Stories

Here are some stories I’ve written:

The Arboretum

“Mom, turn on the radio,” Patrick yelled from the back. “It’s so boring in here.”

“Don’t yell, Patrick,” his mother, Charlotte yelled. Veronica turned around and squinted at her older cousin, Patrick, studying him and hoping that his family wouldn’t move to Florida with hers, too.] She turned back around to watch as her aunt Charlotte reached out her slender wrist with the thin black watch band and turned on the radio and rotate the dial from a news report about where President Ford was going that week to some music.

“How long ‘til we get there?” Francine, Patrick’s sister, asked, leaning over the front seat between Veronica’s mother and Charlotte.

“Not that long,” her mother said.

“How long is that?”

“Maybe twenty or thirty minutes, depending on traffic.” It was the first week of summer vacation and they were going to the Arboretum on Long Island to see the gardens and the museum.

Francine expelled an exaggerated sigh and plopped her large body back on the seat again, landing on her brother’s arm.

“Hey! Watch out!” her little brother Peter yelled and smacked her.

“Knock it off!” She hit him back.

“The two of you stop it now,” Charlotte yelled.

Francine pushed Peter and slid away from him, squashing Veronica against the car door. Veronica tried to reposition herself to get the arm rest out of her side, but didn’t have much room to work with. She turned her head away from her cousin and looked out the window, pretending she wasn’t there.

“What’s in there?” Patrick pointed to the brown paper bag next to Thomas, Veronica’s older brother. Bored with the radio, Patrick had begun to dig around.

“Lunch.”

“Let me see.” Patrick grabbed the bag. Unraveling the top, he peered in and said, “Just sandwiches and Saltines. Blah.” He pushed the bag back toward Thomas, crushing it and opening his bag. “Look at what we got: Twinkies.” He waved the brightly colored box of cakes in the air.

“Mom, Patrick has the Twinkies out,” Francine whined. “If he gets to have one, I get one, too.”

“Patrick, put those back. No one is having one until lunch,” Charlotte said.

Veronica’s eyes followed the box weaving back and forth in the air above Patrick’s head and in front of  Thomas and Mary’s faces. Veronica knew she only had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to look forward to for lunch because she’d watched her mother make them that morning. Her mother never bought anything like Twinkies or Ring Dings; she said they cost too much. She heard her aunt saying to her mother, “There are enough for everyone.” Veronica smiled to herself; things were looking up.

Turning off  the highway, Veronica knew they were getting close because her mother and aunt read aloud the signs and the car slowed to a sightseeing pace. Shadows and light flicked across the car windows causing Veronica to blink her eyes with the sudden changes in glare and darkness as they drove in and out of patches of  trees. They drove slowly up the long winding road around smooth long curves to the Arboretum’s parking lot.

Car doors opened and they all spilled out onto the new black asphalt with its shimmering white lines delineating the parking spaces. Thomas balanced himself on a white line, feet heel to toe, arms out to steady himself, as walking a  gymnast’s beam. His sister Mary tried it on her own line while Peter jumped up and down, crying, “Let’s go! Let’s go!”

At the edge of the black pavement, the green grass began. Veronica looked away from her cousins and up the lawn that stretched up to the huge house and trees on the rise. The grass sloped down to a lake on one side. The house stood in the center of her view. She examined its brown and white exterior, the round tower with its pointed cone, the brown shingles on the roof, and the wing that extended to the left. It reminded her of the pictures in a storybook she’d read once about a girl who lived in Amsterdam and how she put out clogs instead of stockings for Christmas.

Her mother’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Come here, Veronica. Put this sweater on. It’s chilly out.”

“But I don’t want to,” she said and reluctantly walked over when her mother glared at her. Her mother rolled up the sleeves and crammed Veronica’s arms in. It was an ugly beige sweater her sister Mary used to wear but had outgrown. Veronica didn’t like beige; she liked blue. She stood there watching Francine put on her own jacket, a light blue windbreaker with a roll-up hood in the collar and a white cord at the waist. Francine tried to tie the cord into a knot but there wasn’t enough left.

After they were done getting ready, Charlotte said, “There’s a sign,” and pointed. Her and Rose walked over to the edge of the grass to read it. Thomas, Mary, and Patrick ran ahead. Veronica stood and looked up  the pole to the gilt-edged frame and raised lettering of the sign for a minute and then joined Francine up the path.

