When pain and fear become so concentrated that they lash out and harm other people, they have morphed into something new. They have become evil.
In her pint-sized body, with a stylish bob cut, she is a throbbing core of evil disguised by a mask of suburban good looks. She has two daughters, Katie and Anne. She is on her third husband.
She beats her daughters with fists and belts, leaving marks on their skin. Katie pulls up the sleeve of her tee-shirt to expose the cringing red outline of a silver belt buckle. She is ten years old. Her best friend sucks in her breath in awe. “Your mom did that again?” she asks.
Katie nods, somewhat proud that she can endure a beating that leaves her pink, blue and purple, but not flinching. Her mother is notorious among the third-grade children, some of whom have witnessed her cruelty first-hand.
Others just think she is neurotic (though they wouldn’t use that word), a parent who throws controlled croquet parties on her perfectly manicured lawn. At those parties, she serves fruit punch, and makes the boys and girls dance to old records in the living room. They would never get away with playing Spin the Bottle, or Truth or Dare. But she does let them dance. In fact, she encourages it.
When she beats Katie and Anne, she is furious, red-faced. She swings at their arms, their legs, their stomachs. When she hits them in the face, though, she makes them kneel down and cover their heads with a towel. She doesn’t want to see their faces when she hits them.
They come away with bruises and cuts, and on those days, she keeps them home from school. They miss a lot of school, sometimes weeks at a stretch.
Among the third-grade children, she is rumored to walk around the house naked, “air-drying” after showers. It is said that when she wants the girls to come upstairs for meals or a bath, she tinkles a little bell to summon them.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day.
Katie is allowed to invite three of her girlfriends over after school! They are Patsy, Catherine, and Marie. Catherine and Marie are in the third grade with Katie, but Patsy is Catherine’s little sister. She is five years old.
She meets Catherine and Marie outside of her kindergarten class. They take her hand and walk toward the woods where they will cross a bridge, climb a hill, and descend into Katie’s neighborhood. Little Patsy is festive in a green and white dress, her soft blonde hair falling across her forehead. No one’s going to pinch her today!
They arrive at Katie’s house together. Somehow, they end up in the downstairs hallway with Katie’s mother. She is a scary woman. The girls don’t really like her. Sometimes when they come over, she makes them take off all their clothes and get in the bath. She says that they’re dirty.
Other times she makes them sit with their heads bent over the Bible. They bite their lips and shoot glances out the window while she prays.
For Catherine’s birthday one year, Katie’s mother gave her an “IOU a haircut!” certificate. Then she made Catherine sit on a stool on the back porch, and she cut off all her hair.
Catherine cried for hours, even after her mom came to pick her up. She didn’t want to go to school. She looked like a boy. Luckily, Field Day was the next day, and the last day of school was the day after that. She would have all summer to grow her hair back.
Today, St. Patrick’s Day, they are in the downstairs hall. Little Patsy is picking her nose. She is only five years old, and five year olds pick their noses sometimes. Suddenly Katie’s mom is screaming down the hallway, “Take your finger out of your nose you disgusting little creature! I knew you were filthy! I knew it!”
Patsy drops her hand to her side, mortified. She is hanging out with her big sister and her big sister’s friends, and she has just made a fool of herself. Her cheeks flush, and her eyes begin to burn. She balls her little hands into fists and tries not to cry.
Several feet away, Catherine looks at Katie’s mother with hate in her eyes. She wants to kill that woman for embarrassing her little sister. If she was bigger, she would swing at her the way she knows that Katie’s mother swings at Katie. She would kill her.
She glances down the hall and sees Patsy crying silently, her head dropped. She doesn’t go to her, because that would make it worse for everyone, but she silently, invisibly wraps her arms around her little sister. She kneels down and tells her it’s okay. She does this all in her mind, standing five feet away.
“Now get in the bath, you little monsters!” cries Katie’s mom. She marches upstairs, and they hear the water come on in the bathroom. It’s time to take off their clothes, sit in the tub, and let her scrub at them furiously, lathering shampoo into their hair, and dumping buckets of water onto their head and into their eyes as if they were human germs, and it was her personal responsibility to wipe them off the face of the earth.