LOCKED IN PURGATORY
A novel by Nakia R. Laushaul
A wise man leads his family by example.
AFTER TEN LONG YEARS LEFT TO ROT IN A NURSING HOME, LUTHER BENNETT is plum sick of this life. Paralyzed from the waist down after experiencing a series of strokes, the man who once held power, wealth and prestige in the palm of his hands, now has nothing at all except for disturbing memories of his past. Luther’s son, SAMUEL BENNETT, heir to the misfortune of his father’s wealth has grown weary of walking in his father’s shoes while trying to forage out an identity all his own. Trapped in a relationship that doesn’t exist and a mounting mistrust of all men, Luther’s only daughter, LYNNE BENNETT just can’t seem to find the love and validation that should have come from her father.
As their lives begin to unravel, the Bennett family must finally make a decision. Live the way they’ve always lived—rooted in secrets, denial and festering anger or change. Can Luther, a mere shell of his former self, save his shattered family from the devastating purgatory he’s created?
“Come on, baby, be nice for a couple of hours,” I said, entering our master bedroom. I had planned to reason with her one last time before I left her at home—alone with her attitude for company. I wasn’t up for another one of Marian’s hateful moods. She yanked the closet door open and shuffled hangers around noisily.
“If this was Woody, would you want me to miss his graduation?” I already knew that the answer was a firm, no. It had always been clear that Marian cared very little for my other two children. “You have five minutes and I’m leaving.” I swallowed my drink.
Marian knew what she was doing when she put that skirt on. It was her way of upstaging Sylvia, who was very modest. I didn’t feel like a woman war that night. It was all about Samuel. I wanted my wife and my other son, Woody, there, but I wasn’t going to fight. She rolled her eyes and pursed her lips together. The silent treatment again. I walked into the bathroom, washed my face, and gargled with a little mouthwash to rinse the bitter taste of bourbon out of my mouth.
“I’m sorry for getting mad, honey. You’re right.” Marian had walked up behind me and wrapped her hands around my waist from the back. She rested her head between my shoulder blades. “It’s just that I love this skirt and never get to wear it,” she said, whining.
“Get the camera and I’ll take a picture of you wearing it to remember how good you look in it,” I said jokingly. “But you still have to change or I’m leaving you behind.
“Okay.” Marian went back into the bedroom and I was so glad that she had agreed to change. “Come on, honey. I’m ready for my close-up.”
I went back into the room and she was sprawled across the bed, holding the camera out for me. The clearest snapshot of that evening still remains with me today. It wasn’t even worth this, I thought, as I put the photo face-down on the stand. Marian and I were on our way to my oldest son, Samuel’s, high school graduation ceremony, and let’s just say that we never made it out of the bedroom. After I snapped a few shots of her on the bed, she pulled the skirt down slowly, wiggling a little to get it over the hefty hill of her rear end. When it finally dropped to her ankles, she stood before me without any underwear on. I took my tie off. I could be a few minutes late.
I enjoyed my romp with Marian and taking those photos of her naked. It was fun while it lasted, but not worth what I traded for it. I missed something I’d never been able to regain. No matter how many times I asked him, Samuel never forgave me. I lost my son’s faith. His trust and his loyalty.
Instead of addressing the news Marian had so brazenly revealed to us, my father picked up his bags and followed her right on out of the door, with no regard for me or my mother or the shock we were in.
My father stopped and turned around slowly.
“What is this?” My mother barely whispered, tears still pouring down her face.
“I’m sorry, Sylvia. I was going to tell you. I—I. . .” He held up his one free hand in a gesture of apology. “Samuel? Samuel.”
“Yes, sir?” I jumped to attention. It was the first time since I had been home that I had been acknowledged. As I walked toward him, half of me hated my father and felt guilty for it. The other half of me didn’t and loved him unconditionally. Either way, I still had to speak to him with a respect that I didn’t feel. I folded up the acceptance letter and put it in my back pocket.
“Come and get your mama. I’m going to need you to be the man of the house for a little while. Take care of your sister too. I’ll be back to check on you.” He didn’t wait for a response. He didn’t address my mother at all. He walked out the door and closed it behind him.
My mother used the sleeve of her shirt to wipe her face, leaving brown and black smudges on it. Then she closed her eyes, fanned her face with her hands, and let out a long sigh. And as if nothing had ever happened, she asked, “What’d the letter say?”
“Huh? What letter?” I asked, confused.
She didn’t say anything more, but waited until I caught on to what she was referring to.
“Oh, it said I got accepted,” I said dryly. Although I was excited, it just didn’t seem right to celebrate getting accepted to Texas A&M when my father had just walked out the door, most likely for good now that he’d gone off and married Marian.
“Well, that’s good for you, son. I guess you’re gonna be an Aggie man just like your daddy.” She tried to smile. “That’s really good news, honey.”
Just like my daddy? I can’t express how much over the years I grew to despise those four words: just like your daddy. You look just like your daddy. You act just like your daddy. You’re stubborn just like your daddy. Truth be told, I couldn’t wait to leave it all behind. When I became a man, I wasn’t going to be shit like Luther Bennett.
“I … um … I want you to take me to see your father.”
“Let me finish, young lady,” she snapped. “This thing with you and your father, it needs to end. And I think—”
“No,” I repeated, cutting her off.
“If something happens to him and you—”
“No!” I cut her off again.
My mind was full of other awful things to say. I bit my lip to keep from spewing them out. I was one of those people who had a nonstop express line from my mind to my mouth. Whatever came to mind was definitely going to come tumbling out of my mouth. And there was nothing saintly going on in my mind at the mention of visiting my father. I had long ago grown extremely weary of the crusade to bring me and my alleged sperm donor back together.
“You can go by yourself. It’s only twenty minutes from your house. And I haven’t been to see Luther in…“
The truth is, I’d never gone to see that man. And I never planned on going either. Luther had been in that nursing home—hopefully, rotting away—for ten years and I proudly boasted a cumulative total of zero visits, about the same number of times he came to visit me when I was in living in Ennis. Fair exchange is no robbery.
“Luther? Since when did you start referring to your father as Luther? Mind your manners, Lynne. You know we raised you better than that.”
“Sorry, Mom. You’re right, Grandma raised me better,” I countered. “And I guessed you had something to do with raising me too.” I imagined my mother squirming at the cheap shot I took at her expense. She deserved it. “Why do you want to go see him anyway? I heard about the last time. Marian doesn’t want you there. I don’t think it would be a good idea.”
“Of course I remember, and I don’t want to discuss that anymore. I want to go and I want you to take me. I’ll be ready about eight on Saturday, so I expect to see you pulling into my driveway. Don’t be late.”
**COMING MAY 20, 2014**