The path climbed up a small incline into the shade. A few fallen leaves blew across the path. Veronica looked around at the labeled plants and trees while her mother and aunt walked behind her slowly. She could hear them making comments such as, “Oh, look at that;” or “Isn’t that interesting.”

Next they came upon some benches and a display case. Behind the case was a bird house on a tall pole. From what her aunt read aloud, it seemed the types of birds that were supposed to land on the bird house’s ledge were stuffed and stuck on pins in the case behind the glass. Veronica looked up in the case, disbelieving, then drew back when she realized what was there. Each bird had a little card along side it, describing their traits; identification of the living by the dead.  Her mother and aunt stood looking trying not to seem repelled. Veronica stood back waiting and listening. She imagined people placing the cards on the board, their fingers touching the carcasses and took another step back. She watched her mother nod and smile as Charlotte made a few comments. Veronica had seen her mother nod this way to their neighbors or people at church when she didn’t know what to say. Her expression was a lifeless as the birds. Veronica waited and listened, but nothing definitive was said.

They left the dead birds and came upon a set on stone benches carved into a stone wall on either side of a archway, carved out of the same stone wall. Behind and above the benches were concave walls covered with small shells and ornately carved birds and fish. The boys ran through the archway stomping their feet; Francine plopped down on the bench to rest.

They heard Peter say, “Ooh, look!” from the other side of the archway. They walked through and discovered a long rectangular pool trimmed with white stone and two large carved fish on the edge with their tails in the air, spouting water out of their mouths. In the pond, lilies grew on the surface of the water and large iridescent goldfish swam in and out of the plants’ roots. Peter leaned over to get a better look and pointing with his finger, accidentally dipped it in the water. He pulled  his hand back quickly, but not before Patrick saw him and laughed, “What’s the matter? Afraid?” And he slapped his hands on the surface, making the goldfish dart away from everyone and hide in the shadows.

“Patrick!” his mother scolded as everyone sighed in disappointment and went slack around the edge of the pool. Seeing their faces, Patrick laughed with satisfaction and ran away.

They made their way through the rest of the gardens and came out onto a grassy slope lit up in the bright sunshine and led back down to the house. The surrounding tree tops made a rim between the blue sky and the green trees. A train horn sounded faintly in the distance.

The open grass slope was now invaded by Patrick, Thomas, and Mary running down the hill, with Peter far behind, trying to keep up. They started rolling down the hill and Veronica ran after them and rolled down the grassy slope, too. At the bottom were some granite boulders. Thomas ran up to the top of one and leapt off the far side. Everyone followed in turn, laughing. Peter started up giggling, arms flying as if to propel himself faster when he stubbed the toe of his sneaker and tripped, landing with a slam, flat on the heels of his hands. He turned his palms up to look and let out a scream at the sight of the tender red meat exposed by the scraped away flesh. The scream got louder as the sensation of pain reached his brain and the expression reached his throat. Charlotte checked his hands, carefully brushed the dirt off and dabbed at the droplets of blood with crumpled tissue from her purse that she wet with her tongue, talking quietly to him all the while, telling him he’d be all right. He soon stopped crying and was laughing again on the granite.

“Can we go in the house?” Mary asked.

“I’m ready, how about you?” Charlotte asked her sister who nodded in agreement and made a small sound that was almost a word but not really.

“I’ll race you to that stump,” Patrick challenged Mary. They took off. Thomas ran after them and began catching up then passing Patrick. Patrick screamed, “No fair! No fair! I was first; I was the first!” He climbed up on top of the tree stump after Thomas and glared down at his siblings and cousins in defiance and hatred.

“I won! I won!” Thomas jumped up and down in a circle ignoring Patrick. Mary clambered up and Francine, Peter, and Veronica pleaded to be let up. Patrick grabbed Francine by the forearm, dragging her up, scraping her shins. She didn’t seem to mind as Peter and Veronica stood looking up; there wasn’t any room left.

“Take our picture!” Patrick yelled to his mother.

“Oh, that’s a good idea. Stand there, Rose, with Peter and Ronnie.” Veronica pouted and turned away from her aunt. She didn’t like being called Ronnie.

