The air was thick and listless; the scant breeze doing little to stir the oppressive heat. Insects chirped, tweeted and screeched in the thick underbrush. Sitting on the porch I watched the world silently pass me by. Distantly I could hear someone listening to a late ball game on a transistor radio; a young girl I recognized from the neighborhood rode past on her pink bike. There were playing cards clattering in the spokes as she hummed to herself. I wondered how she managed to stand the heat, but then realized that it didn't matter; I had my own problems to deal with. I looked at my hands, realizing the blood was coagulating, getting sticky and would soon be near impossible to both wash off and to clean up. I could hear the unmistakable buzz of flies already congregating inside.
I stood. My arms felt like lead from the numerous times I had swung the hammer, I reckoned. It was odd how quickly a life could be snuffed out with such a primitive weapon. It was further strange that I felt little remorse, or fear for what I had done. I knew that I would have to call the sheriff eventually, before the smell got around, and in this heat, it wouldn’t take long. Air conditioning might be making its way through the big city, but out here in the sticks it was nothing more than a whispered rumor. I glanced once more at the still evening outside the screened in porch, and understood that this would likely be the last time I would see something like this as a free woman. I laughed at that; I was in thrall to whatever fate had ready for me. The man who claimed to be my father would no longer be making late night visits to my room, there would be no more biting of the pillow, hands over my mouth to snuff the screams and moans. There would be no more late night shameful scrubbing of blood stained sheets either, most of all there would be no more worrying about getting pregnant from my father’s tainted seed. As I went inside and swung the door shut, I unbuttoned my denim cutoff shorts, white panties standing out in stark contrast to my long, toned and tanned legs. I yanked the reddened t-shirt off, my tattered bra covered equally in blood, so I stripped out of it too. All my clothes were dropped in a heap near the rickety kitchen table. As I made my way past the flesh sack that once was a man, reduced to a whimpering shell, finally eradicated from humanity entirely, I kicked him, feeling the shock travel up my leg and into my thigh. I once more contemplated burning this whole house of iniquity, sin, and incest to the ground, but knew that I’d go to jail for long enough for simply turning his head into jelly. For some reason I couldn’t explain I didn’t want to further add to my charges. Making my way to the bathroom I hoped the decrepit well out back would pump cold water up from the deep aquifer underground, knowing that the pump itself was in awful need of repair. Father had instead chosen to drink most the days away, laying blame for our predicament on everything but his own laziness. Entering the bathroom, I shut the door behind me, and opened the warped wood cabinet over the toilet. Snatching a ragged towel and hand cloth cut from some old work shirt of my fathers, I shut the cabinet and sat on the edge of the chipped porcelain clad iron tub. As I turned on the calcium encrusted spigot the pipes farted air, and sputtered a small gush before the decrepit pump finally blessed me with flowing water. Putting my hand under the water, I shivered at its icy coolness, looked mournfully at the hot water spigot, and knew the hot water heater was long since shot, another victim of my father.
The tub filled up quickly. Easing into the icy water, I felt my nipples harden, and I couldn't hel the hiss that escaped me. The water turned a pinkish hue as the gore comingled with the cool well water. I grabbed the white bar of soap off the dingy metal tray, dunked the rag into the water, and began lathering up. Soon the rag was as red and pink as the water. I paused in my bathing long enough to drain the tub, clean the rag and refill the tub with fresh water. My father would have read me the riot act for being so wasteful, but screw him, let the maggots enjoy their new feast. Because the second tubful remained mostly clear I slid underwater and stayed there long enough for my lungs to beg for fresh air. Breaking the surface, I lounged against the chipped porcelain tub, hooking my legs over the edge, and draped the rag over my eyes, feeling the stress of murder ease out of my body. Soon I was drifting off to sleep. At first I was filled with memories of happier times, when my mother and brother were still alive. Those memories disolved into a night of horror when my father, drunk as hell had wrecked it all. I recall being thrown from the pickup’s bed; I remember watching as the truck was crushed against an ancient live oak. The memory dream faded away, as I tossed in my sleep, splashing water onto the floor. I settled down, and my sleep evened out.
