Dec 10th 2005, Maine
We were slowly recovering, Dani and I, painstakingly putting back together the shattered pieces of our life, trying to somehow work out a way to go on. It was at eight a.m. on December 10th, a cold bleak Maine morning, when the final blow hit, the eerie, tinny ringing of the hall phone heralding the news we'd been fearing since he'd left.
An agonizingly painful and slow death of a wife and mother, a vicious rape of a kind but innocent virgin, and now this, a valiant boy struck down, an innocent claimed by warring factions, a pawn in some bizarre, international dance of death.
"Oh Daddy, I need you. He's dead Daddy, Johnnie's dead," I heard, a forlorn wail of sadness leaking from the phone into my ear, "They blew him up Daddy, some arab"
"Honey, I'm so sorry," I started, such inadequate words, I thought, surely a Father, even a grieving Father, should be able to do better than this, should somehow be able to protect his loved ones... not just let them die and suffer. 'Fuck you God', I screamed internally as I tried to offer solace to my lovely daughter miles away on some forlorn Marine base.
"I'm on my way darling," I finally told my nineteen year old daughter, mother of a three month old son, and now suddenly a widow. "Do you have someone with you? I'll be there tonight Jacqui; we'll call you from the road... it'll be alright, I promise," I ended.
Turning, the phone dead in my hands, I saw Danielle, my youngest, only eighteen and already twice this year she'd been smashed by fate. "Johnnie?" she whispered, new lines of grief already etched on her young face.
"It's not fair Daddy, it's just not fair," she sobbed, leaning listlessly against me, and every tremor that shook her body was a silent accusation that reverberated through me.
We were on the road in minutes, and silence reigned in my old Accord as we headed south, close to 850 miles away from our destination, the grim, barracked world of Camp Lejeune and the U.S. Marine Corps.
Jacqui, or Jacqueline Ann, as her Mom and I had baptized her nineteen and a half years ago, had married her high school beau, John Alex Brown, Johnnie, the day after they both graduated from Sanford High, and after returning from their two-week Hawaiian honeymoon he had left for boot camp, excited at the prospect of serving his country.
Neither his father nor I could dissuade him from the Corps, he had always wanted to join the Marines, serve his country, be a man..."I've got to go Mr. Scouries," he'd argued with a young man's uncomplicated view of the world, "Somebody's got to defend us Sir, we can't just let them insult us, bomb us, kill us."
And now he's dead, I thought sadly, the final tragedy in a year of sadness for the Scouries family.
In February, my wife of twenty-two years had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, a forty-eight year old woman struck brutally before her time. 'If only we had caught it earlier' her Doctor told me, 'then maybe we could have done something, ' he had added. 'Fuck you too Doc' I had thought as I watched Julie fade before my eyes, months of pain finally culminating in a horrible death, her youngest daughter, a high school senior, suffering silently as her Mom slowly disappeared.
John Jr.'s birth in August had lifted us all, given us a reprieve from our sorrow, an opportunity to believe in life again. But his Dad had already left for Iraq before his son's birth and the nightly visions of death and mayhem we saw on CNN gave us all a forbidding chill.
And then Dani! She'd always been the true innocent, someone who was always happy and smiling and kind and helpful and sweet; simply put she was the best of us, the person we all tried to secretly emulate. Just seeing her smile of approval, or her happy laugh produced by something we did, was enough to make your day, and even though the youngest in the family, somehow it was she who was its essence.
Her cell phone was still working when she came-to that night, moaning from the black eyes, the broken tooth, the pair of cracked ribs, and as she struggled to call her Father, to call me, she had felt the blood seeping from her shattered cunt, her savagely split rectum.
"Daddy, please I need you, they hurt me Daddy," were the words I awoke to, and Dani's sobs and moans still haunt me months later, and I know that nightmare is still her true reality, the wound reopened again by Johnnie's stupid death.
That night she had insisted that I bring her home, 'no police Daddy, no hospital', she'd cried, only finally agreeing to let her aunt, a nurse, come and see to her. The body mends of course, and slowly she recovered, but it was obvious something had dramatically altered within her and as the weeks passed, I feared I'd never find the old Dani again.
