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LaRosa Chronicles
C
ANDY-COLORED
 CLOWN
 by
 
K Spirito

CHAPTER ONE

 

Ken Waters knew all along that his second wife Julie wanted children. He thought he did, too. But now that it’s a reality? Well, that’s a different story.

“Baby,” he said, his voice dull. His fingers tracked through his chestnut hair. What if he lost another child? That would just kill him. Never once had it ever entered his mind that he might lose his beloved four-year-old Katrina; and when he did, his mind railed.

Katrina skipped into his thoughts—know how much I love you, Daddy?

Too much, my little Katrina, too much.

There’s no such thing as too much, Daddy.

Five years had come and gone; still, there was no accepting the loss that hibernated like a grizzly in winter within the vacuous cavern of his mind. Fatherhood a second time around aroused the hidden beast.

Pacing about the manse in Cohasset, Massachusetts, Ken mumbled, “If only I had known that night as I tucked you into bed that it was going to be for the last time. I’d’ve hugged you tighter, breathed in the essence of baby shampoo that lingers on those blond ringlets that flounce about your head. I’d’ve read one more story, kissed that button nose of yours a thousand times more, told you that I love you so much more than just a mere too much.”

No, there’s just no way of getting over little Katrina’s loss. So it was that with each passing day, Ken lost sight of new bride Julie and all the positive things she had brought to his life. Her voice and complicated simplicity vanished quicker than the snap of fingers. No longer did he see the fairness of her face or her expressive cocoa eyes accentuated by lashes that picked up the golden hue of a summer’s morn. Even her honeysuckle perfume failed to penetrate the defensive walls that he had built around himself. Eyes that gleamed in the sunlight and the engaging smile that outlined cheekbones that blushed like ripe peaches became lost in the darkness of tormented nights.

All the changes Julie had made to the manse failed to keep the ghost of Regina at bay. He fought off the ghost with denial, haphazard activity, and single malt Scotch—way too much Scotch. Nothing worked.

He tried to get away—on business trips, so he claimed. That was a lost cause, for everywhere he went, everything he saw reminded him of Katrina. He couldn’t even pick up a book and read, for she wasn’t there, snuggled up on his lap, listening to his every word. Worst of all, he dreaded the return to that manse, for Regina was there. She was always there. As a result, Ken stopped leaving the manse; therefore, he didn’t have to return. Drowning in booze was so much easier.

Day after day, Ken sat alone in his office on the first floor of the manse. Rarely did he think to shower his five-foot-ten frame or to shave. More often than not, his mind conjured up one of the happiest days of his life, the day Katrina was born; and it seemed as though he was in the delivery room all over again. Cold, stainless steel scissors ringed his fingers as his hand contracted to sever the umbilical cord. Then the obstetrician picked up the newborn and offered her to Ken as though he were a great deity. Ken gawked at the tiny life. A grin wrinkled the obstetrician’s green mask. “Go ahead. Take your daughter. She’s not going to bite.” A great belly laugh shook the delivery room and then he added, “Well, not until she gets you under her spell anyways.”

Gingerly, Ken took the babe, so tiny in his computer wiz hands. His heart overflowed. He wanted his voice to soar high above the clouds and into the heavens beyond and proclaim that here was a miracle. But he was tongue-tied. The newborn had taken his breath away. He kissed the tiny nose and sputtered, “She’s smiling at me.”

Chuckles filled the delivery room. “Not quite yet, my friend,” blustered the obstetrician.

Nobody’s telling me that my baby girl didn’t smile at her Daddy, thought Ken. He turned to Regina and cold reality slapped him down, for it was more than obvious that the entire event repulsed her. From day one she resented the transformation that pregnancy had wrought upon her flawless body. She had fought off stretch marks with every type of cream known to mankind and even went so far as to purge to stop all weight gain. Furious about being knocked up, she blamed Ken completely and threw him out of the master bedroom for good. “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I ever go through this again,” she had screeched over and over again. With each passing day, a host of new curses befell her mouth. That woman put four-letter words together in ways that even the devil couldn’t conceive. And man, did she have a set of lungs! Worse than any predatory harpy in classical mythology! As it turned out the baby girl had to be taken by cesarean section. Regina was not at all happy about being cut. She had already scheduled a tubal ligation for the day after delivery, so now, not only was her world-famous Hollywood plastic surgeon going to have to do away with every scar and stretch mark, he was also obliged to do something about that disgusting incision.

“Please hand the baby to her mother,” the obstetrician had said.

Ken peered at all the eyes staring at him above green surgical masks. These people didn’t know Regina like he did. Unsure what to do, he glanced at the obstetrician, whose eyes rolled from baby to mother. With a great deal of reluctance, Ken stretched out his arms and muttered, “Here you go, Regina.”

She glared at the infant and then at Ken. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she scoffed. “Get that thing out of my face.”

The obstetrician and nurses exchanged shocked looks. Suspicions Regina wanted nothing to do with the baby confirmed, they never bothered Ken again.

