Daughter of Athena
She wiped the little droplets of sweat from her forehead. The steam rose tall like large gates trapping her behind it’s defense. The aroma was normal in her house. The grease popped and hissed against her olive skin and each jerk was a reminder she was stuck doing this until all pieces of chicken were done.
Lexy sighed. This had been the third day in a row she had to come home and cook this shit. The house reeked with the stench and no matter how many windows, doors and vents she left open to quell the smell, nothing could fully destroy the attack on her nostrils. But of course, she trudged on without the slightest whiff of a complaint. What else could she actually do?
Terrance, her husband, bellowed at how well she could cook that damn chicken. He sat on the couch, looking in increments over in her direction to see if his woman was making progress. Lexy could see it from the corner of her eye, each incessant check, each pandering cock of the head, the low grumble of the hungry man.
“Hurry up,” she finally heard from him.
“I only got two hands, nigga.” Her voice muted against the violent grease pops.
“What?” another bellow came from the living room.
“Nothing,” she shook her head, “it’s almost done. Can you go tell the kids it’s almost ready, so they can wash up?”
The large release of air from his nostrils clashed with the grease pops and several stomps later he was on his way to get the kids. Lexy bore a hole through his large back but eventually went back to her duty. The kids must eat.
The pattering of six small feet came within seconds. The little ones were ginger coming down the staircase but as soon as they hit the wooden floors it was racing time. She turned toward them and smiled, telling them to sit down at their seats.
“Mike, make sure your sister and brother are set nicely in their seats.” The oldest of her three kids, but still pretty young himself, she depended on Mike heavily with taking care of his younger siblings. The boy, for what it was worth, was mature beyond his years and always seemed dependable in most situations. For a kid, at least. Lexy laid out four plates and spooned small portions for each child unto their plates, tripling the portions when it came to her’s. The banging of silver and screeches were cathartic compared to the sounds of boiling grease and breathy sighs.
She joined her children at the table and shared a few smiles, listening to their stories about what boy 1 did with girl 2 and how girl 1 started her own group of friends without girl 3. Not once was there an inquiry as to how her day went but she enjoyed their silly conversations nonetheless. Gasping on cue, asking the important questions, agreeing to their little madness. That brief moment wouldn’t last for long though. Terrance stomped back to the kitchen and stood at the threshold, his figure barely fitting in between the space. He circled the table where the four of them sat, inspecting what she only believed as the portions on their plates and how much was left for him.
“Where mine at?”
The air stifled, only the fading pitch of chirping birds were audible. She pointed towards the stovetop.
“Huh?” his voice a little louder than before.
“On. The. Stove.” Lexy’s eye twitched.
“You ain’t make me a plate?”
Really, she thought. Terrance never ate with them, but he loves to go on his soapbox and claim she wasn’t being the wife she promised to be. It wasn’t enough for her to get up before the rooster, fix the kids breakfast, get them on the bus and work eight hours a day. If only she had made that damn plate, right?
“Don’t disrespect me in front of the kids. We don’t do that in this house, huh?”
“Nope. You’re right. How foolish of me to not have considered you when making dinner for the kids. Here let me get that for you.” She snatched the plate from his hands, gripped was like that of a golfer and splat the different foods on the plate. She could feel him watching. Asshole.
“Here.” She said. He let out a grunt and walked away from the table to his place on the couch, turned the television up and began smacking. Lexy sat back down, put a piece of cold chicken in her mouth and tried not to be noticeable when she sighed. Mike rubbed her arm for a little bit. She gave a little smile and angled her head toward her food.
Lexy was sore from the night before. Washing the dishes did not do her any justice and then she had to deal with the rough ineffective thrusts from Terrance for ten minutes. Those nights were always the worst because the words of her mother always came to her head. “Just let him be, he’s a man and it’s our job to make sure he’s able to do as he pleases.” An antiquated view on gender relations for sure, but Lexy continued to live by those standards.
