Soon during those dark nights the Sundays came and Pa wouldn't make too much an effort to eat at the boarding house dinners with me. We would stay in and I was fiercely happy to just sit in the room. Pa would pull out the family bible and light a single lamp so as we could give service to God. That was how he'd put it. I wasn't really good at my letters, but the times I got to look at the Good Book with Pa enhanced my learning. He'd read slowly with his fingertip underneath the words. I learned about how God was strong and firm but created us in His image. Heard about folks turned to salt and others flooded and dying for crossing God. God was scary to me, but that Preacher scared me more. I had overheard more than one of the boarders say they didn't much care for his preaching, and that he screamed and yelled at his flock how they would pay for every sin in hellfire. That didn't sound much like a church I'd ever been inside and from the fear in their voices they didn't like it either.
Miss Lottie didn't take kindly to us not sitting down with all the boarders on those Sundays Pa was there. She'd whine something fierce at Pa that the Sunday meals were important to all of us boarders, working together and eating together for us to be civil. One night I was sitting in the corner of our room with the lamp just lit, and Pa left my side to open the door when Miss Lottie knocked briskly and shouted she'd need to see him. He stood in the doorway, blocking her from shoving her way inside like she was a wont to do. I'm purty sure Miss Lottie hadn't noticed me, or even gave a thought to where else I'd be if not in our room. The woman truly hated me. Pa had just got off work from the bank 'cause he was in his suit and she'd nearly followed him up the stairs on his heels. He'd barely had time to watch me light the lamp when she came a-calling.
Her voice was high and tight as it was when she was excited about something -- she got excited awfully easy so I knew the sound. Her nattering started up before the door was even opened completely by my Pa. She started right in about his missing the Sunday meal she'd just served. It clean escaped her that he had just came home, so either way he'd have missed her slop.
"Sir, I am troubled that you can't be bothered to come to dinner just once a week! Your room comes with meals and I take time to make a pleasant meal more than a simple soup for the enjoyment of all my boarders! It's been remarked upon that perhaps you think yourself above us all and need to find another living situation."
She paused long enough to gasp in a gulp of air and my Pa struck quickly.
"I will be happy to leave if that is what you wish. Naturally I will find it necessary to tell the bank how far behind you are with your loan payments. My living here has been the reason your past missing payments have been overlooked. We will be out on the first." His tone was dry and cruel. I knew my eyes nearly popped clean outta my face. He rarely pushed folks in front of me, but I could tell he was tired and upset about something. His face was shadowed, and his eyes seemed to be sunk in his head.
Miss Lottie began exclaiming loudly that was not what she wished. She just felt 'obligated' to keep Pa informed.
As she tried to fly out of range, she felt 'obligated' to make one swipe back, "And your child should be in school unless she is unable to learn. She doesn't talk at all, you know."
Before Pa could reply, she'd flown down the stairs while saying she'd be back for the rent in ten days. Pa grimaced and sat back next to me and said, "Why don't you go to school?"
I shrugged; it wasn't like I was going to sit and listen to somebody yap at me about stuff I wasn't interested in, and had no reason to go out and seek such.
He laughed and said, "Don't worry. I won't force you to go. But you might think about it since winter gets cold in the room and I doubt Miss Lottie is going to waste much wood on the fires to keep you warm now that we've had words. She's a tight-fisted, nosy woman." He mumbled some other words beneath his breath that sounded even worse to my ears. I didn't ask him to repeat the words since I didn't much care. Miss Lottie wasn't nice and Pa wasn't fooled.
I nodded and brought the family bible over without answering.
The next Sunday we were down for the meal and Miss Lottie positively purred. Preacher made us all bow our heads for blessing and took a long time talking about his idea of a vengeance-filled God before we were able to start eating. During the meal I kept getting a floppy feeling in my tummy and noticed that every time Preacher ate he smacked his lips together and kept sliding glances to me. Something was evil in that man.
The next morning Pa left in a hurry and didn't turn the lock. I was still huddled in the bedding trying to keep warm when I saw the knob turning. I launched myself under the bed and tried to keep from shaking. The door opened slowly and I saw the worn black shoes of the Preacher in the doorway. He inhaled deeply and said, "I know you are here somewhere, little bird. You won't be able to hide your ripeness from me much longer. I need to purify you and your soul. Soon."
I heard Miss Lottie coming up the hallways and saying, "Is there something wrong, Preacher? Whatever are you doing in the banker's room?" I heard a sound that took me a second to figure out -- it was flesh slapping flesh. A quick squeak and then, "You evil creature. You hit me!" Miss Lottie screamed and then it was oddly quiet. A thud, then I saw from beneath the bed that she'd fallen into the doorway and was bleeding from her nose and mouth. Her eyes were open and flat. The Preacher's hands must have choked her 'cause I could see deep red marks on her neck and I don't think she was breathing. The Preacher stepped over her and he strode into the room further and said, "You see what you've done? You made me kill this nosy woman. That is a sin on your soul that you must atone for soon. You come to me soon or I'll kill your father."
He shoved Miss Lottie's unmoving body back with a casual foot and closed the door. I was flat on the floor still under the bed smelling the dust and oil from the wood flooring while waiting for him to return. Terrified, I stayed in the room beneath the bed while the room got colder, and didn't move until I heard my Pa coming up the stairs. His footsteps faltered and he exclaimed. I never thought that the Preacher had left Miss Lottie outside until that moment. I heard him exclaim and there was thuds and gasps as other boarders gathered around the front of our room. I pulled myself into a small ball and moved away from the voices and shuddered. It was a while before my Pa came inside, but there weren't a body in front of the door, so I stayed frozen and watched him to see what he was going to say.
He undressed quietly and said to me, "Miss Lottie is sick and went away."
Pa never asked me a question about if I had heard anything during the day but simply went to bed. The next day after he went to work, I wasn't worried about Miss Lottie since I knew she wasn't ever coming back, so I stayed in the room with the door locked. About mid-day there was a soft knock on the door. I watched the knob turn back and forth and knew in my tummy that is was the Preacher. He found he wasn't able to come in and softly said, "Little one. You come to my room right quick or I will snap your Pa's neck tonight when he comes home. You know I will." He walked away whistling a lively tune.
And after an hour or so I did.
To be continued...