ANGELS WEAR LIPSTICK
(*Based on a true story. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. This story is incomplete, and unedited.)
Dear diary: I saw her again today. The three-year-old with the rose lipstick. She was in the city, just as she was all those years ago. The pink lace and satin dress resting just above the knee. Her hair was up in the fashionable style of her day. Ringlets adorned her porcelain cheeks, and swayed in perfect harmony with her every step. Smiling that well-practised smile, she was as pretty as a peach today. Pretty as a peach. That’s what they used to tell her parents.
I was drifting backward in time as the salesman asked her if she wanted the red or black tap shoes.
She told him, “I would like the red ones, if you please, sir.”
“What a darling child. I will be right back with her size.”
The wiry man disappears in the back room and momma begins to fuss with the child’s hair. Nothing out of the ordinary for the girl. She sits, her countenance rigid, as her mother continues to fuss.
“Are you sure you like the red ones best, darling. They are the ones you want?”
“Yes Momma, more than anything in the whole world.”
She is lying. I will tell you what she wants most in the world; to be a child.
Katelyn Marie Pryor was born to young parents, in the mid 1960’s, during a frigid Toronto winter. Her parents were still in their teens when she was born. Their heads were full of misguided plans and fantastical dreams. The youngest among their peers to marry, they quickly became the centre of attention. It was not their mediocre home or possessions that gained them notoriety, but the child they would have less than a year from their wedding day.
Leda and Clark Pryor had a small Civic ceremony, with only friends and few family members attending. Close relatives because of age and inter-family grudges opposed the marriage. Leda had an abusive childhood and grew up watching her parents engage in frequent drunken brawls. Clark’s childhood was difficult as well. Leda and Clark were determined to give their children the best of everything, but more importantly, all the attention they lacked as children. They went too far. Much too far.
The moment Katie was born, pale golden locks already present, the dresses, bonnets, and pretty shoes came pouring in from friends. Leda always had her baby dressed up and ready in case someone stopped by to see her. She was a little prize. Her doll, Leda called her. Kate grew and the clothes began to run short within a few months. Leda began making clothes for the baby and herself to save money. All the family friends fussed over baby Kate and the dresses, so Leda kept making them.
Between work and financial worries, Clark soon became resentful of the family he was now responsible for. Leda, sensing the change, became depressed. The only positive element in their lives was the attention they received when they were around other people. However, the attention was all on baby Kate. The more Katie was prettied up in flashy dresses and shoes, the more attention Leda and Clark basked in. Life was tolerable as long as Katie was smiling.
Katie didn’t mind the attention when she was very small; she slept through most of it. As she got a little older and needed space to explore her world and grow, Katie easily became over-stimulated with so many hands pawing at her. There came a point where Katie began pouting and withdrew whenever certain people came to visit. She would sulk in a corner or mess her hair.
Katie began to shy away from most people. Not only strangers, but even some she had known since birth. She enjoyed the trips to the park, before she had the independence of walking. Her parents figured that if she were in Leda or Clark’s arms, she would not get dirty or bruised.
Katie only really ever experienced the swings, as the rest of the play equipment was too risky for fall or injury. The ride in the carriage was soothing for Kate. She was able to rest and let the world pass unnoticed, unless someone stopped to fawn over the ‘pretty baby’ that was overdressed for her age.
At six months, Leda decided it was time to dispose of the diapers and started toilet training Katie, without much success. The doctor told Leda and Clark they were expecting too much from a child that could barely sit unsupported. Leda insisted the doctor was wrong, and changed paediatricians immediately. Needless to say, success was slow in coming.
During a visit to spend an afternoon with her sisters, who still lived at home, Leda was lectured by her mother when she brought the baby’s potty with her. Leda’s mother told her that she was pushing the child to do too much at such a young age. Since Leda vowed not to raise her daughter the same way she was raised, Leda decided her mother was wrong.
A few months later and a particularly hard day at work, Clark came home and lit in on Leda about the fact Katie still could not walk.
“She’s only nine months old! What do you want from me?” Leda fell onto the bed in tears.
She was already ashamed that her daughter could not walk yet, even though her shame was unfounded. Her dismay arose from the desire to have the best of everything when it came to Katie.
“Why don’t you get off your lazy backside and teach her to walk? What do you do around here all day anyway? You do nothing! You’re a fat, useless slob.”
