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La Don-a: The Rise of the Swan - 4

Updated: May 22

Author's Note: Warning this chapter of this Historical YA contains mentions of domestic violence, and child abuse.


4 Sidecars: To the Patriarchy at work


Geraldine was excited, despite all her issues with school or more specifically the staff at school, she actually enjoyed learning, it felt like being given a fearsome power that she could use to protect herself or manipulate others. But she was even more excited now because they were finally going to talk about a topic that interested her more than anything else, Elementals. The teacher was going to tell them about the scientific factors of being an Elemental. So far she was the only one in her class that was one but there could be more that were -much like her- hiding their gifts for their safety. Ever since the war end despite the side pro-Elementals winning, the people have been very awkward and cautious around them almost as if they were faced with a wild animal. The other side, despite losing, had drawn up and demonstrated some good points about how dangerous they could be, so people were becoming weary of them. The low level Elementals in her school that were out in the open were teased or ostracized by the other kids. The ‘normal’ children were mostly too scared to talk to them let alone be their friends while the bold ones outright teased and bullied them.



“I honestly had no problem with them, in fact I found them all fascinating. They were the first Elementals I got to meet besides myself and it was cool to see all their powers compare to mine. After school, when I didn’t want to go home we would hide in an alley and they would show me what they could do. They were clearly so desperate for that positive attention that when I showed it they were more than happy to show off for me. In those moments I didn’t feel like such a freak…” Adult Geraldine could not help but think about her younger self and how happy those moments in alleys with other Elementals made her. It was the highlight of her, until that point, otherwise miserable life.


Geraldine had arrived to class bright and early, she wanted to get a good seat at the front instead of the back where the teachers often banished her and most other girls to. The classroom had seen better day as she saw the plastered beige walls were peeling, they had paintings hung near the ceiling that felt out of place in a children’s classroom but seemed to most likely be there to cover the peeled parts or maybe even holes. The city had no interest in wasting money on schools when they had so much more important things to worry about with the damage that the influenza pandemic left behind. The chalkboard covered three walls except for the wall of windows to the side that had iron bars making the place feel like the temporary prison it was meant to be. The wooden desks were rickety and scratched from a combination of age and kids jumping, writing, and playing on them. There was nothing in the room that made it feel like a children's safe place to learn and grow.


The message was clear, school was not meant to be fun or even pleasant yet Geraldine still found it so. School to her meant learning which meant power, something that was never given to women but that she was sure was achievable for those willing to try. Geraldine had no option but to try because with the father she had and in the neighborhood she lived in, power was the only way she was going to get out and survive. Gangs were on the rise and the government was turning their eyes away for a hefty cut of the profit and samples of the product that the bootleggers, rumrunners and the gangs they worked for were making and selling.


She looked out the window as she waited, remembering the article she saw in the newsstand about Elementals. They were becoming very sought after by these gangs because their powers could help them not only avoid detection but also cut back on materials and labor. Geraldine could understand it because why would she waste money on buying a stove when you can get a fire Elemental to do that work much faster and easier. They were like the latest toy in the underground world, the most recent must-have for everyone in organized crime. For this reason the government was doubling down on them, implementing harsher and stricter laws despite most Elementals not being or having any interest in getting involved. They were all kept on a watchlist like common criminals, there was even word of passing a law that all Elementals had to register themselves to the government like animals at the zoo.


“It was assumed that every Elemental would eventually become a problem so they were treated like so, but the truth was that the government wanted to have them under their thumb and use only.” Geraldine sneered at her own experience, people might not know that she was an Elemental but she made no secret of employing and protecting them so she was seen as just as bad as them if not worse. She has had plenty of officials come to her and ask for her support in finding a way to control Elementals offering her pick of the litter once they did. It made her sick and it was the first time she had killed a government official but definitely not the last.


The news and direction the country was heading filled Geraldine with fear and worry but it wasn’t only her, Ruth had become more strict about how and when Geraldine could use her powers. They both knew that if Miguel found out about it, he would not hesitate in selling her out for a few bucks to drink or gamble away like the rat he was.


The sound of hurried footsteps and loud chatter pulled her away from her thoughts as more kids began to walk into the room. Some smiled at her while others kept to their own close friends group. Geraldine noticed that even in school, everyone had a group that they preferred to surround themselves with, not necessarily because they shared the same interest but more for survival.


