Averyell A. Kessler
Sweet Olive Mississippi
It’s not easy to drive a butcher knife into a man’s heart, especially when he’s holding a broken bottle of Gentleman Jack. The adventure requires strength, agility, and the fortunate element of surprise. Once begun, there’s no going back. As Daddy always said, if you step on a rattlesnake, don’t expect him to wander away. If you value life, cut his damn head off.
I’ve no fondness for walking on bits of ragged glass; but I had no choice. Our argument started calmly. Both of us were well practiced in the art of domestic jostling. Each had learned how to pick, prod, and speak dynamite words, each knowing how far to go before the evening ripened and rotted. At that point, someone – that means me – ended up with a black eye, bloody nostrils, or a swelling purple bruise. As was our pattern, he retreated to the kitchen with Mr. Daniels finest, while I climbed the stairs and sniveled in bed. This time I did not comply. When he fled into the kitchen, I followed. On that night, my kitchen was all shadows, dimly lit by a dangling bulb and the blue flare of a stovetop gas ring. Despite the dark, I saw him as clear as noon sunshine. His eyes were clouded from hours of steady sipping, his gait unsteady. But not mine. I knew who he was and what he had become. Ed Laird, my husband, my lover, my faithful companion in life, was now my enemy.
We were discussing his woman du jour, Lillian Monstead, a stunning sex goddess who flattered his libido and set his dreary life on fire. He served up a litany of my faults, recalling each one in a scalding bill of particulars. I listened quietly, as he punctuated his sermon with curses and threats. Suddenly his strength ebbed, and he stepped back, taking an audible breath. He lifted the bottle and took a deep sip, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. A wheeze rose in his chest. His eyes watered. His face flushed, and he began to choke, spewing out a cloud of mold. You’re a dead man, I thought. He took another dizzy step, then collected himself and continued his rant. He had no choice, he repeated; his tongue was vicious and sizzling. As always, it was my fault. My weak affection and distaste for physical passion had driven him into Lillian’s tender arms.
Poor Lillian. She did not know that she was the fourth in a line of tempting and irresistible women he incorporated into his sad life. Pitiful Lillian. She’d been snared by the same artful flattering and false devotion I’d swallowed before our wedding. She had, however, made a fatal mistake. She became pregnant. No bother, I’d dealt with that before. But she asked for money. Not much, only a few thousand, just enough for a fresh start in Bogalusa. It’s simple, he explained. Pay the woman and she’d disappear. He would, of course, never stray again, and the town gossips would not know of our humiliation.
“Our?” I asked. “Our humiliation?”
“You understand, doncha,” he whispered. “When a husband strays, there’s always a reason. Dudn’t happen by itself……..no ma’am,” he shouted. “Folks are gonna get to wondering…………….”
“If you and I were still……………..you know.”
“No, I don’t,” I raised my chin and looked directly into his eyes. “Wondering what?” He gasped. I ignored his growing weakness. There’s more here, I thought. Something else is happening. “Why would anyone care what passes in private between a husband and wife?”
“It’s also nobody’s business if Lillian is pregnant,” he snapped. “Keep your mouth shut!”
“Nobody? Or a certain someone?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” he screamed.
“I know you,” I hissed. “You’ve already started with another woman, haven’t you?”
“You’re an idiot. I’ve learned my lesson! I’m finished wandering.”
“You’re the idiot! I don’t believe you!”
“Take care,” he yelled. “I’m the boss in this house.”
“So, you think?”
“So, I know,” he hissed. “Get the money, in cash. I’ll give it to her tomorrow, and she’ll be out of town by Tuesday.”
“No,” I answered. It was a simple reply, but words I’d never spoken. His eyes flamed; he smashed the bottle against the stove and shook the broken end in my face. “What do you mean no?” he screamed. “I shoulda left you a long time ago.”
“How do you know she’s really pregnant?” I asked.
“Because I say so,” he answered, licking his lips, in a futile effort to erase his stupidity.
“What makes you think she’s telling the truth? Maybe she wants money so she can get away from you.”
His open palm cracked hard against my cheek. My eyes blurred. I stumbled. “Who do you think you are?” he sneered.
“I know exactly who I am,” I raged. “You want to see the real me? Come closer.”
When I raised the knife, the shock on his face was pure joy, an icy bottle of Don Perignon, a tin of beluga nestled in a snowy napkin – rare and delicious, and costly; and in this instance, worth every tin penny. My first blow was critical, knocking him to his knees. The bottle slipped from his fingers and crashed onto the floor. I watched carefully as he balled his fists yelling bitch, a word he would never say again. He reached out, knocking over a chair as he fumbled for support. The second blow came quickly, before he had a chance to rally, and was more easily done. His fists fell open, lifeless, and sterile. His mouth fluttered soundlessly, like a hooked flounder struggling for release. He reached for the knife, but his arms were cotton. After the third strike, he eyes rolled to white and he dropped to the floor in a silent puddle of whiskey and death.
I watched quietly as his breathing slowed and his strength dribbled away. When he stopped moving, I tossed the knife into the sink. It clattered against the porcelain like a shattered teacup. I stood for a moment struggling to right myself before the next ordeal began. I ran to the back door and locked it. “Calm down, think,” I mumbled. “Keep to the plan. It’s late. No one in this god forsaken town is still awake. The worst part is over; now finish it.”
I glanced at my reflection in the back-door glass and noticed that I was still human. Strangely, there was no blood on my hands, but a dark splatter of crimson arched across my neck and onto the sleeves of my favorite blouse. Damn, now I’d have to burn it. I returned to the sink, opened the spigot wide and flooded the knife. “No more of you,” I said aloud. “Not one more day.”
As you might expect, there was a lot of blood. A dead body, particularly one as large and cumbersome as his, was a liability. After all, it’s not just a pile of dirty laundry. Sweeping up the broken glass was easy but disposing of two hundred pounds of jiggling flesh would be difficult. Fortunately, I’d been making plans for a long time. I would not sleep this night.
I drew up a kitchen stool and sat quietly, until I was sure he would not revive. After an hour, his lips faded to chalk, and his face relaxed into a placid mask of innocence, as if he had never caused a moment’s pain. I closed his blank fisheyes and brushed his hair away from his forehead. Silly man. His contract with life was over with his first trespass. I couldn’t remember if I had ever loved him.
“Wait right here, honey,” I whispered. “I’ll deal with you in a minute.”
It was well after midnight. Time to bury him, as well as the past. I picked up the phone and called my only ally.