‘Chelsea Dawn! Get your ass in here!’ My father hollered from the kitchen. I was at my door in an instant, looking down the short hallway, wondering what I’d done to receive my father’s ire. As I walked into the kitchen, he stood near the table, his battered silver lunch pail sitting on the floor between his feet. He had a familiar sullen look on his face, and I noticed with some disappointment that he clutched a beer in one hand, a brown bag presumably filled with more beers in the other.
‘Yeah daddy, what do you need?’ I asked, striving for a neutral tone.
‘Where the hell is my supper?’ He bellowed, tossing the near empty can at me.
Through all his faults my father had impeccable aim, and the can bounced off my head, leaving a crescent cut across my forehead. I flinched back from the can, hand flying to the cut on my face. I could already feel a knot starting to form under my hand.
‘Daddy we ain’t got nothing to cook but potatoes, and they’re so gone to rot that I had to toss ‘em out yesterday!’ I cried from under my hand.
‘Girl don’t you be getting smart with me!’ He screamed, his temper starting to rise. He reached to his waist to pull off the worn leather belt he’d always worn, realized that he still wore his greasy blue pinstriped coveralls, and instead covered the distance between us in two easy steps, his thick work boots clodding heavily on the thin wooden floor.
Before I could brace myself for the blow, he backhanded me, knocking me back into the wall. I bounced off, and fell. I began to get mad, and knew I had to control it, or be further beat. Instead, I leapt to my feet quickly, dropping my head, hating that I was reduced to such a sniveling child. ‘I’m sorry daddy.’ I said meekly, hoping to avoid anymore of his temper. The knot on my face throbbed and competed with the knot forming on my lip.
‘I swear we don’t have nothing to eat!’
‘We’ll see about that.’ My dad said crossly, walking into the kitchen, yanking the pantry door open. He slammed it shut and began pulling cabinet doors open as if they would magically form food. ‘Well, hell, child, why didn’t you say so sooner?’ He asked, his anger dissolving into a gentler voice. It was the tone he used late at night when he came into my room. In many ways I preferred his temper. At least then I knew he wouldn’t be pawing at me. He yanked his battered wallet from the back pocket of his droopy coveralls and pulled out a tattered five. He tossed it to me as he made his way into the living room. ‘Go into town and get something for supper.’ He stopped and thought about it, dropping three more dollar bills on the ground. ‘Go ahead and get you a soda or two, okay kiddo? Take the truck.’
With that declaration he went into the living room, pulling another Lonestar from the bag. He fell into his tattered recliner, realized that he hadn’t turned on the television, and eyed me moodily. Controlling the urge to sigh or roll my eyes I went over and turned on the television. I didn’t wait to see if it was something he’d want to watch. Instead, I banged my way outside, ignoring his departing yell about slamming the door. I got into the beat to hell Ford that my father had bought shortly after killing my family, hoping that it both had enough gas to get into town and that it would start at all. It caught on the second attempt, and lurched forward, a telling sign that the clutch was on its last legs. I pumped the pedal and finally managed to get it into reverse with little grinding. I didn’t worry about being pulled over or having a license, this being the sixties and such a small town the local sheriff’s office didn’t much bother with traffic stops if they knew you.
I pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store, and immediately wished my father hadn’t sent me into town. A brand new bottle green Cadillac was parked in front of the store, taking up two spots and I knew that I would be under scrutiny from Mr. Hansen, the store manager. For some reason to him, being poor meant that you were inclined to steal, and if your father was a drunk, like mine, then the chances that you were a thief were near a certainty. I sighed, and pushed the door open, relishing the blast of cool air. I had eight dollars and knew that I could get a steak or two, some potatoes, and some tea and sugar. I eyed the soda machine near the registers with a pang of longing, but ignored it, knowing that I had to get as much from the eight dollars that I had.