Clark went to the stove and removed the potatoes that had almost boiled dry, leaving Leda to think about what he told her. Clark knew he was right. Leda didn’t do anything all day. At least nothing for him. All Leda’s time was spent washing the kid’s hair, or making new dresses for her and the baby. She spoiled that brat. His wife never had time for him. He tossed the pot into the sink and pulled a can of beer from the refrigerator. He plopped himself onto the sofa after turning the television up so he couldn’t hear his wife sobbing, or his daughter bawling.
“Shut that kid up, will you. I can’t hear the news,” Clark shouted, oblivious to the fact it was his fault Katie was crying in the first place.
Leda barrelled out of the bedroom and rounded on him, fed up with his cruelty and complete disregard for her feelings.
Arms akimbo, Leda shook her thick finger at her husband and hissed,
“Who do you think cooks your meals and cleans your clothes? I do. I take care of this child twenty-four hours a day, with no help at all from you. I wipe every spill on Katie’s chin, so she doesn’t stain her clothes. Heaven forbid that should happen, and ‘daddy’s little princess’ wasn’t perfect.”
“You wanted the damn child in the first place. You are the one who parades her around all day. You walk to your mother’s house for a coffee and walk back. Why? I will tell you why – you love the attention from the people who stop you in the street to look at Katie. You treat her like a puppy in a dog show. Your own friends don’t come around anymore because all you do is dote on Katie, or brag about how beautiful she is.”
“How dare you! You are jealous of our daughter. My mother said you were, but I didn’t believe her. Now I am having my own doubts. No, I no longer doubt, I know it’s true.”
“I am not jealous of Katie. I’m glad it is her and not me you suffocate with all the fussing all day long.”
Clark snorted and pretended to turn his attention back to the television. The very idea that he would be jealous of his own daughter. How could she even think such a thing? Leda’s mother had some really stupid things to say sometimes, Clark thought. She never really liked him from the start. No wonder she was saying stuff that would make Leda doubt him or undermine him as the ruler of his house. He would have to make sure Leda didn’t go over there so often, or at least without him.
“Go attend that child. I’m tired of hearing the noise. Bring her to me while you clean yourself up and fix my dinner.”
Clark gulped his beer, setting the empty can down with a belch. You are such a pig, Leda thought, glaring at the man she was young and stupid enough to marry. I will show him who’s in charge of Katie. She dressed Katie in the prettiest dress she owned.
It was red velvet with with lace trim at the neck. The sleeves were long and made entirely of lace. Lacy floral designs adorned her white stockings as well. The lace theme was completed with frills on her rear end. She wore shiny black dress shoes and hair was in neat ringlets and a red silk bow. Then off to daddy she went.
“Jeez Leda, she looks like a China doll. She looks like she’s going to break if you touch her, or something.”
Clark bounced his daughter on his knee and played peek-a-boo with her, secretly hoping the child would throw up on her perfect, fancy little outfit. Maybe he was pushing the girl too hard by wanting her to walk at her tender age.
What did he know about babies anyway? His sisters raised all the younger kids in their house growing up. The farm work was his and his brothers’ domain, not kids and babies. Plus, Clark was sure kids were supposed to be walking before they went to the bathroom on their own.
“Da-da. Da-da,” Katie babbled between hiccups.
That was all it took to change Clark’s mood. The Da-da gibberish always worked. It was as if she knew just what she was doing, and how to bring her father out of a foul mood. At least she knew who he was. He really did like the little rugrat, even though she wasn’t born the boy he’d wanted. He wondered what Leda would think if he taught her to use power tools when she was older. What did it matter what Leda thought? She was his kid too.
“Park momma? Please, momma? I wanna play park,” Katie squawked.
“No park today, Katie. We have to get your picture taken for the magazine, remember? That will be more fun than the park. I promise. We will have plenty to keep us busy there. You’ll see.”
“Not fun momma. I don’t want cameras again. Too many lights and it’s too hot in there.”
“We are going, Katie. Now stop complaining. There will be plenty of people there to talk to and keep you happy.”
Leda snatched Katie up and plunked her onto the bathroom counter to finish primping the last lock of her hair.
“Now sit still so momma can finish your hair and we can get going. Isn’t this exciting, Katie? You’re going to dress up in lots of pretty clothes and be in a big catalogue that all kinds of people will see.” Leda was clearly more excited about the prospect of her daughter modelling for a catalogue than Katie was.
