She was as beautiful as always, wearing beautiful clothes as always, and as serene as always. I had missed her dearly, even in the few hours, but I willed my face to say nothing. Grandfather was a statue, wrinkles denoting age. I could see the resemblance. Grandmother again pushed the door closed, and I stood straight, hands behind my back politely.
Grandfather sat up straighter. "Lucille," I stood straighter as well, to match him. "This is your cousin, Corinne."
I nodded, and curtsied to Momma.
"Corinne, your cousin Lucille Winfield, on your mother's side."
She smiled warmly, and we shook hands, greeting each other formally. It was strange to greet one's parent like a stranger.
Grandfather's face had been unwavering for the time, and did not change.
"Corinne," He began, slowly speaking. "has sinned in the most terrible manner. For the last fifteen years, she has been forgotten almost entirely by me and Olivia. She has come today to beg forgiveness."
I took it in. I knew there was some sin. What it was exactly, I didn't know. I knew her disownment. I knew she was begging. Momma was calm, but I noted the tiniest signs of fear; sweaty palms, wringing fingers, the idle pushing of hair behind an ear. I watched her swallow a lump in her throat.
"It will take time." He continued. "Her fall from the path of God was exceedingly far. It will take plenty of effort to show me that she has taken God back into her heart. It will take plenty of effort to show me that she loves me."
I nodded, still not showing emotion.
"Her sin is unforgivable by the Lord, but perhaps she will be granted some level mercy in heaven. Upon this plane, however, my mercy will not be spared. Olivia?"
I glanced to Grandmother. She stood as stony faced as her husband. She strode to his bedside, and gazed at him with cool eyes.
Grandfather looked back at her. "Her punishment is due. It is, in fact, long neglected." He pointed to a corner of the room, and my eyes followed the path of his finger. It gestured to the plain looking writing desk, cupboard doors closed, papers neatly stacked, and fountain pen in its holder. "Take the whip." He commanded.
My blood froze. If they were going to whip her, I didn't know how I could bear it. Then again, I tried to reason; perhaps it was a metaphor, or just a warning. Grandmother strode to the desk, and opened the top set of doors. My optimism was falsely placed, and I watched her pull out a long whip, handle made of rich wood wrapped in reddish brown leather. It looked used, but the leather strap used to torture had been replaced.
"Strip." Grandfather instructed Momma. She did so obediently. Grandmother looked me in the eye, and then to a chair next to Grandfather. I sat there quickly and silently.
Momma stood in the center of the room, in only a brassiere and underwear. She seemed bare naked, even without her filmy negligee she normally wore when she had come out of a bath. Creamy white skin was bathed in a yellowish light coming from the lamps, and I watched the gentle rise and fall of her chest, even if she was nervously shifting. It was surreal.
"Corrine Foxworth." He said firmly. "You lived in sin for sixteen years. Upon the conception of your child, if any remained, all the grace of God left you. With the destruction of that child, some may have returned. But not all."
I wasn't supposed to be here. Her punishment was because of me. I should've been dead.
"Corinne." He continued. "For each of those sixteen years, you will receive a lash. Amnon, son of David, was put to death by Absalom for your very crime. Take this as pity."
I watched Grandmother, raise the whip above her head. Momma cowered. I squeezed my eyes shut.
"Your cousin will now witness the penance for transgressions against God." He announced. "For the crime of incestuous relations with your half uncle, let the bite of the whip punish."
I heard a thwack, and a dull whine. It took every ounce of strength not to cry.
I was an inbred.
A second lash, a few moments later. A slightly louder sound. I bit my lip.
I could have been deformed.
A third, delayed. A gasp. I dug fingers into my palms.
“Open your eyes child! Witness the penance for sin!" Grandfather demanded. I did as told. I didn't want to suffer the pain. I didn't want to give anything away.
Four, five, six lashes. Mother's back was already red and bruised. I thought of the twins.
Seven, eight. Her thighs were raw, bleeding.
She was naked. The whip cut into her flesh twice more. The whip curled around her and gnawed her skin. Scarlet welts bloomed like roses.
Another three lashes in quick succession. Momma cried out, and was slapped across the face. She fell silent. I wondered what Cathy was doing.
A fourteenth. I felt a hot droplet of blood streak my face from the violent splatters. I didn't wipe it away. Chris would chide me for the impoliteness.