Someone was knocking on the door, and I jerked awake. I looked around the bathroom wild-eyed knowing that I had to answer the door or give myself away. I leapt from the tub, wrapping myself in the towel. I made it to the kitchen, pushing my dirty clothes back with my foot, and leaned around the table. It was our neighbor, Mrs. Carson; she was nosy.
‘Mrs. Carson?’ I asked, pulling the door open a crack, leaning out of it. ‘May I help you?’
‘Young lady, I swear I heard screaming coming from over here earlier, any truth to that?’ She asked, trying to see around me, but I crowded the door.
‘Screaming?’ I asked, looking puzzled. ‘Why no ma’am, there ain’t been no screaming over here at all, my pa wouldn’t stand none for it.’
‘Where is your daddy anyway young lady?’ She asked sternly.
‘Oh he’s lying down, said his head wasn’t feeling good.’ I smiled brightly, hoping to disarm any suspicions she had. ‘I was in the tub when you knocked, sorry it took me so long.’
‘Well, then…’ She said mollified, turning to leave. ‘You shouldn’t answer the door in a towel, it isn’t proper.’ Mrs. Carson said as a parting shot.
‘Yes ma’am.’ I answered contritely, watching as her yellow bouffant hairdo stacked crazily departed around the corner of our property.
Shutting the door with a firm click, I leaned against it, taking in the carnage. For some reason there wasn’t much in the way of splatter, or gore, except for a few streaks against the ceiling and walls, and the large sticky puddle around his head. I could smell the coppery rich blood, and the distinct odor of shit. My father had messed himself; well pity that. I eyed the black phone hanging on the wall, not wanting to make the call, knowing I had to. Mr. Jenson would notice that his best mechanic hadn’t shown up for work tomorrow and would be knocking on the door next, and then there was the fact that it would be mighty suspicious if a sixteen year old was seen tooling around town by her lonesome all the time. Dropping the towel and standing naked in the kitchen, I made my way to the phone. As I lifted the receiver to my ear it felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. I listened to the telltale buzz, zipped the rotary dial around from zero and finally got the nasally voice of the operator. ‘Can you connect me to the sheriff’s office please?’ I asked swallowing hard. This was turning out to be more difficult than I’d imagined.
‘Can I tell him why you’re calling?’ The operator asked, striving for neutrality, but her intentions were clear; she wanted some gossip for the beauty parlor. Well, she wouldn’t be getting it from me.
‘Well, I’d rather not say over the phone ma’am.’ I answered.
‘Please hold.’ She huffed moodily. I heard several clicks and a ringing before the phone was answered.
‘Sheriff’s office, may I help you?’ Another female voice answered sweetly.
‘Yes ma’am, may I speak to the sheriff please?’ I asked yet another person. ‘May I ask who’s calling?’ ‘Chelsea Lewis ma’am, is he in?’
‘Hang on sweetie.’ She answered, clicking gum. The phone was dropped with a noisy clatter, and I heard a door creak open. I heard distant voices but couldn’t make out the conversation, or who was talking. Soon the phone was picked up off the desk.
‘Sheriff, may I help you?’ A deep voice intoned.
‘Yes sir, this is Chelsea Lewis, I need you to come out to my house please… it’s about my father.’ I finished after a beat.
‘Care to tell me what Carl’s done now young lady?’ He asked kindly. ‘Well no sir, this is one of those things I’d really like to tell you in person if I may.’
‘Be right there.’ He answered hanging up. I was shocked that he ended the conversation so abruptly, and knew that the operator hadn’t disconnected when she put me through to his office. I didn’t care because I didn’t say anything to implicate myself over the phone.
Suddenly I realized that I was stark naked in the kitchen next to my father, the man whose life I just ended. I debated kicking him once again, but thought better of it, instead choosing to go to my room and get dressed.
