Betsy

Of the three, shouldn’t Zygyac have been the most reprehensible? After all, dusted as he claimed to have been, he’d sliced and diced his lover, a la Sid Vicious upon Nancy Spurgeon.

An Iron Curtain émigré, Zygyac had always emitted an off-kilter vibe since his family’s arrival in Quarropas. Yet no one ever could’ve foreseen the doughy, pasty-faced boy growing into a hulking and heaving beast who behaved in such a mindless manner. Other felonies? Yes. Murder? No.

Alibi, though? Projecting him as a murderer, that image didn’t tax imagination. Who knew? Maybe he had. Intimidate as he did those under his thumb, knowledge of bodies rendered inconvenient might remain uncirculated despite his current incapacities.

No, Moret was the worst of this rogues gallery. His, unlike Zygyac’s and Alibi’s transgressions, have been worsened by discovery, time, and scope.

Sure. Zygyac took a life, while Alibi committed depravity. Nonetheless the law dealt with the former and karma, if it truly exists, laid the latter as low as possible.

All things told, though, that pair left small numbers of victims in their wakes. Even now, who knows how many people suffered through Moret? While women predominated, at least one man served as collateral fodder.

Betsy among the wounded, first and foremost. The ripples emanating from her are exponential and generationally tragic. Have there been others like Betsy? Certainly there were numerous unknown girls Moret shoved into premature womanhood.

Narrow segments of the public only became aware of Moret after his final attack. He strayed from his accustomed hunting grounds. He chased after what was for him unusual prey. She didn’t yield. Instead of comply, she not only resisted but bit back.

After all those years of easy fulfillment, had Moret gotten bored? Older, what possessed him to seek a different taste? What prompted the challenge behind his change?

Maybe a prison shrink got around to asking Moret these questions. More grist for deviant studies. Material for a monograph which should fascinate behavior specialists while disgusting the rest of decent society.

Those of us familiar with Betsy only then learned of the lifetime circumstances he’d imposed on her. Once he was exposed, convicted, and sentenced, did some of Moret’s other victims lend fuller voice to the whispers which had eddied in their own lips-sealed neighborhoods.

The women who testified were the brave ones. Although Moret was the criminal they risked neighborly wrath. And this years and years later. Despite being sinned against some neighbors – oh, the most judgmental ones no doubt – regarded them as sinners. That’s some double-standard when the assaulted bear responsibility for any unasked-for violence inflicted upon them. Probably has everything to do with conflicted priests indoctrinating the faithful with the fallacy that women are satanic vessels.

How many others who endured Moret’s depravations remain quiet not quite convinced he can no longer menace, or endlessly bow silently under still misplaced guilt? Fear is a paralyzing condition that also stupefies.

But Betsy. Before Rousse there was Betsy. If Moret hadn’t removed Betsy, would Rousse have ever appeared? Age and wisdom conjure such speculation.

Abounding in multi-culturalism today, Americans once saw Betsy and her people as “exotics.” Now, are they even distinguishable as tiles in our national mosaic? Have they become so fully integrated we look through their distinction?

They’d migrated from the Caribbean to the States, settling in what was then a New York City bedroom community. The sea’s indiscriminate sun had basted all some shade of brown. This and inky hair and dark eyes further brightened their easily-offered white smiles.

Betsy was that girl straight boys wanted meeting just as they entered their teens. At 13, we met at the happy and confusing confluence of hormones and developing maturity. She’d begun ripening into curves. Her girlish contours rounded and her breasts started sprouting. Rather than let pretty suffice, Betsy’s face gained increasing angles of interest and liveliness. Didn’t this portend a burgeoning woman’s intelligence?

Her early allure attracted me. Now I can explain why. Then, lacking the vocabulary and knowledge I simply slipped into the stream and let the current carry me.

She wore her hair and skirts short. Looking back I don’t remember if that pixie ever twirled before what would be the most abrupt of transitions.

If there was a spark behind Betsy’s eyes, I missed seeing it. If there was a spark behind her eyes, would I have been aware and appreciated it then? Rousse had it, but I chanced upon her a few vital years later.

