Franklin prided himself at being a controlled man. He had spent twenty-five years proving it. While his wife complained, he had learned to be a good boy, to bite his tongue. He submissively went along with her wishes, even when it was against his better judgment. On the evening when Franklin Charles finally snapped, no one was more surprised than he.
“Harriet, are you coming?” More than an hour had passed since Franklin had gone inside The Anchor, leaving his wife outside to sulk, and to be honest, he had appreciated the break. For the past four days they had been together constantly, and he was convinced that he had never disliked her more than he did right now.
“No!” Harriet hollered. “I want to go home.” She was standing on the dock with her back to Franklin. Shivering, she watched the rain as it was swallowed up in the swift current of the river.
“Harriet, be reasonable,” Franklin called out from the protection of the small lip of the roof that hung over the doorway of The Anchor. “You can’t stay outside.” There was no emotion in his voice as he spoke. It was merely his husbandly duty. “It’s getting dark,” he added, even though he would prefer it if she stayed outside.
If he was being really honest, Franklin would love it if Harriet left him and went tromping back through the wild country. He could spend the night alone at the public house, surrounded by women who would give him proper attention. Sure, he might have to pay for their time, but for a reasonable price these women would tell him he was worth it. They wouldn’t yell at him or blame him or tell him he was a failure. They would tell him he was handsome, that he was strong, that he was fun. Even if it was all a bunch of flattery, he was tempted to purchase their adoration for one night.
“Do you know what people back home would say if they knew we were staying in a place like this?” Harriet had turned around, hands on her hips, yelling at him. “I can’t believe you would drag me all the way into the middle of nowhere and expect me to sleep in such a filthy hole.” She spat the words out like sharp darts, trusting that one of them would hit the mark. “Besides, this is all because of you, you know. If you spent less time drinking and more time parenting, Celine wouldn’t have gone missing in the first place.”
The thunder rumbled in the distance as Harriet unleashed her accusation, and in a flash Franklin had cleared the space between him and his wife. He never recalled moving so quickly. Within seconds he was standing on the dock, inches from Harriet’s with his jaw clenched, his hands balled up in tight fists.
“Harriet, you are going to listen to me right now.” His voice was low and growling, mirroring the thunder.
“No. No, Harriet. You are going to shut that fat mouth of yours and let me finish.” Without thinking he grabbed her by the arm and yanked her to the very edge of the dock so that they were centimeters from falling off into the river. He grabbed her cheeks with his other hand, causing her to wince as he pulled her face close to his. She could see the red veins in his bloodshot eyes and the pulse in his neck. He ignored her whimpering and spoke in short, staccato words, each one carefully pronounced so that his meaning could not be misunderstood.
“I don’t care what you have to say, Harriet. I have been listening to you complain for twenty-five years, and now I’m through.” He shook her slightly before continuing. “Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to go inside and change my clothes. Then I’m going eat some dinner, and I’m going to enjoy a cold beer. Maybe two. I’m going to continue looking for someone who can help me find our daughter, then after that I’m going to sleep in a real bed with a real blanket and a real pillow. You, on the other hand, can do whatever you like. You can join me inside or you can stay out here and drown. I don’t care. You’re a big girl, Harriet. You figure it out.”
A second round of thunder rumbled through the harbor and concluded Franklin’s speech. The rain was so thick now that it was coming down in heavy sheets that stung his eyes. Harriet’s hair hung about her in wet clusters, like dripping vines. The sound of water colliding with the earth was like the train yard back home where the locomotive engines churned their incessant dirge. It seemed they could not be more wet if they had jumped into the river.
Suddenly exhausted from his outburst, Franklin released his grip on Harriet. She jerked back and cradled her arm, and he couldn’t help but feel guilty.
Harriet’s glaring eyes followed him as he left her on the warbly dock. Her cheeks ached and her heart raced. For years her husband had been apathetic and mocking, but he had never been harsh. Today he had scared her. She felt the bitterness of the cold in her bones, and the pain of hunger begin to creep into her stomach. She decided that just because Franklin had frightened her did not mean he would be getting the last word.
“Just so you know, you are the biggest lush I have ever met, and I hope you die with a bottle in your hand.” She pushed aside a patch of hair that had fallen in front of her eyes and emphatically stomped on ahead of Franklin. She sloshed up the slippery hill, leaving vehement bursts of mud in her wake. When she fell face-first into the mud, it was impossible for Franklin not to laugh.
