Her mother was outside feeding the chickens and collecting eggs. She came in with a handful and set them on the table.
“Good, you’re up.”
“Good morning, Mother.” How did you sleep? Did you hear it last night? How can you sleep knowing that? She glared at her mother’s back, willing her to understand or express an ounce of sympathy.
“Yes, good morning, Helen. Now, help me with breakfast. Your father intends to be up early as well. He has several sick parishioners to visit today and then must put the finishing touches on his sermon for Sunday.”
Helen nodded and set some water to boil for coffee. She pulled some bacon out of the ice box.
When her father entered the kitchen ten minutes later, he said, “Smells wonderful.”
Helen poured his coffee as he sat, then went to the front door to retrieve the paper and placed it in front of him. He picked it up and read it, coffee in hand. He didn’t have to look at his daughter. His presence alone brought with it a darkness that even the rising sun couldn’t snuff. The gas lamp over the table burned as bright as always, but in his black garb, Pastor Hawkins was a raven, ever-watching her with his beady eyes.
Helen helped get breakfast on the table and ate mechanically. Silence hung in the humid air like a firecracker waiting to explode. An imaginary rope tightened little by little around Helen’s neck as she forced down the food. The newspaper rustled every time her father turned the page. She quivered with the page, but while her father reset his grip on the paper and stilled it, her body continued to shiver, despite the heat. Sweat dripped from the base of her hairline under her braid and pooled along her collar. Still Helen kept her mouth shut.
The newspaper crinkled as her father closed it and set it on the table. His coffee cup clunked down next. He stood, the chair squealing over the floor.
Helen twitched with every utterance.
“Well, good day to you. I’ll be back late.”
“Have a good day, William.” Her mother stood and pecked her husband’s cheek.
Helen’s father grabbed his hat and briefcase, then left through the back door. Every muscle relaxed with the shutting of that door. Helen released a long breath and slumped her shoulders.
“Whatever is the matter with you?” her mother asked as she grabbed some empty dishes off the table and took them to the sink. “You’ve barely touched your food.”
“I guess I’m not really that hungry.”
“Nonsense, Helen. You have a busy day ahead of you. You’ll need your strength. Now, you have five minutes to finish your breakfast, and after that, you’ll just have to wait until lunch.”
“Yes, Mother.” Helen raised her gaze off a half-eaten piece of bacon and met her mother’s eyes.
“You could at least sound grateful you have something to eat. Some people aren’t so fortunate. Your father works hard to provide and helps those in town who don’t have the means to pay for food. He’s a good man.”
“Who are you trying to convince?” The words were out before Helen realized what she’d said. She covered her mouth with her hands, as if that would somehow reel them back in.
The line between her mother’s eyebrows deepened. The wrinkle became more pronounced on two occasions: when her mother was knitting and when she was displeased. “Excuse me, young lady?”
Helen swallowed and gripped the edge of the table, her back rigid. “You heard me, or did you turn off your ears like you do every time he does that to me?”
Helen didn’t cry out as her mother’s hand made contact with her cheek. The sting clung to her skin as she lifted her hand and stared at her mother with a challenge, with betrayal.
“You won’t talk about your father that way. He’s a good man, holy, doing the Good Lord’s work.”
“Only God is holy.”
“You know what I mean. Your father had to pull himself up by his bootstraps from a young age, what with being raised by those hillbillies and a father who drank and beat his children. Be glad you have a roof over your head, a meal on the table three times a day, a father with a stable job, and a mother who is willing to cover for you when you are unappreciative and lazy.”
“Cover for me? You lie to protect him all the time. You let this happen, Mother. I’m your daughter.” Helen stood as an uncommon rage fueled her. She fisted her hands at her sides.
“You will hold your tongue, young lady. You will keep your silence like a woman should. And you would do well to remember that.” Her mother raised the wooden spoon in her hand, her blue eyes flashing.
“Of course.” Helen’s fingers relaxed at her sides, and she turned, leaving the kitchen.
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