Times were not always about making sure the hearth was taken care of. Lexy was into all the typical boy things: stick fighting, playing with bugs, wrestling with the other local kids in the summer heat, staying away from boys because they had the germ. Doing all the things schools in the south taught her were supposed to be unbefitting of a southern charm such as herself. Back at home with her mom were some of the same lessons she finished going over at school. Knitting, cooking, doing hair as a presentation for some undeserving suitor and etiquette. The last part however, more scenario-based teachings than mouth to ear.
She would be remiss to think her father was a bad one. Those sweltering summer days when he would take her and her brothers down to the lake and fish were nothing but testaments to his unconditional love for them. The pungent smell of each sturgeon they release back into the murky opaque waters came rushing back to her nostrils as she drove home. Dad always applauded her for outdoing her brothers at most “male” activities but always made sure to say to them how they should never let a woman outdo them. Lexy would snicker at them when she won, unknowing of the damage he continually caused to all three of them. At home, mother would have a fit about how unkept she was or how her body odor palpable when in fact the only thing men should smell is fragrance of her lotion. “Go wash up, now,” her mother used to say, “and do something about your hair. You know how much I hate those curls.”
Sometimes she wondered if her parents would be proud of her. By her mother’s standards absolutely. Three kids, a nice home, beautiful kitchen and bedroom; a real mark of success.
Lexy did away with thoughts of her parents and focused on what was to come. She was just promoted and couldn’t wait to tell the family. Finally, she was moving up the ladder and taking on some leading responsibilities at the office. It would require her to spend more time at work but nothing that wasn’t manageable.
She went inside the garage and noticed the smaller door was unlocked again. She just got home. The door to the house opened and Mike stood at the threshold.
“No bags today, sweetheart.” Her little man went back inside the house and she followed. Two steps in and her other two children rushed her like linemen, grabbing hold of her dress, peppering her with all sort of kisses and hugs. Their smells were familiar. Grass. Dirt. Outside. She wished they had been bathed before she came home.
“Hey Babe,” she called out. Terrance grunted. “I just got a promotion at work. I’m finally moving up.” Didn’t come out like she wanted but good news is hardly ever planned correctly.
“So, what does that mean?” His voice echoed across the hall.
“I’ll be getting paid more, but I have to stay at work a little longer.”
“I have more responsibilities now, so I just have to put in a bit more time.”
“What about your responsibilities here?”
“Matter fact, what you cooking tonight?”
“You tell me? You haven’t fed the kids?”
“Fuck no, I’m busy. I don’t have time to do all that.”
Busy doing bullshit was more like it. Terrance hadn’t worked in years thanks to a few lucky breaks and lawsuits. Most of the time he sat at home and watched tv, only making sure the kids got in the house okay. His busy work usually consisted of drinking, talking to his ex-wife, drinking, eating and shitting. Occasionally he would get off his ass and disappear a few hours and return home in the dead of the night, waking everyone in the house.
“So, you’re telling me I have to find something to cook at 7PM?”
“What else would you do? Don’t worry about me though, I’m going out.”
The image of her mother returned, and she pulled out the leftovers from the night before. The kids ate as their father stepped out of the house, each brutish step carrying echoes of his dominance. She knew he walked like that because in his eyes, he couldn’t be touched. Women were beneath his might, any one of them should be lucky to have a man like him and they would never be left alone about that fact. The door slammed, and the kids began their chaos as they always have once he left. She picked up the dishes.
Lexy heard the unsubtle crash of the keys late in the night. The frogs moaned their bitter tune against the call of the geese as her husband stumbled his way around the house. She shifted, hoping to feign sleep so he would just lay himself down in his drunken stupor. A knock here or there, a sorry came from the kids’ rooms before Terrance finally found the door to their bedroom. Lexy pressed her eyes down harder, tried to regulate her breathing and stay perfectly still.
He came anyway. The quick thud of his body on top of hers thwarted any attempt of possum. The effluvia of cocktails, cheap pussy and cigarettes encompassed her once pristine bedsheets. She ignored his unattractive mating call; small rumbles, a show of his teeth, the eerie curl of his lips. The usual suspects.
“Come on, Baby,” he half-hearted whispered in her ear.