She saw me cleaning the rifle one night, surprising me when I thought she was asleep and simply sat opposite me and said, "I want to be there Daddy, when you do it." Two nights later two boys, eighteen and twenty, died, and as I dropped their weighted bodies into Benjamin's swamp, I felt no hate for them, just a sad remorse at the waste they'd made of their short existence.
Three weeks after the rape Dani announced one night, in a cold and completely disinterested voice, "I'm not going back to school Daddy, I'm finished. Finished with school and men and... Can I stay with you Daddy, always?"
In the weeks since, she had improved somewhat, and slowly I was trying to nurse her back to happiness, but it was only the stream of pictures that arrived from her sister, pictures of her new born nephew, that awakened her broken soul.
I often woke up in the mornings to find Dani wrapped around me, the nightmares of the darkness having driven her to her fathers bed, reliving the days of her childhood when she'd race fearful to her parent's bed at the first roar of the thunderstorm.
Strangely, none of us had ever thought of Dani as a sexual creature, she had always been the shy tomboy to her sister's 'high school queen' vivaciousness. But having bathed and comforted her during her convalescence, I knew every inch of her body and had, even then, recognized her incredible, heretofore unrecognized, beauty.
Taller than her sister by two inches, at 5'8", she had become a woman while no one was looking. Under those smelly sweat shirts and dirty jeans I found a ripe, lush woman and was determined she'd find a man and lover for her life.
Often in the mornings I'd watch her wake, hoping to catch the old Dani for those few seconds between sleep and arousal, to see the young girl again before the veil of sadness slipped film like over her eyes.
I had made some small progress, and although she absolutely refused to see professional help, as the days and weeks sped by, I was able to get her out more and more, for shopping, meals, errands etc., and had felt that with the imminent arrival of Jacqui for Christmas that the worst was over.
And now this, I thought, as I wrenched my mind back to the road taking us south, not for a happy Christmas reunion, but to a funeral for a boy we had all come to love.
As we crossed into Virginia, Dani spoke, some of her first words since we had left the farm in Maine, asking a question impossible for any American to easily answer, "Why are we over there anyway Daddy? Why are we fighting in Iraq?"
"Its complicated honey," I started, unsure myself, "But the President, his advisors, believe that for democracy, for freedom to"
"But they lied Daddy," Dani interrupted, "About the nuclear weapons, the chemical weapons"
"He's trying to do his best," I offered lamely.
We were quiet most of the rest of the way, both of us wondering how we'd find Jacqui and how we could help her in her time of need.
Johnnie was buried in a small, white picket fence surrounded cemetery, set gently in a little woods just outside his hometown in Maine on December 17th, 2005, a nineteen year old boy who had proudly served his country.
It had been an almost impossible week for all of us, from the second we knocked on the door of Jacqui's small, rundown apartment in Jacksonville, North Carolina until the first shovel full of dirt was tossed on Johnnie's casket and a spit and polish Marine handed Jacqui the folded up flag of the country her husband had fought for.
We had cried and talked, filled out endless military and government forms, driven a thousand miles, had a wake in both North Carolina and Maine, buried a husband; and during this nightmare the only thing that kept us going was John Jr.
I'd walk in on Dani playing on the floor with her nephew and see a light in her eyes I hadn't seen in over a year, and she'd simply explain to me, "He senses how we feel Daddy; you've got to be happy, truly happy, when you're here with John."
And we all were, the three of us always turning to John when we needed a lift, and I loved watching Jacqui feed her son, his eager lips stretching to catch his Mommies teat. And strangely, when we got back to the farm, we were happy, the three of us spending our evenings alone together, and finally free of the constant visits and condolences we'd received during the day, we drew sustenance from each others presence.
"What's wrong with Dani Dad?" Jacqui asked when she caught me alone, two days after the funeral.
"What do you mean sweetie?"
"Something's wrong with her Dad," she insisted.
"Well first Mom, and now Johnnie... she's"
"There's something else Daddy. Why isn't she in school anyway? She's supposed to be at college. She started in September."
"She didn't like her course dear. She couldn't study or concentrate... she'll probably go back next fall." I stonewalled, not wanting Jacqui troubled even more.
"I'll ask her then," she replied and then turned to go.
"No Jacqui please, you'll hurt her," I pled.
"Then tell me," she demanded.
"Sit," I ordered, still undecided whether to add to her troubles.
"Daddy?" she finally asked.