When the sheriff knocked on the door, I had gotten dressed in one of the only decent dresses I had. It was a white, thin linen sundress dappled with pale blue flowers. I remembered that my mother had made it for me shortly before she died and because of that I only wore it on special occasions. I supposed I would wear it to my court appearance; it can’t get much more special than that. I heard someone banging on the screen door, and was thankful that the man had manners unlike my neighbor. I was greatful he had the decency to wait on the steps and not barge onto the porch. Making my way through the kitchen carefully, skirting the coagulated puddle of blood, brains and pieces of skull. I stood at the door bracing myself for whatever was to come next, opened it up, felt a smilie begin to form, thought better of it and just nervously waded onto the porch. My heart dropped further when I saw the young deputy standing near the sheriff. I recognized Bobby McAlister from around town. He was a sweet, handsome young man, only about eight or nine years older than me. He stood behind and to the right of the sheriff and further away on the next property over I saw the unmistakable nightmare yellow hair watching us sharply. The biddies would have something to talk about at the beauty parlor after all. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was on the phone with the operator as she spied the goings on.
‘Sheriff, Bobby.’ I said cordially to each as I opened the screen door. Won’t y’all come on in; you’re going to need to see this.’ I turned to allow them access, but was surprised when the sheriff put a hand in Bobbie’s chest.
‘Wait here for a second Bobby, what do you say?’ He asked gently, but firmly. Bobby looked like he wanted to protest, but instead bobbed his head once and walked down the stairs and stood in the yellow, dying yard. The sheriff followed me inside, and shut the door behind us. He looked at me pitifully a moment before saying anything. ‘So you killed your father, huh young lady?’ He asked in a tone of voice that escaped me. I couldn’t tell if it was anger, or disgust.
‘Yes sir, I did.’ I answered, swallowing the sudden lump in my throat.
‘God damn it, I knew this would happen eventually.’ He said taking in the kitchen, and the mess near the table. ‘I’ve got to say that the son of a bitch had it coming, yes he did.’ He squatted down, digging a pack of filterless Camel cigarettes from the pocket of his khaki shirt, seemed to contemplate offering me one, but instead pulled a battered silver lighter emblazoned with a military patch of some type from his pocket. He lit his cigarette, rubbed smoke from his eyes, and looked at my father’s body. ‘Hang on a second, okay?’ He asked, standing, his knees popping loudly in the small kitchen. I followed him outside, where he whistled for Bobby. The young deputy turned and trotted to the porch.
‘Yeah, Hank, you need me now?’ He asked a bit touchily.
‘Actually, yeah, Bobby, I do. I need you to go into town and wake up Lester. Tell him we got a body out here.’
‘She the perp?’ Bobby asked curiously.
‘Don’t you worry about that none Bobby, just go get Lester, and if the old bastard complains too much, tell him that Hank said he will forget the little promise he made to Miss Kitty. And as for you…’ He merely eyed Bobby and their eyes exchanged a secret that I was not privy to. Bobby seemed to understand what his boss was saying, nodded and returned to his black and white Ford cruiser parked haphazardly on the curb. The sheriff watched the car depart a moment before turning back to the house. He waved at Mrs. Carson, whose hair I could see jerk suddenly. He shut the kitchen door, took me by the hand and led me into the living room. ‘Sit down young lady.’ He said snuffing his cigarette into the overflowing ashtray on the scarred end table. ‘You and I need to have a talk.’
‘Yes sir.’ I whispered, taking a seat on the battered couch, trying to keep my fear under rein.