For the smart kids that seemed to really enjoy learning it was about strength in numbers, for the happy kids and class clowns as the teachers called them it was about getting attention, and for those like me it was about making connections that could later be useful. I went to the kids that could be the next president, governors, mayors, police chief or even mob bosses. I knew that as a woman I needed to surround myself with people that could get me to the places that I could not reach on my own because I was going to need a major boost up.”


You already had plans to became a boss? At such a young age?!” Helen asked in shock that at such a young age Geraldine was already planning to become the queen of the organized crime world. Even with all she had been through it was such an alarming revelation, no child should have such dark thoughts.


A boss? No, I had no plans to join this world. Instead I wanted to get away from it, being around Joseph Moretti made me realize that if I got in there would be no getting out and no matter how much power I would gain there would be no peace,” there was an awkward silence between them mainly from Helen's side as she was not sure what to say. The woman just declared she had no plans to join the criminal world yet she practically rules it, “besides at the time the idea that a woman could be anything more or aspire to be anything more than the favorite whore of some ruthless man in power was preposterous even to me.” The older woman just shrugged her shoulders and as much as Helen wanted to ask her what changed her mind instead she decided to let her continue on with the story.


The kids all fell into meaningless chatter about what they did or competing about anything and anyone “My big brother is cooler…!” or “My dad has a better job!” Geraldine resented those conversations because it made her realize that none of her classmates seemed to have it as bad as she did. It was cruel to wanted them to share her pain but she couldn't help but want to have someone understand her besides her mother and sisters. She wanted to not feel like she was the problem and not Miguel. Instead they all seemed to have good fathers that actually cared or at least pretended to. “My daddy said I could have a dog if I do really good!” If the boy that exclaimed loudly suddenly bent over slightly “ ow! My tummy hurts…” then no one had to know that it was due to her jealousy.


The teacher’s footsteps had them all running to their seats as they all tried to pretend that they had been well behaved the whole time. The man entered with the same frown on his old face that he always had, to Geraldine he looked like the grumpy dog she saw in the newspaper. When he took of his hat it was clear that the old man was long passed his prime, too old to go to war or do manual labor but not old enough to retired so he tortured children instead. To Geraldine it always felt as if the man was constantly angry with life and much like Miguel took it out on those weaker than him to feel better. She’s had enough red burns from his ruler to prove that the old man seemed to get some twisted pleasure out of having them at his mercy. She wondered if all the teachers had a secret meeting and all decided that they were going to torture them or they took turns or maybe it was a super secret club not all teachers were invited to because sometimes there were teachers who were actually nice.


“Good morning class…” Geraldine knew the exact moment that the man noticed where she was seated by the unamused and disapproving look. He liked for all the boys to be seated in the front seats while the girls sat in the back. It seemed today was one of the days when the man had more patience than usual because he said nothing before starting his lesson. “...Today we will be talking about Elementals.” He turned and wrote on the board in his hardly legible handwriting that always gave Geraldine a headache and made her grateful he was not their cursive teacher. “Who can tell me what an Elemental is?” A few hands went up including Geraldine's which the man simply ignored almost as if he didn’t like any of his choices. Geraldine wondered why teachers asked questions just to pick who they wanted to answer.


“Roy, what are Elementals?”


“People with superpowers!” Geraldine rolled her eyes and raised her hand urgently like all the kids that felt they had the right answer and desperately wanted a chance to one up their classmates, to get it right and impress the teacher.



“Not quite…” despite many hands up including her own, once more Geraldine was the only one that got the glare of disappointment as if she was the one that got the answer wrong. She did not notice that she was the only girl raising her hand. “...Elementals are people born with the ability to control a certain element, as their name implies.”


“Why do they get powers and the rest of us don’t!?” One of the teacher’s favorite students yelled, he was the biggest kid in the class and he had no problems lording that over everyone. His father was some big shot in the police and therefore everyone was scared to even question him or scold him including the teachers. He was nearly fifteen and just hitting the age where boys began noticing girls so he spent a lot of his time trying to either impress them or push himself on them.


“The kid had the potential to be a politician and he didn’t even know or cared about politics…but then again most politicians don’t know or care about anything except what could make them richer.”


“That is a very good question Howard…” Geraldine rolled her eyes at the sweet tone that the man’s voice took “...unfortunately scientists haven’t been able to figure that out quite yet.”


