He was laying face-down on my porch, with his legs twitching, so I knew he was alive. The crack of the gunshot was reverberating in my left ear, giving a sense of unreal after-ring in my brain. I watched him twitch, then raise his head briefly, as though assessing his bearings, before it dropped again to the wood planks. If he was making any noise at that point I couldn't hear him. The gun was still in my left hand, and I thought of putting it away before I walked outside, but then I thought better. I switched it instead to my dominant right hand and ran a scenario through my head of options. If he attacked once I stepped outside, I could shoot him again, but technically by law that would make this a premeditated homicide. I wondered if the truth would hold up in court. I looked out of the broken window again and now his legs had stopped moving. Perhaps he was dying. Perhaps he couldn't get up again. Either way, I knew I had to check.
What was disturbing me was the serenity I felt as I moved through the house, holding my gun and approaching the side door. This should be upsetting me, but it was cold and factual. It was very real and very much done. By the time I reached the door and opened it, I knew that if he stood and turned on me, I would empty the remaining 4 bullets into him easily and call 911 to explain what happened. I was very OK with that as I unlocked the door and opened it.
He was not dead, that was for damn sure, and rolled over onto his side, his shocked eyes widening as he saw me holding the gun in the doorway. "D-d-d-don't sh-sh-shoot me!" he gasped, his legs twitching again and his body becoming reanimated from the initial shock.
"Where did I hit you?" I asked, and my voice was calm, unaffected. He was covered with blood, including his teeth and gums, but there were beads of blood peppering his face and shirt, and there was no pool that I could see on the weathered boards, although what was under his body I wasn't sure of.
"D-d-d..." he stuttered, and I cut him off, impatiently, my voice sharper.
"Where did I hit you?" I repeated.
"I... don't... n-n-know..." He was getting to his knees now, checking and smearing blood with his hand over his face, then staring at his red palm stupidly. "Oh god.... Oh god...."
"Do you need an ambulance?" I thought it was a generous question, really.
His bloodied hands searched his own body, and I watched him briefly before turning away, satisfied that there was no large hole gushing blood anywhere. I went back into my bedroom, still detached from this incident, and put the gun down, leaving the side door open. After several minutes he staggered in, rushing to my bathroom to stare into the large mirror at his oddly bleeding face, jerking his blood-speckled shirt up to examine his torso in the vanity lights.
I never meant for it to come to this. In fact, I had warned him several times before it happened that I would shoot him if I had to, that I would blow a hole through the door into him if he persisted in his drunken endeavors to remove the doorknob with the tools he had grabbed from my utility room. I had even pulled my rifle from under my bed and beat the barrel hole against the door at what I estimated was head-level while I listened to his metallic scratchings with the screwdriver. I had repeatedly screamed, "GET AWAY FROM THE DOOR, I HAVE A GUN!" and hoped the sound of the barrel against the wood was enough to dissuade his further efforts. I hated shooting the rifle, its kick violent and shoulder-bruising, and wasn't sure if there was even a shell in the chamber, so I switched to the preloaded revolver instead once he had given up on removing the doorknob and instead threatened to kick his way in.
Things had turned ugly way too fast between us.
I'd had some premonition that it would happen when he pulled into my driveway that Saturday afternoon and sat in his truck. I had walked around the house from the backyard, straight into his line of vision, and froze briefly with shock to see the truck. The first instinct I had was to run, but where? There were miles of fields between me and any neighbors, and what purpose would I have to run? It was too late, he was already there, sitting in my driveway. There was no more running. There was nothing left now but to face this. My second thought was how I must look, without make-up and sweating from yard work, but this was really only a superficial concern, because I didn't care how I looked to him. In fact, the worse I looked, the better. The truck door opened, and I held my breath while he stepped out and his dog jumped out after him. "Hi... Jenny?"
"Hi. What are you doing here?"