The wee hours of the night found Ken preparing formula, changing diapers, and feeding Katrina, whom he had named after a character in a book that his mother had read to him as a child. He bathed Katrina, cradled her in his arms, and read to her. He slept in the nursery in the bed next to her crib, instead of the downstairs bedroom at the back corner of the manse where he had been sleeping ever since Regina had thrown him out of the master bedroom. During the day while he worked in his office, the bassinette was always within arm’s reach. If obliged to go out on business, he bundled up Katrina and took her with him. She was a hit everywhere they went, plus her charming disposition landed several new clients. Ladies were attracted to this man who doted over his little girl, but he was never ever tempted, for he refused to do anything that might risk losing his Katrina.

Whenever a rare conflict in schedule arose, Ken’s mother, Patty Waters, or Regina’s mother, Gretchen Konstanze, came to the rescue. There also was Nanny Ellen whom Regina had hired long before Katrina came into the world. An inordinate amount of money—in advance—kept Nanny Ellen on standby twenty-four hours a day. No unexpected gaps—that was Regina’s motto—which was in addition to the weekly maid service that had always been in place. She wanted nothing to do with children or housekeeping. To Regina, kids were no more than bloated ticks on a dog’s back. The moment plastic surgery was possible, she went under the knife. She concentrated on getting her figure back and nothing else. Her body, her manse, and her high-society lifestyle had to be absolutely perfect at all times.

Yet for Ken, being so involved in his child’s life was no inconvenience. He relished every bit of it. Katrina was a blessing, the only good thing that came out of a loveless marriage.

In no time he learned the language of babies, each tone, pitch, and cadence. One meant, “I’m hungry,” another, “I have a dirty diaper,” and still another, “I need a change of scenery.” Then there was the one accompanied by a reddish-blue face when Regina held Katrina, “Mommy doesn’t like me.”

“The kid’s colicky,” insisted Regina. When nobody was looking, she chucked the little girl into the crib to languish in the dark, silent, and vacuous nursery until Daddy, Nanny Ellen, or one of the grandmothers discovered her plight.

After Katrina’s birth ordinary conversation turned uglier, intensifying with the dawning of each new day. The moment Ken walked into the room, Regina griped, and it led to his wondering when the hostility had actually begun. There was the blowout on their wedding night when he found birth control pills on the wash basin. Then there was the face off in his Beacon Hill apartment. She wanted to move. He didn’t.

“There’s a manse in Cohasset,” she suggested.

“We don’t have that kind of money,” he said flatly.

“Gretchen and Leopold are buying it for us,” she claimed.

“No, they’re not.”

“Okay, you tell them that! Go ahead! Tell your brand new in-laws who adore you like their own son that you’re snubbing their wedding present!”

The move into the manse came shortly thereafter.

Over time, Ken learned to ignore Regina. She never had a good word to say anyway. You’re late. Company’s on the way. The manse is a mess. Your shoes are filthy. Look at your clothes—they’re a disgrace! Would it kill you to buy new clothes? Clothes with style and flair? You need a haircut. Hurry! Go change. And for Christ sake, shave!  Above all, do not disturb Katrina! She’s already been fed and is playing quietly in her room. Nanny Ellen’s been instructed to put her to bed.

Ken never listened, for nothing kept him away from his little girl. Of course, Regina found out, and man, did the pooh hit the fan! She got so riled up during her high-falutin’ get-togethers whenever he disappeared upstairs to cuddle his little Katrina and read her a goodnight story. Regina fumed quietly in front of her snooty friends—that is, at first. As months passed, however, she got mouthy, which cast suspicion that she wasn’t the personage that friends thought her to be. She made up the most God-awful stories; everything from Ken was having an affair to his being a closet gay to his having unhealthy urges toward kids.

None of it mattered. Ken kept on doting over Katrina, holding her tiny hand from the first day when she could only clutch his pinkie finger through times when she dragged him off to see the latest get-up she had dressed Ralph the cat in or when they skipped all the way to the kitchen to dive into a batch of Gammy Getchen’s latest baking delight. Regina went ballistic over the crumbs on the counter, crumbs that were visible to nobody but her.

When Katrina turned three, Regina had the crib taken down, so Katrina had to sleep in the bed that Ken had been using and he went back to the downstairs bedroom at the back corner of the manse. He couldn’t hear if Katrina wanted a drink of water in the night or if she had a nightmare. Neither father nor daughter slept soundly, both missing each other terribly. Yet the bond they shared couldn’t be broken.

One awful day, Regina stole Katrina from Ken and then the Cessna crashed deep within the Florida Everglades. Searches revealed an oil slick, traces of fuselage, and black silk snagged upon a saw-tooth palm. The silk was part of a dress, Regina’s, the one with the plunging neckline and slit up the side. Since survival in the crock-infested swamp was impossible, no rescue was attempted. Ultimately, memorial services were conducted without the dead.

Five years later, impending fatherhood agitated Ken to the point that every time his eyes fell upon new bride Julie, his mind beheld Regina, long past crocodile bait. All the sorrow that Regina wreaked upon his soul lived again, worse than ever. Furthermore, the ghost of his beloved Katrina had made its presence known. The only thing that eased the pain was single malt Scotch, but getting through each new day required more and more. But on this June morning in 1989, Ken hadn’t drunk so much as a drop, since the moment his eyes opened, he believed Katrina was calling to him.

 


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