Her mother  turned her around, and seeing her protruding lip and scowling eyebrows, said, “Stop being a baby.” Veronica begrudgingly turned around but kept her head down. Her hands were caught wiping her eyes when the shutter clicked.

Inside the house they stood in the entryway of the first floor where the volunteer staff had an office and a cafe was built on the porch. Charlotte and Rose paused in the front hall to read the plaques with the history of the house and its owner and to look at the black and white photographs of its construction. The owner, from the same European country as Charlotte and Rose’s grandfather, stared out of the photos with intense eyes, straight shoulders, and rounded shirt collars. He’d worked his way up from immigrant clerk to banker and investor. He’d bequeathed the house and grounds to the state of New York so that all the people could benefit from the accumulated collection of rare and exotic plants and beautiful furnishings.

They walked into the main room, lingering, indecisive about where to go next. Well-dressed people stepped around them as they gathered themselves together and began looking in the rooms. The rooms were furnished exactly as when they were lived in. Imported rugs lay on the floor, upholstered chairs with carved legs, and pillows with gold cords and tassels sat in the corners. Embroidered tapestries with pastoral scenes hung on the walls. In the dining room a chandelier of cut crystal hung over a long mahogany table lined by a dozen straight backed chairs.

There was a bedroom for every member of the family; no one had to share as Veronica had to with Mary. Veronica stared at the little spindle legged chairs with round velvet seat cushions that sat in front of little writing desks and dressing tables laden with silver and lace. A canopy bed was covered in a fabric Veronica had never seen. Her mother never bought anything that looked like that at the fabric store. Veronica studied every aspect of the room, trying to memorize the details, but she couldn’t see into the farthest corners because of the velvet covered ropes cordoning off the doorways to each room, keeping the people of  New York back.

Walking down the wide wooden staircase to the main room again, Patrick became restless and Francine hungry. “Which way do you go to get out of here?” Charlotte laughed as they made their way to the back porch. They found signs pointing to the exit  and passed the cafe on the way out. The smell of  broiled chicken sandwiches and seasoned pork cutlets permeated the hallway and the whining began.

“Can we eat here? Why not? We never get to do anything.”

Walking down the back steps out onto the grass again, Veronica looked back at the porch hungrily. The screens were too dark to see through but the smell of the food wafted after them outside. She could hear the clinking of forks on plates, the murmur of talking, the shuffling of feet and the scraping of chairs against the wood floor.

Back at the parking lot Charlotte opened the scratched tailgate of her new station wagon. Sodas were grabbed out  of the cooler by the older kids while the women asked the youngest what they wanted.

Veronica sat with Francine to eat her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She set her soda can right next to her and hurried to finish her sandwich, eating only the soft center, avoiding the dry crusts. She clandestinely wrapped up the remainder and turned her eyes toward the brown bag containing the Twinkies.

Francine finished eating right after Veronica, wiped her hands on her windbreaker, and asked for a Twinkie.

The time had come, and Veronica watched attentively as her Aunt Charlotte handed out the snack cakes one by one. Veronica gently closed her hand around the yellow sponge cake so as not to crinkle the clear plastic wrapper or its precious cargo. Turning it over, she saw the three white dots where the filing had been injected. She pinched the seams of the wrapper and carefully separated them. The odor of sugar filled her nose. She bit into one end of it and looked at the blob of white cream filing revealed therein. She took her time, relishing each bite, the sweetness, the sponginess, and then licked her fingers when she was done, suspending the finish.

After they all finished eating, Veronica’s mother told her to feed her wadded up crusts she found to the ducks. Then everyone wanted to feed the ducks, so they took their leftover sandwich ends and crackers to the edge of the lake. Veronica looked out at the black water that seemed to stretch out for miles. The lake was edged with railroad ties, large, thick, heavy, square pieces of lumber that the dark water lapped up against quietly but menacingly. The distance from the railroad ties down to the surface of the water was only two feet, but it seemed much farther to Veronica, an irretrievable, desperate distance.

Patrick stood right on the tie and leaned over to throw his bread crusts to the large geese and swans that floated on top of the water as if it were a glass plate. Some ducks and geese from the grass behind them saw what was going on and hurried over to get in on the free meal. By then, Mary, Thomas, Peter and Francine had all joined Veronica and Patrick in tossing bread from varying distances to the dark edge. Francine turned, and seeing the oncoming ducks, instantly ran away. Mary laughed and stepped away to watch, widening the stage. Thomas joined her. Veronica and Peter were trapped, frozen in between the charging ducks and the waiting water.

