I murdered my mother. Hemorrhaged to death giving birth to yours truly. Three months later my father, in a fit of the Devil’s ennui, drove to N.O. and got himself stabbed six times in a girly bar in the Vieux Carre. R.I.P.
Hence, I became an orphan. Name of Easter.
Up until age fifteen – my second year of high school – I resided at the Rankin County Home for Displaced Girls. That’s in Rankin County, Mississippi. My best friend was named Geneva. This is what happened.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we left school early to attend choir practice with Mr. Nesbitt at the Circle of Fire Baptist Church. It didn’t matter whether you could hold a note or not. Choir was a mandatory activity. In case you died and went to Heaven.
I could tell right away Mr. Nesbitt was a pervert. He had this way of twisting the hairs of his mustache when he got nervous. Which was whenever he looked at me.
My breasts had recently started to expand exponentially. My legs were smooth and muscular from running cross-country in middle school. I had adopted this sunburned waif look, with lots of freckles, dirty blond ragtag hair and flower print cotton dresses that left my legs mostly bare.
In fact, I was quite the little number.
On the break during our third rehearsal, Mr. Nesbitt called me into his office. He was drinking a bottle of grape Nehi. The room smelled of cigarettes and old dry rotted prayer books.
Mr. Nesbitt came around the desk to where I stood looking back though the door at my friend Geneva. He put his sweaty hands on my shoulders and turned me around, his eyes ogling my chest. I thought for a moment that he was going to touch my breasts, even though the door was wide open and Geneva was standing there, the perfect witness.
But he just stripped me down to my skin with those cottonmouth eyes of his. His creepy hands were still on my shoulders, so I turned my head and bit him as hard as I could, right where the thumb connects to the palm.
His wounded hand flew back to slap me, but I ducked and ran out of the room.
“Jeepers,” Geneva said, “You really ticked Mr. Nesbitt off.”
I didn’t say anything, but I knew there’d be more trouble.
That evening at dinner – we all ate in a big high-ceilinged hall, kind of like nuns in the Middle Ages – I got into a fight with Loretta Lee, a girl two years older than me, and a psychopath. She got a black eye. I got a tanning delivered by Miss Beech herself and sent to bed without dessert. Miss Beech, an old lesbo with a buzz cut, had been head mistress at Rankin House for eons. It was whispered she wore leather undergarments on the weekends.
I cried, but only after lights out. Miss Beech would get hers.
The next day, Saturday, right after breakfast, cleaning day arrived in the dormitory rooms and vast hallways of Rankin. Orphans running up and down with brooms, mops and feather dusters. In the chaos Geneva and I snuck down to the duck pond for a smoke.
I’d just taken a first deep drag on the dried-out Lucky I’d cadged a week ago from a traveling drummer, when there was a great rustling and commotion amid the swamp milkweed and honeysuckle that loomed over the water hyacinth-choked pond. Next thing, the weeds parted like the waters of the Red Sea and two men broke into the spider webby clearing where we were crouched down with our cigs.
Tall and slim and as bent over as a late-summer green bean, the first intruder was tucked in faded overalls and a pale green collarless shirt. A slug-white scar slashed across his forehead. Notwithstanding the end of August heat wave, the other intruder sported a black wool suit, white shirt and namby-pamby tie. Both had white handkerchiefs tied across their faces like comic book bandidos.
Despite this attempted disguise, I instantly recognized the shorter, rounder marauder as Mr. Nesbitt. Who wasn’t surprised?
I didn’t know the other man. But his scarred, demonic visage reminded me of the disfigured villain played by Lionel Atwill in Mystery of the Wax Museum, which I’d seen at the cinema in Jackson on a school trip.
“Jeez Louise. Run!” Geneva shouted, dropping her cigarette and bolting for the open lawn that undulated down in front of the three-story red brick edifice that was Rankin House.
“Wait for me!” I yelled.
But I was too slow. Mr. Nesbitt’s accomplice wrapped me in his arms while Mr. Nesbitt covered my face with a washrag steeped in some sweetly nauseating chemical. Recollecting a tooth I’d had pulled the year before, even as my brain began to spin down the rabbit hole I realized the chemical smell was chloroform. Darkness met me halfway.
