Ruth was a diminutive child of thirteen. Her brown hair was poorly cropped and a torturous overbite had gone uncorrected for years. Fully clothed she weighed seventy-five pounds. Her green dress exposed a pair of knobby knees that barely supported her frail frame. Tiny brown eyes peered from behind thick glasses and dark shadows contoured hollow cheekbones. Ruth was not a fair sight to look upon, and this did not go unnoticed by other children.
And then there was Eugene. Ruth’s mom had married Eugene Morgan a year after Ruth’s dad died. Ruth and Eugene never developed an attachment. She avoided him as much as possible for the first year. Unfortunately, her mom became ill and was confined to bed. She lingered in a sickly state, drifting in and out of consciousness. Shortly after her death, Ruth became aware of Eugene’s peculiar behavior.
“Did you learn anything from your mistakes today, girl?” Eugene asked. He glared at her as he poured himself a glass of water.
Ruth did not look up but stopped fumbling with the dishes. Maybe, she thought, he would forgive her if she just answered him. If so, there would be no need to make a trip to the basement for forgiveness.
“I need to be more responsible when it comes to the duties that I have around the home,” she replied. Her voice was mechanical and without emotion, as if prerecorded for such a conversation. Her back still burned from the morning belt lashings. Eugene had made her lower her dress and the thick leather belt pelted her body like the stinging whelps of a yellow jacket.
He scooted his chair away from the table and beckoned with a dirty hand for Ruth to come sit on his lap. She hesitated as a familiar fear hovered over her like a dark cloud settling over a mountain. But she knew that further lingering could invite another beating. She dried her hands on her apron and walked toward Eugene. Her head was bowed and she never looked up from the floor. Eugene’s pants were filthy from work and he smelled of dirt, oil and stale tobacco, but Ruth obediently sat on his lap.