Being reflective, I can’t be objective about myself at 13. But Betsy noticed me. She must’ve liked who she saw because unsure as they were, we steadily drew into another’s orbits.

Who was Moret? He was Betsy’s cousin. One of many. The only one who imbedded himself in memory. But in that group wasn’t everybody related to somebody in some way? Who hadn’t immigrated from the same village or one close by?

Strange thing about Moret’s being unmasked. Until the past divulged itself, Moret stood solidly on the periphery. He’d always been a boy who lurked in the back of the room or hovered barely in sight along the third row or farther.

Heavy-lidded, two years our senior, Moret’s attitude and movements both lackadaisical, his was, in retrospect, the perfect predator camouflage. Moret behaved so inconspicuously that not only did we ignore him, but also discounted him. His manner of self-presentation belied the sharp swift beast he’d become at opportune instances.

Unknown too long to us all, Moret was keen. He observed. He calculated. Then the viper struck.

While Betsy’s and Moret’s families couldn’t replicate the island homes abandoned, they reconverted their new environment into surroundings as familiar as possible by huddling in proximity to one another. Not only them but their countrymen as well settled there cheek by jowl.

The foreign tongue which supplanted English, their strange faces, customs and foods, each discomforted long-time residents. Finding the situation an invasion, the trickle of old-timers who departed became a torrent. Sooner than anyone thought possible, the newcomers had developed an enclave of their own.

That section of Quarropas had been seen as marginal even before the Caribe Conquest. Perched along an escarpment, its main drag paralleled a rail line below. Commerce primarily consisted of grimy auto repair shops and dodgy-looking delis, the kind with piled-high wares obscuring the front windows.

The city had crammed two housing projects here. Both complexes leeched the drab appearances of the tenements and former single-family houses abutting them. Those few streets that branched off the main stem not dead ends climbed steeply into an Anglo-suburban splendor of neat houses where white picket fences corralled lush manicured lawns.

During warmer months especially people and drum- and horn-driven music enlivened the asphalt. The former were loud, the latter insistent. Even in the quietest hours one was likely to hear some echo of the Fania All Stars. (For me, though, Betsy evoked Suavecito by Malo.) Unlike circumspect Quarropas, what aspects of life didn’t play out openly on these city blocks?

Among themselves these residents knew everything. Around strangers the same professed knowing nothing at all. Or they suspected plenty and concealed the more salacious details. One more carryover from the island. Females led men astray. Seducers were lionized; seductresses became the worst representatives of their sex. They made shame a bigger offense than the misconduct inflicted.

Maybe that’s how Moret got away with his perversities so long. People knew, yet embarrassment rather than propriety, the reverse inclination of proper Quarropas, kept his breaches hidden and him free to amass them.

Moret must’ve realized his group’s overweening instinct to maintain facades a powerful cloak. It spared admission of any involvement in the sort of dereliction whose discovery would’ve been the most mortifying humiliation. While mainstream society would’ve correctly recognized the girls Moret coerced as victims, who in the insular community wouldn’t have misjudged them as participants regardless of their unwillingness?

The trail towards Moret’s downfall led through Betsy.

Blood relation notwithstanding, Moret had an appetite. And he had a taste for his cousin.

It seems inconceivable Betsy was the sole girl he’d ruined. Or maybe after he had, he only then fitfully resorted to preventive protection. He must’ve found the sheaths distasteful. Not because of the perceived inconvenience of application and overstated loss of sensitivity. But because his community believed birth control a sin graver than fleshly pleasures and their frequent unintended consequences.

I won’t bother trying to imagine how Moret swayed Betsy or any of the other girls he corrupted.

At different life stages we measure time differently. Also, doesn’t focus improve as we age?

Older, I would’ve noticed Betsy’s absence sooner. But young we are sponges randomly soaking up and haphazardly filtering everything. Who of us was ready for then-life’s velocity? I didn’t get the tools to determine the important from the trivial until later. Far more so than most of her Quarropas bracket, Betsy’s discoveries and experiences consisted of her having been drawn into and spun inside a vortex.

