Now I'm not saying that in Jessie Bell's place I would have gone a step further and struck the match, but then again, I'm not saying I wouldn't have.
I was completely surprised the first time. After all, when Jack made rude little cracks at me I fired back with some smart crack of my own. That was what we did. Our friends thought we were cute. Feisty. When Jack backhanded me across the face it wasn't just the blow that knocked me off my feet.
"Hey boy! Take it easy."
Jack turned towards the voice that was lazily admonishing him. For a moment it looked as if he might follow that blow with another, directed this time at Bill, his judge. Then Jack smiled that slow smile that dazzled me right out of my bedroom window a week before graduation and across the state line to be married.
"Right. I didn't hurt you much, did I Jessie Bell, honey?" Jack said, holding out his hand and helping me up off the floor.
I was too stunned to do more than shake my head.
"Here, let me kiss it and make it all better now, sweetie."
Obediently I raised my face, still stinging from the blow, to be kissed.
Bill was still concerned though not enough to take Jack out and shoot him. "Everything all right with you two, Jack?"
I noticed that he asked Jack, not me, if everything was all right with us.
"Everything is just fine, isn't it, Jessie Bell? We're just clown'n around and carry'n on a little, just hav'n fun, right honey?"
I could tell he expected no argument to his claim that we were just "hav'n fun." Again I was obedient and gave the answer he demanded with that dazzling smile of his.
"You two sure are a caution," observed Bill, shaking his head and grinning at the show we had just put on.
That night in bed I asked Jack why he hit me.
"Honey, I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't hurt you much, Now did I? I just got tired of your smart cracks all the time. You've got to stop that, Jessie Bell, and give me a little respect. Don't you know you're supposed to respect your husband? It says so right here in this book I got for you." He dug the book out of a paper sack.
"Happiness In Marriage: A Woman's Responsibility, A Woman's Right" I read aloud.
"That's right," Jack said, satisfied with himself that he had brought home such a prize. "Got it from Tom Jebbers. He told me that he'n Gerri Sue were hav'n all kinds of troubles, that he was hav'n to hit her nearly every week for some foolishness of hers or t'other. This book saved their marriage. It tells all about what a woman should do to have a happy marriage. It says what's right in the Bible about obey'n your husband and there's lots of fun stuff, too, like games husband and wife can play and how it's all right because they are married and whatever happens in the marriage bed is sacred." Yes, he was pleased with himself.
"I'll start reading it tomorrow. And Jack, if I do something you don't like, just tell me and I'll stop. You don't have to hit me."
"Just don't go giv'n me cause to," he grinned and reached for me playful like.
I didn't feel much like being playful, but I felt even less like finding out the hard way that not being playful when your husband wants to is something to get hit for.
I stopped making my smart cracks and Jack didn't hit me for that anymore. He found other things to hit me for. He was helping me learn, he said, and I should be grateful that he cared enough to teach me what was right and not just leave me in my wickedness. I noticed that he didn't do much of the hitting in front of other people. He saved it for when we were alone. He had this certain smile that came over his face when he was deciding to hit me. It didn't look much like the smile I'd been dazzled by at seventeen.
After he was done hitting me, "chastising" he called it, Jack told me how much he loved me and set to showing me. Every time. I got to see before too long that he liked "chastising" me and he liked what came after even more than usual. In time there wasn't much of that showing me how much he loved me unless he had hit me first. We went to church plenty, too.
At church I met some nice women in a Ladies Bible Study Class. They were genuine ladies, always clean and smelling of perfume. I bet they never shouted or made smart cracks. I told one of them, a real sweet woman who always looked so cool and nice, about how Jack had been hitting me. She just smiled and took my hand in her smooth manicured ones and told me that Jesus hates a woman who breaks up the home He gives her and that if I'd only go to the cross the Lord would teach me how to be a good wife and not upset my husband so much.
"Now remember, dear, the Bible tells us that you younger women are to be counseled by us older women, so any time you need to talk you be sure and come to me with your problems. I'll be happy to pray with you."
I thanked her, not mentioning that it looked to me like I was the only thing that was about to be broken. That woman wasn't the only one I talked to about Jack's hitting me. I told the pastor of the church Jack took me to. He was real sympathetic. He promised me that he would help.
That sympathetic man told Jack that I had complained to him and advised Jack to get me in line. "A man who isn't in control of his own house can't very well be in charge of anything else," he had told Jack.
More than once Jack told me I was slow to learn. I guess he was right about that.
Get me in line -- Jack did -- with his belt. It was the first time he had ever used his belt. Other times it had just been the back of his hand.
That night I got pregnant. When I missed a period and the test from the drugstore was positive I left, never saying a word to Jack about the little surprise on the way. Jack found me and brought me home and he wasn't happy with me at all. He told me exactly what would ever happen to me if I ever left again, if I ever thought about such foolishness.
I figured he couldn't do anything about what I thought and I thought I couldn't raise a kid with a man who was hitting me and might just turn and hit that kid someday, too. I could maybe take being hit, but I couldn't take being hit in front of my kid and I sure couldn't take seeing my kid get hit by his father.
I did a lot of thinking in those next few days after Jack brought me back to our happy home. I thought about how hard it was going to be making it on my own. I never even finished high school and the only kind of job I ever had was tending to a neighbor when she broke her leg falling down the stairs. I thought about how hard it would be and how far I would have to go to keep away from Jack and his great lessons about what a wife is supposed to do.
I knew what this wife was going to do. I made Jack a nice dinner, one of the best I had ever cooked, Jack said. He said he was glad to see that I was straightening up and behaving like a wife should. I cooked fried chicken, home made as good as from a box, crispy outside and tender and juicy inside, and potatoes au gratin and those crescent rolls in the package you hit on the side of the counter, and salad and corn on the cob and chocolate cake and ice-cream and beer, plenty of beer. In one of the bottles of beer I put one of the sleeping pills I had been taking nights when I couldn't get to sleep no matter how many sheep I counted. After fried chicken and potatoes and rolls and salad and corn and cake and ice- cream and several bottles of beer, Jack fell asleep in his lounge chair, the one I bought for his birthday with money I saved out of the grocery money he gave me each week. I looked at Jack sleeping in his chair, full of the good dinner I had cooked.
"Jack, Jack," I said. No answer. It would be a shame to wake him up when he was sleeping so peacefully. Quietly, so not to disturb him, I took that book he gave me the first time he hit me, that book that was going to teach me how to be a good wife and have a happy marriage. I took that book and tore the pages out, letting them fall all over Jack sleeping in his birthday present. Next I took the gasoline can from the garage and poured it over those papers and Jack. I wrote a note on the inside of the book cover and left it setting on the table beside a bottle of beer. I figured he might need another beer when he woke up.
you enjoyed your dinner. I've decided that I don't want to be
hit anymore and I don't want to live with you. I'm
I'm divorcing you. If you try to follow me, or stop me or
me come back or hit me again or tell me what to read ever again next
time I'll light the match.
Your loving wife, Jessie Bell
p.s. I took what money was in the checking account. I figure you'd want to be providing for me as it says a husband does it that book. I won't be wanting anything else from you. I will take care of myself just fine without you from now on."
Then I took the suitcase I had packed that afternoon, blew a kiss in Jack's direction and walked out the door. "Sleep lightly, Jack."
Hart continues to
live well in Southern Oregon. She has several excellent
for chocolate cake she would be happy to share.
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