They met through a friend of a friend of a friend, both tired of where they were in life, both ready for something new and different.
Bettina had finally escaped a life of indifference, neglect, and often, abuse. She had stayed home to care for an ailing mother and endured the unwanted attentions of an alcoholic man that paid the rent and little else. She couldn't remember why her mother had married him when her father died. Maybe the money...
Now, at age 33, she was on her own at last. She saw her mother buried, left the cemetery and moved in with a friend. Everything she owned fit into one small suitcase along with a few dollars short of a hundred, money she had secreted away from her teenage years babysitting, recycling and odd jobs. She had earned a lot more than that but spent most of it on her mother's medications.
Jude, 37 with smoky gray eyes, blue-black hair, a chiseled chin and a long lean body that begged for attention sat at the bar about to light a cigarette when Bettina walked in.
With an appreciative look, he noted that she was pink and white and curvy. Her dark brown hair shimmered over her shoulders like heavy silk and his throat went dry while he watched her hips sway as she moved to a far corner of the room.
"Buy you a drink?" he asked as he followed in her wake, leaning over the table when she sat.
"Don't know you," a shy smile quickly followed but he noted that she didn't pull away.
"Annie, you know this gal?" he called to the barmaid.
"Introduce yourself," Jude said.
Annie said hello, then turned to the crowded room and asked if anyone knew the pretty lady sitting in the corner 'cause Jude needed an introduction.
"Might have seen her at the Wal-Mart," a drunken lout shouted. "Sure hope I did. How ya doin' sweet thing?" he hiccuped and leered at Bettina who was vastly amused at the whole production of being introduced to a stranger.
"I know you," a woman yelled from the bar. "Don't you go to Ingles grocery store over on the Appalachian trail?"
"I do," Bettina said.
"See there?" Jude laughed. "We're old friends now. Buy you that drink?"
And so it began.
Jude was attentive and courteous and charming. He touched her when he could but held himself in check - a finger rubbing the back of her hand, a palm briefly resting on her arm, the occasional shoulder squeeze.
Bettina was lonely and hungry for attention. She looked at Jude - several weeks and dates later - like some poor lost soul - her eyes begging him to take her pain and twist it into love. The first time he kissed her she was willing to throw her soul at a barbed-wire fence until it spliced and diced and ended at his feet - if he would just love her.
"I heard there was a secret chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord
but you don't really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this the fourth, the fifth
the minor fall and the major lift
the baffled king composing hallelujah
Bettina drove him wild with lust, a bud blossoming beneath him, her petals spread and slick with dew. Her nectar drew him to her, making his rod pulse with need. The feel of her inner walls tightening around him, surrounding him, forced him back to her again and again.
The innocence of her natural sensuality attracted him like a powerful drug. He was addicted... to drugs... to her luscious body... to her earthy carnality. She was fragile and satiny, silky and sweet. He could turn into a loud and rowdy ruffian, gritty in his need, then tender when she submitted to his demands. The sounds they made in the midst of lovemaking swung back and forth between whispers and piercing pandemonium... bang and blaring zing.
He was good at hiding his habit but when he needed that extra high, he pushed her further... deeper... into depravity. He was addicted and she was his fix before the fix.
"Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
you saw her bathing on the roof
her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to her kitchen chair
she broke your throne and she cut your hair
and from your lips she drew the hallelujah
Once she agreed to marriage, the ceremony was a hurried affair. License and ring, a justice of the peace, dinner and wine, a toast to their happiness and they were back in bed.
But this time... instead of cuddling and loving, he drew her over his knee, pushed her head down, and ripped the clothes from her back.
"Now that you belong to me, we'll start the marriage right," he snarled.
With those words and with ruthless determination, Jude picked up a hairbrush and brutally blistered Bettina's backside and upper thighs. And when he was done, he stood her on her feet - shell-shocked and stunned - and placed her in a corner.
...And then he took off his belt... To justify his dominance and cruelty... he quoted Scripture while he whipped her wherever his arm could reach. It was only seconds before she fell to the floor.
"This is so you know I wear the pants in this family and I will always be obeyed. You'll stay in that corner until I say otherwise and then you'll come back to bed and spread your legs. And if I say, lie still, you will lie still. If I say submit, you will submit."
Her pain excited him, her soft whimpers inflamed him to hurt her again. He was overwhelmed by his need to be inside her, conquer... dominate... inflict agony... Exhaustion finally drew him to dreamless slumber but sleep alluded Bettina; a large and ugly winter's knot began to grow where her heart should have been. Through the long painful night, she remained shocked at what had happened.
Who is this man in Jude's body? Why haven't I seen him before?
The late morning sun woke him and turning to his beautiful bride, her black and blue body startled him into full wakefulness.
"Oh my God, my God!" he moaned. "What have I done?"
There was no answer from the swollen and bruised and battered woman by his side.
"Baby," he whispered as he lifted her to his arms. "Baby, baby, baby," he moaned. "What have I done? Bettina, love. Forgive me. Please God, let her forgive me."