‘I should have done this years ago, long before any of this happened… I reckon I’m going to answer to the man upstairs about that.’ He sat on the recliner opposite me, and took me by the hands. He rubbed them gently. I didn’t feel any lecherous intent from his contact, only a kindness.‘I knew your mother.' He declared softly. 'You see, Amy and I were something of an item back when we were younger, but then I went off to fight the Krauts and she and I lost contact for a few years, but then your father moved in and kept her company plenty good.’ I could detect an undercurrent of bitterness in his voice. ‘You see, your father was declared 4-A, unfit for duty because of his back. Anyway, that’s not important, what’s important is…’ He stopped and his deep blue eyes regarded me a moment. For some reason something began to click then. Something in the way he was eying me, something in the way he looked. I don’t mean his facial expression, though that played a part, I mean his face. It looked distantly familiar; I saw it every time I looked in the mirror. ‘There’s a strong possibility that I am your father Chelsea.’ He dropped his hands and brushed them across his face. ‘You see when I got back from France, your mother had moved on, or rather was moved on by Carl. He and I never got along all the way back to grammar school. It had some to do with the fact that his family was no good. His uncle was in and out of Huntsville more times than I care to count, his momma and daddy were drunks and constantly running ‘shine out of their house, and Carl, he was just a bad seed from the get go.’ He paused, and looked at me, looked beyond me at the kitchen. ‘Of course I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but Carl wasn’t ever worth a tinkers damn.’ I barely heard anything the man had said beyond his first sentence, I was thunderstruck.
‘Why… if… you… suspected, then…’ ‘Why didn’t I come forward sooner?’ He sighed, and took my hands again, something I was finding more and more comforting.
‘Because I am a goddamn coward, and will be answering that question for all eternity. You see, after I got back from France, your mother had married Carl, but there was still heat there between she and I and, well… one day we jumped and that heat sparked and flared up. She caught pregnant, and we were in a panic as what to do, but in the end we chose to let Carl think he was your daddy; hell, he might very well be, but I highly doubt that. You see, Carl junior was only three at the time, and Amy did not want to break up her family even though I suspected Carl was tuning her up. She loved me dearly, but she had little Carl to care for, so she just stayed with big Carl.’
‘And now she’s dead.’ I said with anger. I turned my heat towards the man that could be my father. ‘Was daddy always a drunk?’
‘Yeah, I don’t know how many times I pulled him over and wound up driving his drunken ass home.’
I said nothing, feeling my rage ebb. Being angry at this man would be akin to tilting windmills. My mother was dead, and the man that was responsible lay on the kitchen floor with his head caved in. Justice got to us all eventually.
‘So what happens now?’ I asked, dreading this part.
‘That the hammer you used?’ Hank asked instead, nodding towards the blood soaked hammer that lay near to my father’s body.
‘Yes sir it is.’ I answered, realizing that I hadn’t picked up my blood stained clothes.
‘Well, what’s going to happen is that I am going outside to smoke a cigarette. When I come back in, that hammer and those clothes are going to be gone. I suggest… we bury the past, what do you say?’ He asked dropping a wink. I took his meaning at once and nodded savagely. ‘Oh and do hurry there is one other thing we need to do.’ He said this last part with a touch of regret, and I wondered what he meant.
I ran to my room, shaking out of my dress, dropping it on the floor, picked it up after a moment, dug around in my battered dresser for a pair of shorts, and another blouse. Quickly getting dressed, and hurrying down the hallway zipping my shorts, I looked around the kitchen noticing the house was deserted. I went to the pantry and yanked out a brown paper bag, causing an avalanche to pour forth. Ignoring it I hurried to my pile of clothes, paused when I got to my panties, and picked up the hammer with them. Stuffing it all into the bag I ran out the front door with my booty under my arm, grabbing a spade that lay nearly forgotten and rusted on the porch. I wiggled under the raised porch, and crawled on my hands and knees, pushing the bag in front of me. I crawled deep under the house, and began digging a hole. The soft dirt gave way easily, and I was able to bury the hammer and clothes with relative ease. Soon I was out from under the house and back inside.
I leaned out the back door, and spied the sheriff leaning on the fender of daddies pickup, a plume of smoke forming a white halo around his head. He saw me, and pitched his cigarette away. ‘Finished?’ He asked walking towards the house, looked up the street, and hurried his step a bit. ‘Come inside with me.’