Patrick saw this great opportunity and seized it and Peter and Veronica by their collars. He began shouting, “Here they come! Here they come! Don’t let them bite you. They’re mean. They’re going to bite you! Back up!” He jerked them toward the edge of the lake. Veronica saw her foot land on the wooden tie and saw grease droplets ooze out under their weight and glisten in the sun.

“Let me go!” she screamed and wiggled and wrenched around to get free from his grip, keeping her eyes on the grass, the saving grass, refusing to look behind her at the bottomless pit or ahead of her at the closing phalanx. Peter began to cry and sank to the ground.

“Stop that yelling!” Rose yelled from the car.

“Ha, ha, ha. Chickens!” Patrick yelled, flinging Veronica and Peter to the grass. He charged and the ducks, “Yah! Get outta’ here.” Grabbing the bread from Veronica’s hand he yelled, “Here!” and threw the balled up crumbs to the left. The ducks pivoted, following the crumbs. Veronica stalked away from Patrick and Peter. She saw Francine with her mother by the car, Mary and Thomas to the right, the ducks to the left, and Patrick behind. She straightened her sleeves and rubbed her palm where Patrick had dug in his fingers. She looked up the grassy rise to the house where people where still in the shade, underneath the protective canopy of the porch, talking politely with their nice friends, with kindness for all and malice toward none.

The shadow of the house had lengthened across the green grass as the sun headed west behind the roof. The shadow of the peaked cone moved toward Veronica gracefully and exclusively while everyone else stood exposed in the sun, far from the shadowed line of the flat roof. She looked down at the pointed shadow near her foot and stepped into the shade.

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Saving the Box

by Marie Etzler

October 2008

            I’d seen one before, many times, in the hands of other kids – the smooth, flat rectangular box of Hot Tamales with stiff, definite corners, a narrow box, just wide enough to fit one layer of the oblong bean-shaped candies. The bright red and yellow name Hot Tamales is slanted across the package as if racing at top speed. The back of the box lists the ingredients and company address, as if even I, a skinny girl living in a trailer park, were important enough to have this information, just in case I needed it. And it worked. I felt important, part of the commerce of the world, when I finally held a box of my own in my hands.

On a rare afternoon when I was alone playing in the strip of dirt alongside the carport with my tiny ceramic pig named Piggy, I heard the faint sound of the ice cream truck. I checked my shorts pocket for the quarter I’d stolen from my older brother earlier that day and took off running as fast as my skinny arms and legs would pump in the hot Florida summer.

Stealing the quarter from him was a justifiable act, payment for getting sat on by him, his favorite thing to do the rest of us four kids. He’d grabbed whoever lacked the strength to run away fast enough, me this time, and stuffed me under the couch cushions and sat on top them, laughing while I suffocated, muffled calls for help barely escaping my crushed lungs. I can still feel rough fabric of the cushion as it scratched my face, the springing of my rib cage as he bounced up and down and the close heat and rising panic of being trapped.

Free, I ran through the yards that weren’t really yards but narrow, weedy strips of mud and grass between rectangular single-wide trailers, white boxes, above-ground coffins. My worn canvas sneakers slipped on the grass, adding a grass stain to the dingy socks, but I regained my balance and reached the ice cream truck without competition.

Standing on the hot pavement as the truck came to a stop, I looked up and down the street, from the empty lots at one end to the busy highway at the other where cars passed me by, lucky people with places to go and the means to get there. Here none of my brothers or sisters were elbowing me out of the way or complaining in line behind me to hurry up or to inspect my purchase and deprive me of this sliver of privacy I rarely got. I looked over the candy boxes displayed in the window. The power of money, a gift given by giving in to one moment of revenge, a taboo, a sin normally resisted. I slid my stolen coin across the metal counter in the truck window. The ice cream man took it like he took any other coin, and I smiled.

I hid the box of Hot Tamales candy in my pocket, muffling the sound of the candies shaking inside the box with each step by gently squeezing the box so as not to bend it. I hid it so I didn’t have to share as I was forced to with everything else, a bedroom, a bathroom, and the rest of the trailer with everyone else, seven people plus a dog. No, this was mine. Concealment complemented theft, one crime deserved another, and I made my way home with a new sense of enjoyment.

