April 22, 2019
Glory Unbound - First Place Winner in CWA’s 2018 First Chapter Contest
By Deborah King
When she got dressed, pulled the hospital gown on over her clothes, and then padded down the hall in blue footies, carrying her shoes and purse in a plastic hospital bag, Glory Porter still wasn’t sure she’d go through with it. When she stepped onto the empty elevator and shed her disguise, she didn’t know what she would do. Blending in with the crowd of people leaving South Shore Hospital after the morning shift change, and then walking toward 79th street, Glory could have easily just gone home; but it felt like the world was moving in high speed and slow motion at the same time. She didn’t need to watch where she was walking because it seemed like even the trees were stepping out of her way. She didn’t run, she didn’t even walk very fast…she felt herself just moving. And still, she could have turned back.
Climbing onto the bus, Glory put two dollars into the farebox, accepted the super transfer slip, and moved all the way to the back. There was no real crowd, but it was darker back there and nobody was likely to notice her. Her first bus ride in five years, she’d forgotten how loud it was, and the diesel smell made her at once nauseous and nostalgic.
Even back when she had been allowed to ride the bus, 79th street wasn’t a route she traveled often. Looking down on the unfamiliar shops, Glory imagined herself a tourist, watching the few commuters on this chilly Easter Sunday morning. None of the stores were open, and the bus made very few stops on its way to wherever it would eventually end up. As the bus headed west, leaving the South Shore area, Glory was sure her decision had been made.
When the bus passed over the Dan Ryan Expressway, Glory’s watch showed 8:00 a.m. At church, Easter Sunrise service was probably long over, and breakfast was being served. Malcolm would dispatch TuTu to pick her up from the hospital while he stayed at church. Hopefully, the old Jamaican man would only be fired for returning without her. Glory prayed he would just quit and leave. The last time she managed to get away for a few hours, Malcolm made her watch while he crushed TuTu’s fingers and nearly broke the old man’s arm; sending Glory to her knees begging him to stop, promising not to sneak out again. But TuTu’s loyalty was only to Malcolm, and while Glory protected him by being “the good wife”, the old man always turned a blind eye and deaf ear when Malcolm was upset with Glory.
She got off the bus at 79th and Halsted, then took the Halsted bus to 63rd street, an area she hadn’t seen in more than four years. It felt almost like coming home. Glory stood in the line at the donut shop under the el station for a glazed long-john and a cup of tea. She took a corner seat facing a wall and enjoyed her breakfast alone…in public…without Malcolm.
At 9:00 a.m., she went into Kresgee’s and bought a white blouse, fresh stockings, a hairbrush, wristbands, makeup, and a backpack. Ducking into the ladies’ bathroom, she changed clothes, applied dark lipstick and eye makeup, and did her best to cover the fading marks on her face with powder. She slid the wristbands over the four gold bracelets that she couldn’t take off without a special screwdriver; the bracelets that clinked every time she moved; the constant reminder that she was Malcolm’s beloved. She tied her hair back and looked at herself in the mirror. Malcolm always insisted she keep her hair loose and unbraided, his interpretation of biblical law; but whenever she was away for more than a minute, Glory tamed the thick unruly mess. She hated the way she looked now. A thin hairless scar cut through her right eyebrow. Her light brown complexion, normally clear, today showed the mark of Malcolm’s recent displeasure. Her usually thin waist had thickened during the short four-month pregnancy; and since the miscarriage two days ago, Glory noticed her breasts had started filling out and aching.
Maybe TuTu would wait until after Malcolm finished teaching the Men’s Sunday School class before telling him she was missing. Her plain white blouse wasn’t the usual church finery, but if she chose to turn back, she could just show up at church, and act like it was the plan all along. Malcolm might be upset that she wasn’t dressed as elegantly as the Assistant Pastor’s Wife should be on Easter Sunday, but maybe he’d excuse it because she’d just left the hospital.
Glory got on the 63rd street bus and continued west, the route that just five years ago when she was seventeen, took her to high school every day; until the day Malcolm became her protector. She still shuddered at the memory of a monster grabbing her, dragging her into a dank, filthy gangway, one hand wrapped around her throat, the other probing into her body while she waited for violation and prayed not to die. But then Malcolm appeared, raging the wrath of God, bludgeoning the monster until Glory begged him not to kill. He saved her in that gangway; and then later in the hospital, he shielded her from her mother’s irrational anger for almost getting herself raped. She had loved Malcolm that day.
As the bus headed farther west, Glory knew she was getting closer to the point of no return. It would soon be too late for her to turn back. Maybe she could blame her wandering off on stress from the miscarriage. Publicly, her husband would mourn the loss of their first baby and praise God for her safe return. Privately, he would punish her rebellion and disrespect, and continue his relentless drive to build their family with or without her consent; and it was her duty as a Godly wife to consent.