When I came to, I was surprised I wasn’t stark naked. After all, isn’t that the point of being abducted by a sex maniac?
Nope, I was still wearing my purple violet print dress, Sears Roebuck panties and black sensible shoes with brown socks.
A rat poison headache pounded behind my eyes, so I closed them again. I was lying across the leather back seat of a Ford automobile. The smells of old leather and road dust danced in my nose. I felt the automobile cavort and pitch and yaw and shimmy over the rough roadway.
When I opened my eyes again, I found myself staring at the back of Mr. Nesbitt’s bald head. Little tufts of hair clung like bats above each ear. The rest was a pinkish expanse of tightly pulled skin strewn with warts, birthmarks, moles and dimples. Ugh.
I had to escape!
Leaping up I thrust my hands in front of Mr. Nesbitt’s eyes, nails clawing into the surrounding skin. The auto lurched sideways as Mr. Nesbitt shook his head, trying in vain to dislodge my grasping, blinding fingers. In the next instant the automobile shot across the shoulder and pitched into the ditch, bouncing and bucking, oil pan scraping and sparking on the hardscrabble earth.
Desperate, Mr. Nesbitt swung his right arm backward like a cudgel, catching me in the side of the head and sending me tumbling, while his body thrust forward against the steering wheel, sounding the horn in a long, plaintive howl. The automobile jerked to a sudden halt in a tangle of scrub pine, witch alder and dwarf palmetto. Dust settled over everything.
Mr. Nesbitt’s red face glared feverishly over the seatback at me where I lay wedged in the leg space between the back seat and the front seatback.
“You little dimwit. You almost got us killed.”
“Better that than what you intend,” I spat back.
“Shut your trap.”
His hand smashed into my cheek. My eyes welled with tears. I lay motionless on the sticky rubber floor mats listening to my heart. Suddenly, I was afraid for my life.
Mr. Nesbitt got out of the automobile and walked around it, surveying the damage.
“Damn! The whitewalls are ruined. And look at the front bumper.”
I leaned out the window.
“Your career’s ruined, Mr. Nesbitt. You’ll never teach choir again. Or Bible studies. In fact, I bet they put you in prison and throw away the key.”
He gave me another if-looks-could-kill look.
Next thing I knew he’d taken some rope out of the trunk and trussed me up like a turkey for Thanksgiving. At first I squirmed and kicked. I might have been naked for all the modesty this entailed. Finally Mr. Nesbitt threatened to smack me again if I didn’t cooperate. At which point I gave up.
I ended up in the trunk. It was a rough ride for a while, flopping around like a bass in the bottom of a dingy, arms and legs banging into the jack and other loose tools, retching at the astringent smell of heavy motor oil. It was hot as Hades in there. My lips soon grew dry and cracked.
When the ride smoothed out, I figured we’d entered the main road that ran from Meridian to Jackson and on to Shreveport, a place I’d never been to.
After awhile Mr. Nesbitt pulled the automobile onto the shoulder and stopped. Maybe he got nervous that I would suffocate or expire from the heat. The wheels scrunched on sand. The car door opened; then slammed shut. He must have been standing right next to the trunk when he spoke.
“You ready to get outa there?” he called.
“You gonna kill me now?”
“No. I’m not going to kill you. We need to come to an accommodation.”
“If you calm down and behave like a young lady, I’ll let you sit in the passenger seat next to me.”
“How do I know you won’t do something nasty?”
“Like expose yourself.”
There was a long silence.
“You’ll have to trust me, just like I’ll have to trust you.”
Thus we reached agreement on the terms of my de-incarceration.
Mr. Nesbitt opened the trunk and untied the rope holding my hands. I managed to climb out and, with my feet still fettered together, hobbled around and climbed into the passenger seat. When Mr. Nesbitt got in and started the engine, I pulled the hem of my dress down as far as I could. In his eyes I was as naked as a jaybird.
Ignoring his chameleon scrutiny, I flipped open the sun visor on the back of which was a vanity mirror and, using a spit-dampened Kleenex, began wiping off the oil and dirt from my face. Nothing could remove the black shadow of the bruise where Mr. Nesbitt had hit me.
I wondered if Geneva had sounded the alarm. Whether there was a posse out looking for Mr. Nesbitt and me.