Grandmother raised the whip high once more, and then cracked it down with so much force I thought the whip itself would break. The amount of strength from the woman was immense, especially given that her husband seemed ancient. I watched the leather make contact with raw flesh.
That was fifteen. I could feel tiny crescent moons forming in my skin from nails pressing in. I watched as Momma half collapsed to the floor, saving herself with a hand. The carpet was a rich red; any drops of blood would never leave a noticeable stain. Plus, I had noted before, Grandfather looked as though he was coughing up blood. It would not be strange to find any in the room. It was a perfect setting. Grandmother raised the whip one last time, and brought it down.
The final blow. Her body ran crimson, her cheeks were stained from running mascara, and I watched her shudder. Her once calm breaths were ragged, and her perfect hair, perfect makeup, both were in disarray. I didn't move. I barely shifted. Grandmother tossed her a wet rag that I saw a nurse pat Grandfather's head with.
"Wash up." She said plainly, as if nothing had transpired. "I will be escorting you to your room. Lucille will join us."
Momma nodded quickly, and wiped herself as well as she could. With the wounds clean, they weren't as deep as I had thought, and some were already beginning to cease bleeding. Within ten minutes, no blood came anymore, and she was dressed. In the mirror, she fixed her hair and makeup. Like nothing was wrong. Like she hadn't suffered a brutal beating. Like her daughter did not witness it. Like her daughter didn't hear that her, along with her siblings, were crimes against the Bible, nature, and the odds. Grandmother gestured that I stand, and I did so. She led us out, and while she walked, she gestured to a maid, who scurried off, I assume to allow the nurses back in.
Up the flights of stairs we went, along long hallways. I looked up at Momma. She didn't look back at me. We were on the third floor again, where I had come so close to seeing my siblings again. My breath hitched in my throat. Grandmother unlocked the door, and pushed us inside, locking it again.
I had remembered the room being small the first time I'd seen it, but now it seemed even more so. Things were in disarray, but I saw all of my wonderful, wonderful siblings perk up when they saw Momma and I, and they ran to squeeze us in hugs. Momma winced, but covered it up with a smile.
And then she explained what happened. I had to tune it out. It honestly hurt to hear it again. My dirty habit of denial and ignoring often did me wrong. All I could think of was Carrie and Cory. They were just toddlers. They needed sunshine and room to run. A tiny room that required curtains to be tightly shut all day and night was a recipe for disaster. They already seemed distraught, antsy. When Grandmother finished her explanation, Carrie tugged on my skirt.
"Where did you go?" She asked softly.
I paused. Then spoke. "I can't stay with you, Carrie. I'm too big. Chris and Cathy can stay, though."
She frowned, and I scooped her up in my arms. She squeezed me tight. "Why you got blood on your face?"
I hadn't wiped it away, and I reddened. I saw the others look towards me. I didn't want them to know what happened and my involvement, so I lied, hoping they wouldn't make the connection. "I fell in my room, buttercup. Skinned my knee and accidentally got a little on my face. That's all."
I had never really lied to them. Sure, I had embellished the truth to entertain them, to tell stories, but never about anything serious. I had to though. To keep them safe and happy. I watched her think it through, perhaps with a little doubt, but she accepted it well enough. I set her down.
After a little more time and explanation of my situation, Grandmother ushered Momma and I out. We went to dinner, which was simple, given the house around us. Just a roast, potatoes, and carrots. It was excellent, though felt strange for grandeur. Then again, my grandparent's orthodox tastes likely forbade any meals that were over the top. Neither grandmother nor Mother even drank wine. They had tea.
After supper, Momma was shown her room, and Grandmother led me to mine. Probably so I wouldn't think of wandering off and knowing more than I should.
At my door, she stopped me.
"Lucille," She said cooly. "tonight you will read all of Deuteronomy Chapter twenty-one, verses eighteen to twenty one. You will memorize it, and by six p.m. tomorrow, I will have you recite it over supper. Take the words into your heart. Take them soberly." She instructed. "Breakfast will be at seven sharp. Do not oversleep again." She added, then left.
Kneeling at the foot of my bed, I prayed. Then, once I had pulled on pajamas and crawled into bed, I flipped to the correct passage.
"18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard." 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid."