‘Father, I killed my monkey
I... let it out to
taste the sweet of spring.
Wonder if, I will wander, out
test my tether to
See if I'm still free...
TORI AMOS, Bliss
In the wee hours of the morning, the reverend lead his congregation and their hunting hounds straight to the cabin door. They tied me and gagged me and put an old potato sack over my eyes.
James Bolton, who led the choir on sundays threw me over his meaty shoulder and carried me into the moonlight. The town’s folk had been working hard piling up the kindling all night. They brought whatever they had lying around, branches from a tree fallen in a storm, broken yard furniture, a stack of rotten crates. A pile of unused fence pickets that may once have been painted white. Even the rotten old sofa that had been on Nella Ray’s front porch for a coon's age got broken up and thrown on to the pile. Everyone found something to bring, everyone worked hard, after all the devil makes use of idle hands.
Bolton flung me high onto the woodpile, I landed hard on my hip. I couldn’t stand with my hands and feet tired. There was no point in even trying. The reverend did the honors, lighting the fire with the silver engraved lighter, his wife had given him for Christmas.
I woke with a scream. Sweltering under the coverings I’d piled on the night before. They had only found me in my dreams, but the desperate waiting felt crueler. If only they had shot me in the back of the head while I was sleeping.
It must have been close to noon because the sun was high in the sky. My dress was still a muddy ball on the floor where I’d left it. I was bare enough without being naked as well. I grabbed the sheet off the cot and ripped into it, then I fastened it around me so at least I had something to wear.
I opened the little food cupboard P’a locked with a bolt, though I never seen a raccoon use a can opener. There was three tins of beans, a tin of spaghetti O’s, one minted peas, two tins of franks, a big tin of spam and right at the back was the prize, a tin of rice pudding. There was also a few packs of Ramen noodles and a tin half full of stale Saltines. On the second shelf there was a jar of instant coffee, a sack of sugar, a packet of powdered milk and a tin of condensed cream.
I opened the condensed cream and ate it with the Saltines, there was no one to tell me not to do. I shoved them in my mouth as quickly as I could with the white sticky syrup dripping down my fingers. When I’d had my fill I took down the pot from it’s hook and took it outside, along with the spade and a roll of toilet paper.
I went off into the woods a way dug a hole to do my business in, I had to squat there for what felt like an hour with my thighs wobbling like jelly, all the while expecting an angry snake to bite me on the backside or James Bolton to grab me from behind. When at last I was done I went back to the cabin, filled the pot from the rain barrel, took it inside and lit the little propane stove.
When the water was boiled I made myself a strong cup of coffee. Then I poured the rest into the rusty bucket, added in some more cold water that I fetched from outside and used some soap and wash rag to clean myself off.
Then I went to work on my poor dress. Black with a pink daisy pattern, it had been my best going to town frock. When I was done I dragged the rocking chair outside and hung my dress over the back to dry.
Wanting to keep myself busy I decided to venture into the woods and set a few rabbit snares. By the time I was done I reckoned it must have been near on four o’clock. My dress was almost dry so I was able to put it back on. I heated up some Ramen noodles and sat in rocking chair and ate them. Ever since I had woken up my gut was telling me that the danger hadn’t passed by squirming like a bucket of eels and I had to struggle to get the food down even though I thought I was hungry.
Was I touched to be stay’n here waiting for them to come and find me? I might have a better chance if I took some food and the sleeping bag and camped out in the woods. Or maybe I could sneak back the house, hide out in the tool shed? Should I venture back and get one of Pa’s guns, or find the keys and drive the truck as far as I could go. But what if the police pulled me over?
In no time I’d given myself a thumping headache and was ready to throw up all them noodles. This was the reason I’d always done what I was told instead of making decisions. P’a had taught me how to hunt n’ fish and find food.
Momma taught me how to do what I was told. I couldn’t take anymore of this thinking so I decided to take the boat out, set a few eel traps. I would find comfort in the routine we came here to do.
I dropped in the eel traps and paddled the boat a ways from the cabin. I took the boat close in to the reed bed and lay on the sleeping bag with my dirty bare feet up on the edge of the boat. Just looking up at the clouds, watching the blue darters flit by. I felt safer here in the boat, my mind had stopped buzzing like a hornets nest. In fact it was kind of hard to think at all, my thoughts seemed to be drifting away from my body, dandelions floating on the wind. All except one, the way that the Felch boy had stopped me from getting killed.
I’d never known he was keen on me. Maybe he wasn’t as terrible as I had always thought, he had saved my life after all. He really wasn’t that bad looking besides the acne and his family lived in a nice big house in town and made more money in a day than Momma and Pa made in week.
What if I went to him and gave him what he wanted, maybe he’d marry me and buy us a little house in town and I could help out in his parents store and cook and clean for him. If he was willing to stand up for me then maybe his folks would too, they could bring the rest of the town around and after a time everyone would forget where I’d come from and accept me as one of their own. How long could they hold me responsible for what Momma and Pa had done.
It was no secret that Momma had chosen Fen for me long ago even when we were just littlen’s playing in the yard. Me and Fen and Billy had always been together, as tight as a cigarettes in a brand new pack and that’s the way I’d thought we’d always stay. But I’d been wrong, I’d lost Billy and now I’d lost Fen.
It didn’t matter whether Fen was dead or in jail, he was gone and he wouldn’t be coming back. I’d just have to learn to live without him the way I’d had to learn to live without Billy.
I’d clung to Fen when Billy was gone, even though he was never going to be as smart, or handsome, or funny as my big brother, but then no one would ever be.
I knew I didn’t love Fen the way a wife was supposed to, but then I hadn’t really loved Billy in the right way either. I’d always been messed up.
Who was I trying to kid the townsfolk were never going to accept me and neither was Aiden Felch. I was alone out here in the belly of the swamp and I would live out here, or die out here and it didn’t matter one iota which.
The idea made me dizzy, and I had to lean over the boat and vomit up the noodles I’d eaten. When I was done I collapsed back down into the boat. I curled myself into a ball and lay there sobbing and moaning until at last I started to shut down again, my mind as empty and blank a burnt out television set.
My body felt so heavy, as though I was melting into the bottom of boat. I might have stayed there until my flesh rotted off leaving only a pile of white bones.
From towards the woods I heard the crack of a rifle and I was jolted back to life. This time I couldn’t run, I stayed low in the boat and waited like a rabbit caught in a snare.
They were at the cabin before I could take a breath. There must have been four or five of them at least.
They sure weren't going for the element of surprise they probably reckoned that if I was in the cabin then there would be no way out. I recognized three of the voices at once Aiden Felch and his cousin and Jack William whose parents owned a farm out on Honey balm road.
I couldn’t make out much of what they were saying, since they had gone inside the cabin, but it was clear they were not happy that they hadn't found me there. There was a racket inside as though they were tearing the place apart then they came back out again.
There were a bunch of pistol shots and a fair bit of muttering and hollering, Lord only knows what they were shooting at. Then for a moment everything went quiet and it seemed like they had left just as quickly as they had come.
Still I stayed down in the boat covered in sweat and biting my lip till it bleed.
A split second after I realized that I could smell smoke the air was split by the sound of the tin roof being blown off the cabin as the little propane tank exploded.
In the distance the boys raised a shout, reveling in their destruction. Staying in the swamp was no longer an option. Strangely there was a part of me that felt something like relief. If I never saw or smelt a swamp again in my life, I might just feel happy. If one dark night I slid into Aiden Felch's window and gave the sleeping prince a kiss with Momma's good fish gutting knife, well that might be a happy ever after too.