Original Short Story: "Joyce Ann"
Who is Really in Prison?
From Anne Bradstreet's "Contemplations" #29
Man at the best a creature frail and vain,
In knowledge ignorant, in strength but weak;
Subject to sorrows, losses, sickness, pain.
Each storm his state, his mind, his body break;
From some of these he never finds cessation,
But day or night, within, without, vexation,
Troubles from foes, from friends, from dearest, near'st relation.
Femme Bêchant (Woman Digging)
A Dead Baby
Joyce Ann took the shovel from the shed and dug the hole as quickly as she could in her flustered state. She laid the little thing unceremoniously at the bottom of the hole and started shoveling dirt on it. She heard a faint whimper and just for the span of a heartbeat felt the urge to grab the thing and clean it off and stick its mouth to her breast. But she ignored that urge and continued to refill the hole. The second and third and fourth shovels full of dirt were covering the thing but the whimper seemed to get louder, so she shoveled all the more furiously to stifle the noise. Finally, sweating and panting, she heaved a sigh of relief that the thing was gone, out of her life. Not a trace of its existence would follow her back to the house. She was safe now. She could wash the blood from between her legs and walk to town and sit down at the drug store lunch counter and order herself a Coke, and nothing could stop her. She hoped she would see that soda jerk, Buzzy Jones. She would comb her hair and wear her best pink and white dress now. Now that she looked like her own self again. Maybe Buzzy would take her for a ride in his '57 cherry-red Chevy.
Back inside the house cleaning herself up, she had to hurry; it was already past two o'clock and Bennett would be trudging in by three-thirty. But today she would not be there. And even if he came to the drug store looking for her, she would not be there either. She would be out riding with Buzzy. She knew it would happen, now that she had unloaded that burden she had carried around all those months. Too bad it was born dead, she said to herself. Born dead. Born dead. It was born dead.
"Joyce Ann, where the hell are you?" Bennett Barnes was home early. She looked at the clock again. She was right, she knew she had at least an hour. Why was he home so early? Now her plans were ruined.
"Bennett," she answered, as she quickly pulled off her dress and threw on her ratty old housecoat. "Bennett, I'm up here. I didn't feel good and I took a nap. I'm coming down."
"Why is the shovel laying out in the yard. I know damn well I didn't leave it out. Now just who the hell did?" He grabbed her arm and twisted it and gave her one of those looks that scared the breath out of her.
"Ouch, Bennett, I don't know. I never saw any shovel. I been in the house all day. What I know about an old shovel?" She started to cry and pull her arm loose. But Bennett just shoved her back. He scowled and barked, "Where's my goddam supper? I get home a lousy hour early. You damn worthless bitch can't have my supper a hour early, can you? Hell, no, that'd be just too much for you. And I go work my ass off everyday to give you all this. And you'd better come up with some damn good reason for that shovel being out of the shed. Was it that neighbor Tom Vance fellow that borrows flower vases from you? You'd better come up with something damn good." He was more or less talking to himself now, as he headed outside to put the shovel back in the shed. He always did that though. His threats made her shiver, and she'd lived with them for a year now, and she knew he'd knock her around later. He might even break her arm the way he did the first month he brought her here, but no matter what she told him he wouldn't believe her.
1957 Cherry Red Chevy
A Cherry-Red '57 Chevy
Four months later Joyce Ann had finally snagged the attention of Buzzy Jones. In his '57 Cherry-Red Chevy , he drove out along Fern Hill Road and pulled off the side of the road into a niche, a love nest for lovers who have no other sanctuary but their cars. Buzzy pulled Joyce Ann to him immediately. Wasting no time, he shelled off her dress and underwear and his own pants in what seemed one movement, and he straddled her and began to pump hard and fast. Joyce Ann hardly had time to realize what was happening when Buzzy peeled off of her and reached to the back seat for a beer.
"Buzzy, did you like that?" Joyce Ann asked, putting her clothes back on.
"Hell, yes, I like bangin'. Don't you?"
"Yeah, I do." But she turned her head to look out the window, and she started to cry. She didn't want him to see. So she held back as many of the tears as she could. Buzzy said, "Hey, give me a minute and I'll pump you again. What d'ya say?"
"I gotta get back. Bennett'll be home soon and he'll kill me if I ain't there."
"Well, OK. But I don't see how he can kill you if you ain't there." She didn't quite get it, so she leaned over to kiss Buzzy, but he reached back for another beer. Then he started the car and drove back to the drugstore. She hoped he would kiss her now and ask to see her again soon, but he just parked the car, got out, and went into the drugstore without a word. Joyce Ann watched as he returned to his job behind the counter. She frowned and sighed and then started her walk back home.
As she was approaching the house, she saw a police cruiser with a flashing light and a bunch of men tromping around in the yard. She saw four fierce-looking German shepherds sniffing around. She feared that her secret had been discovered, but she stood back too far away to see that the corpse had actually been exhumed. She began to think that somehow they found out that the baby wasn't really dead when she buried it. They would arrest her. She would go to jail. What was she going to do? She decided to hide in the bushes and wait until they left. But they showed no signs of leaving. She thought they must be waiting for someone to show up. She couldn't let them catch her. She started walking back to town. But where could she go? She felt the only place she could go would be to Buzzy. Buzzy Jones and Tom Vance were the only two people she had really talked with, besides her husband, since he had brought her here.
