I shot Daddy before I ate the cat. Me and Daddy was in the kitchen. The bulb hanging from the cord in the ceiling swung back and forth shining light and then dark on Daddy’s face. I shot him three times. First slug almost missed him - just nicked his chin. But it was a 10 gauge so teeth and tongue sprayed all over the wall next to the icebox.
He turned back with a big hole in his neck and black button eyes. Next shot took the off the top of his head. Brains, blood and skull flew all over Mamma’s curtains - the ones she bought last spring before the cancer took her. Me and Cindy always begged her to stop smoking, but she wouldn’t listen. Now there was a bloody mess all over the very thing she worked so hard to save up for. Daddy fell over and began flopping around – making a real mess. I clicked open the barrel and dropped in another shell. I held him down with the gun barrel while I put the last slug in his chest. Maybe it hit his heart. Maybe not. But he stopped flopping.
I wiped down the kitchen, drug Daddy outside and wrapped him in the old tarp we used to cover the tractor with in winter. Then I grabbed Grandma Drewy’s rolling pin and went looking for Grady, Daddy’s big fat calico. If Grady had clawed Cindy once he had clawed her a thousand times. Daddy just laughed when it happened. Them days was over now.
I found Grady crouched down behind the washtub next to the garage. He didn’t cry nor nothing when I picked him up. He just hung there - a big fat cushion; legs hanging out like sticks. I carried him over to the porch. His ears went back and he made a little mew just before I whacked him with the rolling pin. I cried some then, but not so much anybody would notice. I sat on the back porch and skinned him while I watched the sun come up. Cindy always said there wasn’t nothing prettier on God’s green earth than the sun in the morning. Sometimes she would stare at it so long I worried it would blind her.
I skinned and gutted Grady then cut him up like a squirrel – hindquarters, front legs, neck and ribs. I stacked the meat in a dishpan and rinsed it off with the garden hose. I put the head, skin and guts in a pail out by the garage for Mrs. Ashcroft’s dogs. I looked out towards the garden. Dew was on the turnips so I picked a few.
I put Grady in the big old Wearever pot, filled it with water and turned up the heat. Then I mixed up some dumplings just like Mamma taught me. When I had a little ball of dough, I floured the cutting board and washed Grady’s blood off the rolling pin. I rolled out the dough and cut long strips one way and short ones the other, making little squares. I left the dumplings to dry and turned down the heat on Grady real low. Grady was tough, but an hour or two in the pot would soften him up just fine.
I put the greens in the Dutch oven and turned up the heat. I cut up an onion and threw in a piece of salt pork. It wasn’t till then that I caught myself. What was I thinking? Was I crazy? Two of Mamma’s main rules was to save salt pork for times when all you had to eat was beans and to never, never, ever use her Dutch oven for greens. Too late now, salt pork was in the greens, they were in the Dutch oven, and Grady was in the Wearever – a real mess. Good thing Mamma wasn’t here to see it.
I went back outside and drug Daddy out to the Dogwood at the back of the lot. I dug as far down as I could manage and then rolled him in. I covered him up and spread mulch all around. I figured the Dogwood was a good place for Daddy. He always loved it. He wasn’t a smiley kind of man but he’d smile when the Dogwood bloomed. He’d sit on the back porch smoking a Pall Mall and stare at the flowers. I’d sit watching. Waiting. Finally, after ever so long, it would come - the tiniest little wrinkle at each corner of his mouth. Then he’d look down at me and his face would turn back to stone. That was my signal. I’d run and get the whiskey and he’d pour a little in his coffee. After a while, he would smile again. This time his store bought teeth would shine and his eyes would crinkle. I’d give my eyeteeth for that crinkle. Sometimes, he’d reach out and run his hand over my head.
“You sure are a looker Danny…yes sir, a real looker.”
Mamma would call us in to breakfast. She made the best biscuits you ever tasted, Mamma did. They were just like television. Steam really did come out when you busted’em open. The insides were all soft and fluffy, perfect for sopping up eggs, red-eye gravy and cane syrup. Daddy always pulled the insides out and left them on the side of his plate. He only ever ate the crust. I loved watching his strong fingers crumble it up and drop it in the juice from his eggs.