"She was hurt honey. She was hurt after her first college dance. Two boys, they..."
"Dani was beaten up Jacqui," I whispered, struggling to get each word out. "She was beaten and raped and left lying broken on the road"
"Oh Daddy, you should have called, I would have come. Oh poor Dani, she'd never been with a boy before," she sobbed.
"You'd just had John Jr. a month before hon, and with Mom dying and Johnnie overseas, we didn't want to bother"
"But she's my sister Dad. And what'd the cops do? Did they catch them? Are they in jail? And why haven't I heard about any of this since I got home? None of my friends said anything."
"She wouldn't go to the police honey? She absolutely refused. She said she'd kill herself if I made her."
"But... Who are they Daddy? God, I'll fucking kill the bastards," she screamed.
"It's okay now Jacqui," we both heard whispered from the doorway, and turning saw Dani standing watching us.
"Oh Dani," Jacqui cried, rushing to embrace her little sister, "Oh sweetie, I'm so sorry, so sorry I wasn't here for you."
As I watched my two girls sobbing in each others arms, I wondered for the thousandth time that year why we were being punished, just what thing had I done to wreck such havoc on my loved ones.
Finally Jacqui pulled away from her sister, and demanded angrily, "Who are they Dani, what are their names, I swear I'll"
"They're buried in the swamp at the back of old man Benjamin's farm, Jacqui, ' her sister finally said.
"What? But... Daddy!"
"It's best you don't know Jacqui," I argued, "It's over now."
"Did you make them suffer Daddy? Really suffer?" she demanded harshly.
"They were just mad dogs Jacqui. You don't make mad dogs suffer honey, you just put them out of their misery," I said sighing.
"And you?" she asked her sister, "Are you alright? Can I"
"I'm okay Jacqui, it's just that I'm scared, I'm"
"C'mon Dani," she said to her sister, leading her away, "We're going to talk."
I heard the two talking late into the night and found myself relieved they had each other, that perhaps they could cure each others sadness.
"You like watching John Junior breastfeed, don't you Dad," Jacqui all of a sudden asked, looking at me staring at her sons hungry lips sucking from her distended teat. We were sitting in the den when she asked her question, the three of us spending quiet time together after dinner, a routine we had fallen into the last week, finding life bearable now only in each others presence.
"Yes honey," I answered, meeting her gaze.
"Is it my tits you like watching?"
"Jacqui!" squawked Danielle.
"It's OK Dani," I interrupted, "And yes Jacqui, I love watching a woman's bare breasts, they're one of God's greatest designs. Their roundness, their perfect shape, the beautiful dark circles, the little fat nipples... And yours sweetie, with Junior tugging thirstily, they're"
"Shhhh Dani," laughed Jacqui, "There's nothing wrong with the human body."
"Do either of you remember drinking from your Mom?" I asked pensively.
"I was too young Daddy," Dani answered in a little girl's voice.
And seeing Jacqui also shake her head I told them, "My earliest memory is of my Mother's breast; even today I can remember her taste, her smell, her feel, her laughter, the room she fed me in"
"It's impossible," argued Jacqui, "You can't remember that far back."
"I know honey, but... I do, its there, in my brain... it's the oldest recollection I have... whenever I see a baby at his mother's breast, its there," I finished.
"I wish I remembered it, with Mom I mean," Dani interjected wistfully.
"I remember you, you little scamp, so hungry, so fierce when you sucked from Mommy," I remembered laughing.
"What about me Daddy?" Jacqui demanded, as both of the girls watched me raptly.
"You were a quiet one, honey," I said grinning, the joy a happy memory brings coursing through me, "So serious as you sucked, concentrating and never wanting to let go and let your Daddy have any."
"What? You didn't drink Mommy's milk did you Daddy?"
"Of course Dani! Your Mom loved it when I tasted her, when I sucked from her leaking nipples, when I had her milk in my mouth."
"But was there enough left for Jacqui? For me?" asked my fascinated daughter.
"Well, you look pretty healthy honey, so I guess"
"Do you want to taste me Daddy? Would you like to taste my milk?" Jacqui blurted out, an excitement in her voice.
"Jacqui!" exclaimed the again incredulous Dani.
"Well. What about you Dani," Jacqui challenged as she completely opened her blouse, exposing both her full, ripe breasts to our gazes.