She declined, gesturing him away like she would a fly. It didn’t stop him. Crabby hands made their way up her gown, a tongue stabbing the side of her face, the heat of his breath seizing the clean air around her. She winced. Each grotesque grunt followed by another. Her eyes fixated on the ceiling, counting the seconds until it would finally be over. Her mother would emphasize the importance of keeping a man satisfied no matter the occasion. “The duty of the wife was never over, even if another woman has helped you out a little.” The view of the ceiling distorted to a wetness and the lessons of her mother chimed ever so as the barbaric man had his way with his woman.
Three hundred seconds. She turned over and clutched the sheets. The darkness gave her solace while the shower’s hum lulled her to an escape.
She woke to the smell of fresh bacon being fried. There were clutters and clatters coming from downstairs and the sweet laughs of her little children brought relief to her tired body. There was something else, a laugh from a voice she hadn’t heard in a long time. The soft, passive voice of a man who spoke with purity. The vibrato of each syllable danced around his tongue, playing a sweet sonnet of which only the foolish would not be enticed by. It had been so long since she heard that voice and through the haze she saw its silhouette.
“Hey, Baby,” the wide, commanding figure said in front of the glares of the sun, “the kids and I made you breakfast. Come down when you’re ready. But not too long, wouldn’t want the food to get cold.”
The kids? What did this voice know of her ki- Terrance? Her eyes fixed upon his figure, making out the subtle details of his large frame. His face washed, the stench replaced by what smelled of frankincense. She sized him up one more time and nodded.
Although she heard the commotion earlier, the scene she walked in to was different. The kitchen utensils neatly cleaned and drying in the rack, frying pans already disposed of the grease, neat plates already prepped with respective meals.
“Come sit,” Terrance motioned for her to sit at the table. Her approach was ginger. She looked at all the kids eating, quiet as predators finally catching their prey. Mike was the closest to her, so she rubbed his head. As long as they were okay.
“Where did you learn to do all this?” The food was a wonderful medley of aromas and tastes. Each type of food fulfilled a different objective. At the same time, they complimented each other like a marriage. The flavors partnered with each other to fulfil their common purpose, not leaving anything out. It was complete.
His smile brought her back to the wonderful days of him courting her. “I know a lil’ something,” he said.
“Yeah but this is really good!” The kids agreed in unison.
“Oh-ho! You didn’t think I had the skills!”
“That’s not it silly,” she lightly tapped his knee under the table, “I just don’t remember you telling me about how you versed in the culinary arts.”
“Well, if you must know,” his eyes trailed from hers, “When my cousins weren’t beating me and constantly reminding me of how luck I was to be living in their space, they actually taught me useful skills like this.”
“Oh.” Lexy eyes couldn’t meet his anymore.
“Great. You’ve gone and ruined the whole damn meal.” She snatched her head up, cocking it to one side. Terrance banged against the table, the two youngest began to cry. “You just had to ask something so fucking stupid, huh?”
“No that’s not it. It was really good and I-”
“I didn’t ask for your fucking response. Here I am, busting my ass to make this nice fucking breakfast for you and the kids and you just can’t keep your mouth fucking shut and eat like a goddamn human being. The family suffers when you act like that.”
She should have known it wouldn’t last. It was always like this only he wou- her head slammed against the table, sirens screamed inside her head. There was a deep pressure behind her neck and it progressively got tighter. He was choking her. She tried to scream. Nothing. Two of the little ones were crying but she couldn’t hear Mike anywhere. Lexy prayed Terrance wouldn’t kill her today.
“Get off of her!” Mike’s scream rose over the wailings of his younger siblings and Lexy froze, she didn’t know the capacity of Terrance’s rage and surely didn’t want it to be turned on to Mike. She faintly heard light thumps and felt the impacts of each hit from her son’s small hands.
“Stupid little boy. Just like your mother!” The grip Terrance had on her loosened. There was a clap. “Fuck this.” Terrance released Lexy and stampeded out of the house, knocking over family photos, memorabilia and other aesthetics in the process, shattering must in dozens of pieces.
Lexy ran to her son, checking him for any additional bruises. She gathered the other two kids, held them tight and cried.