Katie wanted to shake her head no and run off on her momma, but was very bright for her age and didn’t dare. Instead, she just let her momma finish pinning her hair, while Katie fought the urge to close her eyes and sleep. The bathroom had the best lighting in their cramped basement apartment. Leda was becoming frustrated with her daughter. Lately, Katie seemed to be more obstinate than ever. She had gone as far as running from Leda when it was time to go to these photo sessions and messing her hair, or even undressing before Leda could stop her.
It took Leda more than an hour to set the ringlets just right each time, and Katie didn’t sit without wiggling most of the time. The last time they were supposed to go to a photo session for the Sears catalogue, Leda was pressed for time and Katie was disgruntled. Katie kept complaining she was hungry and tired and Leda was sure that when she messed her hair, it was to spite her.
Katie had run into the bathroom and locked the door when Leda chased her. Katie adamantly refused to open the door for ten full minutes. When she finally unlatched it, Leda already knew they would not make the bus on time and would be late for the Sears photo session. Leda yanked the girl by her arm, and raising her from the ground by the wrist, whacked her bottom with her free hand several times. Katie wailed from the pain in her shoulder and the burning on her rear end.
“Shut up, you stupid brat! Do you know what you have done? You have cost us the contract, that’s what! Thanks to you, we won’t be in the catalogue now,” Leda screamed at the top of her lungs, scaring Katie half to death.
Leda tossed her toddler to the floor. Katie scrambled to her feet and ran and hid in her bedroom closet. She cried as quietly as she could, trembling violently. Leda was not done with her and went after her. Leda threw the closet door open, and yanked Katie by the same arm, tossing her onto her bed. Leda stripped the rest of Katie’s clothes from her and continued to swat the toddler’s bare bottom until it blared red.
Katie fought and kicked through the assault, which only enraged Leda further. Katie screeched in agony. Her shoulder had been sprained and her rear felt like it had been split in two. Leda shoved her hand over her daughter’s mouth to muffle the noise. Katie struggled to breathe, fighting against Leda’s hand and her stuffy nose.
“I said shut up,” Leda growled at Katie through clenched teeth. “I’m warning you, Katie. I will beat you senseless!”
Leda held fast and continued smacking the child until she lost consciousness. Leda panicked, fearing she had gone too far when Katie went limp in her lap. Leda splashed water on Katie’s face and shook her hard to rouse her. Gradually, Katie came around, and immediately began to scream from the pain.
“Stop that, or I will spank you again,” Leda warned, raising her hand so Katie would understand she meant business.
Katie buried her face in her pillow, trying to be as quiet as she could. Leda left her daughter’s room as soon as she was sure that Katie would stay quiet. Katie would have no dinner that night, Leda decided. After all, the child had to be punished for ruining any chance they had for the spring catalogue, she thought.
The reality was Katie had been among over a thousand other entrants and nothing was guaranteed as far as any modelling contract went, ever. This time was no different. Although, this time Katie dared not to mess her hair or defy her mother in any way. When Leda raised her voice even the slightest, Katie trembled. Katie hated the constant camera flashes, both at home and at the studios, but had little choice where the matter was concerned.
If she complained the least bit, Leda would hit her and Katie would lose her dinner for the next day or two. Katie remained silent as her mother finished fixing her hair, even though the pins used to keep it in place pinched her scalp. Almost two hours later, and Katie was ready to leave for the next photo session.
Leda packed an extra few items in Katie’s accessory bag, just in case, and was ready to go, even though Katie was not. There was no time for play. Not today. Leda was taking a very dressed-up Katie to see a man about having Katie put into the fall catalogue.
Katie still wanted to go to the park, but once she was able to walk, the trips to the park stopped almost completely. Leda was afraid Katie would get her dresses and stockings dirty, and get scuff marks on her shoes. The park was something the Leda avoided for the last two weeks now, for fear Katie would fall and scrape her knee or something. She had to be perfect for the big day in front of the camera.
Katie was already past time for her nap and quite cranky. Katie sulked quietly, while her mother waited for the bus. Toronto buses were always crowded at this time of day, and usually late. The photo studio was downtown and too far to walk, especially with a two year old.
Leda carried her red-faced daughter onto the bus, and as expected, it was packed. A kindly man offered the flustered mother his seat, which Leda gratefully accepted. Katie sat on her mother’s lap and stared out the window. Katie didn’t like the bus. She liked the car much better, but daddy had the car at work that day.
“What an adorable little girl,” a woman laden with groceries nodded toward Katie.
That was all it took to get the dreaded ball rolling. Even at this young age, Katie knew what was to come next. Katie buried her face in her mother’s sweater, before the hands could get her. They always wanted to touch her or her hair. Leda scolded her and told her to thank the woman. Katie pushed her face further into her mother and shook her head. Leda apologised for her daughter’s rude behaviour and explained that the girl was tired.
Katie was in fact tired enough that she could not fight the slumber any longer and dozed fitfully on Leda’s lap. The sway of the bus, and missed nap had gotten the better of the small toddler. Then the familiar dream began again. It always started the same way. Katie was sitting alone on a chair. There were bright lights all around her. Then the faces came, and Katie began whimpering in her sleep. Her nerve endings jarred to life, causing her body to twitch as she watched the faces edge closer to Katie from behind her closed eyes.
The faces without bodies closed in, stealing all the air around Katie. Closer and closer. Then there were many more of them. Always more and more. Katie could smell the breath of a woman who had black teeth. Another one had no hair. The gnarled fingers began pointing. Then the one with big green eyes glared at Katie, her face inches away. The voices. Loud at first, and suddenly Katie could no longer hear her mother calling to her.
The voices overpowered Katie’s cries to her mother for help. Her mother’s silhouette moved further away. Leda would not come to her. Katie kicked and cried out for her momma, when her momma turned away. The faces with the shrill voices were all around Katie, blending together.
“What an adorable baby. She’s so beautiful. Oh, look at the pretty dress,” the voices screamed in Katie’s ears.
Louder now, and Katie couldn’t get away before they had her. They were there. It was too late. The screeching voices had hands. They were grabbing at Katie, and pulling at her dress and hair. Pawing her and leaving their deplorable foul stench all over her. She struggled to get out from under their grasp, but couldn’t move. She was trapped. The hands got her, grabbed her and pulled at her. A thousand hands ripped her from her seat and the faces with the screaming voices snatched her far from her momma’s sight.
“No! No!” Katie screamed and her hands shot to her ears.
The passengers on the bus that were watching Katie’s display did so in alarm. To see such a small child have this horrible fit. She struggled in her sleep against her mother. She struggled to get away from the hands. The hands were suffocating her. The hands were taking her and hurting her. She struggled to breathe. Katie shrieked and wheezed, her throat closing up on her.
Katie was having her fourth anxiety attack. Leda was utterly embarrassed by her daughter’s conduct. People stared as she tried to explain her daughter was prone to nightmares. Leda was livid that Katie would cause her such humiliation. She would be properly punished for this stunt when she got her home. Another child, frightened by Katie’s incessant squalling began to cry.
The bus driver pulled the crammed bus to the curb and opened the door. He looked back at Leda, who was still trying to awaken her terror-stricken child. Leda got off the bus and dumped the child onto the sidewalk. Katie was crying and grabbing for her momma, who treated the nightmare as though it was a tantrum.
Passerby shook their heads at the naughty little girl who held her hands out, desperate for the safety and comfort of loving arms. Tears streamed down the child’s cheeks, her air hitching in her throat. Katie’s tiny hands, palms up, opened and closed furiously, as though willing her momma to come to her. Katie fell and scraped her elbow trying to stand on trembling limbs. Leda yelled at Katie for making them late for the photoshoot and ruining her hair.
It took Katie almost an hour to calm down enough to walk and board another bus home. When she finally calmed, she was exhausted, but still without the comfort of loving arms. The nightmares and anxiety attacks always drained her. As tired as Katie was, she was afraid to sleep. The nightmares Katie had about the crowds of faces and hands coming to take her away to a place she could not breathe in would plague her for a very long time to come. A very, very long time.
“You know you are only allowed two strawberries a day,” Leda admonished her daughter for asking for another berry.
“Momma, I’m still hungry.”
“You can’t have too much to eat, or you will not be in the pictures anymore. You have had your half sandwich and juice. Lunchtime is over, Katie.”
Katie was tired of these diets her mother had her on. She wanted to eat ice cream like all the other children. Katie had gained a pound and a half the doctor told Leda that morning. Even though the doctor said Katie was a little underweight for her age, Leda insisted that she lose that pound and a half she had gained over the last six months.
“At age three, she should be at least five pounds heavier. And Katie is displaying a lack of iron. She needs more meat in her diet and a supplement as well. A few pounds won’t hurt your daughter, Leda,” Doctor Addison insisted, showing Leda the growth chart he kept on his desk.
“She looks just fine to me, Doctor. She is not very tall either, Doctor. You have to take that into consideration.”
Leda had stormed out of the room then, leaving Doctor Addison confused and shaking his head….
To be continued