After breakfast, Daddy would go on out to the shed. Me, Mamma and Cindy would go to the garden. Weeds always sprouted up overnight. We had to keep at’em if we wanted to eat. We lived mostly on the garden along with the deer, rabbits and squirrel that Daddy and me killed. Sometimes Mamma would get us a piece of pork or beef from Safeway, but most of the time we did just fine with what we could raise or catch. We never went hungry. They was always beans and cornbread.
Most days Daddy would spend a little time in his shed before coming out and going on down to the domino hall. He never came back before dark. Sometimes he didn’t come back til morning - sometimes not for two or three days. Those were the bad times. Mamma would start in as soon as Daddy opened the door.
“Eustus Tucker – you son-of-a-bitch. Where the hell have you been? You expect me to just sit here like a bump on a log? You think you can just leave me here while you go off gallivantin’ around?” The longer Mamma shouted the louder she got. “You got a woman in town or what? You think I’m just your slave or somethin’?”
Daddy would sit and just stare at the tabletop, swigging whiskey like it was water. After a drink or two, he’d raise his fist and slam the table so hard the whiskey bottle would jump. In a voice dark as midnight he’d growl, “You better hush woman.”
Mamma never did though. She’d just keep on and on while Daddy’s face got redder and redder. Finally, he’d slap her and she’d throw something at him. Me and Cindy would run and hide under my bed, hugging each other as the thud of his fists carried down the hallway. Mamma would keep shouting for a bit, but soon there wouldn’t be nothing but more thumping and then the crying. If the crying went on too long, we’d hear Daddy take off his belt. The sound of it whistling through the air to slap against her skin was so hurtful I’d look down to see if my skin wasn’t busted open. Me and Cindy would hug tighter and whisper prayers to the baby Jesus. Cindy’s looked she was staring straight into hell. Not sad. Not afraid. Not anything. After a thousand years, Daddy would pull Mamma down the hall to their bedroom. Sometimes when I peeped around my bedroom door I saw him dragging her by her hair.
"No Eustus…please no! I’m sorry honey. Please no Eustus!”
For a spell, banging and crying would come from their room and then only silence, like a night with no moon in it. Cindy would sneak on down to her room. I’d climb into my bed and lie there waiting. I never waited long. I’d smell whiskey before the whisper came.
I never said nothing. Didn’t need to. I knew what to do. I turned over on my stomach and pulled down the covers.
“That’s right. That’s right sugar. You know what Daddy needs. You’re the only one that does. The only one that really loves me.”
He’d pull down my underpants and rub my butt. The calluses on his hands scratched and made my skin tingle. I’d go someplace else right about then, like the time me and Cindy found that big ol’ piece of quartz down by Miller’s pond. I could see it sparkle in the sun so clear, bright and beautiful that I hardly felt it when Daddy shoved into me. Sometimes he used lotion to make it easy but sometimes all he had was spit. It never took long, kinda’ like the way I saw horses doing it over at Sadie Jenkins – in and out a few of times, lickedy split and that would be all she wrote. I was used to it. I knew he needed it and besides, if he didn’t get it he might kill Mamma or Cindy. Truth be told, sometimes I rubbed my pecker and squirted while he did it. I never told nobody but Cindy ‘bout that. She just giggled.
That was pretty much our days and nights. Time is as time was, like they say. Things changed last spring though. Mamma had always prayed for our deliverance, but it didn’t seem like Jesus knew our address. But he found Mamma last spring when her cancer delivered her into his arms. Least I hope so. Me and Cindy was left with Daddy, but we knew Mamma would help Jesus find us just as soon as she could.
After Mamma passed, Daddy came at me every night. But he kept away from Cindy - least ’til last night. Last night I wasn’t enough. Last night, when he was done with me, he went after Cindy. I snuck behind him when he went down to her room. I peaked inside and watched him yank her up from the bed. She screamed.
He was too drunk to notice and too mean to care. He pushed her to her knees and shoved his pecker in her face. She shook her head and turned away. He held the back of her head with one hand and pinched her nose closed until she opened her mouth to breathe. He pushed his pecker in and just held it there. I must have yelled or something cause he jumped back and Cindy fell over – choking, her face blue, bruises already showing from where he had mashed her face. I looked up and saw Daddy’s face – empty, some spit coming from one corner of his mouth. I felt his fist and saw white. I tasted blood and fell into darkness.
When I woke, I was tied to my bed. Daddy stood in the door to my room. Light from the hall shined around him, throwing his shadow across my bed.