“What do they think causes it?” Apparently speaking out of turn was only allowed for Howard as Geraldine got an intense glare when she asked even despite the polite and soft tone she used.


“Do not speak out of turn! You are setting a bad example for the rest of the class.”


“But Howard just spoke out of turn and you didn’t correct him…”


“Geraldine, that’s enough!”


“....instead you spoke all nice and sweet…that sets a worse example for the rest of the class.”


“How vulgar, no one likes a know-it-all. Women should be seen when their husband wishes them to be and never heard.”


“Isn’t the point of school to learn? Your job is to teach all, not to give your opinions about our personal lives. Isn’t that a little…vulgar.”



The look Geraldine got was of pure anger and hate, it made her shiver and flinch away for the first time since meeting this teacher. It was the look that Miguel had in his eyes before he beat them for whatever reason he felt like at the time. Geraldine winced as she saw the man turn to pick up his ruler and she knew what was coming but this time she refused to allow the man to make her the bad one. She concentrated and watched as the man dropped his ruler and doubled over, grabbing his stomach. Her sense might not be sound but she could almost hear the gurgling within his stomach as the liquids moved at her command.


Suddenly something happened that she was not expecting, the man released loud gas from both ends that seemed to go on forever. The sound filled the room like an explosion going off, she wondered if people outside heard it. After a long silence the whole class fell into loud laughter as the old man turned bright red. A twisted part of Geraldine wanted to continue until the man completely humiliated himself so that he had no room to stand on when it came to judging her. But she wanted to learn more about Elementals so she eased up and made sure that she looked as innocent as the most angelic cherub. In his embarrassment the man forgot about her punishment, he had more pressing things to worry about like calming down a room full of rowdy children that were all more interested in imitating the sounds that came out of him than in listening to him or learning.


“That was the moment I learned what a truly vindictive and devious side I had. Before with Miguel it all felt like justice but this was different, this was payback and I enjoyed it more than I possibly should have…”

 

Election season was growing near in the United States and that could only mean that people with money could get what they wanted from politicians in exchange for campaign donations. It was a lie that the everyday folk held the power in the country, the truth was that those with money pulled the strings of even the most powerful men in Capitol Hill.


“...It doesn’t have to be a man. If you want to go into politics, that is one lesson you need to know. No matter what others say, money talks louder than any voice or gender.”


In the nest of the wealthy and powerful of Virginia, not far from congress, Gertrude sat in what once was her husband’s office staring at the names of the politicians running for office like they were guests at a wedding that she was making the seating chart for. She was happy to have achieved their goal to ban temptation but she knew that prohibition was still in its early stages and therefore it was vulnerable. She was not happy about the many exceptions that the fools in congress put in play when creating the law. Prohibition was supposed to leave no room for those that profit off sin to continue leading the American people down the dark path. The woman turned to the portrait of a distinguished man with the air of a Lord or even royalty, his head held high, faces in a pretentious scroll and dead blank eyes. He held an air of superiority, class and power, it made her smile for that was the husband she had married, the one she had grown to care for deeply until he was pulled down the path of sin and immorality.



Suddenly she saw the image of a man barely able to stand, a disgrace of a human being covered in his own bodily fluids and the stench of alcohol, smiling as if he was not a disgusting and humiliating sight. “Come on Gertie! Sing with me! Don’t be so uptight…” The slurred words grated on her mine like tools surgically stabbing her. She wished she could forget that image, the image that was not even a pale imitation to the man in the portrait.


“Gertrude, you will make a wonderful first lady.”


“A true first lady…”


All those goals, the prestige and those dreams, destroyed by the bitter liquid that had the American people under its spell.


“I don’t see how this makes her a bad person. Heck if it were me I would be just as angry…I mean not penalize everyone angry but still…”


“And that there was the issue, Gertrude felt herself very much the main character of life so everyone and everything should revolve around her. If she was suffering than the world suffered with her and if she was happy than the world needed to shut up and let her be happy. If you see nothing wrong with that than you have more issues than I thought,” Geraldine raised an eyebrow at the young woman who may pretend to be above everyone else with her righteousness but is just another flawed and selfish mortal like the rest of the world she just did not wish to admit it or couldn't see it.