From the ground Harriet kicked and sputtered, flailing mud everywhere. The mud covered her body like a thick frosting, weaving through her hair and creeping into the canals of her ears. No vulnerable spot was neglected. The whites of her eyes popped out from the brown mask like headlights as she shrieked, “This is your fault!”
“Are you coming, Harriet?” Franklin asked sarcastically without offering to help her up.
“You pig!” She spit and snarled like a caged animal as she wobbled to her feet and pushed past him.
Boots looked up from his bartending to give proper homage to Harriet as she stormed into the tavern. He was about to say something sarcastic like, “Why, I didn’t even know it was raining outside,” when Franklin shot him a warning glance. He silently handed Harriet a faded bar towel which she promptly yanked from his hands. She attempted to wipe away a layer of mud, squinting and blinking as her eyes adjusted.
As she had suspected, the population inside The Anchor was predominately male. Both young and old men gathered around tables where they poured from foamy pitchers of beer and gambled meager purses away. They pounded the tables with thick fists and told loud jokes that were only funny to them because of the alcohol.
In addition to the customers, a handful of women circulated among the tables. Attractive women, some of them, others not so much, but all of them clear professionals. They moved confidently in their tight bodices and their corseted dresses. These women knew when to rest an encouraging hand on a man’s shoulder, when to set a fresh glass of beer down, and when to suggest a visit to one of the rooms upstairs.
“Let me show you to your room.” The inviting words came from the woman Harriet had seen earlier. A beautiful girl with black hair and painted lips. There was a haunting look about her, as if she held secrets that had been dormant for centuries. When she approached them, Harriet pursed her lips and turned up her muddy nose at the dress that barely contained the girl’s figure.
“I’m sure you’ll want to wash up,” the girl added as Harriet grudgingly followed her upstairs. She scowled at the woman’s stockings and her figure that swayed to and fro, a meticulous dance that had been rehearsed and perfected over time. Halfway up the staircase, Harriet turned to look at her husband. His attempt to avert his eyes made his attraction to the girl all the more obvious.
“Here’s your room for the night.” They stopped in front of a room with a large number three painted on the door. “If you need anything, my name is Rose. If I’m with a customer, then Boots can help you.” She winked and placed the key in Franklin’s palm. The tiny heels of her boots clicked all the way across the wooden floor and all the way down the staircase.
“I can’t believe you would make me sleep in a brothel.” As soon as they were behind the safety of the door, Harriet seethed at Franklin. Flicks of mud sprayed about as she shuddered her disapproval.
“It’s not a brothel, Harriet.” Franklin flopped down onto the rickety bed and rolled all over it, savoring the fact that he would not be sleeping on the ground.
“Then what would you call it?” she snorted. “And don’t you ever touch me again,” she added as the muddy water from her hair and clothing dripped down and formed a puddle around her.
“Look, Harriet, I’m going to clean up. There’s a washroom at the end of the hallway. You should do the same.”
“We have to share a washroom with those animals?”
“Harriet, where do you think we are? Paris? We’re lucky to have a washroom at all. Just close your eyes and pretend it’s the Waldorf. I’ll be back later.”
After Franklin left Harriet alone, she stood there for some time scrutinizing the well-used room. There were faded paintings that hung crookedly on the walls. A dingy carpet covered the floorboards,and the mirror had a large crack running down the middle that distorted her reflection. She didn’t want to think about how many travelers had passed through the room.
All of these details were unfortunate but could be overlooked in light of the ancient bed that sagged in the corner. From the looks of things, there was no guarantee that the sheets had been changed since the last customer had occupied the space, and Harriet thought she might vomit.
A door slammed in the room next to her, and soon she could hear the lewd noises of business happening on the other side of the thin walls. Harriet tried to plug her ears and sing quietly to herself as she had done as a child. Crumpling to the ground, she rocked herself back and forth, hoping this might soothe her. She began to weep as she thought about Franklin and knew he could never understand. He thought this was all about her affinity for cleanliness and for nice things, but it was much more than that. These sort of places were the epitome of Harriet’s own personal nightmare, and she feared that things were only going to get worse.
To be continued…
Written by Benjamin & Heidi Sadler, © 2016 Benjamin & Heidi Sadler, All Rights Reserved