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Jane Bonander

BOOK: Jane Bonander
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Dancing on Snowflakes
Dancing
on
Snowflakes
Jane Bonander
Copyright
Copyright

Diversion Books
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1004
New York, NY 10016
www.DiversionBooks.com

Copyright © 1995 by Jane Bonander

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

For more information, email
[email protected]
.
First Diversion Books edition February 2013.
ISBN: 9781626810310

Prologue
Prologue
Rural Missouri—Early spring 1867

C
orey’s scream came from inside the cabin.

Flinging the wet sheet aside, Susannah hiked up her skirt and ran to the house, shoving the door open with her shoulder.

“Corey?” Her heart drummed hard. “Corey? Are you all right?”

She heard a whimper from his bedroom. Perhaps he’d fallen. Hand pressed to her breast, she hurried to the door and pushed it open. The blood drained from her face at the sight that greeted her. Harlan was bent over their three-year-old son, a lighted cigar poised at the child’s tiny privates.

“Stop it!” Susannah lunged at her husband, throwing herself onto his back and wrapping her arms around his neck. She pulled against him as hard as she could. “Don’t you touch him! Don’t you
dare!
What you do to me is one thing, Harlan Walker, but don’t you
ever
hurt Corey.”

Harlan swore and buried his cigar into Susannah’s arm. The excruciating pain traveled to her shoulder, then into her neck, but she refused to release her hold.

“Corey! Go to Louisa,” she ordered.

Corey had wiggled off the bed and now stood in the corner, shivering with fright.

“Corey,
now!
” She struggled against Harlan, trying to ignore the angry thrust of his elbows and fists against her stomach and ribs.

Corey ran from the room just as Harlan pried Susannah’s arms from around his neck. He spun her around to face him. She wasn’t quick enough to avoid his fist; he hit her jaw, then backhanded her across the face.

Susannah stumbled away, a bright profusion of stars prickling her vision.

“You
bitch
,” he snarled. “I’ll teach you not to interfere!”

“But, Harlan, he’s your
son
.” Nursing her jaw, her eyes on Harlan, she started backing away. She tripped over her skirt and fell onto the floor.

Stepping on her hem so she couldn’t get up, he answered, “So
you
say. But I figure he could just as well be Sonny’s as mine.” He punctuated his accusation with a kick to her ribs.

Susannah swallowed a moan and rolled into a ball, determined not to show her pain. Her refusal to do so both angered and excited him, but she didn’t care. She’d always had that kernel of defiance deep inside that would probably be the death of her.

“I wouldn’t sleep with your brother, Harlan. You’re my husband. I wouldn’t do—”

He kicked her again and again. “You’re a whore, just like your ma was! Both me and Sonny slept with
her
, and you’re no different, no matter how high and mighty you pretend to be.”

Through her anguish, Susannah felt an anger building that had begun years before and had just kept growing. “Well, you’re wrong,” she managed to say, but refused to beg.

He grabbed the bodice of her dress and pulled her to her feet. His breath had the putrid stench of stale whiskey as it washed over her, and she tried not to gag.

“I’ll do what I damn well please with that boy, whether he’s mine or Sonny’s,” he said with menacing softness. “And you can’t do a goddamn thing about it. I can cut off his ear if I want. I can burn his little pecker if I want.”

He shoved her against the wall and strode to the door. “As a matter of fact, I think I’ll go right over to that nigger whore’s, get the boy and do jes’ that.”

For years Susannah had endured Harlan’s abuse, but he’d never threatened Corey before. Wincing with each step, she followed him into the other room. Each breath she took was an agonizing effort. He’d cracked her ribs, she was certain of it.

The front door opened and Corey stood there, clutching his blanket. “Mama?”

Oh, God . . . “Corey,” she said, urgently, “Corey,
go to Louisa’s. Now.

Harlan grabbed the boy. “You stay here, boy. You hear me?” Clamping his calloused fingers around Corey’s chubby arm, he yanked the boy inside.

Corey whimpered and shivered as silent, frightened tears coursed down his cheeks.

Susannah didn’t dare take her eyes off her husband. “Let him go, Harlan.” She forced herself to stay calm, not wanting to frighten Corey any more than he already was.

Harlan gave her an evil smile, took out another cigar and lit it, puffing hard to get a good fire. “Or what, Susannah? What you gonna do if I don’t let him go?”

“So help me God, Harlan Walker, if you hurt him, I’ll kill you.” She shook with anger, her stomach twisting into knots.

With a laugh, Harlan ignored her threat and, dragging Corey with him, went to the cupboard and pulled out his whiskey.

Susannah knew he thrived on her fear, her pain. Suddenly all she could feel was anger bubbling up inside, threatening to absorb her.

She’d never understood why it was all right for him to hit her, why no one found it despicable that he could knock her around whenever he pleased. She’d long since stopped telling anyone what she went through; everyone except Louisa apparently thought she either deserved it, or was exaggerating. But for him to turn his bullying, abusive behavior toward their child was criminal. She wouldn’t allow it. She
couldn’t
allow it.

“This has always been between the two of us, Harlan,” she said, forcing a calm into her voice that she didn’t feel. “Don’t start including Corey, he’s just a child. He doesn’t deserve it.”

“Papa hurting Corey,” Corey whimpered.

It was all Susannah could do not to fly at Harlan and yank Corey from his grasp.

Harlan pulled the child up by the arm. When Corey was dangling helplessly in front of him, he thrust the burning cigar close to his face. “Shut up, boy. You shut up, you hear? Else I’ll burn your eyes out.”

Corey began crying, deep hiccoughing sounds that tore at Susannah’s heart. She rushed to her son, but before she reached him, Harlan had flung him away. Corey landed on the floor with a thud.

Susannah cried out and ran to where he lay. The wind had been knocked out of him, and he was gasping for air. She drew him into her arms, soothing him with her touch. She glanced at Harlan, who was sitting at the kitchen table, swilling down his whiskey.

Corey clung to her, innocently pressing his knees into her sore ribs. Susannah bit back a moan. Pushing aside her own discomfort, she hurried into the bedroom and closed the door.

A miserable headache had settled in her eyes, and her body hurt so much it was hard for her to draw a normal breath. Gingerly she lowered herself and Corey into the rocking chair and tried to find a position that didn’t cause her body to scream with pain. She pulled Corey’s legs from around her and cuddled him sideways on her lap, his head against her breast. She rocked him until he was quiet, but kept her gaze on the door, expecting Harlan to come in any minute.

This can’t go on.
For years, Harlan had mistreated her, and then he had begun to abuse her physically. At first, she had convinced herself that if she could learn to curb her wayward tongue, Harlan would not beat her. But Louisa had made her see that it wasn’t her fault, that she did not deserve the beatings, the rapes. And she had finally understood that it was something
in
Harlan that made him the vicious animal he was.

Susannah looked down at Corey, saw that his thick eyelashes were still shiny with tears. Her heart beat erratically. She couldn’t let Harlan start abusing her son.

She would take him and go away. Louisa would go with them, take care of Corey while Susannah worked to make a living for all of them. She could get a job sewing.

Certain he was asleep, she rose from the rocker, grimacing against her newest injuries, and put him in his crib. He continued to hiccough and sob occasionally as he slept. Of all the pain she’d endured over the years, the one in her heart as she watched her child’s restless sleep was the worst. Children shouldn’t have to go through this. Children were special gifts from God—why would He allow this to happen?

She glanced up, catching her reflection in the mirror that hung over Corey’s dresser. She barely recognized herself. A fresh bruise, from where he’d most recently struck her, began to blossom on her cheekbone, crawling toward her eye; she could feel it swell. The bruise on her chin throbbed, the ache reaching up into her head. Her eyes were dull and her hair hung in lank strands about her face.

Tears of frustration and anger wet her cheeks, and she wiped them away, wincing at the pressure of her own fingers against her injuries. She clung to the side of the crib, dreading having to face her husband again.

As if he’d read her thoughts, Harlan shoved open the bedroom door. “Get out here, whore,” he ordered, his voice slurred from drink.

In spite of her bite of fear, Susannah said, “Be quiet, Harlan. I just got him to sleep.” She hurried from the room, but Harlan grabbed her arm.

“You’re turning the boy into a sissy,” he sneered. “No son of mine will be a pansy!”

