Hell and High Water

FYI – to contact me use: kstorey2@alumni.uwo.ca


Deanie stared mutely at the glass of ice-cold Provencal rosé. A single bead of condensation gathered volume, zigzaging across and down the bulb. Her hand grasped at the stem but a fine tremour contradicted her purpose. Before she could place the glass back on its circular ring, a stray splash dotted her woolen funeral skirt. ‘Damn’ she muttered. ‘Damn him’, added, like a promise, for more accurate measure. The spilled wine soon soaked into the fabric and vanished. Quiet, undisturbed minutes passed; now befell then.

Again, with a scarcely more steady hand, the glass approached her lips. This time she executed with success but not ease. Deanie accomplished a slow, comforting draught. Her eyes closed. Red misery curtained the interior of the lids. Tension, general and specific, faded but did not depart. The sigh was inaudible, heard only by her soul. Darkness deepened around and within her. The weight of her curly head eventually yielded and her ear tipped to her shoulder, awkwardly, the tremour now slack.


As always, Deanie started awake, vigilant and pop-eyed. Ready to certain and pervasive danger. She listened for the sounds of the street at night hoping they would still her pounding chest and roaring ears. Hoping, as always, to distract the collage of horrors, lurking. Yet tonight, at the edge, perpetual fear was tinged, faintly, with hope. ‘Let the past be’. That’s what her sister Nellie said. But Nellie didn’t know everything, not by a long shot. Only Deanie knew the full sickening but liberating picture, burned now in her mind, and delivering her from the ancient, revulsive, shackles of revulsion that soul-bound her to a lifetime of terror.


Deanie shook her head as clear; as clear as she could, then rocked to a stand and stiffly walked the half full wineglass to the kitchenette. She poured the now warm contents into the drain. Barely audible, with eyes focused way in the distance, she whispered: ‘That was easier than I thought. Easier than any of my fantasies’.  Easier than the plan that started to hatch since she was 12. Quietly, as was her way, Deanie took to her shower, leaning into the scalding pellets. Scarlet skin dried, she buttoned her flannels and slid into her bed, barely disturbing the covers. Tomorrow dawns the new secrets, the safer secrets.

Deanie recognized the trill of her cell phone. It hauled her into morning. She ignored it, as she usually did, preferring to hear the message first and rehearse her response. Maybe her self-doubt would dwindle in her new world; her new world without Uncle Jack. Her new world without Uncle Jack, his penetrating look slashing her soul. Despite years of therapy, aimed to shift her understanding, Deanie has failed to fully appreciate messages that she was a child; she wasn’t responsible. And that she wasn’t the dirty whore he called her. She was meant to learn that he was the adult. But by that logic, so where her parents and they didn’t keep her safe either. Jack was gone now. Dead. Dead on the floor of his kitchen. Dead after falling down, reaching out to her. Reaching out to stop her words. Dead, like a promise. The weight of this reality pinned her to her to the sheets. Inert. Brimmed with fear and guilt. Full syringes of insulin still loaded in her purse, unused; unneeded.

The day ended and she never rose. The day ended not as it began, at the funeral with her sister urging her to composure, but in the new safety of her tightly tucked bed.Her week ended, not as it began. Not with her standing in her uncle’s kitchen, facing his sneer. Facing his accusations of fault and blame with the fresh courage, rolled up in her plan. His face, purple in rage and fury. Silently watching him reach out with patience unrelenting. Head tilted slightly to the right registering his topple and fall, fat, ugly fist clutching his chest, gasping. The two unused syringes of insulin, corroding a hole in the bottom of her purse. Plan fulfilled. Plan B. Not even B, maybe X.

