El Pueblo de Nuestra Señorala Reina de Los Angeles, California
Josephine Carsley/Ina Coolbrith (age 19)
The timbers of the small house shook from the heavy bootsteps prowling the porch.
In the front entrance, nineteen-year old Josephine Carsley pressed her back against the adobe wall. Ina’s mother Agnes stood tense by her side. The women caught glimpses of Robert Carsley through the narrow window beside the door as he paced outside on the porch: drunk, enraged—and clutching a Bowie knife.
“Josephine,” he thundered, in that voice that had killed a part of Ina every time he’d used it, through their brief and terrible marriage. “You come out here right now, you whore.”
Agnes stiffened with maternal anger. She advanced on the door and shouted through it, “You get home, now, Robert Carsley. Leave Ina in peace—”
He bellowed back, “She’s my wife and I mean to torment her to death.”
Agnes pressed her hands against the door as if to fortify it, or herself. “Mr. Pickett will be home any minute,” she warned.
Ina knew that Agnes was bluffing. Ina’s stepfather could be home any time or no time, depending upon the drinking that was being done that day. But outside, there was silence for a moment, a moment in which Ina foolishly, recklessly allowed herself to hope…
Then Agnes stumbled backward as the door began to shudder with the thuds of an assault.
Realization shot through Ina. The woodpile. He’s got the axe. He’s going to break the door down.
In between blows came her husband’s grunts as he chopped and ranted. “I’ll spill Pickett’s blood as a pig’s. That’s my whoring wife in there, Agnes. You send her out to me right now or I’ll kill the lot of you—”
The door swung partway open, off its top hinge. Ina saw her husband through the gap, his face black with rage, long knife raised in his hand. Agnes leaped forward and slammed the door shut on his arm. Robert yelped with surprise and fury. The Bowie knife thudded to the hallway floor.
“Ina. Ina. Help me—”
Her mother’s voice penetrated her trance. Ina ran to Agnes’s side. Together the women shoved the door closed against Robert’s renewed assault…
The door shuddered with kicks and blows. “Trunk,” Agnes gasped. Through the fog of fear, Ina understood what Agnes meant. She whirled to the coat rack on the opposite wall. Beneath the coats was a heavy wooden steamer trunk.
Agnes held the door with her full weight while Ina strained to push the trunk in front of it. The two women dropped down on the lid of the trunk and leaned back against the door.
Outside a young male voice shouted. “Get away from that door, Carsley!”
The two women froze, staring at each other. Juan Carlos. Ina’s brothers had returned from hunting. They would have the shotgun… but the twins were just fourteen years old.
Robert’s voice taunted from outside. “You think you know how to use that, boy?”
Now William shouted. “Ma! Ina! You all right?” His words ended in a cry. Then a shot blasted through a front window, shattering glass. Ina half-screamed.
“He’s got their gun,” she said wildly.
Robert bellowed. “You come out here now Josephine, or I shoot your brothers.”
Ina looked helplessly at Agnes. And then she stood from the trunk, shaking.
Outside, Robert stood with the shotgun trained on Ina’s brothers. He gave Ina a slow, ugly smile as she stepped out through the door.
She swallowed through a throat as dry as dust and moved off the porch, edging past the twins.
Behind her, Agnes ran to the boys, gathered them behind her.
Carsley grabbed Ina by her hair, and dragged her toward the street. Ina went numb, knowing what would come next. He would force himself on her, even possibly now, in front of her mother and brothers.
Her mind swirled with so many scenes of violence. She shut her eyes and prayed, as she had so many times. Please, just let me die.
A familiar male voice broke through her misery. “Let go of her or I shoot you dead.”
Ina’s eyes flew open. Mr. Pickett, her stepfather, stood between the trees holding a rifle with a bayonet, leveling it at Carsley.
Robert bit out the words: “This. Is. My. Wife—”
Ina felt an explosion beside her, felt her ears ringing with the boom of the shot, heard herself screaming through the din. But Carsley’s grasp on her loosened and she twisted away. Ina stumbled backward toward the house.
Through the smoke she saw Mr. Pickett standing, rifle still pointed at Carsley. Another shot boomed… and her husband’s hand exploded in a cloud of blood. Carsley dropped to his knees, screaming, clutching the crimson stump of his wrist.
Ina swayed… and felt her mother’s arms around her. They sank to the porch steps, clinging to each other.
“We’ll leave here. We’ll get away. Far away,” Agnes murmured, and stroked Ina’s hair.
“We’ll go to San Francisco.”