'Jesus, ' I muttered under my breath as we both gaped at Jacqui's perfection.
"But I'm a girl... I mean an adult... I couldn't," stammered Dani, clearly flummoxed by her sister's offer.
"But wouldn't you like to know what a woman's milk tastes like, feels like," she enticed. And then moving to sit next to Jacqui, she added, "Someday your baby's going to drink from you Dani,"
"But Jacqui," she protested as her sister pulled her head to her chest.
"Come here. Put a hand under it Dani," she directed her sister, "Cup it, yes, yes just like that. Open your lips, ummmm, yes that's nice, so nice, suck me Dani, drink my milk," she begged her younger sister.
Watching my Danielle lapping at her sister's breast stunned me, the paternal love I felt for my two girls suddenly superseded by a desperate hardness in my groin, an unnatural lust to possess them both.
I could see Jacqui looking at me as her sister sucked, and knew she understood what was happening in my brain, had noticed the hardness in my pants and yet I saw a tenderness, even an invitation in her eyes as I turned away ashamed.
When Dani finally finished suckling, she lay back languidly against me, and with a thin trickle of milk sliding down her chin, murmured, "It's good Jacqui, so good. I can't wait... I mean, I want my baby... to drink from me... I want to feel,"
"Would you like to feel Junior feeding from you?" Jacqui offered.
"But, I don't have any milk for him, I"
Lifting her baby from her bed, Jacqui replied, luring gently, "Just for a minute Dani, just to try it, take your sweater off. Its fun you'll see," she added laughing.
"But," she started to protest, even as her hands moved to pull her sweater over her head. She turned to quickly look back at me as she sat, just covered only by a lacy bra. "I'm embarrassed Daddy, don't watch," she whispered, her face blushing crimson, "Maybe I shouldn't"
"Shhh Baby," I whispered as I unhooked her and slid the thin silky straps from her shoulder, baring a perfect chest, two ruby tipped cones, proudly firm with puffy aureoles that made me tremble and wish it was I who was going to feed.
"God, you're gorgeous, they're beautiful," her sister gushed.
"I'm ugly," Dani whispered back, "Boys hate me, they"
"Don't be stupid, you're perfect," Jacqui answered as she brought her son to Dani's quivering breast, and laughed as Junior latched hungrily on.
"Ohh, oh God Jacqui, it feels weird, good, oh wow," she enthused until the baby released her teat and looked up angrily; ready to wail his protest at her milkless tit.
"I'm sorry Johnnie, your Auntie doesn't have any milk for you today," she laughed, as she brought her little nephew to her lips, kissing him happily. "I'm going to though," she promised.
"Whoa there young lady," I interrupted, "You've got to find a boyfriend, fall in love, get married, make love, become pregnant, then feed your baby."
Dani came out of her reverie at my words, and at first I feared she was about to cry, but then she all of a sudden said, "I could get artificially inseminated Daddy."
"Are you nuts?" Jacqui screeched at her sister, just beating me to the punch, "You're going to find a handsome boy and fall in love and"
"No I'm not," she hissed back. "I'm never leaving Daddy, the farm, the," she added, a sad despair in her voice.
The sisters slept together again that night and each time they spent a night together it seemed to bring them ever closer to their old selves.
The next night at dinner Jacqui innocently asked, "Daddy, can I ask you a question?"
"Of course honey."
"It's maybe not my business, but I,"
"Go ahead Jacqui," I laughed, "That's never stopped you before."
"That's for sure," added her younger sister.
"Its about sex Daddy," she said smiling.
"Yes?" I answered tentatively, wishing immediately she had chosen some other topic.
"Do you miss not... I mean, what do you do now that Mom's not here?... I mean, do you have sex with other women?"
"JACQUI!" screamed her sister, "Mommy just died."
"I know Dani, I'm sorry Dad. God, it's just that I miss Johnnie so much, I miss his body next to mine, touching me, I'm sorry I shouldn't have said anything," she said, her voice tailing off into a whisper.
"Nonsense honey," I said, putting my hand over hers, "You'll always be able to talk to me about anything."
"But do you believe in sex without love Daddy? Just sleeping with somebody to relieve yourself? To just feel good for a while?"
"Oh Gross Jacqui!" her sister interjected.
