It made me want to sit on his lap the rest of my life. He talked about getting a tattoo on his shoulder, a rose and the word Frances. I said I'd get Yosemite Sam on my upper thigh. "The hell you will," he said. It turned out I didn't need it; Bobby tattooed me himself, with his hands.
"Red hair is too conspicuous," Patty Bancroft had said on the phone. It had been the only conspicuous thing about me, all these years. Smart, but not too. Enterprising, but not too. Friendly, but not too. The kind of girl who becomes a nurse, not a doctor. The kind of nurse who becomes assistant head, but not head nurse. The kind of wife--well, no one knew about that.
"There's still some good years left on her," Bobby would say when his friends came over, and they'd laugh. It was the way they all talked about their wives, and I wondered, looking at their flushed and friendly faces, if they were thinking of bones that had not yet been broken, areas that had not yet blossomed with bruises. And they looked at me and saw a happy wife and mother like so many others, a working woman like so many others. Fran Flynn--you know, the skinny redhead who works in the ER at South Bay. Frannie Benedetto, the cop's wife on Beach Twelfth Street, the one with the little boy with the bowlegs. Gone down the drain that morning.
Transformed, perhaps forever, by Loving Care No. 27, California Blonde. Hidden behind the glasses. Disguised by the flapping folds of the long dress. California blonde Elizabeth Crenshaw, with nothing but thin milky skin and faint constellations of freckles on chest and cheeks to connect her to Frances Ann Flynn Benedetto. A bruise on my right cheek, faded to yellow, and a bump on the bridge of my nose. And Robert, of course, the only thing I'd had worth taking with me from that tidy house, where Bobby liked to walk on the carpeting barefoot and I cleaned up the blood with club soda and Clorox before the stain set. Beth. I liked Beth. I was leaving, I was starting over again, I was saving my life, I was sick of the fear and the fists. And I was keeping my son safe, too, not because his father had ever hit him--he never ever had--but because the secret inside our house, the secret about what happened at night, when Daddy was drunk and disgusted with himself and everything around him, was eating the life out of Robert. When he was little he would touch a bruise softly, say, "You boo-boo, Mama?" When he got a little older he sometimes said, narrowing his big black eyes, "Mommy, how did you hurt yourself?"
But now he only looked, as though he knew to be quiet, as though he thought this was the way life was. My little boy, who had always had something of the little old man about him, was becoming a dead man, too, with a dead man's eyes. There are ways and ways of dying, and some of them leave you walking around. I'd learned that from watching my father, and my husband, too. I wasn't going to let it happen to my son. Frances couldn't. Beth wouldn't. That's who I was now. Frances Ann Flynn Benedetto was always watching and waiting, scared of her husband, scared he would turn on her, hit her, finally knock her out for good. Scared to leave her son with no mother to raise him, only a father whose idea of love was bringing you soup after he'd broken your collarbone. Frannie Flynn was gone. I'd killed her myself. I was Beth Crenshaw now.
Beneath the rippling skirt I could feel my legs trembling as an announcer with a sonorous voice called out the trains. But I could feel my legs, too, feel them free. No slip. I'd left that goddamn slip behind.
Frannie Flynn--that's how I'd thought of myself again, even though my last name was legally Benedetto. The name on my checks, on my license, on the embossed plastic name tag I wore on the breast of my nurse's uniform. Frances F. Benedetto. But in my mind I'd gone back to being Frannie Flynn. Maybe Bobby knew that. Maybe he could read my mind. Maybe that was part of the problem, that he could read my mind and I never had a clue what was going on in his.
Use of this excerpt from Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by Anna Quindlen. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
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