"It's good to see you, too." He slammed the truck door closed, in a regular non-angry way, and was staring at me now, then at the house, his eyes sweeping over everything around him. "I could ask you the same thing." He turned his attention back to me and smiled bigger. "Well, it's good to see you too, honey."
"What are you doing here?" It was all I could ask. It was all that was going through my mind.
"I had some time off and thought I'd look you up... I guess you heard about the rig explosion?"
"Yeah, I heard about that." It was all I could think of to say at the moment.
"Well... do I get a hug?" he asked, laughing a little as he stepped forward.
I should have run at that moment, instead of forcing my own laugh and moving into his embrace.
The afternoon had been as surreal as the shooting had been. He was a foreign object that moved through my rooms, staring intently at my walls, opening closed doors, examining my paintings and me like some giant scientist's eye coming close to a microscope lens. I didn't want the questions, which were carefully superficial, yet gently probing. I made coffee while he looked out of the kitchen window and asked, "How far does this property extend?"
"To the trees at the end of the field."
"Back there?" he asked, looking to me for confirmation as he pointed.
"Yeah. The far back tree line." I poured creamer and sugar into my cup while the steam hissed through the coffee machine.
"That's pretty damn big, Jenny. How many acres do you have here?"
"There's roughly 80, if you count the county easements. They say they're not mine, but I'm the one cutting the grass, so I say they are."
"Wow. I'm impressed. Are those your crops?"
"They were Lee's."
"Is that the guy who died?"
"Yeah." I poured the coffee, aching. "That's the guy who died."
"Who's tending them now?"
"I don't know... there have been some tractors coming out since the funeral, but no one bothered stopping to introduce themselves."
"What are you going to do with it after harvest?"
"I don't know yet. I was letting Lee handle things for me. I don't know now."
As an after thought, he turned and said, "I'm sorry about that. How did he die?"
"He was murdered."
"He was poisoned. Do you want some coffee?"
"Sure. He wasn't a coffee drinker, was he?"
"I don't know. I didn't poison him, if that's what you mean."
He grinned, then stopped when he saw I wasn't smiling. "I'm sorry, I was just trying to lighten the mood a little."
"I really don't want to talk about Lee anymore," I said, staring out at the field now dotted with green shoots. Lee had worked hard on this crop.
"Ok, I'm sorry hon. Hey, this coffee is good. No chicory, I'm surprised...."
"What are you doing here?"
"Well, waiting for you got really boring, and then after the oil spill, I thought I would come see you."
"I wanted to see where my wife was living these days..."
"I'm not your wife, Joe."
He sipped his coffee and cocked his head a little sideways, "The State of Louisiana says you are."
"Well, they're fucked up on a lot of issues, aren't they?"
"So, you don't want to be married to me then?" he asked.
"I left your ring on the table..."
"Yeah, I found it. Got your voicemail, too. I appreciated it. But you didn't mention not wanting to be married."
"I had a lot on my mind." I remembered grabbing my clothes that day, and pulling the ring off in the last act before I walked out the door.
"Well, the funeral is over... I didn't realize our marriage went with it."
"I left your ring on the table." I repeated.
"Yeah." He dug out his wallet, and pulled it from one of the tiny leather slots, putting it on the table in front of me. "I brought it back to you, in case you were wondering where you'd put it." When I didn't pick it up, he continued, "I guess you hadn't forgotten or misplaced it then... You left it on purpose."
I stared at it to avoid looking at him and finished my coffee.
"Do you think that just makes something over?"
he asked. "You take the ring off and it's all over?"
"It was a mistake, the whole thing."
"I don't think it was a mistake. Why did you decide it was a mistake? What did I do?"
I don't know how to answer questions like that. Instead I went for more coffee, and answered, "I don't know you, ok? And you don't know me..."
"Well, I'm here to change all that."