All was lost due to the two main weaknesses of men, that which has driven them to sin and failure time and time again and will continue to do so, long after the last human has drawn its final breath. Gertrude could not hold the anger she felt bubbling within her, she grabbed a glass to her side and flung it at the wall.


“Urgh!”


It crashed inches away from the image of the distinguished gentleman and she glared as the liquid ran down the wall and the broken glass fell to the floor. She took a deep breath watching the rich wood paneling darken as it became wet. Once she felt calm enough, she fixed her hair that had not moved an inch out of place and straightened herself. She could never be anything but flawless in the eyes of others. She called for the frightened servant “clean this up, I will be in the chapel.” Gertrude ignored the flinched from the servant as she walked by, her mind was still too chaotic to focus on anything except keeping up appearances until she was able to let it out.


“The thing about Gertrude is that like most that preached purity and the word of the Lord, she was a massive hypocrite; she didn’t support prohibition because of the damage alcohol had on the people…”


“Then why?”


 

Gertrude walked down a door that seemed to lead to a basement of some sort, a small space with concrete walls, a sink, and shelves for storage of household items. To the side there was an opening leading to a room that seemed to be more finished than the entry space, making the small space seem like the unfinished foyer to a country cottage. The place was clearly used for laundry and maintenance but to the other side of the concrete ‘foyer’ near the back of the stairs, there was a beautiful wooden door that seemed to belong in a grand church and not a basement. The door even had a cross that Gertrude kissed before she opened the many locks on the door with keys that hung around her neck at all times and were normally hidden by the high collar of her dress.


Inside, the room was small, almost the size of a walk-in closet with red curtains and a beautiful wood kneeler in front of an altar with a curtain backdrop. The room seemed unassuming, just the personal chapel of a devout and religious woman doing the Lord’s words. Gertrude pays her respects before walking over to the curtain and pulling them back to reveal another door that was better hidden than the last. She opened the door and walked down three steps to be greeted by what looked like a small intimate lounge with some bookcases which she ignored and headed for what she really needed in her time of turmoil. She smiled at the fully stocked bar and poured herself a glass of the rum she had specially imported from the Caribbean. Once the burn hit the back of her throat, Gertrude felt her anger ease as her mind was soothed by the bitter liquid.



“What?!” Helen exclaimed not expecting that, especially from someone as virtuous and devote to the cause as Gertrude seemed to be.


“Like I said, Gertrude had no problems with alcohol. That was one vice she shared with men. She had a problem with men’s other vice…women.”


“You mean…?”


“That prohibition happened because a woman with too much power was scorned by a husband with too much desire…? Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying.”


“But…How is that possible? How could she…?” The younger woman had a problem processing the magnitude of what was just reveal. Thoughts were just as jumbled as her words and she would doubt they would be able to organize them any time soon.


“You give people too much credit, especially women…We can be just as cruel and ruthless but most of all vindictive as men, in some cases even more so. For Gertrude the problem wasn’t that her husband slipped, the problem was that he didn’t want to get back up.”


 

Flashback



Gertrude could not believe it, her husband would never humiliate her in such a way. She knew that Harold was seeing someone, the man was not as smart as he liked to think. Besides, women always knew when their husband’s eyes began to stray but she never worried because it was natural. It was the woman’s job to dutifully wait at home and take it with grace. Gertrude knew this, as her own father had stray multiple times, but her mother never lost her grace and elegance and until the day they died she remained his wife and Gertrude his heir while the other woman struggled in the disgrace of having bastard children while single. She had been prepared for Harold’s phase, getting very discreet servants and setting things up so that no one would notice once it began. Thanks to her father, Gertrude knew how to recognize the signs. Staying out late, cold and easily annoyed by everything, drinking a lot more and much more violent with the wife and children. Fortunately for Gertrude her husband was a weak cowardly man that would never dare raise his hand at her, his violence was mostly verbal which she could handle.


It did not take much to find out who the woman was and to be unimpressed with her husband’s choice. Despite her disappointment, she was calmed as everything had gone as expected until she noticed that there was a lot of money missing from the safe. At first she thought it was the servants but then she remembered how her father would buy his mistress jewels and expensive clothing. That made her furious; it was not his money that her husband was spending but hers, the money she inherited from her family and that he managed as her husband.


