...On Sunday morning, I awoke and was surprised to find Ruth wasn’t in the bed with me. That night, she slept in bed with her parents. Aunt Molly came into the bedroom, threw off my blanket and told me, “Get up, Nancy Lee. Wash your face and comb your hair, but be quiet about it. I don’t want you waking everyone up. Your father is coming this morning.”
I was still wearing the dress from the day before. I got up and went into the bathroom. As I was looking at my body covered with red welts, there was a loud knock on the kitchen door. “Where is Nancy Lee?” I heard my father ask when Aunt Molly opened the door.
I ran out of the bathroom and threw my arms around my father, but I didn’t cry. “Daddy, I’m glad you’re here,” I said, giving him a big hug. I was happy he was there because, now, I was afraid of Uncle Hank, who was sitting at the kitchen table with his silly grin.
“I know, Nancy Lee,” my father said, as he put his hands on my wrists and looked at my arms. He didn’t say another word, even though he saw the red welts all over my arms and legs. If he had looked under my dress, he would have seen red marks there, too. While my father was still holding my wrists, he gave Uncle Hank a hard stare. Then, he looked at Aunt Molly.
Uncle Hank got up from the kitchen table and hurried down the hall into the bathroom and closed the door. That was the last time that I ever saw Uncle Hank. “Ralph, I was outside the whole time, I didn’t know he was hitting her,” Aunt Molly told my father, as she handed him my jacket and a brown paper bag.
"I’ll deal with this later.” He took the bag and led me by the hand out the kitchen door. I didn’t know I was going to leave with him until he put the bag on the back seat of his car, and said, “Get in Nancy Lee, I’m taking you to my friend’s house.”
I climbed in and sat in the front seat beside him. “Daddy, see what Uncle Hank did to me?”
“I know, I’ll take care of it.” He pursed his lips tight and turned the key in the ignition.
“Daddy, I just wanted to change Carol Jean’s diaper, so I wouldn’t get hollered at.” My father drove us to Morris Place, a street off Seneca Street. As we rode, he told me that his friend’s name was Elmer and he also worked at Socony-Vacuum Company.
My father parked his car and pointed at a two family house. “That’s the house where my friend lives. He lives upstairs with his wife. Your brother, Bobby, is staying with them.”
The lower flat had a front porch, but the upper flat, where Elmer lived, didn’t. The houses and the neighborhood looked old and shabby. Morris Place didn’t look like the two-family houses and neighborhood where Nanny and Grandpa lived.
My father picked up the brown paper bag from the back seat and we headed toward the house. Up the steps and through the opened door, we walked into a dimly lit front hall and went up the stairs. When we got to the top, my father knocked on the door. There was no answer. After a few more knocks, a woman opened the door.
The first thing I noticed was that she didn’t have shoes on. “Come in Ralph.” Turning to me, in a deep, flat voice, not a soft voice like my mother’s voice, she asked, “You’re Nancy Lee, right?” I didn’t answer. I just smiled and nodded my head.
She was younger than my mother, and sort of pretty. She wore a lot of makeup and I liked her long blonde hair, even though it was kind of messy. I thought her clothes were too small for her. Her black skirt was too short and her red blouse didn’t fit. Two rounds of flesh peeked out from the top of her blouse.
When my father and I walked into the house, the smell of crushed cigarette butts in the ashtrays and the odor of dirty laundry assaulted our nostrils. The flat was a dingy and cheerless place. The floors were covered with linoleum. The wallpaper was a faded pattern of a design that I didn’t recognize. I didn’t like this place, but I didn’t want to go back to live with Uncle Hank.
“Elmer isn’t here, I don’t know when he’ll be back,” she told my father, as we walked into the living room. “Howard, my boarder, is in his bedroom,” she added, indicating a doorway leading off the living room. “We’ll talk in the kitchen, so we don’t disturb him.”
Bobby was sitting on the dirty, white, linoleum floor in the next room, playing with some toys. When he saw us, he got up and ran to my father, who had a big smile on his face. He leaned down and gave him a squeeze. “Daddy, see my truck?” Bobby said.
The flat only had two bedrooms. One was where the boarder slept and the second was where Elmer’s wife slept. Elmer slept on a daybed in what would have been a dining room, but it didn’t have a dining room table and chairs; it had a buffet, a daybed, a big, stuffed chair with a table and a lamp next to it.
As we walked toward the kitchen to the back of the house, Elmer’s wife pointed to the second bedroom and said, “You’ll sleep in this room with me. Put your things into one of the empty dresser drawers.” The room had a double-size bed, an old crib and a dresser. The first drawer I pulled open was empty. I took my clothes out of the brown paper bag, and put them into the drawer. There wasn’t much in the bag but underwear, socks, and two dresses. Where were my pajamas and my Pick-Up Sticks that were in the bag when my father took me to Aunt Molly’s house?
I peeked into the other drawers. One held Bobby’s clothes. Another had fancy underpants and brassieres, some red and some black. I liked the red, silky panties the best. Someday, I’ll have pretty panties, too, I promised myself!
After I finished putting my things away, I went into the kitchen. My father sat at the table holding Bobby on his lap, while he talked with Elmer’s wife. As I walked in, he was giving her some money. Then, I realized Bobby and I weren’t staying there just because Elmer was his friend. Bobby and I were boarders, just like Howard. Dogs were barking from behind the kitchen door.
“Do you have a dog?” I asked.
“Two dogs. They stay in the hall. I don’t let them into the house,” she emphasized, pointing her finger at me.
“But, can I just see them?”
Elmer’s wife got up and opened the door. The dogs wanted to come into the kitchen. Elmer’s wife said, “Sit! Stay!” and they obeyed.
The two dogs looked like Brownie, the German shepherd dog we used to have. But, these dogs didn’t seem friendly. My father sensed that I was a little afraid. “All you have to do is show them you’re not afraid and they won’t bite you.” Standing at the open kitchen door, I reached out and petted them. They licked my hand, and it worked. I wasn’t afraid anymore! I took off my jacket and hung it over the back of the kitchen chair and sat listening to Elmer’s wife and my father finish talking about registering me at school.
My father stood up and put Bobby down. I followed him as he walked toward the living room and the front door. “You’ll be okay, Nancy Lee. You won’t have to stay here too long. I’m working on getting us all back together.”
“Goodbye, Daddy. When will I see you again?” I asked, watching him walk out the door and down the stairs.
“I don’t know, Nancy Lee, I have a lot of things to do—maybe in a few weeks. You be good now.” He walked out onto the porch, closing the door behind him. I hurried to the front window near Howard’s bedroom. His bedroom door was shut, so I knew I wasn’t disturbing him. I stood quietly watching my father get into his car and drive away.
“May I go outside for a walk?” I asked Elmer’s wife when I went back to the kitchen.
“Yeah. Take your brother, I think he’d like a walk, too.” I put on my jacket and Elmer’s wife put a sweater on Bobby. We headed down the front stairs and out into the September afternoon where the weather had changed, bringing a cool relief from the previous week’s last blast of summer heat.