Tim Putnam

F or the first time ever, Trinken asked if he had a daddy. Born in 1966, a year after James' high school graduation, Trinken now celebrated his second birthday. Vanessa, stoned solid, lost in memories, was speechless. James. Handsome, beautiful James. James, whose draft card bought her virginity. James, who never saw his son. Never knew she was pregnant. Never knew.Vanessa took a hard gulp of Rye. Drew a breath. Looked deep into Trinken's eyes. Thought she saw James. Then passed out. Trinken watched his mother, waiting for an answer. Morning found him sleeping at her feet when the loud noise woke them both, and the door burst open.

RoseAnne was embarrassed. Embarrassed her eighteen-year-old daughter had a bastard son. Embarrassed her daughter didn't have an abortion. Embarrassed about what would happen if the neighbors found out. When RoseAnne discovered Vanessa was pregnant, she turned their windowless basement into a prison. When Vanessa's water broke, RoseAnne took her to the hospital. Except for the ride home from the hospital, Trinken never stepped outside of the basement. RoseAnne kept Vanessa stupid with Rye and pot. Never let Vanessa know James died in Vietnam. Told her Roger was dead.

Roger left RoseAnne two months after Vanessa's imprisonment. He couldn't persuade RoseAnne to release her. He didn't have the balls to stand up to her and let Vanessa free himself. When Roger ran, he left Vanessa behind. Roger spent two and half years transiently wandering from commune to commune. Waking up nightly to his baby girl crying; begging him for help. Heavy heart, he turned to Jesus to find peace. Then drugs. Then sex. With every failed step of his retreat, Roger's cowardly act haunted his dreams.

RoseAnne was fixing herself breakfast when Roger burst through the kitchen door. She quickly blocked his path, wielding a steak knife. The bullet Roger brought with him found its way through the pistol, piercing RoseAnne's right lung. She immediately hit the floor. Roger rushed by, burst through the basement door, ran down the stairs and hugged his baby girl.

Vanessa, stunned, shrieked out "Daddy?!"

Trinken quietly asked if this was his Daddy too.

RoseAnne appeared at the top of the stairs. "Before anyone discovers the shame you've caused me," RoseAnne's wavering, raspy voice echoed off the concrete walls, as thick, violet-red blood escaped over her bottom lip. "Before I live in embarrassment. Before there's something to regret, you will rot in hell." She slammed shut the heavy, solid-wood door. Set the iron latches and bar. And triumphantly dropped to the floor, her blood-soaked back propped up against the door. Trinken's innocent laughter cut through RoseAnne's ever blackening haze. Embarrassed, RoseAnne cringed, then died.

First published: February 14, 1999