Trying to ignore his pinching fingers, she retorted, “Oh, so now he
is
your son.” She could have kicked herself for provoking him. When would she ever learn?

He slammed her against the wall next to her sewing table, covering her with his thick, hard body while his fingers encircled her throat. He pressed his thumbs against her windpipe and Susannah forced herself not to panic. “Tell me, bitch,” he said with a smirk that curdled her blood, “if I kill you, whose gonna look after that pretty little boy of yours?”

Black spots danced before her eyes. God in heaven, what
would
happen to Corey if Harlan killed her? Of course she didn’t want to die, but her death would mean nothing if Corey ended up being cared for by his father. She snaked her hand to her sewing table, searching for her newly sharpened scissors. Finding them, she gripped them in her fist. She had to stay calm, had to show no fear.

Harlan pressed harder, and the dark spots before Susannah’s eyes thickened. She clutched at the scissors, and with more strength than she had ever thought she possessed, she plunged them deep into his chest.

“Bitch!” His eyes went wide with shock, his mouth went slack. Stumbling away, he looked down at the shears, and, as if in slow motion, brought both hands to them, and tugged at them until he pulled them out.

Susannah groped the wall behind her, gasping for breath as he came at her, the bloody scissors in his fist.

His face was filled with hate and his mouth moved, but no words came out.

She sidestepped him, ducking around him as he lunged at her. She ran for the door, but he grabbed her skirt, tugging her toward him, pulling her to her knees. She scrambled, frantic to get away. Suddenly the pull on her skirt loosened. She turned and found him lying still. Blood oozed from the wound in his chest, turning the front of his shirt dark red. He was no longer gasping for breath. She was certain he wasn’t breathing at all.

She continued to stare at him. Her insides quivered. He lay there, huge, lifeless and yet still menacing as his dark, sightless eyes stared up at her. Odd, she thought, strangely detached, his eyes looked no different in death than they’d looked in life.

Cold and dead, Honeybelle,
her mother had always said.
Harlan’s eyes are cold and dead.
As a child, Susannah hadn’t understood how a man’s eyes could be dead if he wasn’t. Over the years, she began to understand that Harlan Walker had a black soul.

Now his face, bloated from drink, looked macabre. His lips were thick and slack. She could see his scalp beneath his sparse, thinning hair. Once, years ago, she’d thought him handsome. But that was before she’d discovered what a mean son of a bitch he really was.

With shaky fingers, she pushed her hair behind her ears. Her gaze found the bloody shears. As if Harlan would rise from the puddle of blood in which he lay, she made a wide circle around him and crept to where he’d dropped the scissors, picked them up and went to wash them off.

Her fingers continued to shake as she dipped the scissors into the basin of water on the dry sink. Rust. They’d get rusty if she didn’t clean them.

Fear had weakened her; hysteria swelled within her like a balloon. God, what was she doing, taking the time to wash off a pair of scissors!

She and Corey had to leave. Had to get away. What would Sonny do if he found her like this? If anything, Sonny was worse than Harlan. Yes, Harlan was loutish and a brute, but Sonny . . . Sonny was slick, clever and cunning. She’d
never
have peace if Sonny discovered what she’d done.

“But, Honeybelle, where will you go?” Louisa’s pretty black face was pinched into a frown.

Susannah finished packing and snapped her valise closed. “I don’t know, and I don’t care. We just have to get as far away from here as possible.”

Louisa paced in front of her. “Yes. Yes. You gotta get away.”

Susannah hugged the tall Negro woman who’d been her friend since before her own mother had died. “I wish you could come with us.”

Louisa snorted. “Now, wouldn’t that look dandy? How could you hide with a big, black Negra woman along side? No,” she added with determination, “I’ll stay here and watch that pissant Sonny. If I find he’s gone lookin’ for y’all, I’ll get news to you somehow, Honeybelle, but you gotta let me know where you are.”

Susannah glanced back at Harlan’s body. “And . . . and him?”

“I’ll take care of that, never you worry.” Louisa lifted the sleepy Corey from the sofa and handed him to Susannah.

Susannah cuddled Corey close, gathered what she would take with her, and with a fierce determination new to her, left her past behind.

BOOK: Jane Bonander
12.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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