I snuck into the bedroom that I shared with my two sisters who were at their friends’ and tucked myself in a small space of about two to three feet between the end of the bunk beds and the closet.

This was my area, a place where I’d set up my little jewelry box that held the seashell necklaces and bracelets that me and my sisters hand painted. Beside the jewelry box sat a record player, the kind that came in a box like a suitcase with a carrying handle. I knelt down and tucked my ragged sneakers under my sweaty legs. I put a record on the uneven turntable, one of my sister’s LPs. She had records of the Beatles, Elvis and the Monkees. She’d written all over the cover of the Monkees album and drawn hearts around their faces. I selected the Beatles Blue Album, which was newer and cleaner and had my favorite song, “Octopus’s Garden,” a song about the happiness of being in your own secret place. From the cover photograph John, Paul, George and Ringo stared down at me over a balcony railing of a tall building. I always wondered where that building was and imagined one day I’d be in an important-looking building too. I held the needle arm over the line between the songs so it would drop right at the beginning of my favorite. I turned the volume low, and to the rhythmic pop and crackle of the needle on the record in the silence before the song, I took out the candy.

Alone with my treasure, I inched my fingertip under the flap at one end to open the box carefully so as not to tear it. Why? Because it was new. It was the only new thing I ever had my hands on in that trailer park world of hand-me-down clothes, little food, and one bicycle shared by the seven of us. There were no new clothes, new toys, new book bags, or new anything. The candy box was new, and it was mine. Smooth, not worn; brightly colored print, not faded; it said, I can afford things. It didn’t reek of the poverty that normally scented my very essence.

I kept that box long after I finished the candy. I ate the pieces slowly, savoring each one, relishing the hot cinnamon flavor inside the slightly hard gelatin casing. I’d bite each one in half and examine the white edge of crushed sugar that formed a ring around the crystalline jelly center gleaming inside. I’d tilt the box and listen to the loose candies slide to the back of the box and rest there. When I was done eating one piece, I’d tilt it back and the candies would slide forward again to the opening. I’d have to time it perfectly, using just the right amount of motion of the wrist so the beans wouldn’t spill out and cascade over my sticky hand and fall onto the thin carpet. The interior of the box was white and clean. Perfect from the factory. Unlike anything else surrounding me. But I could forget about that for the few moments that it took me to chew on one of those pieces and feel the new box in my hand. I imagined what I could do with the box afterwards. Maybe use it for pencils. If I had any money, I could keep the bills or coins in there, save them and buy more candy or albums or a bicycle to ride far and wide on. A world of possibilities between the closet and the bunk beds while the old record player popped and cracked a song.

Until someone inevitably came in. I heard the side door bang shut, feet stomp up the narrow hallway, vibrating the hollow floor below me, and I knew I’d have to explain — where did you get that? I hid the candy box in my jewelry box to delay the inevitable. The box was mine, this time was mine. I relished the last moments of privacy, the spoils of a war I fought daily. Because even a few moments are better than none.

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Every Woman Needs a Machine Gun

By Marie Etzler

June 15, 2009

Odina waited for him on the couch.

It’s hard to sneak up on someone in the desert. Ain’t nothing to hide behind. Cactus too skinny, living off what little water they can hold onto when it finally rains. Sometimes the rain is so light and brief, all the drops do is land on your windshield and stay there until they evaporate, not even enough water to gather into a droplet and run down the hot, pitted glass. Once in a while it will rain enough to smear the dirt around, but that’s it.

I’m as skinny as these cacti, as scrawny as a desert hare. Nothing much to live on, in spirit or flesh. I wonder why Jesus chose the desert for 40 days and 40 nights – or was that Moses? Jesus went out into the desert to pray. Moses was escaping; I can understand his motives a lot better. Prayer doesn’t seem to do much out here. It just evaporates like the rain.

When I met Charlie I was a waitress at a truckstop diner. Aren’t we all – an army of women, dispersed, spread across the nation, unable to unite, stuck at our posts, dispossessed, bereft of all we hoped for, waiting on men, in more than one sense. We’re a mixture of Mom and lover, feeding them and loving them, a smiling woman willing to wait on you, how often do those men see that in their lives?