A week passed before she got out of bed on her own. Mentally, she had disengaged allowing her mind to ignore the physical damage - an instinctive and age-old defense mechanism practiced by battered women.
Her body healed. And by the time it did... Jude's remorse had passed.
He had begged forgiveness and took her silence for contrition. In his mind, he believed women were inferior beings in need of correction. Surely, Bettina must have done something wrong to deserve the brutality he had inflicted.
"Baby I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
but love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah
She was afraid to leave him but she didn't want to be alone. She told herself it had been a momentary lapse, a one-time thing. Life resumed and he was as he had been - sweet to her but often frenzied to bring her to ecstasy when he plunged into the warm recess of her body - tender again as he rode the euphoria that comes from physical pleasure.
Still... she walked on eggshells.
There were no warning bells when he came home from an evening out with the boys. There was no advance notice, no horns trumpeting his return to darkness.
Her mere presence enraged him.
Saying nothing... he upended her, careening her into an abyss of pain from which there was no end... His hand was harsh and brutal on her freshly healed bottom cheeks. In quick succession, her silky flesh morphed from porcelain to cherry red. A heavy paddle followed ... whack... thud turning her cheeks and thighs crimson. Next, he used his belt, ... whisking it through the air... snapping it... beating it... over her battered back and bottom, leaving countless welted stripes...magenta... until all signs of ivory flesh were obliterated.
He never heard her painful cries, the barely audible gasps, the mournful moans. He never heard her gurgling breaths, never noticed when she no longer moved, didn't realize she was unconscious... not that it mattered... he didn't care.
What had been silk and supple skin and muscle was hidden beneath a leathery mass... pulpy... wet.
In a brief moment of sanity he wondered... Wet? Red? Purple? Blood? He blinked... and lost his mental grip. While Bettina plummeted into fiery Hell, Jude plunged into her body, his thickness callously tearing the tiny rosebud nestled between her damaged cheeks.
"Well there was a time when you let me know
what's really going on below
but now you never show that to me, do you?
but remember when I moved in you
and the holy dove was moving too
and every breath we drew was hallelujah
She stunk. What had been velvety and warm smelled rancid. She was soiled and bloody, musty like dust that had lingered too long in the air, mold that crept into corners and stayed there, putrefying. The stench was overwhelming.
The nod called him and he succumbed to it, his body rigid with need, teeth chattering as his mouth barely held the thin elastic strap around his upper arm. Hands shook when the needle went into the prominent vein. And when glory called to him... led him through the golden doors... he relaxed, smelling nothing, feeling nothing, eyes turned inward as he glimpsed paradise.
Over and over again, the days passed, each needle bringing him to paradise. His body was a bag of broken glass and dreams. Asleep, awake, Jude floated between foreign worlds and multiple identities. He soared... then crashed, bolting from dreams to nightmares... He hurled to icy caverns beneath the sea, sunk to the outer rings of Hell and then slipped... through all of them to the Devil's inner sanctum... from which there was no return.
Days after the brutal attack, consciousness had barely returned, the constant pain keeping her aware. The stench of her body finally reached her brain and with time standing still... waiting for her to make up her mind about choosing death or taking a stab at life, she rose from her filth and shame and left the bed.
It took hours and days and when life drew her... she healed. Watching Jude lost to the world, Bettina thought if she looked hard enough, she might see Hell's light dancing on the back of his eyelids. It didn't matter; he was dead to her.
She knew there was a slight chance he would come out of the nod but if he did, he wouldn't be whole. He would beg forgiveness and in a week, a month, maybe a year, Jude would beat her again.
With outward calm shading the turbulence in her head, she opened his desk drawer seeking a suitable weapon. There was a knife... she could stab him... again and again and again. It would be so satisfying; it would be so personal... too personal. Instead, she looked at his guns.
He had a small collection... a .45 caliber Commander and a smaller .38 Colt. Maybe...
There was his favorite .357 Python with .357 soft-nose bullets. Oh yes... the irony of dying by his favorite gun. Early in their relationship, he taught her how to shoot, taught her how to safely use a gun so she wouldn't be scared of them, would be able to defend herself in an emergency.
This was an emergency...
He taught her well and looking through the rest of his collection, she finally decided on the gun that would do the job - a Speer Lawman JHP that held a totally metal-jacketed load. It would destroy every organ in his body, shatter every bone, obliterate him completely.
He had savaged her... ruthlessly, mercilessly, monstrously. There would be no joy, no rapture in avenging herself. In its place, there would be deafening discord, an earsplitting explosion, rage... controlled and released... her heart shattered... her soul screeching hallelujah...
He lay there pale and pasty and ugly. She stood regal in all her beauty and terrified.
She shot him... until all the bullets were gone. In an instant, her fright passed... glassy-eyed and glazed. She was serene.
We can wallow in our sadness, sit wrapped in our discomfort and let sorrow and grief howl through our veins. And if we do we are as dead as those we mourn.
Live... remember the happy times... cherish what was... and go on living.
"Well, maybe there's a God above
but all I've ever learned from love
was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
It's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah
~ Fini ~