When I looked over at Mr. Nesbitt, he was staring at my bare calves, as if I was some kind of Greek statue. Pervert par excellence. So was our French teacher. If you messed up your verb conjugations, an oak switch was applied to bare buttocks after class. But after all, this was the Deep South.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“My brother has a hunting cabin in East Texas.”
“Can we stop in Shreveport? I’ve always wanted to go to Shreveport.”
“We don’t have time.”
“We could rent a hotel room right downtown, with Egyptian cotton sheets and a private bathroom with a claw foot tub. Order room service, have sex for days.”
Mr. Nesbitt’s eyes did some somersaults and stuff.
“Isn’t that the point of kidnapping me?” I asked. “To enjoy the fruits of your labors?”
“I think you should be quiet.”
His eyes promised endless pain.
I decided to shut my trap.
One arm resting on my open window ledge, hair ruffled by the wind, I gazed at the boring piney woods and counted the mile markers. On the one hand I just wanted him to get it over with. I was tired of being a virgin. On the other hand, I wondered if it would hurt. And what if I liked it? Would that mean I was a nymphomaniac?
The thing that worried me the most was Mr. Nesbitt. He had nothing to lose. Once he’d had his way with me, he might just kill me and head down Mexico way.
Mr. Nesbitt’s eyes kept flitting like berserk cicadas between me and the road ahead. He spat out the window as if in disgust with the entire universe.
“You’ve ruined me,” he said.
“Me? Ruined you? What about my life? Ravaged, then murdered and buried in a shallow roadside grave.”
He didn’t even hear what I was saying.
“I have a wife,” he said. “Civic responsibilities. Then you come along, like Satan’s candy cane and it all goes up in smoke.”
“You could have controlled your urges,” I said. “Besides, I could be your child.”
“That’s the horror of it. The horror!”
He commenced pounding his forehead against the steering wheel. The Ford veered into the opposing lane. Luckily there was no other traffic.
“Jeez, Mr. Nesbitt, don’t have a crack-up.”
“Don’t you understand,” he moaned. “I’m crazy about you. Forty-one years old and crazy about a fourteen year old Jezebel.”
“Fifteen,” I retorted. “And I’m not wicked, just hardened by circumstance.”
Mr. Nesbitt’s hands strangled the steering wheel as if it might be my neck, so I went back to staring out the window at the passing scene, which was mostly pine trees and the occasional weathered clapboard house with a yellow dog sleeping in the dusty front yard.
A sign announced: Jackson 3 miles. That’s the state capital.
On the outskirts we passed a fried chicken joint. I was starving. So apparently was Mr. Nesbitt, because at the last second he turned the Ford into the gravel parking area. The lot was empty except for us. A motorcycle leaned at a rear corner of the building. The cook’s?
Before he got out of the car, Mr. Nesbitt retied my hands with the rope, then looped it through some part of the car frame, pulling my hands into my lap.
“Be good,” he said.
He didn’t show me the gun or knife or razor hidden in his pocket. Just his hands rubbing together like nervous gerbils.
I speculated that after our late lunch, it was likely Mr. Nesbitt would rent a cabin at some wayside motor court. Buy some local bourbon. Then the fun would begin.
Posse or no posse, I needed to vamanos sooner rather than later. I watched him disappear through the screen door of the chicken shack, which closed with a bang. He hadn’t even asked me what I wanted to eat.
Just then four high school seniors in a Tweety Bird yellow Buick coupe scrunched across the gravel and parked next to the Ford. The driver flapped an eye closed, then open. He was handsome in a football quarterback sort of way. Sandy hair, blue eyes, white teeth, square clean-shaven chin.
“Comin’ or goin?” he asked.
“I’ve been kidnapped,” I said.
All four of them were looking at me now.
“Kidnapped,” said the dark jawed, tanned bully in the front passenger seat.
“Kidnapped, kidnapped,” echoed the red-haired Irish twins in the back seat. Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Just as the driver stepped out of the Buick, Mr. Nesbitt stuck his head out through the screen door and got me in his sights. A sparrow caught in the hypnotic gaze of a snake.
“Half dark, half light okay with you, Easter?”
The boys immediately shied away. I was running out of options.
