean job.
Walking back out the front door, she began work on the steps. Mrs. Robinson came home from her job at the plant and stared.
"Betty, your mother will kill you."
"Oh, no, Mrs. Robinson. I don't think so."
Mrs. Robinson shook her head and went into her house.
When the steps were finished, Betty realized she could not get in the house without stepping on the paint. Oh well, she thought, I’ll just paint it again. She picked up the paint and tiptoed up and through the door, leaving toe prints on the brown linoleum. Mama remained as Betty left her, a white face in a sea of red, mouth gaping.
Betty looked at the paint and the mouth. Well, this would take care of the rest of the paint. She poured it in Mama's mouth. It overflowed and dribbled onto the floor.
She pulled the knife from Mama's chest. Blood poured out. Betty smiled.