j. l. navarro

Loretta Beasley

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In hindsight, Loretta Beasley construed her life as one long series of abusive experiences.  Prior to the realization, she was sure that the world, as she knew it, was normal—as normal as a child was able to perceive it.  She had the uncompromising misfortune of being born into a family of alcoholics where she was abused mentally by her mother and sexually by her father.  For the longest time, she had no better notion that anything was wrong.  


"It's for your own good," her mother would scream, guzzling her liquor in the next room, while her father hovered over her, a cloud of rancid breath soaked in alcohol, fouling the air around her.  "He does it because he loves you!"


As the years went by, she never stopped believing that this is what paternal love was all about. 


She had no siblings.  An older sister, whom she hardly knew, had died at an early age from mysterious circumstances.  "An accident," was the usual explanation whenever the subject came up.  Even so, Loretta's life was not lonely.  She had an array of invisible friends and much preferred them to flesh and blood playmates.  They were invited to private tea parties she held where they ate and drank pretended food and liquid from tin cups and saucers, they helped her make spongy mud pies in the backyard, and she would occasionally read to them for extended periods of time from her collection of Dr. Seuss books.  She clearly saw them in her dollhouse skipping blissfully through the airy rooms, jumping rope with sweated faces, playing hide 'n seek, and lounging pensively on the plastic furnisher.  But more importantly, she would go off with them in her mind when her father was doing things to her in the darkened bedroom.  They would join hands together and fill the room with an enormous bubble that touched the four walls, floor and ceiling, and Loretta would go into this bubble and disappear.


In school, the only person who came close to a best friend was a chubby girl by the name of Rosa del Tomate who was as dark as Loretta's freckles.  While on their way to school one day, Rosa told her, "My grandmother says each person's head is a world onto itself."  This philosophical statement stayed with Loretta all through her life.  It had entered through her ears and settled in her mind like an untainted seed where it took root and every so often, she would examine this statement when she studied someone.  "What kind of world is between their ears?" she would wonder.


Loretta was a shy quiet girl who grew up to be a shy quiet adult.  When her father died of a heart attack at the Thanksgiving dinner table at the age of thirty-three, she wept out of prescribed duty so that people around her would think she was irreparably bereaved over such a tragic loss.  They had gone to Modesto to be with Josh's mom, aunt and uncle.  Though they were a large family, they were not very close.  Individual members preferred to lodge themselves securely in their own private and privileged alcoves, selfishly shielding themselves from unwanted, out of favor blood-ties, coming out only on special occasions like fussy leeches where they gathered around those they had something in common with.  Josh made it plane that he thought most of his relatives were a pack of bloodsucking vipers and wanted nothing to do with them.  But his mother was a different story.  It was only once a year that they put themselves through this so it didn't bother him to make the long drive north.


"My, you are growing up, Loretta," her grandmother observed, sitting across from her at the dinner table, a jolly grin on her kindly face.


"Pretty as a swan," said her aunt, cutting into a wedge of homemade cranberry sauce. 


"Going to get yourself a fine young man soon enough," said her uncle, winking at her with a teasing smile.  "We'll be going to your wedding before you know it."


"Loretta's too young to be thinking about that," her father said sternly, gnawing on the turkey wing that would usher him into the next life.


"You're daddy's little girl," her uncle said.  "But little girls grow up."


It was here that her father began to choke.  They managed to extract the meat that had lodged in his windpipe, but the stress of the ordeal had kicked off the heart attack.  He was dead before the ambulance team arrived.   


The man who had preferred her bed to his wife's was no longer with them, and she really didn't care.  She was not saddened and felt a peculiar sense of guilt because of this, thinking that perhaps there might be something wrong with her.  Pretending came easy, so her mother thought that she was indeed grieving.  She had learned at an early age that people, regardless of what worlds were in their heads, enjoyed living in a world of self-serving lies.  They prayed to invisible beings like she played with invisible friends.  They built large beautiful sanctuaries for these entities that oversaw their earthly activities and passed eternal judgment on them.  What she couldn't understand was why her mother insisted that she stop telling her about the playmates her mother could not see. 


"But I can't see God either, and you say He's real."


"Because He is real!"  Her mother's maniacal tone of voice was something Loretta could never get used to. 


God had never been an issue with them until her father choked on the turkey wing that triggered his heart attack.  Before then, they spoke of Him as if He were a distant relative that never came to visit.





This story is included in The Blood Cake Vendor and Other Stories.