A week that started with her wordless retreat from the death scene, syringes full and intact, unnecessary. A retreat that never considered a call for help, Wondered not about comfort or assistance. A wheezing old man, dying on the linoleum, ending her misery by the grace of God. Deanie slipped away, unnoticed. She slipped away, gently closing the back door behind her. The snick of the latch, bursting loud in her ears.  The sharp strike of the hammer, pounding on that last nail. She slipped away down the street and around the corner, pausing out of range to regard the single branch of mauve bloom on the otherwise dead trunk. Her mother found him. Two days later. Rot now noticeable outside his being. Her penance for not listening, not believing?

Three tears slowed as they touched the pillow. The enormity of her past enveloped Deanie like a shroud. For years flashbacks of hurt and violation had haunted her, shortening her breath and sweating her palms. For years she relived the pain and indelible humiliation. Fear of being alone with him, with any man. Fear of his repulsive touch, the touch of any man. The smell of his putrid breath, reeking of coffee and onions. Choking. The urge to vomit. And his threats. Hanging her cat; ripping her dresses. Thinking, why? What have I done to deserve this? So afraid and believing it was all her. Years of planning and dreaming of how to take him from her life. Since she was 12. Gunshot. Garrote. Poison. She smiled to think how easy it had been. Simply, a confrontation gone wrong. No, gone right.

Again, the phone pierced her memories. The trill of Erik Satie’s Je Te Veux, undirging the funerary organ settled in her ear. She stared down the screen and let it go to voice mail again. Only then did Deanie check the messages. The most recent call was her sister; the previous call was from her friend, Alicia. She decided to return Alicia’s call. Her message said ‘let me know you are ok’ whereas her sister simply directed: ‘call me’. Alicia knew for sure about Jack, the living Jack, the abusive Jack. Now the dead Jack. Deanie  wasn’t entirely sure her sister knew their family secret. It was unspoken.

Neither sister nor friend knew her role with dying Jack, if it could be defined as a role. More a witness, Deanie decided. Silent witness, with all the deadliness that silence entails. She did not, could not help him. As no one had helped her. It was fair, she decided. Just. Liberating. She hit recall on Alicia’s number and welcomed her friend’s calm voice. Yes, I’m ok she replied to the re-asked question. ‘No’, Deanie whispered, ‘it wasn’t as awful as I thought it would be’. She left out by omission that the more awful memory was the bubble of spit seeping from his bluing lips. Her own spit pooled near his arm; his fading eyes watching it land. But she knew in time, this memory, both memories would fade, like Jack’s eyes. It would fade she hoped into a comforting beam of sunlight, warming her cheek.

Deanie boiled the kettle, feeling the surprised joy of freedom from fear. She poured hot water over the tea bag and stirred in honey and milk. A piece of toast settled the background gnaw in her gut, empty since her mother’s call to tell her Jack was dead. ‘Jack was, Jack is, dead’. She said it out loud. She replayed fragments of the funeral in her mind. In retrospect, no one cried. No one mourned him. Was he just that awful? Yes, she decided. He was that awful. Pushing him back into the cage reserved for him in her mind, Deanie dressed, standing just for a moment, as she had never tried before, between flannels and jeans without her clothes on, recognizing a new security, a new peace.

She brushed her hair, shouldered her bag and headed to the door of her apartment. She paused to look back, back toward the kitchen. There was no dead man on the floor. There was no danger. No hurtful uncle in her life, anymore. What he had been was gone. Or going, at least. And she could thank herself. She was glad. Relieved. The tide had turned. The high water was receding. Hell was receding. She could work with this, like a new promise.



Author: hopeisinfectious.ca

My writing experience comprises, almost exclusively, academic papers and technical/ professional reports. However, I have lost faith in these methods as paths to real change. My doctorate is in Education, specifically transformative education and through my research and my work, I have come to the conclusion that people learn more through stories than journal articles. Therefore, instead of investing in the usual strategies for pedagogy, I am leaning toward fiction as a way to change minds about social issues and dilemmas. I believe stories can un-other social interpretations in a way I feel I have failed to in all my academic and professional writing. I hope to convey some alternate ideas about the work I have done for 35 years, as a mental health nurse, psychometrist, educator and administrator.

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