When the sun rotates back toward the equator, the desert begins to collect heat, radiating warm air toward the cooler air of the ocean. The cool and the warm air mix together to form a layer of low clouds. They lie thick and heavy along the shore and ooze up the creek beds into the valleys. The clouds come in the spring and provide a brief respite from the heat of summer to come.
On just such a day, Gunter took advantage of the coolness to make new screens for the windows of the house. He cut the wood to length and mitered the ends. He painted the frames, then cut mesh and fitted it into the frames. Isabella was captured by the creativity of his task, considering the level of destruction that was wrought periodically inside the house. When her father invited her to help, she was proud to assist him in his efforts—once again seduced by a sense of feeling needed by him.
So pleased to be a part of his day, Isabella allowed herself to indulge fully in the enjoyment of the moment. She pushed away her usual hypersensitive awareness as they teamed up to make the work go more quickly. The minutes passed seamlessly into hours, and she was flush with a sense of tranquility. They worked efficiently together. She began to feel as if she were an asset instead of the usual, more familiar image as a failure or inadequate. She dropped her guard and found herself humming a tune she’d heard on the television.
Catchy, little tunes burrow into the unconscious mind and wiggle out at the oddest moments—without invitation or reason—floating along on happiness before they spill over lips, meeting haphazard words that attach themselves to humming until a person is singing while they work.
“A robber and killer of trains is his art
He rides, and he ropes with a mighty black heart
No mercy is known, or leniency shown
He rides, and he ropes and they call him Black Bart.”
Gunter stopped working. “Shut up!”
Jerked back into the moment, Isabella looked up at her father to see his eyes, squinty and cruel.
“Shut up and go in the house!”
Isabella’s heart seized, but she obeyed. She entered the house, stunned. Her mother saw her and asked, “What’s wrong, Isabella?”
“Not sure. We were working on the new screens. Suddenly, he told me to shut up and come in here.”
“What did you do, what did you say?”
“I… ,” she thought for a second, “I wasn’t saying anything.” Her mind rewound. “I was singing.” Her heart suddenly filled with concern. For the first time, she was aware of what she had sung. “I was singing a song. From the TV. About Black Bart, who had a black heart… .”
Missy went to her daughter and folded her in her arms. A shiver went through them both, and Isabella continued, “Oh, my God! What was I thinking? How could I be so stupid? What have I done?”
They had little time to wonder. The door burst open. Gunter stood with the claw hammer he’d been using raised in his hand, his eyes glaring and bugged out and exposing white all around the iris. His face was a menacing red; veins protruded at his temples and neck.
“The song you sing, who taught it to you?” he demanded of Isabella.
“No one, Daddy, I heard it on the TV. I’m sorry. I know better. I wasn’t thinking. I am so sorry.”
“Liar! You are lying. Did your mother teach it to you?”
“No, Daddy, honest, it was the TV. Please, I am so sorry.”
“Do you know why they want you to sing that song to me? It’s because your father is a villain and has a black heart, and they will never let me forget it.”
“Daddy, I don’t think you’re a villain. You don’t have a black heart. I just wasn’t thinking. Please! Oh, God! Oh, God!”
“Poisoned my own daughter against me. Clay! Your uncle is behind this! There is no end to his meddling or your treachery!” His face near purple, he backed up Isabella from the kitchen into the dining room, step by step. “Don’t look at me with those eyes!”
“Sorry, Daddy!” Isabella, now in the living room, continued to step back from her father.
“Gunter! What are you doing?” Missy approached and grabbed the arm with the raised hammer. He tossed her to the ground and continued stalking Isabella who, afraid to show her brown eyes, kept her head low, furtively sneaking glances when she could.
He swung the hammer, and Isabella quickly moved to her left. There, behind her, he spied the television. “Oh, Daddy!” The hammer went through the glass with explosive force, the blows that followed
shattered all that remained.
For some completely dark reason, Gunter turned and stomped through the debris and into the kitchen, where he placed his hand on the counter and smashed every finger of his left hand with the hammer. He winced with each strike but never faltered. Isabella screamed for him to stop and fell to her knees sobbing. When he had exhausted himself, he turned, rigid with many kinds of pain. Holding up his hideously damaged hand, he asked no one in particular, “You want me punished? I must be punished! Is this enough? Do you want more? What must I do? How shall I sate your cursed demons?”
In those moments, mother and daughter were helpless, transfixed with silent, breathless horror.