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July 15, 2024

Place Settings 14

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Fourteen: Maria, The Ugly Past

Bedencourt was a big guy, heavy, determined. Had a very successful dairy, needed a woman to give him some sons to take over his kingdom. -- His cow-dom, better word.

My father knew, since he had only one kid, a daughter, me, that he really needed to leave his dairy to his brother's son, so he had to get rid of me.

I don't know if he ever loved me. He was always kind, except when I became a woman, and then was pretty sharp and stern, telling me I had to marry someone with prospects or go to the Church, that he would not support me after I had been schooled, he was not going to pay for the food of a woman of leisure.

My mother never said a word on the subject. I asked her a couple times if she didn't think maybe she might need my help in running the household as she got older; she wouldn't answer me. 'You need to think of your future, Maria. Not mine.'

Yeah, Mama, I got my future lined up for me, all right. Great fat pig of a man waiting to jump on me after wedding day, all white lace and satin and then a grunting hog telling me to spread my legs and let him hurt me.

Yes, it hurt. I didn't even know what I had down there except for the parts you wipe when you go to the bathroom, and didn't have any warning at all. Don't know what my mother was thinking, or not thinking. Maybe it was the same for her. I called her the next day, crying, when Bedencourt went out to the barns and I was alone. She listened a little, but then told me it was what a wife has to endure, and to stop being such a baby and grow up.

She told me the same thing the first time he slapped me for serving his breakfast cold. He told me to have his eggs and toast and ham ready for eight o'clock sharp, but at 8:15 he came back from the barn late, and I was off in the bedroom changing Celio's diapers. Only good thing about that was that I had put Celio in his crib, and he was too young to know that his mother was a lazy puta who deserved a clap across the face to teach her to keep the food warm for the man who gave her a home.

Why didn't I just up and leave him? In those days, you just didn't. I had no real education, my family wouldn't take me back, and even if Celio's father was a pig, I couldn't just run away from him and let the pig raise him to be another pig.

"Does Pae slap you and call you a whore?" I asked my mother one day. She didn't answer, just walked away and went outside to her garden. When I followed her, she pretended I didn't ask that question, and when I asked her again, she walked away from me again. Some questions you don't ask, that was the lesson that morning.

I learned -- quick -- to do what Bedencourt told me do, put everything else on the back burner. Nowadays I think they say, 'When the boss asks you to jump, you ask "How high?" on the way up.' Food, sex, cleaning, family, visitors. Do what your husband wants you to do and shut your damn mouth. Don't second guess him about how he treats his sons. Don't even pretend to take an interest in the business that keeps the farm going, you're too damn dumb to know anything about it. And don't try to learn because a wife doesn't need to know.

God have mercy on me, I sound so bitter. But I am so bitter. Couldn't I have had a better life? Sometimes I did argue with God. Why does a woman have to put up with being called names? Why does a woman have to put up with slaps? I was sure I hadn't committed any big sins -- worst thing I remember was eating strawberries off the garden when I was five while they were still white, or throwing pine cones at the jaybirds when they came to steal grapes from our vine. Why do you punish me with this man, God?

Do you want me to kill him and put you out on the street, Maria? Can you run the dairy and hold on to the land?

Street, no. Kill him, yes. But I couldn't run the dairy with two small boys, three small boys, four small boys. No place to go with them, unless I threw myself on the mercy of Bedencourt's father, and who taught Bedencourt how to treat a woman except him?

My oldest was fourteen when I started to bleed twice a month. I was frightened, but it kept Bedencourt off me more. Wasn't right, but going to the doctor wasn't something I was supposed to do, either. After the first couple scares, I was glad. Maybe it was God's answer to part of my prayers.

I try not to be ungrateful -- the dairy did well, and we had -- he had -- plenty of money to keep us comfortable in food and heat in winter. No one could say we were poor or unsuccessful.

By 'no one,' I mean, in our church community, since we didn't go anywhere else. At church, at the bake sales, I learned from other wives, recipes for sweet and luxurious pastries and cakes, and I made them for my family.

God have mercy on me, I made sure my sons didn't eat too much of them, so that Bedencourt could have his fill. He got fatter and fatter, and crushed me all the more, but not so often.

After a while, him jumping on me made me bleed worse. He gave me a beating when the sheets got soiled, but I shouted at him, "You fat pig! You made me bleed! Go tell your mother that you hurt your wife so much that she bleeds all over everything!" He slapped me so hard that I had to wear a Mexican mantilla when we went to church the next Sunday to hide the bruise on my face. But after that, he didn't climb on me again.