But Buzzy wasn't at the drug store. The manager said he took off early, said he had to go help his sister move. She sat at the fountain, drinking a Coke trying to figure out what to do. It was getting late. Bennett would be home soon. She couldn't go home now. With the cops there trying to arrest her for murder and Bennett coming home. He'd kill her just because she hadn't been home on time. What a mess? But what if the police tell Bennett about the baby? He didn't even know about the baby. All the time she was pregnant he kept condemning her for getting fat. He'd call her a fat bitch. Tell her she'd better lose that weight or he was going to kick her blubber butt out. He wouldn't stay married to a tub of lard. When he'd climb on her at night, he always complained that her gut was in the way, mumbling that he couldn't even get a good lay out of her anymore.
''Dangerous Love'' Diary Of A Battered Woman
A Battered Wife
She never told him she was pregnant, because she didn't know it either. She also just thought she was getting fat. And the day the baby fell out as she reached up to swat a horsefly off the icebox, she could hardly believe that messy looking thing came out of her. When she saw it was a baby, a boy, she imagined in a few years that two Bennetts would be blackening her eyes and beating her with belts and pushing her into furniture. She remembered her father and her brother used to gang up to teach her mom lessons about obedience. And she remembered the day they taught her for the last time. At first she felt lucky at age fifteen that Bennett Barnes had come along and rescued her from that house. But less than a month after the rescue, Bennett had started knocking her around and swearing at her the same way her father had done her mother.
What could she do now? It was very late. Nearly five-thirty and the drug store closed at six. She'd sat there for three hours trying to figure out what to do, and she hadn't come up with anything. She figured she'd just go walking and think some more. Just as she started to leave the drug store, the police cruiser was pulling up the street and when the officer saw her, he stopped the car. He stepped out of the cruiser, and Bennett got out of the other side. Her face went sickly white, and she nearly fainted.
"Mrs. Barnes, are you ill?" the officer asked Joyce Ann, as she stepped back to brace herself against the wall just outside the drug store. She looked at Bennett. She couldn't tell what he was thinking. What kind of mood was he in? What would happen now?
"I'm all right. Can I sit down?" She started to slide down the wall. But the officer caught her and led her to the cruiser.
"Mrs. Barnes, we need to ask you some questions. This is not going to be pleasant. And if you'd like to have a lawyer present you can. But there are some things we need to know, in light of a report we've had from your neighbor, Mrs. Jella Vance."
"I don't need a lawyer. Just ask me. What is it?" She looked at Bennett, who had not said anything yet. But now his face started to show some signs. She saw that same look the day he pushed her down the stairs, and again the day he choked her until she thought she'd never be able to speak again. His hands were balled up in fists that promised her the beating of her life. And he sneered through his teeth, "Just you wait. Just you wait."
She looked back at the officer and felt a strange, sudden surge of security. She knew what she had to do; she had to make sure she kept that feeling.
Women in Prison
A Safe Place
"Mrs. Barnes, according to Mrs. Vance, you were pregnant and gave birth to a baby about four or five months ago. Mrs. Vance's pigs were in your yard today, and they dug up what looks life the corpse of a baby. Now we've sent the body down to Richmond for an autopsy. But we'd really like it, Mrs. Barnes, and it'd go a lot better for you, if you'd just tell us what happened."
"What will happen to me after I tell you?"
"Well, that depends. You could be charged with something as minor as an illegal burial to something as serious as murder. Now, Mrs. Barnes, the autopsy will show that pretty conclusively. If that baby was alive when you buried him, then you can count on being charged with murder. What you tell me right now determines whether your husband takes you back home tonight, or I take you to jail. So Mrs. Barnes, why don't you just tell me the truth."
"You mean, if I tell you that the baby was dead before I buried it I go home with Bennett. And if I tell you the baby was alive when I buried it, I go with you to jail. Does Bennett go to jail too?"
"No, Mrs. Barnes, your husband didn't even know you were pregnant. Some folks might have some trouble with that one. But it's not against the law not being able to recognize that your wife's pregnant."
"Well, what if I tell you, I didn't know if the baby was dead or not. That I thought it was, but I wasn't sure."
"Is that what you're telling me?"
"No, I want to know what if I tell you that. Then where do I go?"
"Then I'd have to let you go, but you'd then be arrested or not depending on the autopsy. Mrs. Barnes, the only way I could hold you right now is if you admit to murder. Do you understand all this yet?"
"I did it. I murdered it. I heard it whimpering whilst I's shoveling the dirt in on top of it. I hated it because it made me fat. And it was a little Bennett. I think it was a little Bennett. And I did it. Take me to jail. Take me away from Bennett. Take me where it's safe."
Women in Jail
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes