The Exorcism of Butterscotch
James E Lake
I remember it was the year Cupcake died. Mom ran her over backing out of the driveway. I must have been about 12 or 13. It wasn't just because Mom killed our dog though, I also remember because it was the year Cathy Crabtree pointed at me at the bus stop and said "that girl needs to get a training bra."
"That girl," as if she didn't even know my name. She knew; everybody knew our names. Juanita and Becky: the "McNutt girls. You know, the ones who's dad shot himself. Floyd McNutt, the insurance guy. Had to have his foot cut off because of his Sugar so he shot himself in the head before they could cut anything else off.
"That girl." She knew damn well what my name was. Everyone in this neighborhood knows the McNutt girls.
So there I was, Juanita, the girl with the dead dad, standing at the bus stop in the cold in a long sleeve white shirt with Cathy Crabtree pointing at me and everybody staring at the dark circles under my shirt and my nipples sticking out in the cold.
Sure my boobs were getting bigger, but then all of me was getting bigger -rounder. I was chubby. I admit it. I was a big girl -unlike that skinny Cathy Crabtree bitch. I know she never had to worry about the way her body looked when it jiggled on the bus.
They were all staring at me, at my boobs. I was trying not to cry but the harder I tried the hotter my tears got and then the snot starting running out of my nose.
I wasn't going to let them see me cry and I sure as hell wasn't going to let that skinny Cathy Crabtree know she was the one who did it.
So I hit her.
Punched her right in the face.
Becky was standing right behind her. I could see the expression on her face. Her mouth just fell open. I swear it; but the best part was Cathy Crabtree was the one who was crying now.
"She hit me. That crazy girl hit me!"Cathy Crabtree wailed, her hand now over her swollen lip.
We all heard the grinding of gears shifting down the street. The bus was coming up over the hill. Everyone turned from Cathy to the bus and all I could think to do was just run up the driveway and back to our house before it got there. I heard Becky's running steps on the gravel further behind me as I headed for the open garage. She was following my lead.
I ducked in and turned quickly to hide against the wall like I saw them do on Charlie's Angels. I heard the squeal of the bus breaks and the sound of the door opening.
Becky swung into the garage just about then and I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her up against the wall with me; my hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. I didn't want the bus driver to hear us, and worse, for Mom to hear either.
"That crazy girl hit me!" She must have been talking to the bus driver now.
I'm not sure what happened next. Maybe the bus lady took pity on me or something; after all my dad had his leg cut off and then blew his head off, but whatever it was, the doors screeched shut and the bus just drove away; and apparently with that skinny Cathy Crabtree in it too because when I peeked around the outside of the garage, everyone was gone.
I was kind of happy actually. We wouldn't be going to school that day. Mom could of drove us, but we knew that wasn't going to happen. She didn't care if we missed school. You're allowed to miss six days every six weeks, so why not take 'em? The way we looked at it, that's a day of a week. You'd be crazy not too. Lucky for us, Mom felt the same way. It worked out pretty good for ol' Becky and me. A lot of times we even took the same day off.
Anyway, like I said, it was cold, freezing cold. Mom killed cupcake a few weeks earlier, but the ground was so hard we couldn't dig a hole. Mom wrapped her in a trash bag and put her by the steps -told us we'd wait ‘til the ground thawed out a little bit and then burry her. She'd been a good dog, she deserved a decent send off. Mom said she just hoped Cupcake didn't thaw out before the ground did. That's why we kept her in the garage in a garbage bag.
"Hi, Cupcake," I said as I kicked the hard black plastic lump.
"Hi, Cupcake," Becky kicked and repeated.
It was our tradition. Mom started it. She said she wanted to make sure Cupcake wasn't thawing out, but we knew it was because she felt guilty about running her over. Me and Becky did it because we wanted Cupcake to know we still loved her even though she was a frozen solid block of ice.
Becky and I walked in the door and Mom was in her old light blue nightie, her legs pulled up under her on the couch, watching Phil Donahue. Even in the dead of winter she wore that same old thin blue nightie. She would just throw more wood in the fireplace until the room felt like an oven. I was always so relieved to get out of that hot house that I never wore my coat.
"You miss the bus?" she asked not looking away from the TV. The way she loved watching Phil I'm surprised she even heard us come in the door.
"No!" Becky started exclaiming, "Juanita pun..." I slapped my hand over Becky's mouth.
"Sure did, Nancy Jean." I said; knowing she was so engrossed in Phil she didn't hear stupid Becky start to spill the beans.
Nancy Jean. I loved calling my Mom by her full name, and the best part was she didn't seem to care. She was cool that way. None of the other kids got to call their parents by their first names.
Becky struggled under my grip for a while then loosened up, but I knew enough to warn her not to squeal on me.
"I swear to God I'll kill you with a spoon if you say a word about what happened," I hissed in her ear.
"A spoon?" Becky asked, her face all puzzled looking.
"Yah," I whispered and squinted my eyes, "It'll take longer and I can start by scooping out your eye balls!"
Then dumb Becky started to cry.
"What's the matter?" Mom asked.
"She's just upset over something that happened at the bus stop," I tried to brush it off.
"I thought you missed the bus?" she asked, this time she was looking because there was a Bryant and Stratton commercial on.
"We did," I said sheepishly, looking down at my feet careful not to make eye contact. "But this was before we missed the bus."
"What?" she asked, kinda studying us now so I knew I had to do something to keep the talk away from me punching that skinny Cathy Crabtree in the mouth.
"What's a training bra?" I asked.
Well that sure worked. Her face got all funny like and she stood up from the couch and walked over and started helping Becky take her hat and coat off. I knew I had her because nothing, and I mean nothing, keeps Nancy Jean away from her Phil Donahue.
"Why would you ask me that, Honey?"
"Cathy Crabtree says Juanita needs a bra!" Becky blurted out.
I kicked her.
"Ow-a!" Becky yelled and Mom sorta pushed us apart.
"Is that true?" Mom asked, putting a hand on either of my cheeks.
"Yah." My face felt hot, and not just because I came in from the cold.
Mom looked down at my chest. I was mortified. I mean I wanted to die and disappear on the spot. Now even my Mom was looking at my boobs.
"I guess I hadn't realized, Baby" she said. She reached for the bottom of my shirt like she was going to pull it up which would have been even worse -except I realized she had just called me Baby.
I loved it when she called me Baby.
That was what she called Daddy.
I remember asking her about it when I was a little girl. "If he's so big, why do you call him Baby?" She said it was because she really loved him and when you love someone so much you wanted to be as close to him as your want to be with your own child, they deserves to be called Baby.
I hadn't heard her say "Baby" since he left us when he shot himself in the head.
She must really love me to say it now. I felt my face get even hotter and I felt that weird urge to cry again... Well, at least until she said what she said next.
"Pull up your shirt, Baby. Let me see your breasts."
Okay, she was calling me Baby, but, "Let me see your breasts? My "breasts?" I so did not need my Mom talking to me about my "breasts."
She was pulling up my shirt and I kept tugging it back down.
"Baby..." she kinda whispered now. "There's nothing to be ashamed of. You have budding breasts. You're becoming a woman."
Okay, this was just a little too much crazy even for ol' Nancy Jean.
I did not have "breasts," and if I did have them they most certainly were not "budding." And if they were, I sure didn't want to show her. And besides, I was most definitely not becoming a woman. I was almost thirteen. I was fat, and I jiggled on the bus. And I didn't know why my nipples were getting dark brown circles around them, but I was not, and I mean NOT a woman. I was a tom boy, and was quite happy to stay that way. I did not need to be worrying about getting breasts! And they're not breasts either, they're boobs.
"Oh, Honey," she said letting me pull my shirt back down and fcing back to the TV. "Let me finish my show and we'll go to J.C. Penney's and see about getting you a bra."
Alright, she was back to saying "Honey" again, so I was allowed to be back to being upset with her again.
She walked back over to the couch to get caught up with Phil and I stomped over to the recliner in the corner and crammed myself as far into it and as far away from her as I possibly could. Nancy Jean curled up in her usual position next to her cup of coffee and bottle of Darvocet. She'd been taking a lot of those since Dad died. She took 'em at first because when she found him, she passed out and hit her head on the floor. Hard. They were for the pain. My aunt Doris told us they helped keep her from thinking about Dad shooting himself and her finding him in a pool of blood and all. She must think about him a lot though, because she sure took a lot of them. She popped a pill and took a swig of coffee.
I was sittin’ there thinking maybe if Phil had a good show on this time I'd get lucky and she'd forget about the whole bra business. Phil was really good about talking about feminism and homosexuals and sometimes he even had guys on who wore dresses -transsexuals, I think; I hoped today's show was one of the good ones. A good Phil Donahue was always good for gettin’ ol' Nancy Jean all riled up. She could talk about Phil for hours after a good show like that.
Becky sat in the floor in front of my chair. She had taken Butterscotch, our guinea pig, out of his cage to watch him run around on the green shag carpet.
I ignored Becky and Butterscotch for a while trying to figure out what was happening on Phil. I got excited when I saw Phil was talking to a priest.
We were Catholic, so Nancy Jean was thrilled whenever she got to see Priests or Nuns on TV. She watched some Nun every Sunday since we stopped going to church. We were all pretty upset with God after he let Dad kill himself, but even though we stopped going in person, Nancy Jean still liked us to get some kind of religion in on Sundays. I guess if we weren't going to St. Damien's, Sister What's-Her-Face on the TV would work just as good.
I got even more excited when I realized Phil was talking to the Priest about exorcisms. Exorcisms! Just like that Linda Blaire movie that scared the crap out of me. Normally I wouldn't want to hear about any exorcisms after that movie, but I didn't care today because maybe ol' Phil and the Priest might get me out of this whole training Bra business.
Becky was crawling around on the floor chasing Butterscotch around the room. He scurried away from her and eventually made his way to the TV set. I kinda laughed as he raised up on his hind legs to look at the screen. He looked like a prairie dog to me. When the priest started taking, Butterscotch scurried back to Becky who scooped him up in her arms. He nuzzled at her face which tickled Becky, so she dropped him down to the floor where he scurried over to the TV set again. He raised up again and then ran back to Becky who grabbed him up once more.
Me and Becky both jumped when Mom leapt up from the couch and started yelling.
"Get away from him right now!" she screamed. She was staring at Becky holding Butterscotch. She scared Becky so bad she dropped Butterscotch onto the carpet and made her cry. I tell you that girl cries at everything. Of course I was a little scared too by the way my Mom was acting, but I held it together for Becky’s sake.
"Nancy Jean!" I barked back. "What is wrong with you?"
"That thing is possessed," she said coldly.
"What?" Becky and I practically exclaimed it at the same time.
"I said..." she was pointing her finger at Butterscotch now, "That thing is possessed. Get away from him!"
I looked at Butterscotch, then my Mom, then Becky, then back to Butterscotch, then back up to my Mom. If anyone was possessed it was Nancy Jean.
"Mom..." I started.
"Look at him!" She was watching Butterscotch, who now free to roam again, scurried over to the TV set once more. Again he raised up on his hind legs and again, when the priest spoke, dropped to the floor and scurried back to Becky.
"Throw him in the fire!" Mom yelled pointing to the fireplace which was roaring as usual.
"Nooooo!" Becky screamed and snatched him up.
"Nancy Jean!" I scolded. "Have you lost your ever lovin' mind?"
"You heard the Priest. You saw him," she exclaimed pointing at Butterscotch. "He heard the Priest and ran away.” She folded her arms. “That's Satan's doing. That thing is possessed!" She had a wild eyed look and I swear even her hair looked even more frazzled than usual. And ever since Dad died, Nancy Jean had some pretty crazy lookin’ hair because she hated combing it anymore, so that’s saying a lot.
"Mom," I urged. "Get a hold of yourself. "It's a guinea pig. He is not possessed."
"Christ ran the lemmings off the cliffs you know," she responded. "That lemming is possessed and needs to die."
Now I had kinda heard of lemmings before, and while I wasn't really certain what they were exactly, I didn't think a guinea pig and a lemming were the same thing. And I admit I don't always listen to the Bible stories like I'm supposed to when we go to church either, but I think I would remember something like a story of Jesus Christ chasing guinea pigs off a God Damn cliff.
"What are you talking about, Nancy Jean? It's a guinea pig, not a lemming, and I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't chase no guinea pigs off a God Damn..."
Mom grabbed the family Bible off the bookcase and started flipping madly through the pages. She hadn’t even yelled at me for swearing. She couldn't find what she wanted right away so she slapped the book open to the index in the back. She was running her fingers up and down the pages.
Becky stuck Butterscotch under her shirt.
"Ah ha!" Mom exclaimed waiving the Bible at us and poking her index finger against one of the pages. "It says right here," she was fumbling to find her place again. "...Exorcism- where devils move into swine who, lemming-like, perish in the sea... See it's right here in the Bible." She tossed it onto the couch. She was looking crazier than ever now.
"But fire won't hurt a minion of Satin, we're going to drowned the son of a bitch!" With that she started toward a sobbing Becky who was trying to protect the guinea pig struggling inside her shirt.
"Mom!" I yelled and moving to stand between her and Becky. "This is nuts. Are you insane? Butterscotch is not possessed!"
"Prove it!" she stopped and demanded.
"Prove it?" I repeated dumbfounded.
"Ask it." she said. Here face had gone cold.
"What?" I was still confused.
"I said, ask it!" she ordered. "Satan's minions are not afraid. He will speak through his vessel."
Satan? Minions? Vessels? The woman had definitely gone nuts.
"MOM," I implored. We are not seriously going to ask a guinea pig if he is possessed."
"Oh yes we are," she retorted. "And if he is, we're going make sure he is cast into the fires of hell or drowned him in the ocean."
Now where she thought she was going to find an ocean in Ohio to cast him in I had no idea, so I had a pretty good idea that if we didn't do something, either we were in for a long drive or Butterscotch was going to roast like a pig on a spit.
"Ask it!" she demanded.
I coaxed Butterscotch out from under Becky's shirt. I held him in front of me and took a deep breath. I didn't want Butterscotch to die. I mean really, she just ran over our dog and now she was going to roast our guinea pig?
"Butterscotch?" I said softly. He did not respond -of course.
"Butterscotch," I said a little louder this time, holding him up so his face was just inches away from mine. "Are you possessed?"
I swear on my life what happened next is true. And not just because I watched that Linda Blaire movie either.
Butterscotch actually moved his head up and down.
"See!" my Mom cried out, scaring the shit out of me so that I almost dropped him.
"Nooo!" Becky pleaded reaching for him. I pulled him away from a pawing Becky and held him up in the air again.
I have to admit at this point I felt a little bit weirded out myself.
I held him close to my face again and asked, "Butterscotch are you possessed?"
At first nothing, but when I was just about to point out that there was no way a guinea pig could know what I was talking about, Butterscotch moved his head again.
"Satan get out!" My mother yelled and charged at me and Becky who was now standing in front of me this time with her arms spread out as if she could actually keep our deranged mother from Butterscotch and me.
I turned my back to her and bent over, sheltering Butterscotch underneath me. I was crying now. I was scared. "No, Mommy, no." I cried. "Please don't kill Butterscotch.” I couldn’t stop my blubbering; it was worse than Becky. “You killed Cupcake, do you have to kill Butterscotch too?"
I stood there hunched over, bracing myself for her to fight him away from me, but she never came.
After a moment, I turned around and saw my Mom standing there looking kind of confused.
"I didn't kill Cupcake," she said. I was pretty sure she was going to start to cry now.
"It was an accident." I didn't see her. "
Me and Becky just waited. No one moved. Mom wasn't moving either and she didn't start to cry after all.
"Grab your coats," she said suddenly with resolve. "We're going to church."
She stumbled to the door putting her ratty fuzzy slippers on as she went.
“We need holy water." She grabbed her coat off the hook and tugged it on over her nightie."Butterscotch needs to be cleansed in holy water."
Becky and I just stared at each other.
"I said grab your coats, Girls," she was flinging them off the hooks and at us where we stood. "We need to go now!" She was already opening the door and fumbling in her purse for the keys. Again she ordered us, "Now!"
Well of course I didn't have time to think about what to do next, but if dunking Butterscotch in holy water was going to keep him from getting thrown in the fireplace, holy water it was going to be.
Becky and me slid into the big bench front seat with Nancy Jean. She whipped the steering wheel gear in reverse and the long green station wagon with wood siding shot out of the back of the garage. Me and Becky both flung forward and Butterscotch flew out of Becky’s arms and onto the floor.
"Get him!" I yelled. Nancy Jean whipped the car into Forward and we tore out of the driveway throwing gravel behind us. I pushed Becky onto the floor and she grabbed for Butterscotch.
"I can't get him,” she whined. “He crawled under the seat."
"Oh let me do it," and we wrestled to change positions as Nancy Jean swerved the big station wagon back and forth. I could see Nancy Jean's ratty fuzzy slipper pressed completely down on the gas. Then she pulled it off and hit the break and lodged me into the dashboard. All the while I was reaching under the seat but couldn't feel Butterscotch.
"Get in the back," I ordered Becky who was on her hands and knees on the front seat watching me. "I'll go from the front and you go from the back." Dumb Becky wasn't moving fast enough so I reached up and shoved her over the back of the seat. She fell down on the other side and I could tell she was crying again.
It was hard to see because the car kept swerving back and forth, but we finally got him trapped between Becky's hands and mine. "Grab him!"
Becky got him by the scruff of the neck and pulled him to her. I sat up and saw Nancy Jean's purse on the seat. I dumped everything out and the junk inside spilled everywhere. Lord that woman carried everything in her purse. Me and Becky used to call it the General Store because she always seemed to have what we needed in there; gum, candy, Kleenex... she even carried an extra roll of toilet paper because "you never know."
The toilet paper rolled off the seat and back and forth across the floor and then under the seat. I held the purse open over the back of the seat. "Stick him in," I yelled at Becky and she fumbled to get Butterscotch in the big black leather bag with its gold chain handle. When she finally did I snapped it shut quick. A muffled Butterscotch was squealing and squirming inside.
"Don't hurt him," Becky said and I thought to myself, Don't hurt him? He's lucky to be alive. Your crazy mother was about to throw him in a fire!
The big green Caprice Classic slammed to a halt in the parking lot of St. Damien's.
"Now what?" I asked Nancy Jean.
"Now we get him into holy water," she said -already opening the door to head inside.
Becky crawled back over the seat into the driver's bench and we slid out the driver's door after Nancy Jean. The toilet paper had managed to roll around her feet enough to get stuck and she marched across the parking lot trailing long streamers behind her. Becky slammed the driver’s door shut breaking off the longest streamer before Nancy Jean could drag the whole roll with her and I half walked, half crawled behind her snatching up what I could of what was still stuck. Nancy Jean was snapping her coat buttons up so no one could see she was still in her nightie. I thought this a funny gesture since I didn't know how she was going to explain the fuzzy slippers.
Becky followed behind us both, trying to carry, but mostly dragging, the big black purse with the guinea pig along beside her.
I had never been to St. Sebastian's in the middle of the day before. I was glad to see the place was empty. "They just leave the doors unlocked?" I asked Nancy Jean.
"So you can come in and pray and light candles," she whispered. A tiered table of half lit flickering red glass votives greeted us as we entered and Nancy Jean genuflected and did a quick sign of the cross. Me and Becky made the cross too, only we didn't curtsey. Becky put the purse with the guinea pig on the ground and it flopped back and forth as Butterscotch continued his struggle to get out.
"Pick him up before he gets out," Mom whispered as she lit a candle and then knelt and whispered a prayer as me and Becky fought over who should carry the bag.
"Spoon. Eyeballs." was all I said and Becky handed the bag over.
Nancy Jean spritzed holy water on herself from a small fountain by the door and I asked, "Should we take him out now?"
"No." She said grabbing the handle of the door into the sanctuary and pausing for a moment. She took a deep breath. "We're going in... But be quiet, it confessional hours." Me and Becky just looked at each other. For a woman who had avoided church since Daddy died, she sure was insisting on getting her fill today. I mean we had holy water right thee. I wasn't about to question Nancy Jean now that we'd gotten Butterscotch this much of a reprieve though, so I hoisted the gold chain strap over my shoulder and we entered the sanctuary.
The place looked deserted, but Mom nodded to the confessionals. Becky and I tiptoed as we made our way all the way down the aisle and then over to the shallow fountain off to the side of the alter. It looked like a birdbath to me -a bird bath all gussied up and on a marble floor.
We were all standing staring at the water when we heard voices in the foyer.
"Quick, open it up," Nancy Jean whispered. I dropped the strap from my shoulder and quickly opened the bag. Butterscotch stuck his head out and squealed.
"Shhhh..." Becky shushed at Butterscotch petting his head. Butterscotch was just glad the bag opened and he jumped out and landed on the floor. Nancy Jean, Becky and I all fell to our knees to grab for him.
I got him first.
"Quick, stick him back in the bag," my mom whispered.
Becky grabbed the purse and I stuck him back inside and snapped it shut. Mom raised up on her knees and used both hands to scoop up a palm full of holy water. "Open it!" she ordered. I did and she dropped as much of the water that hadn't sifted through her fingers onto Butterscotch as he stuck his head out of the bag again. She didn't have to tell me to close it, I just did because I knew he'd jump out on the floor again.
"Give me the bag," she whispered. I was hesitant but I handed it over. "In the name of the..." Becky and I joined her for the rest"...Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," we said in unison and then Nancy Jean sort of shook the bag around -kind of like she was making Shake and Bake or something, then we all said, "Amen."
We looked to Nancy Jean for a sign and she shook her head and smiled. "It is finished." We scrambled to our feet. She kept the bag. She slipped the gold chain over her shoulder and pressed the leather bag against her hip, kind of patting Butterscotch as she made her way down the side aisle.
We had almost made it to the side door when Father Max entered the sanctuary through the big center doors; he was escorting a young women toward the confessionals. Nancy Jean just kept on walking so we followed her lead. I could see the small drops of water leaking out of the bottom of her purse. They trickled down her leg and saturated the toilet paper clinging to her ratty fuzzy slippers. Thank God a row of pews separated us from Father Max and she could only be seen from the torso up. She used her free hand to hold the collar of her coat shut tight. I looked over at Father Max. He nodded his head in acknowledgment, a puzzled look on his face. I just nodded back and grabbed Becky's hand and we hurried out the door with Nancy Jean.
"Alright, girls," Nancy Jean announced as she started up the station wagon. "We have one more stop to make." She looked over at me. "Somebody needs to go bra shopping."