Well, I guess I was never going to be a nuclear physicist anyway. I guess he liked that. They all do, men who like dumb blondes. It used to be cute, being dumb, and so was I. Now it’s worn like the fabric of this Goodwill couch inside my trailer.

I can feel the rough cloth under my thighs. TV off. Listening. Colt ready.

I hear him coming from miles away, kicking up dust on Ice Plant Road.

He’s coming to kill me. That’s what Charlie said last time I saw him as the cop placed a hand on the back of his head to get him to duck and bend down enough to get in the back of the police car.

He was tall and had a wicked grin – back when I was cute and had soft skin.

Oh, it was really gonna’ be something back then.

Back then I thought he was set apart from society, outside its stupid rules, living like Butch Cassidy, free, like I wanted to be, maybe was.

I was out in Barstow, near a highway, that’s what I like, in touch with the action, who was coming and going. The highway was like a river flowing by, and I could jump on it any time I like and move to the next town, be anonymous, be free. Nobody could tell me what to do.

When Charlie came into the diner the first time, he looked normal enough. Tall, taller than my usual tastes, but I thought he’d do, be the next on my list of men and towns.

He wore a black t-shirt, jeans and boots. He came in from the hot sun, diesel smoke, and truck noise with a set jaw and serious expression, involved in his own thoughts, and walked toward the counter.

He turned around to pick up a newspaper from a table behind him. The back of his shirt read in white letters stark against the black cotton: “ Just Fuck Me”.

A laugh burst out of me so suddenly, everyone stopped and stared.

He turned around quickly, ready to react until I pointed at his shirt, coffee pot still in my hand.

That’s when that wicked smile of his appeared across his face like a cat coming out of hiding. I guess right then he knew he had me.

He apologized for the shirt, saying he forgot he was wearing it.

“I can take it off,” he said.

As much as I wanted to see the muscles that were hinted at beneath the shirt, I knew I could wait.

I pointed to a sign on the door and said, “No shirt, no service.”

I poured him a cup of coffee. That was the first thing I ever gave him.

Now I’m going to give him a bullet in the heart – that heart that connected to mine when we made love, fast and slow, soft and hard, like we were really one, when what you want is to find someone trustworthy, someone worth the trust, and let them really see you, really look in your eyes when they kiss you. The first time Charlie kissed me it was really me kissing him. I’d waited all day, and there he was, leaning on his truck, arms folded across his big chest, biceps bulging, that smile imminent. I liked to wait, make the men wait and myself, build the anticipation. With some men, that was the best part; their lips were always a let down, not to mention the rest of them. But Charlie’s were better than most, the best so far actually. I waited until that moment when I got close enough to hear him breathe, when I could feel the energy in the air between us, tangible and connecting us before we even touched.

But he killed that connection one cold night with the muzzle of the gun that I can still feel at the base of my skull. Then, in the morning, when he didn’t even remember doing it — that’s when my heart died.

Nobody could tell me what to do back then, standing at that diner counter. Well, I’m going back to that. I think that people may try to change, like Charlie tried; I have to give him credit for that. But people eventually go back to center, obeying some rule of physics, back to who they really are. Even people you try to change. He tried to change me, talked me into leaving Barstow for Needles, but I’m going back to my center. Then I’m getting out of here. The intersection of I-40 and Highway 95 is the place I’ll go next. I’ll flip a coin and decide North or South, then East or West.

As soon as I’m done here.

I guess he thought living outside the rules meant he could treat me anyway he wanted. He may have become someone else when he was drinking, but that’s no excuse. It doesn’t change the end result. You hold a gun to a woman’s head — you don’t get the right to do that. Then come in and find me on the bathroom floor between the tub and toilet, curled up, trying to get a hold of anything I got left inside my mind, but it’s all been scraped out like the last of some cold food at the bottom of a can by a hungry soldier in a trench.

If he thinks living outside the rules means he gets to try to kill me, well then – right back at ya’ buddy.

I’m outside the rules now too.

I hear his truck skid to a stop out front.

