Restless, yet reluctant to move, Renny sat primly on the edge of the bed, running a hand over the elegant weave of her stockings. Her fingers, like her lungs, twitched and her fingernail snagged the delicate fabric. Her breaths came so short and fleeting that it felt as though they stopped midway down her throat and, unable to reach her lungs, panicked and scattered about, in search of the nearest exit. But she continued to stroke her leg from the back of her knee to the ankle, struggling to breathe and staring out the window knowing she couldn’t see the road, but would hear the car when it pulled in front of the house.
With the funeral set for early afternoon, David and the children would arrive soon, having left Sacramento shortly after breakfast. Of course, she hadn’t eaten a thing; a little coffee was all she could take. Her family was coming to her mother’s funeral, something she’d always told them had taken place years ago, and food was the last thing on her mind.
There was a light tap at the door and, when it pushed open, Wyatt peeked in at her. Renny glanced up briefly, and then went back to staring through the glass and stroking her calf. Wyatt’s face fell as he watched her.
“I, uh…” he began, “found some pastries in the pantry and set them out on the table if you’re hungry—.” He stopped when she shook her head. Her mouth was open as though she might speak, but her tongue flicked across perfectly straight teeth, then sank onto her lower lip.
“You look nice.” He tried again to engage her in conversation. The way she sat there on the bed, formal, stiff, her body quivering as though she was freezing, her eyes alert but strangely empty, her breath hardened and quick, frightened him. Wyatt didn’t think she would make it through the day and, in fact, would fall apart as easily as the house of cards in which she lived. “That’s a beautiful dress.”
Her response was to raise her hand to him, and rub her thumb over the tips of her first two fingers. Money, it said. The day before, after returning from the funeral home and disposing of her mother’s final gift, Renny had taken to her room. She hadn’t come down to dinner and even refused the tray of food Harry carried up to her. All she could think about was being alone, putting an end to the nightmare her mother created and going away with her husband and children—to put The Landing and the sea, Harry and Jimmy and Wyatt back where they belonged, in the past.
Staring out the window at the oppressive, colorless sky pressing down onto the hilltops, with Wyatt standing patiently near the door, dressed in a simple black suit and tie, she wanted to talk; she needed to talk. To tell him why she would leave after the funeral, why she would never speak to Harry or Jimmy again, why she was…like she was. But the muscles in her face seemed too weary and she ended up grimacing, and moaning.
“It never ends,” she finally said after a series of false starts. She pushed aside the hat and veil that lay beside her on the bed and Wyatt accepted her silent invitation. He sat next to her and she slipped her hand into his. “I had always hoped it was over, but it isn’t.”
“The beatings, the pain. This house.” Murmuring awkwardly, Renny’s mood was as sober as her outfit. “I wanted it to be over when she died, but it isn’t. I feel the abuse every time I turn around.” Her eyes watering, she involuntarily pressed her thumb and forefinger to either side of her nose to stem the tears. After a moment, she pulled her hand away and wiped her fingers on the bed spread. “I wanted to do the right thing, finally…” she laughed. “I wanted to come back here and bury my mother and put all of this to rest, but I’m still getting hit.”
“My things in the attic. I thought she’d saved them for me out of…out of kindness, I thought she’d changed. But you saw them. She ruined my childhood, Wyatt, and when I ran away, she went after the only good memories I had left.
“And that shoe box? Inside was this horrible note that said I was…. It’s been nothing but slaps and kicks since the moment I came home. Jimmy’s pathetic lie…Emma…Harry being gay.” Wyatt’s hand clenched inside hers and she held on tight as she explained. “It’s not that Wyatt, really. I just didn’t know about him, I forgot him. Then I come home and he tells me he’s gay and—.”
“It isn’t that!” Embarrassed, Renny smiled and brushed her hand over Wyatt’s cheek. “I’m happy for him…that he has you…I’m…I’m jealous…of what he has with you, of the way you two are together. He went through hell in this house just like I did and he turned out all right.”
“No…no,” Wyatt said. “He wasn’t ‘all right’ when I met him Renny. He was…” He held her hand to his face. “His first lover beat him and for some reason Harry thought he deserved it. John, I told you about him, he died of pneumocystis, was very much like your mother. He hit Harry; he did the most horrendous things, and then he would tell Harry he loved him. It was a long time before Harry found out that love didn’t hurt, that he had a right to be happy. Your mother and John made him feel that way.”
“But you said John was your family.” Renny said. “How could he do that to Harry and—.”
“Harry forgives, Renny,” Wyatt told her sweetly, remembering John, with Harry. “It’s one of the great things he does, forgiveness. You should try it. Try forgiving yourself for all the wrongs you think you’ve done, and then forgive the wrongs done to you.”
“I can’t, Wyatt.” She pulled her hand away and instantly became stiff and cold. “I’m leaving after the funeral and I’m not coming back. I’m not going back to that life. When I leave here, all of this, the house, Jimmy and Harry, it ends.”
Laughing, Wyatt stood up and went to the window. His back to her, he ran his hand through his hair; his shoulders trembling with laughter; or was it his tears? At last, not able to face her, he said, “This will never end, Renny. Harry and Jimmy, this house, your mother and father, the lies…they’ll always be there, right behind every word, every smell, every flicker of light or piece of music that sounds like home.
“Every little boy that you see on the street will become Lyle and you’ll look around for Jimmy but he won’t be there. If you meet someone gay, you’ll wonder what Harry’s doing…how I am…and you’ll want to call, but you won’t know where we are because you ran off again…every single delta breeze that winds through Sacramento will carry with it the memories of Skeleton Road.
“Forgive yourself Renny and it will end.”
“I don’t deserve to be forgiven,” She said bitterly. “Not by anyone. I’ve lied to everybody in my life, to everyone I ever loved. My husband, Wyatt…my husbands! I’ve had three and I lied to them all, but David got the worst of it because he stuck around the longest.”
“If he loves you, he’ll forgive you.”
Renny shrugged. “I don’t even know how to start.”
“Stop lying,” Wyatt said, coming closer. “Tell him the truth.” When Renny started to object, he raised his voice. “We’ve all lied, Renny. Harry lied every time he said he fell down when, in fact, John punched him. Jimmy lied when he found out where your father lived. You lied about having a family. And I’ve told my share. I lied to my parents about friends I didn’t have, vacations I didn’t take. I looked my mother right in the eye, when I was seventeen and she asked if I was gay, and I said ‘No.”
“Everyone lies, but I learned a long time ago that it isn’t the lie that hurts. It’s keeping the secret that causes the pain. Tell the truth and the pain ends.”
“I can’t.” The tears started again but this time she let them fall, lowering her head and watching the teardrops splatter on her skirt. Kneeling in front of her, Wyatt put his fingers beneath her chin and made her look at him; he willed her tears away. “You don’t understand,” she said. “I told Harry that I’ve become our mother and I’m terrified of doing harm to my own children. I don’t want to hurt them but I keep imagining that I end up like her. One day…one day soon…my children will find me like Jimmy found her.”
Weeping violently, Renny’s teeth scraped a groove through her lipstick.