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DUMB INSOLENCE Graham Whittaker(A story about abuse) “Answer me!” Harriet fumed. Eagle claws clamped the child’s shoulders. Eagle-beak nose thrust close enough to peck out the child’s eyes. “Answer me!” Talon fingers clasping, shaking. The child relaxed. Beaten prey. Harriet’s anger doubled at the lack of resistance. The absence of tension. “Answer ME!” she shrieked. The child remained…
(A story about abuse)
“Answer me!” Harriet fumed. Eagle claws clamped the child’s shoulders. Eagle-beak nose thrust close enough to peck out the child’s eyes.
“Answer me!” Talon fingers clasping, shaking. The child relaxed. Beaten prey. Harriet’s anger doubled at the lack of resistance. The absence of tension. “Answer ME!” she shrieked.
The child remained mute. No tears sprang to satisfy the mad woman’s fury. The child was beating her. She pushed. The child fell to the floor. Harriet kicked out, but the child took it easily and rolled with the kick.
Breaking physical contact had weakened Harriet’s fury somewhat. Now she was just angry. Out of control. Frustrated. So consumed had she been that she no longer knew what she had asked the child to answer. Only that she had caused him to do Dumb Insolence again.
Harriet blamed the child for her uncontrollable fits of rage. He had made her like this with Dumb Insolence. No good could be done by standing him in a corner for hour after tedious hour. Or confining the child to his room. Silently, passively, he would accept these forms of ‘punishment’ indefinitely. “Stand in the corner until you can answer me!”
He would stand motionless and soundless, facing the wall until Harriet’s anger rose into her throat again and erupted. “Answer me!” Then she would shake him.
A week confined to his room with the door shut and toys removed only made her anger worse, with his damned passive Dumb Insolence. Stripping the room of the mattress, sheets, and pictures had no effect. He neither cried, nor showed any other emotion during
Dumb Insolence, though he readily complied with all commands, except one. “Answer me!”
The first time was an accident. The first stinging slap. Harriet saw her hand flash out before the thought became a conscious action. For only a split second she had lost control, and was instantly consumed with shame. The child’s head jerked back and a red weal silhouetting four fingers and a palm blossomed on his smooth white cheek.
She tried to hug him in shamed apology, but his little body became stiff and unyielding. It made her angry. Harriet’s shame and contrition was short lived. Though the child’s eyes had watered a little, his countenance remained stoic and his stiff rejection of her attempted atonement was a triumph glistening in his huge brown eyes.
He had brought her to this. The child had literally forced her hand into striking him. He had controlled the action of that hand and the thought ignited a flickering rage through her again. Soon, any real or imagined misdemeanor became less important than the need to extract some word, some explanation from the child. Harriet would scream, “answer me!” for the fiftieth time, unable by then to remember the question.
“Answer me! Answer me! Answer me!” She shrieked. A flapping, screeching, demented bird. “Answer me!” Until she was exhausted from slapping, kicking, and shaking the child to no avail.
And then she would weep wearily into her pillow where the child could not see his triumph over her.
She began to dress him in long sleeved shirts and jeans, and left him alone to bathe himself and put on his pyjamas so she did not have to acknowledge the welts and bruises.
He seemed to bear her no grudges. When he was not doing Dumb Insolence, he was as normal a child as ever was. Skinned knees. Rough and tumble games, and a knack of falling out of trees. Normal.
Harriet and the child moved through the normal times like spectres in a nightmare. Then something would happen…some piece of impulsive, incomprehensible mischief. It would always end in “Answer me!” and Dumb Insolence.
Appleyard liked Harriet and the child. They seemed to like him too. The child was always willing to kick a ball around the yard. Harriet would dole out sweet tea and rock cakes. Her thin features became less like an eagle’s and more like a dove’s when Appleyard was around. Her voice softened, becoming less shrill. She wore soft woolen jumpers washed in Comfort…instead of the usual army surplus khaki shirts and overalls.
