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Keep Sweet

By Michele Dominguez Greene

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“Alva Jane, meet me behind the barn before dark,
I have something important to tell you.…”

I CLOSED MY EYES AT THE MEMORY OF JOSEPH JOHN’S face, flushed with excitement as he whispered those words to me—the words that changed my life forever. Beside the barn washed white by the sun, Joseph John had taken my hand and said the words I had been waiting to hear. His father had agreed to our marriage; he planned to speak to my father and the prophet that very evening.

I knew I shouldn’t do it, that it was wrong, but I felt a rush of such excitement and joy that I couldn’t help it: I kissed him quickly, my lips brushing lightly over his, feeling their softness and searching as he leaned in to me. And then came Sister Cora’s voice and a rough hand on my collar. I lost my balance and fell headlong into the nightmare I am living now.

One kiss brought me here, locked in this pitch-black root cellar beneath the barn. I shivered; the evening temperature always drops in the desert. I heard the scurrying of rats overhead and moved away from the corner where I had been crouching. I was unable to lean or lie down, my legs felt stiff, my knees raw. I could feel the welts on my legs and back oozing blood. The sacred undergarments beneath my cotton dress stuck to the open wounds; each movement brought a stinging pain.

I closed my eyes to block out the vision of Joseph John being forced into Tom Pruitt’s truck, the men pinning his arms behind him. And then my own father, Eldon Ray, in the back stall of the barn, wielding his belt, swinging it overhead and bringing it down upon my back.… My mother holding my wrists in a strong grip, looking at me with eyes shining bright and metallic. Was she suffering with me … or was she satisfied? Whatever she felt, she did nothing to stop my pain, even when I cried out to her.

Somewhere in the midnight silence, I heard the wild, frenzied cries of the coyotes as they closed in on their prey. The insane yipping and howling echoed off the red rocks and desolate plains of the Utah desert. My heart beat faster and the blood rushed to my head. I knew how the prey felt in that terrible moment: trapped, helpless. I lay on my stomach, pressing my face against the cool dirt floor, letting exhaustion take over. I felt something scurry over my leg but I did not bother to shake it off. Perhaps I will sleep and never wake up; perhaps God will deliver me from the life that lies before me … or restore me to the life I knew just a few months earlier.…

© 2010 Michele Dominguez Greene



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