[Story & A Song] Josephine’s Coat.
“Why did you give her that, Shel? Are you trying to get Jo killed?”
Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the fact that I had never heard my father attempt to whisper before, I probably would’ve continued on my way, strutting around like a supermodel in the new coat Mama made me. But the sound of the voice that so often shook the rafters pitched low enough to barely be heard halfway down the hall, combined with my name, brought my catwalk practice to a screeching halt.
“Jake, baby, please, just listen-” My mother was better at whispering than my father, but not by much.
I went on tiptoes, edging my way closer to the kitchen.
“No, Rachel, you listen.”
I froze. I had heard others call my mother by her birth name, usually bill collectors and the such, but never my father, and never with so much anger it vibrated the air.
“When you became pregnant, and I proposed to you, you told me what it would cost me. I paid my price, Shel. I led those girls – my own daughters – to that butcher, without hesitation, because you asked me to. And now you do this.”
The kitchen was silent. I peeked around the corner.
Mama was standing at the sink, back to me as she stared out the window at something I couldn’t see. Her dark hair pulled back in her usual messy ponytail. Daddy was pacing back and forth by the island. Back then, I had never really considered the age difference between my parents. I knew Daddy was older than Mama; he stopped correcting people who assumed he was my grandfather a long time ago. I even knew he had been married before, to Mama’s older sister. A picture of Aunt Leah hung in his office, right next to pictures of distant cousins I never got to meet. Cousins who – when I thought about it – looked a lot like me.
I was still mulling over that when mama spoke again.
“You know what would’ve happened, Jay. You remember that life, just the same as I do. I did what I had to do, to protect my children.” She finally turned away from the sink to stare at Daddy. “Just as you did when you tried to fool me with those bodies.”
Daddy stopped pacing. I saw him lean heavily against the edge of the island. “You know about that?”
Mama laughed, but it sounded funny. “Two years ago, Jo had a dream she didn’t understand. She was playing dolls with her sisters. All of a sudden, her sisters’ dolls all stood up and bowed to hers. Sound familiar, Jacob?”
Daddy pulled out a chair from the dinner table and fell into it. “It can’t be…”
I don’t think Mama even heard him. She just kept going. “You were away on a ‘business trip,’ when it happened. I stayed up all night crying.”
Mama did that weird laugh again. “I wasn’t angry, Jake. It was almost a relief?” I saw her wipe at her face. “Knowing that you were willing to kill ten innocent children, to save your own…no, baby, I wasn’t mad at you.” Mama walked over to join him at the table. She took his hands and held them in her own. “I never wanted those girls to die, Jacob. They were my nieces. I loved them.”
“‘Were’ your nieces?” Daddy’s face was almost as white as his hair. “Oh God, Shel, what did you do?”
“I did what I had to,” Mama said. “Didn’t you wonder where I got all the patches for Josephine’s coat?” She leaned forward until her head was touching his. I don’t know what she told him then, but I will never forget the way he ran from the room and the sound of retching that echoed down the hallway.
Mama died not too long after that, right after she gave birth to my little sister. A week later, I had another weird dream. The sun and the moon fell from the sky, cracking open when they hit the Earth. Ten stars poured out of the sun, and laid down on the ground at my feet. I peeked inside the moon, thinking that maybe there were more stars trapped inside the pieces, but it was hollow. I told daddy about the dream. He just hugged me tight and cried.
The coat of many colors still hangs in my closet. I’m not afraid of what the future holds, and enough blood has been shed already.