You may have noticed how calm I am. I noticed that too, almost as if I’m watching myself. I had this sensation once before. I was washing the dishes and I held a steak knife in my hand as I let the water and suds run off the knife blade. I thought how easy it would be to stab him while he sleeps and wash off the blood, let it rinse down the drain. The calmness of that thought scared me then, but it doesn’t now. There are certain things that need to be done, and this is one of them. I accept responsibility for that. I’ve always been willing to do what needs to be done. I’d make a good criminal, actually, calculating, executing the plan.

His door slams. That off-yellow 1975 Ford pickup.

I hear his boot heels grind the gravel.

“Odina!” he yells.

This is going to be over quick.

I position the gun.

Up the steps, clomp, clomp, clomp.

I almost want to laugh at the clown-like noise his big boots make.

The screen door slows him half a second as the handle slips from his hand. I latched it. I guess he was expecting to pull it off the hinge. He pulls it again, ripping the latch from the frame. The screen door swings back and slams against the side of the trailer.

The other door is locked too.

I did that on purpose so the cops would know he broke in.

The door knob rattled as he tried it.

I could shoot him now; it would go right through the flimsy door.

But I want him to see me.

She felt his wicked smile came across her lips, transferring from him to her. It was the beginning of a weird transformation of time and space. The light inside the trailer took on an amber hue, changing from clear to tinted sepia tone as if all the molecules had begun to vibrate, agitated, colliding with each other while trying to escape.

The energy he was giving of radiated through the door. As I felt it, it energized me as if I’d hitched a ride on his wave. He didn’t know he was empowering me, but he was about to find out. I was already his inheritor, and he wasn’t even dead yet.

I saw the door kicked inward in slow motion, his big leg still in the air, the sole of his boot facing me.

He put his foot down, cantilevering himself forward as if teetering on a pivot like an oil derrick or see-saw, his foot down, across the threshold, an intruder in my house.

His face was set, a determined man with a plan, but it had no contingencies built in. And, as he saw me, the recognition and intent to fulfill his plan shifted with his eyes to the gun. For a split second, he faltered, encountering the unexpected.

I almost felt bad for him for a second. I’m a believer in being prepared. Really, the man should have been prepared for this.

But I knew he would shift gears quickly. He was always cat-like on his feet, despite his size.

I was already beginning to picture his bulk crashing backwards, his exit a complete reverse of his entrance, when he shifted and made the first move forward.

As he raised his other foot in the air to step, I pulled the trigger.

It was so loud, the sound wave pushed all the air out of the single-wide trailer. The heat was gone for a split second, and in its place a chill came over my skin. The smell of the gun fire. It is fire. I saw it.

I saw him stagger a bit off to the left, but still some momentum carried him forward toward the couch as if he were drunk and reaching for the arm of the couch to grab hold of and drop himself next to me to sleep it off.

He never made it.

I shot again. And again.

His body ricocheted back and sideways. He crashed into the wall instead of out the door.

I was disappointed.

But I held my disappointment in check.

This was the kind of man you had to make sure was dead.

And I had become the kind of woman who doesn’t believe until she sees.

Charlie gasped and reached for my ankle. He was trying to say something.

I wasn’t interested. He’d convinced me of too many things, all of them wrong.

“You don’t get to say anything anymore,” I said and shot him again.

What I didn’t know was that the cop had followed him after releasing him from jail.

Time sped up again, resumed its normal place in the world, at least for everyone else.

I heard the cop outside.

“Charlie? Odina?”

I turned my head like a wolf, senses alert.

“Odina, if you’re in there, say something.”

Up the steps.

Gun drawn.

That’s the first thing I saw, his gun as it came into view in the vertical coffin of the doorway.

I lowered my gun to my side, and for the first time in a long time, my shoulders relaxed.

“Candace Odina Romero,” the cop said as he looked over the papers I’d just signed at the morgue. “When you married Charlie, you changed your name.”
I wasn’t sure why he said that. It wasn’t a question. I was still feeling outside of time and space, just a bit off kilter, requiring me to make a conscious effort to focus my attention to get a firm grasp on what was happening in the room.

“I let him change too many things about me,” I said. I got up.

“Where you thinking about going?”

“I’m thinking of going back to my childhood name – Candi. And maybe take my stepfather’s name.”

“What was that?”

“Wolf.”

She drove off in her in 1991 white Cutlass Ciera, rusted at the door hinges, Charlie’s fingerprints smudged around the door handle, and the Colt in the trunk.

She turned onto I-40 and headed east.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

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