Two large ducks strung together were his gifts of access today. He always arrived with something. A package of sausages, or some fresh field mushrooms, or a basket of strawberries.
Harriet fair-traded with tea, ham sandwiches, home baked cakes spread with thick fresh cream and jam…and flirty but proper conversation.
They talked over the kitchen table in the sun. The child sauntered off to the yard to play. Appleyard’s handmade leather tobacco pouch lay on the ground by the backdoor with his shotgun. The child glanced around for a moment, and then picked up the pouch, fingering its soft, worn folds. The rich potent aroma of the tobacco made the child screw up his nose. It was a strange impulse that made him pitch the tobacco pouch as hard as he could, sending it sailing through the air. It landed in the mop bucket, still filled with grey, murky water beside the laundry door. The child’s eyes glazed over as he watched it sink slowly to the bottom of the bucket. Then he ran off to play.
“Don’t matter none”, Appleyard said after searching nervously for his rollies. He made a brave face of his lifelong addiction. “One less nail in me coffin’s all it is. Might’ve dropped it in the swamp after the ducks. Maybe I never even brung it” he added doubtfully…
“Answer me!” Harriet screamed, long after Appleyard had gone. The child winced satisfyingly, thin wrists locked in eagle claws. He adjusted to the pain instantly. Dumb Insolence bloomed, enraging her. She released one wrist and punched the child hard on his upper arm. He was ready, and steeled his frail body against the numbing pain. Locking down his jaw, Dumb Insolence began to appear to Harriet like a smug grin. She felt the ratchet of her anger click up another notch. “Answer me!” Talons hooked into the child’s shoulders. She shook hard, but it was like shaking out a blanket. His little body relaxed and he felt like a sheet of light tissue paper fluttering in a breeze.
Harriet released him, and he fell helplessly to the floor. “Stand up!” she raged. The child obediently found his legs and stood, feet apart like a soldier at ease. “Now answer me!” The child remained mute and Harriet’s fury began to congeal into dark black thunderclouds. Out of control, her lips turned thinner, blood surging purple to her eagle face.
Appleyard, though kind and usually careful, was a forgetful man. His shotgun stood propped like a sentinel by the back door…
Even with the shotgun in her hand, pointed savagely at his chest, the child remained stoic and mute. “Answer me you little…” Harriet was unaware, beyond counsel or reason that her finger was tightening on the trigger of Appleyard’s mislaid weapon.
The child made no move. No reaction to the deranged threats, now tumbling chaotically from Harriet’s mouth. He stood facing her in Dumb Insolence. Blind Fury squeezed the trigger.
Appleyard, though kind and forgetful, was a careful man. The child flinched slightly at the empty click of metal against metal. He remained still and passive. Inside, he was deeply satisfied. Triumphant. In complete control of his mother’s state. For the tiniest spark of a second, his mouth smiled.
Then the wooden barrel of the shotgun slammed down hard, opening his small skull and separating his cervical spine …
The woman was not talking. Bradshaw was getting progressively more pissed off. For five hours, he had tried everything in his prodigious book. Child abuse sickened him. But over twenty years, he had developed some kind of even sicker pity and a mutant compassion for many of the culprits. Driven by drink, or years of abuse inflicted on their own pathetic minds and bodies, Bradshaw found he could usually assuage his revulsion when the ‘perps’ were themselves victims. Bradshaw could see that the child had been subjected to long-term abuse. So much bruising in the arms, thighs and chest. Yellowing of the skin from old bruises. Several deep, half-moon fingernail marks.
But the thing that made Bradshaw want to puke was that there was evidence of attack…even after the child was dead. It was as if this…this creature had tried to tear the tiny body apart with her bare hands.
The woman showed no emotion. Her eyes bright and defiant, Thin lips tightly closed. Thanks to years of wading through muddy stinking cesspit situations like these, Bradshaw showed the woman his kindness facade at first, Then he became firm, Then demanding. She had quietly drunk tea while he moved from one interrogation technique to another. She remained mute and stared blankly at his eyes. For five hours.
Bradshaw hadn’t intended to launch himself across the interview table. He hadn’t planned on slapping her on the side of the head so hard that it jerked like a punching bag. But it felt good to release all those hours of patience and procedure. “Answer me godammit!”
Detective Constable Willis grabbed Bradshaw’s arm. “John! John for God’s sake cool it man! Stop it. Cool it…okay?”
Bradshaw quieted his rage. Anger popped and fizzled below the blanket of shame. He was a professional, and part of the anger was at his own unprofessional lack of control.
He let Willis guide him from the interview room. “What’s with you John?” Willis snapped his fingers. “You want to blow twenty years, just like that?”
“Dumb Insolence’ Bradshaw muttered. “Just Dumb …DUMB Insolence! I HATE that!!”
For whom do we weep? Harriet? Or the child? Or do we weep for both of them? Or neither one? Where do WE stand when the culprit is also the victim? DUMB INSOLENCE could stand alone, the violent act of a violent woman, but where exactly is the truth, and how do we find it?
DIMINSHED RESPONSIBILITY : DUMB INSOLENCE PT 2
By Dora Graham
The doctor snuck in on crepe soles. Harriet hated that. She hated it when people snuck. The child used to do that, sneak. “You are going to have to talk to us soon Harriet” The doctor said. He was short, and bald, and his name was Lowenstein. He looked like exactly what he was, a psychiatrist in a mental ward, with those beseeching, all-knowing, pitying eyes. Harriet kept her head low. She didn’t want to have to look into them. “Why won’t you talk about it Harriet?” Such a kind voice. She wanted to talk. Talk about it. Let it all spill out. Sometimes the back of her throat moved, and a vague tremor started on her lips. But then there was nothing. She had killed him with Diminished Responsibility. Her head was full of it, ratting about, whizzing and bumping and smashing against the sides. Thoughts half made, and angry like swarms of hornets. Thoughts that could never become words, because words would have to be responsible. And her responsibility was diminished. That was the verdict, and that was that.
Appleyard should never have forgotten the gun. She didn’t like guns. Leaving it propped up against the door like that. Irresponsible.
“Harriet?” The doctor said, and waited for a reply.
It wasn’t my fault. My fault. Not. Not my fault. Not me. I’m not responsible. Diminished. I am diminished! Ratting and swarming about in there. All those thoughts, half thoughts. Hornets.
Harriet wanted them gone, all those thoughts. And the pictures like a looping trailer for a nasty movie. Watching that woman kicking, and gouging. Just a furious animal wanting it to stop, wanting the Dumb Insolence to stop, to stop forever, so that they could go back to being happy and loving together again. Like once.
She sighed. A sigh like all the words she wanted to say, breathing them out into the air, to be gone. It felt nice. She sighed again.
“Harriet?” The doctor said, and waited.
I killed my son! That was what she wanted to say, to lift her head, and gaze into those compassionate eyes and say it. But part of her wanted to scream it out in massive grief, and bounce it off the walls of the room. And another part wanted to breathe it out softly in a quiet realization and acceptance, so that the responsibility was no longer diminished. Ever yet another part wanted to sob and retch it out. Instead, it sat in her gut, and in her head, smashing around like hornets. Strong, and pounding, and then soft, diminished.
The policeman, in his disgust, and anger had called what she did Dumb Insolence. She was not trying to be insolent. It was just the set of her face. Tight lips and hard vacant eyes. He had asked her why, and she didn’t know why. And then he was shouting and getting red in the face and demanding why? Why did you do it? Just answer the question! Answer the question! Why did you do it?
She didn’t know why. It was the child. The child and his defiance. Harriet wanted to talk. To tell them…whatever it was she wanted to tell them, but she didn’t know! Just Did Not Know!
“Harriet?” The doctor said, and waited.
The child had done Dumb Insolence too, and now she saw him for the first time. Inside his head, while she screamed “Answer me! Answer me!” And he too had no words, for he did not know. He simply did not know. How could he answer if he did not know?