At the Cicero Avenue terminal, Glory got off the bus and looked around. The northbound Cicero bus sat idling behind the eastbound 63rd street bus that would take her back home. There was still time, even now, to turn back, minimize the damage, protect her friends and family.
They’d been married almost two years when the first big fight happened. She’d challenged him, and he’d slapped her. Before they married, Glory accepted his love taps because he was older; but as his wife, in her own home, their ten year age difference didn’t matter and she would not be treated like a child. When she tried to push past him, more furious than hurt, Malcolm snatched her back by her arm. Instead of her usual passive silence, Glory pushed him away, which only earned her more blows until she stopped fighting. He left the apartment and she stood under a cool shower to soothe her bruises.
When Malcolm returned, Glory lay on her side pretending to sleep while her husband undressed in the dark and slid into bed behind her, pressing his body against hers, kissing her neck and shoulders like the fight never happened. When she felt him stirring against her, she sighed. He would not be put off tonight; even after the fight, he still expected his marital due.
“Malcolm,” Glory said.
“Yes?” He softly caressed her shoulder and arm.
Glory winced as his hand brushed the bruised spots where he’d gripped her arms. “If you hurt me like this again, I will leave you. I won’t be married to a man who beats me.”
Malcolm chuckled. “And go where? Back to your mother?” He kissed the thick deep scars on her back; the years of marks her mother had made with extension cords - purging Glory’s demons of rebellion. “She’ll beat you to death for real this time if you leave me. You know that, right?” He pressed a hand against her belly and moved closer.
Glory shuddered as his hand slid lower.
“Or maybe you’ll go to Herschel’s?” Malcolm whispered. “If I don’t know where you are, I’ll get worried and send the police looking for you. If they looked at Herschel’s, what would they find? A lot of prescription meds and needles from those clinics on the north side? They won’t care that he’s helping people…and what happens to fags in jail, Glory?”
Glory pressed her knees together, stiffening her body against her husband's probing hand.
Malcolm chuckled again and moved his hand up to her breast and squeezed. “I know,” he said. “Try going to my mother’s. She still thinks you’re an idiot for marrying me before you finished high school, giving up all those college scholarships she arranged. Spitting on everything she did for you.”
Glory tried to push his hand away, but he easily held her wrist and pulled her onto her back, pinning her under his weight.
She turned her head and his kiss pressed the swelling flesh under her eye.
“Hey, maybe you can go down south to your family—your grandmother’s rickety old wooden house, surrounded by fields of dry straw. Or…drunk cousin Ricky’s? Does his parole officer know he drives liquor around illegally?”
Glory cried silently as her own body betrayed her, responding to her husband’s touch.
“Woman, understand. I will come after you,” Malcolm whispered. “I’m Superman, remember. You are my lady and I love you and it’s my job to take care of you. No matter where you are, even in the middle of nowhere in Flora Mississippi, I will always come to you. There’s nowhere you can go that I can’t get to you; nowhere that I won’t come for you, ok?”
And as her husband moved inside her, marking his ownership of her bruised body, Glory submitted to his kisses and sobbed at the exact words he once used to voice his love and calm her fears.
“I love you, and you belong to me. Nobody, not your family, not your friends, not even that sailor boy that I know you still think about can keep you from me. You’re never leaving me. No matter how we fight, we will always make up, understand?” He pressed into her hard and deep; gripping her wrists, squeezing the bracelets against bone until she cried out. “Now tell me why,” he whispered. “Tell me what the bracelets mean.”
“Malcolm, please,” Glory begged. “This hurts.”
“In his letter to the Ephesians,” Malcolm said as he kissed her, “Paul tells us that the wife must ‘see that she reverence her husband’, so tell me, Mrs. Porter. Now.”
“‘I am my beloved’s and his desire is toward me,’” Glory whispered, almost choking on the quote that once thrilled her.
From the back of the northbound Cicero bus, Glory watched the eastbound 63rd street bus depart back toward her home and prayed that she was doing the right thing by not contacting her family. She’d write them when she figured out what to do, and somehow try to warn Herschel and Ricky today.
Glory glanced at her watch. It was 10:00 a.m. and Tutu was no doubt telling Malcolm she’d left the hospital. There was really no reasonable way for Malcolm to blame the old man, but Malcolm was rarely reasonable; hopefully, TuTu would be ok. Glory could imagine Malcolm walking into the hospital, his long stride crossing the lobby in maybe ten steps, his black leather coat fanned out behind him. He’d have a couple of men from church with him and he’d smile at the nurses, but it would be a cold dark smile. In the room, he’d pull up a chair next to her roommate Gretta’s bed and pretend to ask the old lady friendly questions. Gretta would pretend to check her purse and say her money and bus ticket to California were missing. Glory prayed that she wouldn’t try quoting the bible at Malcolm. He knew the Bible by heart and Gretta knew just enough to probably make him mad.