‘Yes sir.’ I answered to both his questions. I followed him back into the living room. Instead of sitting again, he turned to me with a look of regret in his eyes.
‘Now Chelsea, I’ve got to do something that makes me physically ill to my stomach, but is something that we both need to do to make this whole situation believable, do you understand?’
‘No sir, I don’t.’ I answered truthfully. He sighed, his shoulders drooping.
‘What I’m saying is that I need to give you a shiner.’
‘What? Why?’ I asked stunned.
‘Because the story is that someone your father knew knocked on the door, they got into a tussle, you came into the kitchen to see what the fuss was, and got knocked in the head, when you came to, your father was dead, and the mystery man was gone.’ He looked at me a moment longer. ‘I know you’ve got steel in you young lady, so are you ready for this?’
‘No sir I’m not, but go ahead, let’s get this over.’ I said immediately choosing to go along with this, hell I had no choice; I’d already killed my father and buried the evidence.
He didn’t warn me, instead hitting me in the face with his big meaty hand. It rocked my head back; he was quick to catch me before I could fall. My vision grayed, and I felt my knees buckle, and I was grateful that he caught me.
‘Easy honey, easy does it, let’s get you to the couch, okay?’ He asked guiding me in that direction.
‘No, I’m fine. I need to get changed before Bobby gets back.’ I said, staggering down the hallway to my room. I felt my eye begin to swell, and knew that I would have a helluva shiner in a few minutes, probably less. As I put my dress back on my head began to clear. I went from grateful to curious that this man was trying to help me.
‘So... why?’ I asked coming back into the living room, noticing that Hank had sat back in the recliner, steepling his fingers under his chin. A burning cigarette smoldered in the ashtray to his right.
‘Outside the obvious, you mean?’ He asked looking at me, taking his cigarette from the ashtray.
‘Because we all deserve a second chance, hell Chelsea, this is your first one, you’ve never had any.’ He drug deeply from his cigarette and returned it to the ashtray. ‘The way you flinched away from me when I first got here proved something to me, something that your mama had suspected for awhile.’ He looked at me, his deep blue eyes piercing, and I could feel the heat of his anger building, and could imagine sparks flying from the tips of his immaculately groomed sandy blonde flat top. ‘He’s been at you.’ He said this as a statement, not a question, and there was no mistaking the anger it contained. ‘You want to know something else? I had a feeling that Carl knew more than he was willing to let on. Your mama told me long before she died, oh when you were naught but about two or three, that she assumed Carl knew about our little tryst. And knowing that sly son of a bitch, I’d be willing to bet that he managed to put two and two together and knew what me and Amy only suspected.
‘And he got after me because he thought that he wasn’t my daddy, that it was okay, that he could poke and prod me because we weren’t blood relations.’ I said, feeling my gut clench. For an answer, Hank merely nodded and smiled grimly.
All that happened two years ago, Hank managed to get custody of me when it turned out that his missus was barren and couldn’t carry any children of her own. A county judge that Hank knew and had occasion to play cards with perfunctorily argued about the adoption but dropped his protests when it became apparent that nobody would be rushing forward to claim me. It really was just me against the world. Well until Hank took me under his wing. Melissa was a fine woman and she and I got on like gangbusters. There was no jealousy from either one of us. We were less like mother and daughter and more like sisters or best friends. Hank and I grew to love one another in a really short time and, and I was happy that this man was my father. The investigation into my ‘father’s’ murder went nowhere quick. Turned out that he knew all kinds of undesirables, and the list of people who wanted him dead was long. Bobby was suspicious of what happened inside that house but never really raised much of a stink. I am much happier now, and even managed to get a tidy sum of money from selling the house and most of everything that was inside it. Hank made me set it aside for my college, and when I looked at him like he was crazy; me going to college! He merely shrugged wisely and said that I had a good head on my shoulders. I told you that I loved Hank, didn’t I?