I knew at some point the storm was coming. I had watched him be polite all afternoon to the friends coming in and out of my house, to the people who seemed to belong around me while he didn't, and I knew something bad was going to happen eventually, just not quite so soon. I didn't want to throw him out, was even slightly curious to observe him trying to make sense of the situation, and I really thought a night of gin and tonics might help me recapture something that I'd seen in him. After all, we had met drunk, married drunk.... what could a few drinks between us hurt now? But then again, we hadn't been drinking gin then, and we were now, and gin sometimes has the opposite effect on others than it does on me.
"It's hot in here..." he had said, and I laughed about gin being an internal heater, a drink that makes you lose clothes. I had relaxed a little, which was a mistake, and was sitting on my bed watching television while he used my computer to check his email. "What's this?" he had asked, glancing through my documents folders, finding some writings I had stored. "You write poetry?"
"Close that," I ordered, getting up now to walk over and take the mouse from him, snapping the files closed.
"You're a poet?"
"I want to read some!"
"I don't let people read them. I don't like them very much."
"Let me read one."
"Oh come on, let me read your bad poetry!" he laughed, starting to open the file again when I snatched the mouse from his hand.
"I said NO!"
"Ok, fine... Jesus Christ. Why are you mad?"
"Why are you here?" I demanded. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
"I told you, I came to see you..."
That was when he started his listing, his temper rising with the numbers he was spitting out. "Well, number one, my wife skips town telling me she has to go to a funeral, and number two, she doesn't return my telephone calls... number three, I thought that I would go see her since I don't have anything else now..."
"Why aren't you fishing? Aren't you supposed to be fishing right now?"
"Fishing? Nobody is fishing, there's a goddamn oil spill that's ruining the area..."
"I saw on the news that they're opening fishing season early..."
"Yeah, but nobody is fishing yet... it's propaganda bullshit, the whole gulf is going to be ruined by this..."
"So, why are you here?"
"What, you don't want me in your house? You were living in my house..."
"Your apartment... and you invited me."
"Yeah, I did... so?"
"So, I didn't invite you to come to mine!"
He tried a different approach, and said, "Look, if you're upset I'm here, I'll leave, alright? I'm a little drunk though, so if I can at least stay tonight, I'll leave tomorrow..."
"I just thought... you might be glad to see me, I don't know what I was thinking... I missed you. I thought maybe you missed me a little."
"This wasn't what I had planned."
"Planned? What do you mean?"
"This wasn't what I planned to do tonight."
"You had plans? What were they? What did I interrupt?"
"I had planned to relax and drink and watch boxing..."
"You PLANNED to get drunk and watch television? That was your PLAN?"
"So, I've fucked up your PLANS? Well, I had planned to see my wife and..."
"Don't call me that..."
"My WIFE!" he repeated, louder and nastier now, glowering from my computer chair, "And maybe even have sex, who knows, it's been a month...."
"You came here to fuck me?" I laughed, just as nasty, "Well you must be disappointed, because that is NOT going to happen!!!" and turned up the volume on the television as he launched into another indignant barrage of his intentions.
You should never turn up the volume on your television when a drunk redneck man is making a point. You should also never keep hammers in your bedroom, which I did because I hated walking all the way to the utility room, which was across the house and down the hallway, when I needed a hammer. He had the hammer in his hand, moved to my television set at the end of the bed, and as he raised to swing it, I realized, this man doesn't handle his gin very well.
"Don't do it!" I screamed. "Stop, Jesus, do NOT break my television!" I hastily snapped it off with the remote and subjected myself to the next several minutes of his enraged indignities, sliding into the role of "I'm sorry!" trying to diffuse a situation that was beyond diffusing, thinking he would eventually wear himself out after he had his say. Such was not the case, and finally I cried, hoping tears would forgo any further verbal abuses, finally running out of the room. That was when he locked the bedroom door, locking himself inside.