As the bus rolled north, Glory was surprised to find the neighborhood becoming familiar. She recognized the gray buildings that sort of looked like her own neighborhood, but not quite; and the boarded-up storefronts, some still scorched from riots of twenty years ago. This was the westside neighborhood where she and Herschel used to go on their Saturday trips to distribute condoms and needles. When the bus slowed down at Madison Street, in front of O'Reilly's Restaurant, Glory pulled the buzzer and stepped off the bus into the chilly late morning sunlight and looked around. Across the street, the Hotel Toledo had the vacancy light on. Herschel once told her it was cheap and nasty, but for Glory, it would be home for at least tonight.
When Glory walked in, O’Reilly’s Restaurant was busy, but not overly so. It looked exactly the same as it had the last time she was here, at least three years ago. The same dark wood and green vinyl everywhere. Waitresses in beige dresses with brown aprons, rushed around with their arms loaded with dishes. The crazy old lady behind the cash register, still chewing an unlit cigar and cussing out loud. Glory took the help-wanted sign from the window by the door and approached the old lady at the cash register.
“What the hell you think this is, TV? Gal, you betta go put that sign back! What if we need more than one person?!”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Glory said. “I thought-”
“Folks always thinkin’! G’on! Put it back! Ain’t nobody playin!”
“Mama!” a woman’s voice called out from somewhere Glory couldn’t tell. “What’re you fussin’ about now?!”
“Come over here and see!” the old woman answered. “Why er’body wants a job keep movin’ that damn sign! Tol’ y’all to tape it down!”
Glory replaced the sign in the window and came back to the register. “Hi. Call me June,” the waitress approaching the cash register said. The short woman with the afro puff and heavy brass earrings carried herself and spoke like she was tall. “Got any experience?”
“I’ve been taking orders and serving people all my life,” Glory said with a slight laugh, then quickly regretted it. It sounded so much better when she’d rehearsed it in her head.
“So, no real waitress experience at all?” Even though she could see over June’s head, Glory felt like the lady was looking down at her.
“No, ma’am,” Glory said. “But I’m smart and a fast learner. I’m really good at cleaning too.”
Glory stood still, respectfully averting her gaze, feeling June stare at her. She tried not to fidget and too late realized that while she’d covered Malcolm’s bracelets with wristbands, the hospital band was still visible on her wrist.
“Follow me,” June said. “What’s your name.”
“Gloria, ma’am.” Her heart pounding, Glory followed June through the restaurant and then through a side door into a back room. June went to a rack and flipped through a few uniforms, looking back at Glory a few times, before finally pulling out one, and grabbing an apron from a hook.
“So,” said June, handing the uniform to Glory, “we’ll see how you do just for today. It’s Easter so we gon’ be swamped. You keep coffee in everybody’s cup. Keep all the waters full. You don’t take orders, just help the waitresses. They’ll tip you if you do good, got it?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Glory said, accepting the uniform with trembling hands, and following June through another door into a different part of the back rooms.
June pointed to a bathroom door. “Go in there and change, then come to the break room over here.” She pointed to another doorway. “Deedee will get you a locker and get you punched in.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you,” Glory said, willing herself to show no emotion other than polite professional interest.
Inside the bathroom, Glory steadied herself against the sink. Her heart pounding, her whole body shaking, she struggled to steady her breathing, realizing just then that she’d had no idea what she was doing and no way to last more than a few days before her money ran out. But even if she wanted to go back now, she couldn’t. By now, Malcolm would be worried, but since he had to preach today, he would hold his peace until the afternoon, and then explode; and if he found her…Glory couldn’t complete the thought. She would concentrate on one day at a time. For now, she had a job and a place to stay, somewhere Malcolm would never think to look for her.
Glory changed into the uniform; it smelled of fabric softener with a hint of bleach. She tied on the brown apron and checked her reflection, barely recognizing herself. Her hair tied back in a thick ponytail, she looked normal; just like a waitress.
Glory tried to freshen her makeup, realizing June probably saw the bruise showing through her smudged powder. There would be no going back. No more Mrs. Malcolm Porter; no more good wife; no more pretending to be a godly woman. It was done. It was really done. Her vision clouded by her tears, Glory marveled at the bitter irony of sacrificing her baby on Good Friday and resurrecting herself on Easter Sunday.
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