He slapped me more, though, and I think that was what made two of my sons run away to work at other dairies. The older two just left for college, got agricultural scholarships because they wanted to stay in the dairy business as managers. Nothing any of them could have done to stop his slapping -- they got smacked and kicked as much or more than I did. I was glad they could escape, and hoped that they wouldn't treat their women as badly.

You know, if I found out they were treating their wives so bad, I'd step in and kick their asses.

Now. Now that I'm feeling so much better.

But back then, oh, I just had to put on camouflage and stay out of the line of fire. Cook well, big, big meals, clean house, keep away from the reach of his hands. Every damn day, from four in the morning until ten at night.

He came in from the barns at about two in the afternoon, sat in his big easy chair, and slept until four, woke to supper, went out to milk the cows at five, and then came back in by seven to doze again for a while, maybe make a few phone calls.

Me? I wasn't allowed to take a nap. If I wasn't at the grocery store in the morning, or at the stove for making lunch and making dinner, I had better be cleaning up, because Bedencourt didn't stand for lazy women, or a dusty house.

Maybe that's why after he died, I just let the whole upstairs go to dust. Go ahead, try to haunt me, you pig. Watch the dust gather, and if you show up as a ghost I will tell you that all that dust is for you, that every little piece of it is one of your slaps or insults for me and our sons. That dust is you.

All those dusty sheets, gone into the garbage can. Here is Big Blue, with their big blue truck, loading all that old furniture into the back. They say they try to repurpose it, make it useable for someone else. Good luck, guys. I think all that stuff is cursed and whoever uses it will hear Bedencourt's misery coming out of it. But what do I know? Maybe sitting in a warehouse will get rid of every memory of him and what he did to me and our sons.

Gloria stands beside me while the truck moves away, and I look at her. She's about as tall as I am, maybe a little taller, and so ... unafraid to be her own self. She's mad at her mother right now, but I tell you that her mother and her father treated her well, better than well: they taught her that she was a real human being and that she didn't need to be anyone's slave or pet or whipping boy. The way she stands -- hey, now that I'm not sick anymore, I can stand like that all the time now, too. I just got rid of all that Bedencourt crap and the upstairs is empty, except for Gloria's room. I'm free of him. All of our family is.

I look at the drippy brown leaves of the trees, and think about our sons, about his brothers and their wives. I think that the rest of the family set themselves free of him a long time ago. Why did I hold on? Because of a church service and words I said that I didn't understand? Well, wait, I did understand them, but I didn't think that I was marrying a pig and not a husband.

Let's think about this again. I saw Bedencourt before we were married, and I thought he looked like a giant pig. When he looked at me, I didn't see any love in his eyes, they were just bleary like he was about half drunk, which he wasn't because he didn't drink, but he didn't care that I was pretty -- oh, maybe on the good side of kind of plain -- or that I could cook and sew and keep house. I was just a -- an item of trade. He took me off my father's hands, and Pae got a new bull to get his cows in milk.

I knew Bedencourt was a pig. What if I had run away to the city, to Modesto, and begged for money on the street, enough to get to some other city, maybe Sacramento, or even Phoenix? Holed up in a homeless shelter and applied for some kind of help to get schooling?

But an obedient girl in her father's household didn't do things like that. You did what you were told, went where you were told, married the man your family thought would do the most good, walked in the same steps that your mother did, and her mother before her did.

And maybe that's why I've come to like Gloria so much. She makes her own steps, doesn't try to follow her mother or other girls like her. She reminds me of the woman I should have been, the woman I secretly wished I could have been.

She watches the truck take all that ugly memory away and worries that I might miss it. Even my mother never said she worried that I might miss living with her and Pae. Gloria thinks about how other people feel: her brothers, her mother -- and me. I cared about how my sons felt about how they were treated by Bedencourt, but you know, I don't really know how they feel about their lives now. They are safe, and secure, but what do they love? What do they hope for? I have no idea.

I'll watch this Gloria, and see what she knows that I don't.

And keep a close eye on her brother Ben, make sure he doesn't try to sell me the moon or anything. Because I think I'd find myself writing out a check.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2021-03-01
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
02:04:40 PM
Maria is getting wiser. Her thoughts make me ache for women who have or have had to live like she did. This is another one of America's seamy underside that needs to be done away with. Glad to see Maria has left it behind.
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