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The Daughters of Hagar

Greetings gentle readers! Thought you might like to read the submission I made to the Ten Stories High Short Story Contest, and which, I’m ever so proud to report, garnered third prize. Copies of the anthology and details about this year’s contest are available at www.canauthorsniagara.org . Disclaimer – this story deals with adult topics. If that makes you uneasy, listen to your intuition and go read something else.

The Daughters of Hagar

He looks up from his paper as she walks through the living room carrying a tray.

“What’s this?” he asks.

“What’s it look like? Soup and crackers. I’m taking it up to Gracie. See if I can get her to eat a few bites.”

He snaps his paper. Turns the page.

“Grace will come down when she’s ready.”

“Perhaps it’s escaped your notice dear, but Gracie hasn’t been down in three days.”

He sniffs as he scans the page.

“She’s just looking for attention.”

“Mm-hm. And I’m about to give her some.”

“Wait. Delia. Please.” He folds his paper and nods to the chair across from him. She sets the tray on the coffee table, slides into the chair, crosses her legs with a shush-shush of nylon – a sound that never fails to capture his instant attention. His eyes flicker from her legs to her calm, steady eyes.

He looks away.

“You think I’m wrong,” he says at last.

“Yup.”

“But Delia, don’t you understand, there must be order if you’re going to run a household successfully, and in a family like ours, it’s even more important.”

“Seemed pretty orderly to me,” she says.

“No no, it wasn’t working.” He holds out his hand to her. “What was I supposed to do? He was stealing her affections from me!”

“Stealing?” she says. “But this whole thing was your idea.”

“No!” He stands. Starts to pace. “This wasn’t what I wanted at all! It was supposed to be Grace and me and you. Just the three of us. Like in the Old Testament. Sure, I thought Grace might have some trouble accepting it at first, but when I went to her and explained how I had…feelings…for another woman…you…and how I felt God was calling that woman…you…to be my second wife, she actually clapped her hands and shouted, ‘Woo-hoo!’”

Delia smiles.

“That’s our Gracie.”

The man continues.

“‘Woo-hoo!’ she said. ‘I totally understand cuz I’ve been having feelings for Michael, and he for me, but we’ve been fighting them cuz we would never want to hurt you. But now he can come and be part of our family too, right? Praise the Lord! You’re a genius!’” He stops pacing, looks over to Delia and shakes his head. “I’m a genius,” he says.

“Didn’t see that coming, did you?”

“No, and it didn’t help that you took her side.”

She grins.

“Can’t let the boys have all the fun. Besides, it’s what sister-wives do.”

“Gang up on their husband?”

“Look out for each other.” A softness touches her face. “I love Gracie.”

“Grace,” he says.

She lets the correction go unchallenged.

“I didn’t think I would, but I do. She’s like a child, arms wide, loving the whole world.”

“She loves too much,” he says.

“You mean, she loves one too many.”

He begins to pace again, muttering as if he were alone.

“It was supposed to be like in the Bible, the patriarchs, Abraham…”

Delia leans forward in her chair.

“I admit I’m new to this Bible thing, but if I recall correctly, that little arrangement worked out very well for Abraham, not so great for Hagar and her child, wandering around the desert, dying of thirst.”

He halts and frowns at her.

“Jehovah saved them,” he says.

“Mm. Well, from what I can see, Jehovah’s not doing a damn thing to save Gracie.”

“Shut your mouth!” he hisses. “I won’t stand for blasphemy in my house!”

She shrugs.

“Then sit.”

He glares at her.

She holds up a conciliatory hand. “Just sit down.”

He takes his place back on the sofa. She continues.

“Gracie hasn’t eaten since Michael left. She hardly sleeps, cries all the time. Now she’s so weak, she can’t get out of bed. Get Michael back here.”

“No.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Delia! Language!”

“Well, he’s even a member of the church for God’s sake, and that was one up on me.” She drops her long lashes in a slow blink. “Remember how we met?” She recrosses her legs. Shush shush. And his eyes are dragged down to her knees. “Do you?”

“What does it matter? You’re a member of the church now. You’ve accepted…” he hesitates, “…Christ.”

She smiles. Leans back in her chair.

“Oh honey, I accepted a helluva lot more than that. Besides, if anyone should be upset here, it’s me. You and Gracie each had two partners. I just have you. Little ole you. And your words from God. And your secret thoughts. And your red…hot…spirituality.”

On the mantle, a clock is ticking. The man’s breathing is audible.

“What do you know about it?” he says in a hoarse whisper. “What do you know about anything?”

“Plenty. I know if Gracie hadn’t accepted your little plan, we would have had an affair. I know if you hadn’t suggested this blessed…” she puts air quotes around the word, “…polygamy, she would never have given into her feelings for Michael, not in a million years, and you know that too. And I know she loves you, more than anyone or anything in this world.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes really. When Michael finally did come to live with us, she was so worried about you, she came to me and asked me to help her think up ways to reassure you.”

“She did?”

“You’re surprised?”

He looks down. Picks imaginary lint off his pants.

“Grace is a sweet girl,” he says.

“Yes, she is. A sweet girl you crushed when you drove Michael from this house, threatening to call the cops on him.” She falls silent a moment, then adds, “I think she’s dying.”

He gives a harsh laugh and picks up his paper.

“Don’t be absurd,” he says.

She purses her lips and watches him read. After a while she says, “Alrighty,” and picks up the tray. She walks away a step, then turns back.

“One more thing,” she says, “Gracie’s pregnant.”

He slowly looks up from his paper, eyes wide.

“How do you know?”

She makes a face.

“How do you think I know? This isn’t pioneer days. She peed on a stick. It turned blue.”

He takes in her words and asks, “Who’s the father?”

Again the face.

“Well, in spite of the fact that there’s been enough sperm sprayed around here lately to float a battleship, I’ve managed to narrow it down to two likely suspects.”

He gets to his feet very slowly. The paper slips to the floor.

“You…vulgar…”

She narrows her eyes and pulls her mouth into a taut smile.

“Go ahead, sweetheart. Say it. Say it!

His whole body is trembling.

“Slut!”

She laughs noiselessly.

“Yes I am,” she says. “And don’t you just love me for it? Now get Michael back here, before Gracie dies and we all wind up in hell.”

He watches her climb the stairs, hears the gentle knock, the murmuring voices above him. He looks down to the paper lying in a soft shambles about his feet. Closes his eyes.

Tries to pray.

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2 Comments

  1. Joannie
    Posted April 9, 2016 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Dear Penny-Anne: Sometimes you remind me of another friend of me, Greg Scratch. Greg is the a creative, lovely man who is very spiritual and very irreverent! Thank you for your latest writing. It’s always a joy to read. Love, Joannie

    • Penny-Anne
      Posted April 11, 2016 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Joannie! So glad you liked it!

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