Thursday, March 27, 2014

Excerpt from Hush

From the short story: Hush, January 1968
The man in the fern green suit and the pointed hat leaned over the body of Hannah’s mother. “What’s your name, little one?” He smiled like that used car lot salesman when her father had bought them the very Volkswagen she sat in.
Now the white leather upholstery was stained with Mom’s blood as the man got into the car with Hannah. The windows were smeared with the same stuff after the man in the green suit had attempted to wipe it off after he’d asked Hannah his question. He then assumed the driver’s seat, leaving Mom behind in the parking lot of the unattended gas station, where it was dark and no one seemed to be working. Mom had stopped because of a flat tire when the man in green, claiming to be a local on a late night stroll, came upon them to help replace the tire. Only after doing so, Hannah had watched as the man raised the same tire iron he’d used to help Mom with over his head, and began beating her in so many times that her skull caved inward.
The last Hannah saw her mother was through the rear window, as the man in green pulled the Volkswagen back onto the freeway. They weren’t going home like Mom had promised. The man didn’t say where they were going. All he did was turn up the radio, from which he commenced singing along to Angel of the Morning as if Hannah didn’t exist in the same car as he.
Hannah didn’t answer the man when he had asked her name. The girl just clung to her Shrinkin’ Violet doll her mom bought for her sixth birthday four years ago. She was too old now to be hugging dolls when men scared her, no matter what. But she had long since discarded Shrinkin’ Violet into the Volkswagen many years ago, and Mom was no longer here. Hannah had nothing to hold onto but an annoying talking doll. The man glanced to her frequently with those narrow black eyes in the rearview mirror. He still sang along with Merrilee Rush from the radio in his smooth, surprisingly melodic voice.
They drove until daybreak. The man only then stopped in the parking lot of a roadside diner called Delilah’s. The man had said he was hungry, and told Hannah that he would be willing to feed her as well if she was a good girl. Her stomach rumbled; she hadn’t eaten since yesterday. Mom would’ve been mad at her for accepting charity from the man who had killed her, but what was Hannah supposed to do?
He could leave her in the car. He could just beat her to death, too. Hannah folded her arms, pulling Shrinkin’ Violet to her chest as she gazed at the desert outside the backseat window. The man’s face in the reflection showed a frown, as though disappointed. But then Hannah shifted her eyes to the man again, her expression neutral.
“What’s your name?” she asked, her words an echo of the man’s former query.
The man shoulders relaxed, and he smiled again. “You can call me Iggy, Hannah.”
Hannah squinted. “How d’you know my name?”
Iggy tossed something over, landing on the seat next to Hannah. It turned out to be a Polaroid from her ballet lesson two years ago. Underneath it was her name — Hannah Vallejo.
“Found that tucked away in your mama’s sun visor,” Iggy explained. “She must’ve been real proud of you, little Hannah.”
“I’m not little,” Hannah quipped, her fingernails digging into Shrinkin’ Violet’s head of blonde yarn-hair. “I turned ten four days ago.”
“I really love your freckles, little one,” Iggy told her as if he didn’t hear a word Hannah just said, his black eyes seeing right through her. “I’m guessing you got them from your mama. She had an Irish fire in her hair. But you...” He reached over the back seat, running a few fingers through the strands of Hannah’s black hair. She gasped and shrunk into the corner of the backseat, her nails digging into the doll’s blonde head. Iggy watched with a serene look. “Vallejo, Vallejo... I wager that your daddy must be Spanish. Do you speak Spanish, Han?”
Reluctantly, Hannah shook her head.
“Me neither.” Iggy withdrew his hand, holding it to his chest for a moment, and then swung the driver’s door opened. Then the back door next to Hannah flew out, and Iggy standing on the other side.
Iggy wasn’t as tall as Hannah thought when she had seen him raising a tire iron over his head, but he was still bigger than Hannah herself. And he was skinny. Could probably outrun her if she tried. Mom had her in a floral dress and penny loafers for an evening church meeting with a group of women at Sally’s, the preacher’s wife who lived on the edge of town. If Mom hadn’t decided to stay so late, Hannah wouldn’t have fallen asleep. They wouldn’t have gotten a flat tire. Hannah wouldn’t have been taken by a stranger who had driven Dad’s car throughout the night to Delilah’s, where she’d never been before.
Still in her green floral dress and penny loafers, Hannah stumbled out of the car, dropping Violet in the seat next to her when Iggy grabbed her forearm and dragged her out. The serenity waned from his expression; all that remained was a strained stretch of his mouth.
His hand tightened around hers. “Now, little one, the rules are simple. We’re going to go in, have a nice meal. I’ll pay. You eat. It’s a win-win situation, don’t you think? If you raise any unwanted attention, I’ll hurt everyone like I hurt your mama. It’ll be your fault. Think you can live with that?”
Hannah didn’t tell him no, but she didn’t have to.

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