Kind Hearted Woman

Bryant Ross

© Copyright 2018 by Bryant Ross

Photo of a hand holding a straight razor.
I only remember ever seeing my father drunk once.

I was six or seven years old and all I really remember about it was being scared of this big angry man who I suddenly didn’t recognize. Then pain and ringing in my ears, the taste of blood as he backhanded me across the face, dizziness as I lay on the floor, and terror as I saw him coming for me again.

Then my mother, all chunky five feet of fury, her fists clenched and her voice, a hoarse snarl of rapid-fire Sicillian standing between him and I, and that huge man stopping, standing with a hand raised and her standing her ground, glaring.
They went to their bedroom then, and spoke for awhile. My father came out, pale as winter. My mother came and held me while I whimpered and sniffled.

He won’t hurt you again” she said, calmly, with conviction.

How do you know?” I asked

I know” she said, “We talked”

What did you say to him?”

I told him a story” she said “and we won’t talk about it anymore”

When my first child was born, my mother sat at my kitchen table. She held that tiny baby in her arms, close and safe, warm and fresh with new life. She looked down at him, and said to me, her eyes never leaving the baby “Do you remember when your father beat you when you were seven?”

I said “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that”

She told me then that when she was a girl of nine years old, during the great depression, her father, a shell-shocked World War one veteran, had moved their family to a cabin on the banks of the Fraser River in the wilderness up past Hope, in Othello B.C. where they eked out what living they could.

She told me about how the river roared and thundered non-stop. The current was so strong sometimes that it rolled boulders along with it. She said you could hear them rumble along past, clattering and crashing with the other rocks as the water swept them downstream. Her mother warned her never to set foot in that river. She said that if a person fell in, they’d be gone in an instant and their body pulverized in minutes by those rolling balls of stone. No trace would ever be found.

She told me that during the spring of her eleventh year, while that river rushed and rumbled by the cabin, she had gone to sleep one night listening to the boulders clattering and grinding along a hundred feet or so beyond her bedroom window.
She had woken up suddenly in the darkness, terrified, with a hand pressing over her mouth, the stink of whiskey and tobacco in her nostrils, and her father’s voice whispering to her to stay quiet or he’d kill her.

It wasn’t the first time, though, and she closed her eyes tightly, waiting for it to start, waiting for it to be over. Trying to wish it all away, but his hands pulled down the blankets, and pulled up her nightshirt.

And then they stopped.

They stopped, and there was silence. She opened her eyes, just a crack, wondering why he waited.

There stood her father, bolt upright, his eyes held wide, his teeth bared in a snarl, his hands shaking.

Her mother… My tiny grandmother stood behind him, holding his own proud possession, an ebony handled straight-razor tight against his throat.

Stay where you are” my grandmother said to my mother, “Don’t come out till morning no matter what”
Then she turned her husband around, and walked him out the front door.
My mother lay in her bed, her eyes pressed shut, the blankets over her head, weeping. All she could hear was the thunder of the water, and the boulders grinding in the riverbed. She wished that river would reach up and drag her in, taking her far away, never to be seen again.

In the morning she found her mother in the kitchen, as always, doing the work that never ended in those days of hand-powered water pumps, and wood stoves. Her father was nowhere to be seen.

Where’s Papa?” She asked.

He went away” my grandmother said. “He will never hurt you again. He won’t be back”

Where did he go?”

He went away” her mother replied, a bit louder now. “And we will never speak of this again”

And they never did, and my grandfather was never seen again.

The only thing my grandmother kept of his, my mother told me, was his ebony handled straight razor, and for her whole life, my mother said, my grandmother kept it tucked inside her brassiere. The one time my mother asked her about it she said

I keep it, in case it’s ever needed again.”

Sitting at the table, then, holding my newborn son with an ease brought on by raising four children of her own, she looked at me long and hard. She said

That’s the story I told your father that time he beat you”

Now you have a son of your own. You inherited a lot from your father. You have his size and strength, and, God help you, you have his temper.”

She transferred my infant son from one hand to the other without waking him, with that black magic voodoo that only grandmothers seem to have.

She reached inside her blouse.
She pulled her hand back, and lay the ebony and steel straight razor open on my kitchen table. It was smooth, its handle was black, and it shone. Its blade was silver and it gleamed. I could tell just by looking at it, that it was sharper than evil itself.
She turned her eyes to me then. I had never seen them like this in my life.

They were flat black, and cold as the Sicilian mountains that she came from. They were merciless, and pitiless. They were as protective as a she-wolf.

I’ll tell you now, that I told your father then, in case you ever think of hurting this child.”

Those eyes bored into me then, like murderous icicles.

Now I keep it…”

In case it’s ever needed again”

Bryant Ross lives in Langley BC Canada.  Bryant and his wife are spoken-word artists who run the Vancouver Story Slam, a monthly storytelling contest in Vancouver BC. He was born and raised in Langley and has been a Firefighter there for 35 years, and has raised two sons, many hounds, and a whole lot of bees.

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