That was too much audacity in her opinion, the fact that he was using her money made her entitled to more information on what it was being spent on. That was how she found herself standing across the street from a tavern with bright lights that seemed to call everyone over like a beacon. Outside drunks stumble around, laughing and singing so off keys some dogs joined them with their own howls. She remembers the once vacant lot that once stood there, she had seen construction going on as she was heading home for month. At the time she had wondered what would be made of the place, simply out of curiosity but not truly interested. The tavern wasn’t what had her standing there in shock, trying to get her mind to process the situation. Her hat was carried away by the wind like a girl being asked to dance and even as people exclaimed and tried to get her attention, Gertrude could do nothing but stare, her eyes refused to look away.


“The man spreads his wings and flies but always comes back to the nest…”


“Those women are just good for a little time, they are not wives.”


“You must be patient because if you are too harsh then you risk pushing them…”


The words of her mother rang loud in her head like the bells announcing morning service. Gertrude wonders where she had gone wrong, what she had done to push too hard. She had ignored her husband’s comings and goings, the late nights and drunken outburst, she had paid no mind when he berated her or ignored her touch. Gertrude even swallowed her pain and pride when he brought up her inability to give him children. Just as her mother said she was graceful and dutiful, she made sure that the meal was always ready and his bath was prepared, she made sure to restock the liquor once it was out even if it made his words cruel. She had done everything even suggesting adopting despite how it would risk her family’s good breeding it will look so good with voters. Once we have children of our own, we can send them off to some boarding school…” Gertrude had not noticed or even felt the tears running down her face until a breeze cooled them and made her shiver.


HAROLD AND ETHEL’S LOVE NEST

She felt her blood boil as she got a glimpse of her husband through the window, he was laughing happily with a woman on his lap. Ever so often the two would share a kiss or a caress that would have looked lovely if it were not with her husband. She almost stormed in there and ripped the woman from his lap but the class that had been bred into her since she was a baby, stopped her. Gertrude was smarter than that, she knew that only the meticulous planners won the race. She would make them pay for humiliating her and it would be much worse than making a scene that would only make her look like the pathetic and deranged wife. She remembers all the bastards and mistresses ‘wannabe wives’ that her mother got rid of.


“Now it’s my turn and I won’t be as gentle or forgiving. I will make it hurt, no matter who I have to burn on the way.”


End Flashback

 

“URGHHH!”


The sound of glass stuttering filled the room “how could he…?! That bastard!” Thinking about that night filled her with fury so fresh it was almost like it had just happened. While the sound was satisfying it did not appease her anger and pain. After that night, Gertrude had hired someone to discreetly find out more information only to learn that her husband’s mistress ‘Ethel’ had also given him three children. One for each year that they were together, to hear that a woman beneath her had succeeded where she failed filled her with unimaginable rage. It was the final proof that her husband was in love with the woman, to make matters worse she saw divorce papers hidden in his desk.


“I will not be a divorcee, never! I would rather die…or…” Gertrude smirked as she remembered the plan that formed in her head. Sometimes God was busy and could not punish all sinners so the good children of the Lord had to help him out.


Gertrude reminisced about how easy it was, how foolish and gullible her husband had been. He had been in such a state of bliss with his whore that he had missed everything. With her influence it was easy for Gertrude to begin to destroy the den of sin that her husband created. Prayer groups, luncheons, and tea parties were perfect to start spreading the seed. The women were all so gullible and fearful of losing their husbands that they would believe even the most ridiculous of rumors.


“She probably opens her legs to all of them…”


“Who even knows who the father of those poor children is…”


“I heard she performed satanic rituals in there…”


Although even with her push, the tavern still remained open because as long as a place sold alcohol people would go in and give their money. They would even step foot in hell and greet the devil if that were the only way to get a drink. She knew that if she wanted to truly strike out her opponent she had to hit her harder. The war was the perfect opportunity, with all the men out at war she could start working on something much bigger. Something that would destroy the woman that took everything from her. It was risky but there was no shortage of gullible women and money hungry old men that she could manipulate into doing what she wanted. The fear of God was a powerful motivator so she used it and it worked, after years of hard work she got the government to pass prohibition. Without her husband and without merchandise, just as Gertrude expected, Ethel’s whole life crumbled before her. She had heard the woman was living in the streets with her children but for some reason that did not ease her pain, it was not enough. Gertrude stared at the advertisement she put on the paper requesting a maid and offering boarding. All she had to do was wait for the mouse to smell the cheese and fall on the trap.





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