Talion by Mary Maddox

Posted on Monday, November 11, 2013


“You’re not in trouble.” Aunt Debbie studied Lisa from across the table. Her solemn brown eyes looked so much like Mom’s it was spooky. The resemblance was more than sisters, it was like they could channel each other. “It’s okay to ask a friend swimming, but you need to check with us first.”

Lisa lowered her own eyes and muttered, “Sorry.”

“It’s okay, honey. I’m mostly just wondering how you two met.”

“I was walking past the trailer and saw her in the window. So I knocked on the door.”

“Were her parents home?”

“No.” She decided not to mention overhearing Duane and Norlene talking. Debbie would expect her to repeat every word.

The booth in the Down Home Café made Lisa feel boxed in. Plus she was stuck with a boring view of the back wall and restroom doors, the whole surface covered with diagonal wood paneling that matched so perfectly you couldn’t see the doors to the johns except for the metal signs saying DUDES and GALS. Aunt Debbie faced the front window, but the scenery was wasted on her. When she wasn’t focused on Lisa, she was watching the servers in case they were slacking. A lame cover of an old Beatles song mixed with the chatter of customers. Lisa caught a whiff of barbeque and tangy lime in the different foods being served and wished Uncle Hank would hurry up and get there so they could eat.

“Lu said her dad and Uncle Hank go way back.”

Debbie drew herself up, almost like she was insulted. “What about it?”

“Nothing. I just wondered how come you never mentioned them. I mean, Lu and me are about the same age.”

“Well, she’s not exactly the type of friend we had in mind for you.”

Lisa imagined Mom and Debbie on the phone discussing what type of friends she should have. They probably hadn’t found anyone boring and retarded enough yet. “I can pick my own friends.”

The brown eyes sharpened. “The ones that got you in a car wreck. And into pot.”

“There wasn’t a car wreck, we just got stuck in the mud. And I’ve never even tried pot.”

“If you hang around people who use drugs, then sooner or later you will try it.”

Every grownup in her life parroted the same message from the same stupid Just Say No pamphlet. And they expected you to take them seriously. “You and Mom, you just assume my friends are a bunch of burnouts. How do you know Lu’s a bad kid? She didn’t want to go in the pool without permission. I talked her into it. I got her in trouble.”

Aunt Debbie sighed. “The problem isn’t Lu, it’s Norlene. What she did is child abuse.”

“Are you gonna fire her?”

“If it was up to me. Hank wants to have a talk with them first.”

Lisa couldn’t forget how Lu scuffed over to Norlene like a sleepwalker. The way her head snapped back. The way she sat on the ground like a big baby with her face oozing tears and snot. Lisa felt embarrassed and sorry for her.

“You shouldn’t be exposed to that,” Debbie said as though reading Lisa’s mind.

“So I’m supposed to stay away from her because her stepmother hits her?”

“No, honey, of course not. You can do things together, but I don’t want you around her parents.”

“So how do I invite her to do something if I’m forbidden to go there? They don’t even have a phone.”

“I’ll ask if Lu can come to church with us this Sunday.”


Nobody had bothered asking Lisa if she wanted to go to church. Not even Mom tried to control her life that much. It was probably a good thing Debbie didn’t have kids of her own. A good thing for the kids, anyway.

She leaned out of the booth and waved to Hank, who came striding toward them on his long cowboy legs. He had on Levis with a button fly, which Lisa had to admit was cool, and a plaid shirt that had snaps instead of buttons. He slipped into the booth beside Debbie.

Two seconds later, a girl showed up with glasses of water and menus. She was about eighteen, not that much older than Lisa, but she handed her the kiddie menu along with the regular one. “I wasn’t sure, so I brought them both.”

Glowering, Lisa flipped the girl the finger, keeping her hand down so her aunt and uncle couldn’t see. The girl smirked in triumph.

“We’ll be ready in a minute,” Hank told her.

“Did you talk to them?” Debbie asked.

“I looked for Duane, but he was already gone. I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”

“Don’t let it go, Hank. She struck Lu in front of a dozen people. It was really and truly disturbing. Suppose one of them reports it to the authorities. How does that make us look?”

“You want me to call the cops on Norlene? They’ll take Lu away, put her in foster care.”

“She might be better off.”

“I doubt it,” Hank said.

“I’m as concerned about her as you are,” Debbie said. “Or else I’d say fire both of them. You don’t owe Duane anything. Just look at that woman, dressed in tight cutoffs and her hair tangled and dirty. Is that the image we want to project?”

