A Secret Grave 77: Stairways to Hell

 

After their move into the cramped little apartment in the Magnolia Projects, their lives drifted downward. Loraine was a loving mother, but she was unable to stop drinking and as a result the children were unsupervised and uncared for. Betsy did her best to put some sort of meal on the table at night and to make sure their clothes were clean and their homework done, but it was too big a task for such a young girl. She got a job at a dry cleaners after school and nagged thirteen-year-old Janet to look after Donny and keep an eye on their mom. Looking after Donny meant planting the little boy in front of the TV, where he’d been most of the day already, sucking hard on his thumb and acquiring a permanently dazed expression. Loraine, meanwhile, held on to a few of her waitressing shifts. She was blessed with a good personality, even when hungover, smiling and calling everyone “darling,” and people liked having her around. She worked in the mornings, pouring coffee with a shaky hand and somehow managing to keep orders straight. In the afternoons, she’d go home, hit the bottle and lock herself in her darkened bedroom, sometimes alone, sometimes with a gentleman caller.

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Alone, Lohan Gunaweera, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

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Donny’s father was out of the picture, but his grandmother, a woman named Hattie, sometimes came around, shaking her head and clucking her tongue over the disarray of the apartment. When Hattie was there, Loraine did her best to pull herself together, dragging herself out of bed, rinsing her mouth with Listerine and changing out of her ratty nightgown. But mostly life continued to spiral downward. Neither of the girls wanted to admit how bad things were. Janet hated being home and spent every minute she could out of the apartment. Betsy, with the responsibility of the family on her shoulders, went to work every afternoon and then rushed home in fear that her mother had left a cigarette burning in bed or succumbed to some kind of horrible accident.

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Remnants of an afternoon at Anna’s former rustic (lacking electricity) apartment downtown, Mike Fernwood, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

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One day she went home to find that the worst of her fears had been realized. It was a Saturday. Donny was with his grandmother, Janet out with friends. Betsy climbed the stairs to their apartment with a sense of foreboding. There was, she later told her sister, a preternatural stillness that seemed to hang in the air, a creepy quietness that made her skin crawl without her knowing why. When she opened the front door, she knew for sure something terrible had happened.

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Stairway, Guilherme Tavares, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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To be continued…

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Cover photo ~ Descent, Pete Bakke, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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