Usually there were other people in the rest of the house, but this particular weekend everyone was out and running, so I walked through the rest of my house, trying not to think of him on my computer and in my privately recorded thoughts. I decided that food might help and went to the refrigerator to find something to fix that would be easy, fast, and set well after gin. I chose chicken and dumplings, since there was a pot of boiled chicken I'd made the day before for soup, and I put it on the stove and went to the living room to salvage the rest of the evening by watching the big-screen television. Unfortunately, it had been a long day, and before the food was ready, I fell asleep on the cushions.
I woke badly with him cursing the burning food on the stove and coming out of the kitchen into the living room to stand over me screaming. "Are you trying to burn the fucking house down?"
I was tired and the gin had me in a sleep-cloud. "Fuck you," I think I said before he slapped me and dragged me up by my neck, shoving me toward the kitchen. I know I was wide awake by the time I hit the wall, and the thought that this was MY house, MY kitchen, and that I could burn it down if I damn well wanted, was front and center in my brain when he barked behind me, "Clean this shit up!"
Then I saw the stove burner was still on, despite the billowing smoke. I realized, he had walked to the stove, assessed the damage, and had left it burning to come make me turn it off. And that was what caused me to completely snap. I grabbed the pot and swung around, slamming it into his stomach, which caused him to scream out in shocked pain, and I went into full attack mode.
"Is this what you want?" I screamed. He stumbled backwards and I hit him again with the burning pot, trying to hold it against the skin as long as possible while he howled and struggled. The liquid had boiled dry but the smoking chicken stuck to the pot now loosened as he wrestled me for the pot, hitting his bare arm and causing him to scream again. "Is this what you want, mutherfucker, a fight???" I screamed, "Because you've got it!!!"
By the time he got the cooking pot from my hands, I had spun and ran into the bedroom, locking the door. And that is when he went for the tools, deciding that he would take the doorknob off to get to me. That was when I went for the guns. That was when the situation became irreversibly ugly.
Now he was in the vanity mirror, searching for a bullet hole and finding instead the burns on his stomach and a grazed cut on his side where the bullet had missed him. He gingerly touched his face, which was full of tiny slivers of glass from the shattered window. "I need your help!"
"With what?" I watched him, not with disinterest but definitely without emotion, definitely not caring as my brain began to register the rush of events that had just happened between us.
"I'm full of glass... I need your help..."
"Do you honestly think I'm going to pick the glass out of your fucking face after you made me shoot you?" I demanded, keeping my voice harsh. I walked into the bathroom, and he jumped back away from me as I dug around in my vanity drawer for a pair of tweezers, which I threw on the countertop. "You started this shit, do it yourself! I'm calling the police."
"To take me to jail for shooting you."
"Don't call the fucking police, Jenny! Don't do it!" He rushed forward and grabbed the cell phone I had retrieved from my purse, throwing it across the room into the bathroom.
"Why not? I'm saving you the trouble of reporting me..."
"Because they will arrest you, and I don't have the money to bail you out!"
I stared at him, incredulous. "Do you think I want to be bailed out? I want to go to jail! I do not want you to bail me out!"
"Why do you want to go to jail?" he demanded.
"Because if you think I'm going to let you hold this over my head and threaten me with it, you're fucking crazy! And I don't want to be here with you, or I will kill you for real!"
"You're not calling the fucking cops!"
"FINE! Then I'm leaving!"
"You can't leave, you're drunk...."
"No, YOU are drunk, and I am NOT staying here tonight!" I went for my purse, and he grabbed that first, thinking my keys were in it, I suppose. But I keep a spare key in my car, and when he went to the bathroom to retrieve my phone, I went out the door and was in my car backing out of the driveway by the time he ran out. I added a generous spray of gravel to the glass in his face and drove aimlessly for awhile, thinking, until I realized, it was pointless. It was at least 1am when I finally pulled off onto an old rutted road in the middle of Mr. John Stricker's cornfield and fell asleep in the backseat with the windows rolled down.
Despite the heat and mosquitoes, it was the best sleep I've had in a long time.