A Better Life


Eddie C Dollgener Jr

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2012 by Eddie C Dollgener Jr

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Quitman McDonald Publishing

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A Better Life

Jason stretched out on the living room sofa. A slight yawn escaped his mouth. The baseball game really wore him out. It was extremely hot outside. Yesterday, the temperature reached up to one hundred degrees and it was not even the middle of June yet. Outside, the sun beat down on the little town of Lorena with unrelenting fury. The hot desert winds that roared into the West Texas Town brought painful stinging dust clouds. During the summer months, most afternoons were void of playing children, who sought refuge, just as Jason had, in the safety of their homes.
Jason still relished the home run he slammed over the rusty fence at the ballfield. It helped his team win the game. The feeling left him somewhat elated. He looked up at the ceiling and smiled. He watched repeatedly in his mind’s eye as the small white ball sailed a good twenty feet beyond the fence. He had put every ounce of strength into that swing despite the hitch in his right arm. He had missed most of the first of the season with a broken elbow. He had been their star pitcher up until then. If he had not been so stupid, he would have been able to play the whole season.
Jason turned on the television just in time to catch the last of Tom and Jerry. That was his favorite cartoon. The sun coming through the window felt too warm. Dust particles danced in the beams. He watched the cartoons until the afternoon news began. With his energy rebounding just like many other eleven year olds, he was ready to go back outside and do something else. If it had not been for the cartoons and the heat, he would not have even gone home.
Jason walked across the street to where his best friend lived. Michael was only a few months older than he was. They had been best friends since before he could remember. When Jason was not playing baseball, he spent most of this time at Michael’s house.
The other boy was a bookworm. Michael could read five books in one week and still manage to play games with Jason, who struggled to read one book in two weeks.
Mrs. Wharton answered the door and smiled at Jason as she shook her head. “Michael is at the library and will not be back until later this evening. You can come back after dinner and watch movies with him, if you like.”
Jason expressed disappointment. “It is too far to walk in the heat to town to the library.” Disappointed, he turned around to go back home.
“I can drive you up there,” Mrs. Wharton offered. “I really do not mind.”
“No!” Jason realized his answer was too abrupt. “Mother does not want me to leave the neighborhood. I will be alright.”
Mrs. Wharton’s smile faltered. “Okay. We will see you tonight?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jason thought Mrs. Wharton was the most beautiful woman on earth. “Can we watch a scary movie?”
The woman’s smile returned. “It cannot be too scary. I do not want you boys to have any nightmares tonight. Bring your pajamas.”
Jason started to tell her that he did not have any pajamas. It was unlikely that he would have permission to spend the night at Michael’s house, anyways. He turned to walk back home, but had to wait a moment as a tumbleweed, taller than he was, rolled past. The wind that pushed it along its trek brought paper cups, tin cans and various other detritus from the center of town. He saw a red and white soda can and he licked his dry lips, thirsting for a cold, sweet drink.
When Jason re-entered his house, instead of sitting down to watch more television, he went upstairs to his bedroom. His bedroom was typical of most young boys’ bedrooms, although a bit too neat.
Where Michael had his reading skills to entertain him, Jason chose model building to escape his boredom and fuel his imagination. On his desk sat an unfinished diorama of a tank rolling through a meadow. One of its tracks rested on the gut of a fallen soldier. He could never seem to make that soldier flat enough.
Next to the model sat a picture of Jason’s Daddy when he was still alive. He could not remember much of Daddy. He could remember some of the hugs and kisses that he longed for now. He remembered a camping trip, the last good memory he had, to a place called Clayton Lake, Oklahoma. That had been almost five years ago. They had been fishing from a canoe in the middle of the lake. The memory was all that remained of a better life.
Not long after the camping trip, when he had been working on an oilrig near Ambrose, Daddy suffered a heart attack that caused his death. He fell from the top of the rig into the steel skeleton of the structure. The injuries from the fall had been so terrible that they would not open the casket at the funeral. Jason could not kiss Daddy one last time goodbye.
Jason jumped up on his bed, something he did not dare do when Mother was around. Above his bed an unfinished mobile sported model WWII aircraft. An F-4U Corsair pursued a Japanese Zero. He tapped the mobile so that the planes spun around each other in a mock dogfight. He rested back on his bed and watched them until he fell asleep.