Adulthood received me before my interior clock got calibrated.

I knew Betsy had been absent. I even asked her older sister Monserrette about her nonappearance. The vague answer offered ought’ve prompted further inquiry. But Monserrette’s face-value reply sufficed because despite being inquisitive no skepticism backed me.

Through sheer coincidence a few weeks later I saw the reason behind Betsy’s absence. I just happened to enter school administrative offices when Betsy and her parents and another man conferred with personnel. Although the day mild, she wore an overcoat suited for an artic expedition.

The coat flopped open. This parted curtain revealed her a few months along.

A pregnant woman would’ve registered clearly. A girl my age in that condition failed computing.

Reflexively I asked Betsy when she expected returning to school. Did my plea sound plaintive? Like Joey, that kid in Shane. Looking back wasn’t that the sole moment of innocence I ever experienced? A few years later and it should’ve and rightly ought’ve been heard as a prime example of head-slapping naivety.

All but the other man grimaced and looked off to the side. The stranger laughed. Instinctively that grated me. I noticed he sported shoes buffed into mirrors. I’ve associated PRFCs with him ever since.

That bunch knew Betsy’s girlhood ended. She was on the way to becoming a woman. Later I discovered the strange man became her husband, the father of their child. At 42, he was 29 years her elder.

Again, being unwise to the ways of the world spared me hard introspection. Patience provided answers.

These days, should such a gulf exist between a minor and an adult engaged in sexual congress society readily calls it rape. So it would’ve been then but Betsy’s parents felt the resultant shame upon the family heavier than the crime against their daughter. They demanded and blessed a timely marriage, the kind that disinfects through legitimization. Maybe so. But whitewashing is only so thorough and air-freshening only masks so much stink.

One doesn’t need envisioning the vehemence her parents incited to make the criminal/groom obey reason. During no doubt heated, one-sided negotiations insisted he forget legal proceedings. Instead, didn’t they harken back to the cannibal habits of their Caribe Indian forbearers? Given a choice between being filleted and served to the dogs or be welcomed into the family bosom, he likely saw his prospective in-laws’ embrace as generous.

The early 1970s become the early 1990s. On a weekend afternoon, Betsy and I cross paths inside a mall. During the intervening years, one heard about her sporadically and those tidbits tangential.

A widow since the late 80s, Betsy hadn’t lived so much as existed to toil.

On this long ago Saturday afternoon actively loud grandchildren accompanied her. The stranger conversing with grandma quieted and momentarily enthralled them. Interest quickly lost they resumed skylarking.

Grandchildren! In our early 30s!? Betsy’s babysitting for her daughters? Both were at work.

Surprisingly, more stunning than Betsy being a grandmother, she complimented my writing for our local newspaper, The Reporter-Dispatch. A part of me refrained from thinking a facetious “Amazing! Betsy reads!?” Yet I wondered whether did her house subscribe to that rag? Did she buy daily newsstand copies? Or did she pick up and peruse rifled through then discarded editions?

Seemingly her pride in my accomplishment exceeded my own. Impossible of course. I had a profession because I had a future. Something she was denied. Events rushed against her so early she couldn’t even have envisioned an occupation. I mean other than ballerina.

What hopes had she prayed for her own children, if any? Since she’d become a grandparent already, obviously those wishes derailed. Perhaps she pushed ambitions forward, onto her grandchildren. Observing circumstances like Betsy’s, her daughters, they perpetuate. The progeny who spins off, who escapes what’s apparently inexorably fated is that rare, damned lucky one.

There was scant trouble seeing her as a great-grandmother at an age where most parents experienced their last-borns graduating college.

Almost three years ago, months after I left Quarropas, Moret reappeared. No one I knew had pined for him. Weight gained, his expression more dour than remembered, his past purposely foggy, Moret again nestled among his people.

Glad as I am to have avoided Eddie killing Mike then blowing himself up, I’m almost disappointed to have missed Moret’s return to his peculiar fold.