"Honey," I started, "The only woman I've slept with in twenty-five years was your Mom and I loved her so much"
"What about before? Before you met Mom, I mean. You must have"
"Well, there were two girls in high school," I admitted, remembering. "But I did think at the time I was in love with each of them," I smiled.
"And when you were in the Marines?"
"Jacqui," was again hissed by her sister.
"Maybe," I admitted ruefully.
"It's so much easier for men," Jacqui complained. "Johnnie and I made love every day for almost a year and then poof, he's gone to Iraq and I'm all alone and now he's dead and," she continued as the tears started to flow down her cheeks.
As her sister rushed to her, tenderly holding her in her arms, caressing her, Jacqui went on, "Is it wrong Daddy to want a man, to want to have sex, so soon after Johnnies gone?"
"No sweetie, its natural, especially after you've lost someone, you need, you want comfort."
"You too Daddy?"
I nodded to her as I went on, "You'll find someone honey, someone to love. It won't mean you'll forget Johnnie, its just you'll have someone new."
"I don't want to fall in love Daddy; I don't think I can take it again. But how will I be able to have sex?" she lamented.
"Don't worry Jacqui," I started.
"It's so easy for men, for you." She cried. "You have all those women chasing you. Or you can go to Boston and find a prostitute and"
"Enough Jacqui," yelled her sister, clearly outraged by our conversation. "Daddy would never sleep with a prostitute, never. And what women? Who's chasing him?" she demanded.
"Didn't you see them all at the Christmas concert today? All trying to talk to Daddy. Miss Davis"
"The teacher? She's old, you idiot, way too old for Daddy."
"She's ten years younger than Dad silly. And then the Librarian, Miss Jones, and of course Mrs. Green, Jill's Mom, her husbands been dead for five years, and"
"But Jacqui," my dismayed daughter sputtered.
"Who do you think made the lasagna we're eating, or the apple pie we've got for dessert?"
"But that's just neighbors being nice Jacqui. Right Daddy?" she implored. "You'd never sleep with them would you, not if you didn't love them?"
"I'm not sleeping with anyone honey. Just the three of us are going to have as good as Christmas as possible, OK? Now let's have dessert."
"I'm not hungry," Dani refused. "I don't even think Mrs. Green knows how to bake a pie, it'll probably taste terrible. Tomorrow Daddy, I'm going to bake all the Christmas cookies Mommy used to make us, we shouldn't have to rely on others, not when I can cook so well," she finished.
"Don't tease your sister," I warned Jacqui after Dani had left the table.
"We've got to help Dani, Dad. And I'm still horny," she complained, but with an excited twinkle in her eyes.
Jacqui played the piano for us that night after the dishes were done, and together we sang all the old Christmas favorites, the songs their Mom had sung them every Christmas and somehow, what could have turned all maudlin and sad for us instead became a celebration, magically all of us were turning to the future. And although all of us had been brutally hurt in the preceding days and months, I think it was that night of singing that made us all realize there'd be happy days in the future, that Mom would have insisted on it.
I finally left the two girls giggling happily together, but just heard as I walked up the stairs Dani demand of her sister, 'Daddy wouldn't really sleep with a prostitute, would he?' and then Jacqui's confident reply, 'Of course he will, unless we do something.'
The next morning we tackled the job we'd been putting off for the last few days, our annual foray across the fields behind the farmhouse to the small copse of fir trees nestled next to the pond at the bottom of the ridge. It was sunny and cold as we walked on the thin layer of snow that lay everywhere, the light dustings each of the last three nights had delivered a perfect white New England Christmas to us.
The girls were singing as we walked, and 'Jingle Bells' rang across the fields until I hit Dani with a well placed snowball. From then on we ran and shrieked and giggled, drawn backward in time to the joyous feelings of our youth.
Finally we fell together, the three of us giggling as we lay entwined, even Jacqui with John Junior cradled next to her stomach. "That one Daddy," Dani ordered, pointing to the tree we had almost rolled against, a perfect, seven foot tall blue spruce, its white tipped branches sparkling in the sun.
"They'd think we were crazy, wouldn't they?" Jacqui suddenly asked.
"Our neighbors, the people in town, busybodies, I don't know, anybody. They'd say to themselves 'why are those three smiling, having fun with all their problems'. You and Mom never cared did you Dad? About what others thought, I mean."