“Come on, Debs, ease up.”

“I know how you are. You promise to do something, then you put it off and put it off—.”

“I said I’d talk to him and I will.” Hank raised the menu as a barricade against his wife.

Lisa was allowed to use the computer for a whole twenty minutes before her ridiculously early bedtime. Katie had answered her offline message. Sorry I cant stay & chat, she wrote. Going 2 Ts house 4 a slasher movie. Lisa guessed what that meant. Lucky u, she wrote back. She told Katie about Trailer Girl and her psycho stepmother and Debbie’s dumb lecture. Shes wack if she thinks Im going 2 church. She wants 2 convert me 2 a Mormon. She can kiss my sweet ass. Ill c Trailer Girl tomorrow make sure shes ok. Hank showed me a pond where u can swim. Ill ask TG if she wants to come, but Im going no matter what. Its BORING here.

After sending the message Lisa felt strong and free. Sometimes unloading your feelings could do that. Suddenly an idea came to her. She would become Lu’s friend and help her escape from her evil stepmother. Almost like a fairy tale. Lisa grinned to herself. She could be the good girl for once.

Norlene put on the cropped blouse Duane said not to wear. The dumbshit got uptight if she showed her belly button. But she liked the winking French coquettes and the slogan “pas sur la bouche!” printed on the blouse. It was sure to mean something sexy. So you’re stuck out in the backwoods cleaning toilets for a bunch of yuppie assholes, you still got the right to express yourself.

Circling the unmade bed to the bathroom to fix her hair and face, Norlene heard Lu in the living room dusting the knickknacks. This morning she started right to work without being told. Hardly a peep from her since yesterday.

Norlene sprayed her hair and brushed on eye shadow. Her hands trembled with hangover, her head throbbed so hard she didn’t even want a cigarette, and her tongue felt sticky like swallowing a bottle of glue. Used to be you could have a few Coke-and-whiskeys without paying for it with this torment. Not anymore. You’re old and worn down by life. Sex is like taking a shit for all the pleasure you feel. Wake up every morning with a truckload of shit piled on your chest. A loser husband and a crazy stepdaughter and just enough money to scrape by. Might as well put a bullet in your brain.

After several tries she got her lipstick on straight. She tossed the Kleenex in the sink and ran water so it became a soggy mess in the drain. She couldn’t say why it took the edge off her anger and despair.

In the living room Lu was still dusting.

“I expect to find this house clean when I get back. The bathroom too. And don’t forget the sink.”

Today Lu knew better than to answer, “It’s not a house, it’s a trailer,” or some other backtalk. She needed a smacking now and then to make her behave.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you.”

Lu obeyed with her face showing there was no sass on it. Norlene used to face her own mother in the same humbled way. The recognition stabbed like a needle. Why should the girl be anything to you? You ain’t blood.

“I won’t be coming back for lunch,” she said.

The sun outside was blinding. Norlene stumbled off the wooden stoop, landed in a tire track hardened in the clayey ground, and almost fell on her ass. What’s new and different about that? Life’s one fucking accident after another, in one shit hole after another. Until you quit asking if there’s anything more to it. You know there ain’t, not for you.

Norlene took her sweet time walking to the lodge. Today she started working the back cabins. She and the other two maids rotated assignments. Weekends were busy, so she’d have to beg for Saturday or Sunday off. At least working the back cabins, she didn’t have to worry so much about someone breathing down her neck, but she wasted time driving the putt-putt cart that hauled the vacuum cleaner, sheets and towels, mini bottles of shampoo and body lotion, and the rest of that crap. Cheap-ass Darlingtons. They slapped down asphalt on the main trails and thought it made the job easy. But branching off to the back cabins were narrow dirt trails with rocks and tree roots where often as not the cart got stuck.

Debbie Darlington stood outside the supply room like she was waiting for somebody. She had on a crocheted vest that looked handmade, probably cost a couple hundred bucks at least. Norlene pictured her in some fancy boutique, sliding hangers along the rack and making prissy faces. Nothing good enough. Then coming up to the crocheted vest and thinking, Well, maybe…if it’s as expensive as it looks.

Catching sight of Norlene, Debbie smiled her superior smile and said, “How are you today?” like she gave a shit. “Our niece, Lisa, met Lu yesterday. She’s kind of lonely here, and the girls seem to enjoy each other’s company. Would you mind if Lu joined us for church this Sunday?”


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Genre – Thriller / Horror

Rating – R

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Website http://marymaddox.com/ & http://www.ancientchildren.com/