This was too hard for her. Lexy knew there was no way she was going to survive. That was the first time he had ever laid a hand on her, but the impact of the blow was excruciating. She had seen her mother take beatings like that all the time. Each time, the thuds were loud and noticeable behind closed doors. Every time though, her mom would smear the blood from the corners of her mouth, straighten her blouse and continue the work she had set for the day. Her father always had called her mom weak. Lexy always agreed because there was no way a woman would continually take beatings like that.
Lexy knew she couldn’t. She rolled the windows down and started the car. It ran for moments and the haze around slowly filled the area. The kids had been put to bed and Terrance had been gone for most of the day after his incident. She just couldn’t take it anymore. The only way she knew how to get back at him would be for him to take care of the kids without him. It’ll show him how weak he actually is.
The first nod came. There was an unbelievable tiredness. Lexy figured the last thing she wanted to do was think of something so negative, at least once she wanted to do something that would fill her with happiness. She thought back to a time her Dad had taken just her fishing. She was the best one out her siblings and he said he wanted to spend some time with his “little girl.”
They sat in the boat, the morning sun barely reaching over the horizon, mosquitoes attacking their skin searching for any way to break the human flesh. Fish jumped out of the water and the boat lulled slowly on the waters as father and daughter stared out, not saying a word to each other.
“Lex,” her father finally broke the silence, “Don’t let what your mom and I do happen to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Athena is a strong woman. I know I treat her like shit most of the time, but that is the only woman I know that scares the shit out of me.”
“Daddy, I don’t see that. Everything I see seems like she just takes it. How can she be strong?”
“Every beating you think she takes is a damn fight. She looks me in the eye every time and never sheds a single tear. She’s strong because I can never break her spirit. Your Dad has never been a great husband and I take it out on Athena all the time. But, she right back in there every day making shit hard on me.”
“I never knew that.”
“That means we sort of did our job. I just wish I never hurt her in the first place. But what’s done is done, all I hope is that when you are finally married, you nip that shit in the bud before it gets too out of hand. Promise?”
Her father committed suicide not much longer after and her mother stood tall, married another sweeter man and all that time Lexy hated her for being weak and not cherishing her late husband’s legacy. It was as if their last talk went through one ear and out the other, but now that she was reminded of the peaceful scenery with her father, she could plainly see how pissed and determined her mother would be after every argument or beating. Not because she was ashamed of her inadequacies as a wife, but because her dumbass husband had actually tried her again. Her mom had the grace to keep moving forward and never breaking just because someone meant to abuse her.
Lexy nodded again, the haze was heavier and thicker, almost palpable in the garage. It smelled of her weakness and she took what little strength she had remaining and pressed the remote to open the garage. The haze rushed away from its prison, letting its purer cousin occupy the space, turning the area into a clean pasture of opportunity. She breathed. The fog began to dissipate, and her vision cleared.
Inside the low rumbles of the kids breathing occupied the house’s enclosures and Lexy sat in the chair Terrance usually sat in.
He finally came home. The noise he usually makes accompanied him along the way and she stared at his hulking frame.
“Finally decided to come home?”
“Fuck you still durrrring up?” his body leaned.
“Waiting on you.”
“Hardly.” She raised from her seat as a queen would when leaving her throne. Each step deliberates, her eyes never off him or his swaying figure. “I think we need to have a talk.”
He reached up and slammed his palm across her face. She barely budged, the pain she had received from him all seemed trivial. The kids in bed were more important than her feelings of embarrassment and shame. She needed to teach them that this way of life was not certain and would not have to be repeated. Lexy knew Mike would probably remember these moments but the other two little ones would be spared for the most part.
“Who are you talking to like this, bitch?” He went in for another but Lexy was quick, moving under him and placing the cold steel object just under her husband’s chin. The image of her mother staring intently and approvingly at her was solid. Her mother nodded. The lessons about being womanly were not all about being the perfect wife, they were about perseverance and dignity, something she had never seen in her mother. But now she saw it clearly. The woman she so harshly scorned was actually who Lexy would have to become.
Sometimes he writes just to find deeper meaning in his thoughts. An unpolished product, as it was intended.