“Go fuck yourself, Mr. Nesbitt,” I said.
The good looking driver turned and stared at me, then at Mr. Nesbitt, who was now completely outside the screened-in dining area of Schubert’s Chicken ‘N Catfish Shack and striding toward us.
It’s hard for a short, roundish middle-aged man to look threatening, but Mr. Nesbitt looked threatening.
“Look,” I said to the football star, “He’s got me all tied up. I’m his sex slave.”
He gaped at my rope-bound hands, his eyes bugging out.
Then Mr. Nesbitt was standing right next to him, his suit jacket spread open and the butt of a revolver visible tucked into his waistband.
“Something bothering you, kid?”
He hitched his thumb in my direction.
“How come she’s tied up?”
“Crazy as a loon. In transit to the Piney Woods Facility for the Criminally Insane,” Mr. Nesbitt said.
One hand pushed his suit jacket wide and back to dramatically expose the revolver. “That’s why I carry this.”
“He’s a liar,” I said. “He’s going to rape and torture me. We just stopped to get something to eat first.”
Mr. Nesbitt’s hand was around my throat.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” he said to the quarterback.
Before he could utter another word, Mr. Nesbitt, using the pistol barrel, smashed the quarterback across the face once, twice, and once again before he sagged to the gravel, rivulets of blood painting his face. Or what was left of it.
One of the Irish boys started to cry. The bully backed toward the chicken shack. The screen door squealed open and the cook leaned through.
“What’s goin on here?” he asked.
“Is my order ready yet?” demanded Mr. Nesbitt.
“Hold up there…” The toothpick-mouthed cook riveted his eyes on the unmoving body lying in the gravel. “What’s wrong with that boy?”
Mr. Nesbitt shook the revolver like a shaman’s rattle. “We’ve got to get going. Bring me my chicken order!”
The screen door slammed behind the retreating cook. I figured he was going for a weapon, shotgun most likely. So did Mr. Nesbitt.
We shot out of that parking lot like a bat out of Hell, gears grinding, gravel flying. When we hit the highway we sailed directly in front of two cream-colored convertibles packed with armed deputies coming up fast. The posse. Better late than never.
A roar of emotion erupted from the lead convertible. They had recognized Mr. Nesbitt’s automobile.
Gritting his teeth, Mr. Nesbitt floored the gas pedal. We sped forward. But the posse soon began to close the distance. Mr. Nesbitt’s eyes danced a crazed jitterbug.
“Cut me loose,” I said. “I’ll drive. You shoot out their tires.”
To my astonishment Mr. Nesbitt extracted a pocketknife from his jacket pocket, opened the blade with his teeth and cut the rope binding my wrists. In moments I was free. We changed places, the car swerving wildly.
Was I nuts? Had Mr. Nesbitt brainwashed me?
Not a Chinaman’s chance.
So why did Mr. Nesbitt cut my bonds? Maybe because he was in a tizzy. Or on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Regardless, even as he leaned out the passenger window and began shooting, I twisted the Ford onto a topsy-turvy dirt road that tumbled down to the bank of a wide, sluggish river. The Pearl.
Mr. Nesbitt gripped the door handle and cursed a blue streak as we plummeted ass over elbow down the steep and rugged incline. At the bottom we hit a slight rise at the top of which we became airborne, landing twenty feet ahead with a tooth-shattering, bone-snapping jolt. Instantly the automobile bounded into a series of flips. Dust swirled. The driver’s door flew open. My hands were torn from the wheel. I somersaulted from the churning wreck into a shallow backwater overgrown with alligatorweed. Taking a quick inventory I found no broken bones or other major injuries.
A great roar deafened me, as the Ford automobile plowed into the trunk of a cottonwood and burst into flames. Above, at the edge of the highway, members of the posse milled about watching the blaze.
Bye-bye Mr. Nesbitt.
It suddenly occurred to me that there was no way I was returning to Rankin House. I was done with that part of my life. Simultaneously I sank deeper into the alligatorweed infestation and moved stealthily toward the open river.
In no time I was riding south with the current, hidden by a pine log that chance floated by.
I had decided to seek my fortune in New Orleans.
Amazingly, I was still a virgin.
But not for long.