Bitty Was the Youngest

by Ronald Van Hall

Rolf Beets was an evil man throughout his contemptible life; and after he convinced the weak-minded Sally Myers to marry him, their five children grew up in an impecunious household rife with physical and mental abuse.

Sally Myers passed away from disease and neglect in 1959, just shy her fortieth birthday.  She was buried in a common grave by the State while Rolf swigged on a liter of cheap liquor.  He existed on a ragged lounge chair in front of his new Model CT-9 RCA Fliptop television.

Loud voices from a local audience blared out of the RCA speaker as two people engaged in a stunt on Beat the Clock.  The program’s television camera kept switching between the married contestants and the face of the Jackpot Clock.  Rolf sneered at Bud Collyer, the program’s host, after he gave away an International-Harvester refrigerator.

Raw liquor passed between Rolf’s tobacco-stained teeth and coursed its way down his sore throat.  That day, his eldest daughter, Jessy, had remained in the house with her father while the other four children attended their mother’s funeral.

“Bring me another bottle, Jessy, and make it quick…,”  Rolf yelled from his chair,  “…and put on a chicken to boil.  Get Ralph or Bitty to make the dumplings when they get back in.  I don’t want any of you kids wailing tonight.  The bitch is gone; and, all’s the better for it.”  Rolf took another pull from the near empty bottle he held in his hand.

Jessy didn’t say a word though Rolf did hear the ring of two pots that clashed together from the kitchen.  A few nights ago, he had taken her to his bed again.  The sound of the pots and that carnal memory satisfied Rolf.

The other children returned from their mother’s funeral in the late afternoon.  All appeared to carry the same attitude on their faces and shoulders as they passed beyond the open doorway to stand in front of their father.  Jessy joined her four siblings.

Rolf glanced at his brood.  There was not one muscle in his face that could be likened toward a smile.

“What do you want?”  he asked in a surly timbre.  “Get your asses to work.  You…,”  Rolf pointed at his eldest son, Rolf Junior,  “…you got chores over at Henry Shilling’s farm.  Henry has already paid me, so get going.”

Jessy spoke for all five.  If her facial expression could have been bottled and sold, the bottle label would have read: Pure Hate.

“We’re leaving.  Touching me is one thing, but Bitty?”  contempt dripped from her voice as she spoke to her father.

“You’re not doing anything unless I tell you to cook, clean, or scrub my wash.  Get back in the kitchen.”

Ralph, Rolf’s second eldest boy spoke,  “We’re not.  Not anymore after what you did to Jessy; and, Bitty told us about last night.”

Bitty stood by Ralph; her eyes had flooded with tears.  Bitty was the youngest.  She was six years old; and, Rolf had fondled her after he carried her to his room.

Bitty stepped forward and from tiny hands hid behind her, she produced a small bucket filled with a clear liquid.  Without waiting for Jessy’s permission, Bitty tossed the liquid directly into Rolf’s lap.

Rolf bellowed from the sudden cold; but, his voice was cut short as a second bucket appeared.  This time, it was in Rolf junior’s hands.  More clear liquid splashed against the father.  It soaked his entire shirt.  Some of it wet a portion of the arm of his chair.

Rage entered Rolf’s mind and started to come out of his mouth.  He tried to rise but fell back into his chair as a third dose of the same liquid struck him directly in his face.  His lips were wide; so, oily fluid choked its way past his cheeks and down his throat.  Rolf wretched as the odor and taste of kerosene permeated his nostrils and tongue.

Jessy and the other children witnessed their father’s attempt to regain his breathe.  Each child wore the same expression.  It was sudden glee.  However, Rolf nearly felt a touch of surprise and hurt by Jessy’s next action.

From behind her back, she produced a small wooden shard with a hardened, purple blob at one end.  With a practiced flick of her thumb, she struck the match.  As the end of the match kindled, Rolf stared in slow-motion denial while it flared its way toward him.

“You won’t never touch Bitty or me again,”  she stated as the flame reached her father’s lap.

Jessy marshaled her family together; and, they left the smoldering shack, on their way to anywhere.  Not one of Rolf’s five children looked back.

On a hot summer Sunday, there was a terrible house fire just west of the Alabama border.  The few neighbors took their time extinguishing the blaze until burned remnants of a roof and walls collapsed onto a charred, wooden floor.  As a whole, the farming community refused to question the children.  Rolf Beets was a known drinker, womanizer, and smoker; and ironically as a sharecropper, he had never cultivated a friend.

Ronald Van Hall’s writings have appeared in Dark Edifice, Separate Worlds, Stinkwaves, and The Story Shack.

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