Did gloom descend upon that enclave? If so, how deep did the sky above those blocks darken? Did haggard duennas shriek and portend resumption of an earlier unspoken menace? Did those women he imposed himself on as girls relive their past dread? Who didn’t cross themselves, mumble benedictions, and fondle prayer beads?

Moret undid himself. While he returned to a place he felt most comfortable – his notion of home perverted – he’d changed his inclinations. Or raised his age limits.

For the longest he’d sampled among young girls. Had he maintained that pattern this post remains unwritten. Certainly he’d found savory grounds to exploit. His victims didn’t protest. If they did, wouldn’t their elders have quashed these complaints?

With them “honor” still prevailed above justice.

That’s where Moret tripped. He stalked a woman beyond his tribe. A high school classmate actually. Unnatural as his lusts were, I can’t fathom how he diverted his rotten impulses into a channel those of us not twisted can comprehend.

I suppose she represented that one girl of them all back in our secondary grades who had she acceded to his “purest” desires could’ve gratified him the rest of his life. She would’ve set everything straight. Or so goes the common lament of thwarted lovers everywhere.

By chance they reconnected in Quarropas. Life had bruised her. Both resided in their dumpy mid-50s. She also probably believed she’d been distributed less than her fair share of satisfaction. Moret intuited this. He doubtlessly paid her undue attention through loser’s commiseration. Feeling vulnerable as she might’ve, who wouldn’t have succumbed to such flattery?

If he hadn’t reverted into “himself,” perhaps Moret could’ve entered some semblance of a real relationship. Deepening it? Sustaining it? A good guess is un-damned-likely. Instead Moret dredged up his old playbook and ran schemes which had succeeded so bountifully with girls.

An outsider unbent by tribal rules, this victim wasted no time, no thought. She raced to the authorities. Latex forsaken, basic forensics sufficed sealing Moret’s case in this instance. But what crushed him were genetic markers he’d deposited elsewhere.

One set in particular.

Of Betsy’s two daughters just one shared her husband’s traces. Unfortunately for Moret she wasn’t the one who needed an organ transplant. Betsy had suffered complications early in life. These excluded her from being a donor. Doctors cast wide for possible matches. Her sister the most obvious contributor. Yet alarm klaxons sounded upon learning the sibling shared half her indices.

Some secret informant suggested Moret’s specimens undergo testing. Contest the request as he did, the presiding judge looked dubiously upon a convict’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Lo and behold! A perfect match.

Here the deluge became selective. The daughter’s father was her cousin. Once that gained currency, several other victims detached themselves from the past’s shadows and increased Moret’s burden.

Never satisfactorily explained, though, had the man Betsy married been abusing her before or simultaneously with Moret. Reprehensible as the older man conducted himself, doesn’t the entire situation gain greater malignancy if Moret learned of Betsy’s state afterward and sought some chump to take his rap? Then upon finding one coaxed her into conniving the fall guy? Given what Moret had perpetrated, against as many as can be suspected, the last bit wouldn’t have been inconceivable.

Nor farfetched. Once in its clutches, the state administered an IQ test on Moret. He nested high in genius range. Evil genius.

Granted, he’d always been smarter. He’ll never be better.

Probably seeing it as potential leverage, Moret has refused donating the necessary organ to his daughter. It’s easy to understand. Quid pro quo. His organ for sentence reduction. Much to her credit his daughter prefers letting Moret rot as long as possible. Although the younger woman’s quality of life has diminished, modern medical measures alleviate a good amount of her discomfort.

Here, decent society and his victims diverge from Moret. While statues of limitations preclude further sentencing for his prior misdeeds, continuous justice bears upon him.

In what jug aren’t child molesters seen as the lowest of low among the prisoners’ hierarchy? Sentenced for sexually assaulting a woman, somehow Moret’s short eyes past preceded him Upstate.

Rumors insist Moret got punked out his first night inside Hotel Graybar. It’s further rumored that he constantly serves as anyone’s bitch. He’s a prison pass-around party favor.

In a just coda, it is heard the meanest bulls and most heartless lifers coring him in this hell conspire with prison personnel to help him accrue infractions. These lengthen Moret’s personal Dis and extend his sentence.

Serves the fiend right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *