The Broken Line, 14: Stab and Twist

The Broken Line Chapter 14(Missed the last chapter? Go to 13: Nightmare Brunch. Just starting? Go to Prologue: This Is My Knife.)


February 10, 2014

MONDAY, I HEADED back to Warrick for my next shift. Except for a long run around Byrd Park Sunday morning, I’d spent the last twenty-four hours in my house. Reading, drawing, watching movies, nothing seemed to ease my creeping anxiety. Small wonder. Lately, every impulse, every decision I made seemed to turn out badly.

Branson hadn’t called Sunday night, and I sure as hell wasn’t calling him. I did call Dad on Sunday, but he was tight-lipped and disapproving. He always deferred to John when there was a family disagreement, something that had infuriated me when I was younger. But Silent Stephen had decided, of all times, to take a stance that differed from John’s.

Rattling around the house on Stuart Avenue, the place I used to consider my refuge, I felt jittery and sad. If Kat came to stay, it wouldn’t be mine anymore. I might have to leave.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care about her. I wanted to help her when she got out of prison, but the idea of living with her was too much. For one thing, we barely knew each other. I’d go see her every couple of months, but our awkward conversations in the harsh florescent light of visitation room at the minimum-security prison had done little to repair our relationship. I couldn’t even call her Mom.

The reports from the warden said she was a model prisoner. She worked in the laundry and taught other prisoners to read. But when I saw her she seemed tentative and spacey, with thinning hair and a gray pallor. The anti-psychotic meds caused her face to bloat, and she had sporadic twitches and tremors.

It was hard to reconcile Kat today with the vibrant, athletic woman with snapping green eyes who had taught me archery and horseback riding when I was a kid. Or the woman who had made me vigorously stab sacks of meat hanging from the rafters in the attic as if my life depended on it.

When I’d first started visiting Kat again, about six years ago, she had asked about John. I refused to discuss him. Since then, she’d kept to the unspoken rule. We talked about work, Dorothy, Dad, the weather—anything but John. But I always got the feeling that I wasn’t telling her what she wanted to hear. Wasn’t measuring up, somehow.

About her life in prison, Kat had little to say. “Sometimes, if we have the supplies, I draw. I tutor the women here who want to learn to read and write better. Mostly, I wait.”

Despite her medicated, low-key demeanor, the idea of sleeping under the same roof with Kat gave me the willies. As a child, I’d half-believed John was a demon, because she was my mother, and she said so. It was only fear that had kept me from doing what she’d trained me to do. Stab and twist.

What if I’d been braver and helped her? What if we’d killed him? Would I have ended up committed to a pysch hospital or someplace like Warrick for the crime of believing my mother?

I tried to explain all of that to Dad, but he shut me down. “The past is the past. You turned out fine. Family sticks together.” Thanks, Dad. A platitude a day keeps the truth away.

Dorothy called me Sunday night, too. She was in a panic over the thought of her baby sister set loose in the world again. She kept saying things like, “Do you think we should change the locks?”

I tried to reassure Dorothy that Kat hadn’t exhibited any signs of psychosis in over a decade, though to be honest, I really didn’t feel like being the advocate for my mother’s good citizenship award.

Dorothy would calm down and start reminiscing about how Kat, nine years her junior, was such a beautiful baby. About the cozy times she and Kat had in the old farmhouse before Dorothy married her first husband Marty and moved away.

But then I’d hear the rumble of John’s voice in the background, and Dorothy would be off on another series of anxious speculations. “What if she invites me to dinner? I can’t see her! Who would feed John?” or “What if she goes off her meds and decides someone else is a demon? Like Branson!” Dorothy’s nuttiness was plucking my last frayed nerve, but I couldn’t really blame her. She had reason to be worried. We all did.


AFTER SPENDING HALF the night replaying the conversations I’d had with Dad and Dorothy, and imagining the one I hadn’t had with Branson, I couldn’t sleep.

Instead of having the sense to get up and drink some chamomile tea or take melatonin, I lay there awake, allowing my mind to drift from one crisis to the next. Images of Warrick kept floating past and commingling with old sacks of meat hanging from the attic rafters. Stab and twist.

I looked at the clock—3:30 a.m. I lay back and willed myself to rest. But I couldn’t stop myself from replaying the restraint Thad and I had performed on Daphne. I started to doze a bit when I realized something—when I’d heard Daphne yelling and ran into the classroom, her jeans were slid down so low that I could see her pelvic bones.

I hadn’t thought anything of it at the time. Daphne favored skin-tight, low-cut jeans that showed her thong every time she sat down or bent over, and we were forever making her go change.

In other words, I was used to seeing Daphne’s butt crack, like it or not. Plus, those stretchy jeans are prone to slide down when kids struggle during restraints. But lying in my bed, staring at the pattern of the streetlights on my ceiling, I remembered that Daphne hadn’t been wearing low-cut jeans at all.

Before school on Thursday, the morning of the restraint, I’d heard Daphne yelling from the office, “Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! Who took my jeans? You can’t have nothing nice up in this place without somebody stealing it.”

When I went to investigate, it turned out that Daphne had forgotten to do her laundry, and had left her jeans piled with wet towels on the closet floor. Daphne’s roommate, Elizabeth, ended up lending Daphne a pair of her jeans.

Elizabeth, a feisty blonde who looked like a plus-sized Marilyn Monroe, was the adopted daughter of single mom, a district attorney with a sadistic streak. Prone to wearing prep school fashions when she arrived, to fit in at Warrick, Elizabeth had adopted a new uniform of fuzzy slippers, bedazzled jeans and pink velour sweat suits emblazoned on the ass with logos like Juicy and Chanel.

Elizabeth’s jeans, though styled to be low-cut and skintight were neither on Daphne. In fact, they were falling off as she walked. We were late for breakfast by then, so I’d helped Daphne search through her chaotic dresser drawers for a belt that would match her black and white top.

I remembered the one she chose: black velvet with Hello Kitty written across it in rhinestones. But when Thad and I restrained Daphne, she wasn’t wearing a belt. In fact, she’d had to hitch up her pants and clutch them around her waist as we walked back to the cottage.

I sat up in bed, electrified. Daphne could have taken the belt off earlier in the day, but I didn’t think so. She wanted to dress provocatively—she didn’t want her jeans falling to her ankles like a toddler on the toilet.

Besides, if Daphne’s pants had been falling off her, the teachers or other counselors would have noticed and made her conform to the dress code. I would have noticed myself, when I walked her back to the science classroom to meet with Thad. So what the hell had happened to the belt?

I wasn’t due at Warrick until 9:00 a.m., but I was already putting on a clean blue jogging suit, and throwing another into my overnight bag along with running clothes and the sweats I used as pajamas.

I wanted to talk to Zora before my shift started. The missing belt was the smoking gun I’d been looking for. It confirmed what my gut had been telling me all along—the situation stank. And I was going to follow my nose, whether Dr. Grey liked it or not.

Continue to Chapter 15: Hello Kitty

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