Jason had been asleep no more than an hour when he heard Mother enter the house. She was humming quietly to herself, which indicated that she was in a good mood. Still, he had to be careful what he did around her. One wrong move could bring disaster. He did not dare go down to meet her. He had learned that that valuable lesson when he was barely five. She had to call him first, and if she did, he would have to be there in an instant.
He listened very carefully as she began to work in the kitchen. He worried that he had done something wrong or left a mess and that she was going to find it. He could not remember if he had cleaned up his dishes from lunch, which had consisted of peanut butter and half of a banana forgotten at the back of the refrigerator.
To ease his worries he stood up on the side of his bed next to the window. He looked to see if Michael’s bicycle leaned against the old post cut from a long dead tree. It was not there yet. He looked out to the distant two-lane blacktop that led into Sweetwater, which was over one hundred miles away. It shimmered like watery glass in the early summer heat.
Jason turned away from the window and slapped his mobile so hard that it spun around violently. He had not heard Mother come up the stairs and nearly gasped when he saw her standing in the door. He froze in terror, paralyzed the way a small rabbit was in the headlights of an oncoming car. They forbid him to play on top of his bed.
“It is a good thing your room is clean.” Mother’s tone was cold and flat. “Now come downstairs and set the table for dinner.”
Jason jumped off his bed and started to walk by Mother obediently. As he did, a deft hand lashed out and caught him by his ear. He had to stop dead in his tracks, fighting back the urge to yelp in pain. Hot pain burned in his ear as she twisted it upward. Her other hand slapped his cheek hard enough to make wide spots flow through his vision. This time he could not stop the outcry and that brought a fresh burst of pain to his ear. He could never predict her moods or her reactions.
“Shut up! You deserve this!” Mother twisted his ear even more.
Now the poor boy stood on his toes and struggled to keep from grabbing her arm or crying any louder. “I am sorry, Mother.” Tonight was going to be a tight wire act.
“I told you never to stand on your bed or jump around on the floors!” Mother forced him toward the staircase. “Not get down there and set the table!”
Jason nearly fell down the stairs as he hurried to get out of her reach. Tears rolled down his cheeks though he wanted so badly not to cry. It seemed to give her some sort of satisfaction to see him in pain. He did not understand that those things were not really his fault.
“Use the fine china to set the table,” Mother told Jason when they were in the dining room.
The china set belonged to his grandmother and was very special. That made the boy especially nervous. Mother must be expecting company or planned something nice for Randy when he got home. Occasionally, when one of the dishes would rattle, Mother would glare at him. That made him even more nervous.
Just as Jason had finished setting the table, Randy lumbered in through the front door. His stepfather was a tall, overbearing man with a slight beer gut. The man had been out of work for nearly a year and spent most of his time at a bar in town. Jason was glad the man never stayed at home with him during the day. He hated the man with a passion. Nevertheless, he had to live with Randy because he was married to Mother. Jason tried to avoid contact with the man as much as he could, but too often he was hard to avoid.
Dinner consisted of fried chicken, corn, and peas. The boy ate quietly, listening to Mother and Randy talk about adult things. Jason never said anything to his parents when they were sitting at the table, not until they were finished eating. Several unexpected slaps to a tender cheek had broken him of that bad habit. When they all finished eating, he excused himself, and that was all he was permitted to say. Very carefully, he picked up his dishes and set them in the sink.
“Go to your room, Jason.” His mother looked at him casually. “Your father and I have something to discuss.”
How can she call that drunken idiot my father?
Jason never allowed himself to acknowledge Randy as a father figure. There had been only one father in his life. Randy did not deserve to fit in Daddy’s shoes.
“Yes, Mother,” Jason replied in a servile manner.
“Jason.” Her taught voice hinted at something important that he was forgetting.
“Huh?” Jason looked back at her with the eyes of the cornered animal. His heart felt as though it had skipped several beats. He tried to hide his fear, though.
“Are you forgetting something?” She tapped her cheek with a forefinger and gave an expected smile.
Is Mother in a good mood? She only wants a kiss. That is all she wants…just a kiss. That is good.
Jason’s love for Mother was greater than his concern for his own well-being. Inwardly, he let out a sigh of relief. A kiss was something he could rarely give her that he enjoyed sharing with her. He almost ran to her and kissed her, feeling the softness of her cheek warmed to the sensitivity of his tender mouth. She kissed him back and hugged him briefly. It was one of those brief moments, fleeting memories of love, that made him forget some of the lesser painful moments of his life. Even if only for an instant, it was a moment filled with a blissful peace.
“Goodnight, Mother,” he said as he kissed her again.
“Do not forget Randy.” Mother was too gentle as she turned Jason to the man.
Jason hesitated too long. He was reluctant to have any contact with Randy, but he knew Mother watched every move he made. He wondered if she knew about them. He forced himself to step closer and reached his arms up to put them around the neck of the man who did not deserve to be a father. He kissed the cheek that was rough with beard stubble as quickly as he could, and then pulled away immediately. He felt he betrayed Daddy every time he had contact with Randy.
“Off to bed now.” Mother’s voice was so warm and inviting!
“I will check in on you later.” This came from Randy, who gave the boy the smile of a used car salesman.
Of course, Jason knew what that meant. He turned to his mother to see if she was aware about what Randy planned. She paid no attention to their interaction, which burned away the pleasure of the moment before. Randy kept on smiling. That smiled so unnerved Jason that he became afraid. There was no way to stop that man…

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