A voice I had never heard screamed. “Untie me you son of bitch! Let me up from here, or I’ll kill you! I swear to God I will!”
Daddy growled from the dark. “You ain’t strong enough to kill a piss ant. You ain’t nothin’ but your Mamma’s little ol’ baby girl. Weak as water that’s you. All you ever will be.”
It was too dark to see his eyes, but I felt them burning in the dark. He turned and shuffled on down the hallway. I tried to get loose, but had tied me up good. I pulled and tugged all night. Finally, just at daylight, I got loose.
I crept real careful down to Cindy’s room and poked my head inside. “Cindy?”
She didn’t say nothing. I moved to the side of her bed and touched her. She was stone cold. I kissed her closed eyes and raised the covers. She was all bloody between her legs and there was a big pool of blood next to her. I wanted to cry, but a deep hole inside me sucked up all my tears. I lay down in the blood and stared up at the ceiling, like me and Cindy did sometimes. We’d pretend the stains on the ceiling were butterfly wings, fairytale people or maybe maps of some far away place – a place where me and her would run off to someday. I dreamed of running off and I promised myself I would, but right now I had things to do.
I eased out of bed and snuck down the hall to the gun case. I was careful to not step on the board that needed a nail. Daddy always promised Mamma he would fix it, but he never did. I’d be damned if I would let that nail stop me now. When I reached the case, I opened the glass door and looked at Daddy’s guns; a .22 for rabbits and squirrel; a .30-06 Springfield for deer, and a 14 guage for duck. And there at the top was the 10 gauge that Grandaddy Tucker had got from his daddy who got it from his daddy on back to a time before anybody could remember. It was Daddy’s favorite. I remembered how he would show it to me, over and over when he was drinking.
It was my favorite too. Early morning sunlight shined on the barrel from the kitchen doorway down at the other end hall. The barrel glowed with a blue light, like it was shining through water and wasn’t quite ready to be real. Dark patterns lined the steel from where it had been folded and beaten back on itself maybe a thousand times. I snapped open the barrel and dropped in two slugs. Slugs don’t have the coverage of shot but they’re better if you want to knock something down right quick. I put two more in my pocket. I cocked the hammers and put the stock tight against my shoulder - just like Daddy taught me last fall when I shot the button buck down by Silver Creek. If you don’t hold a big gun tight it can hurt you. The Damascus had broken the arms of Tuckers before, I wondered if it had ever killed one.
I walked to the kitchen. Daddy was over by the corner cabinet pouring another whiskey. I stepped across the doorway. Daddy heard and turned around. A breeze ruffled the curtains and swung the bulb hanging from the cord in the ceiling. Light and dark chased each other across Daddy’s face. His eyes were bloody, like he hadn’t slept at all. Maybe he had got into Mamma’s old pills. Happy pills Mamma called’em. Sometimes she got so happy she would crawl around the yard in her nightgown talking to the grass. Daddy looked like he sure could use a happy pill right about now.
He smiled like nothing was wrong but he sat the whisky bottle down real slow. He never took his eyes off me.
“What you doing?”
“I’m gonna’ kill you.”
He snorted. “Is that right? What makes you think you can kill me?”
“Cindy,” was all I could say.
Daddy closed his eyes. “I never, I never meant to do that son. It was the drink. You know how crazy it makes me.”
The gun felt heavy. Daddy opened his eyes and watched the barrel weave. He grinned at me and that was enough. I let loose. Like I said, the first shot took off his jaw. I would never have to listen to him lie again. The second shot took away the top of his head. He would never think up ways to hurt Cindy or me again. The last shot took away his heart. I would never have to feel it beat against my back in the night. Not ever, ever again.
After I took care of Grady and Daddy, I sat at the kitchen table and took a deep breath of the dumplings and greens. Mamma used to bring me “cassie” here when I was little. Cassie was my pretend coffee - mostly cream and sugar with just enough coffee to turn it brown. Me and Mamma would sit and talk real quiet, so as not to wake Cindy and Daddy. It was our special time; the time when she would tell me about when she was a little girl over in Roeher putting peanuts in her RC Cola, and how she grew up to be a big tall woman who played basketball like nobody’s business. I loved the smell of her cigarettes and how she flicked the ashes into the big green ashtray in the middle of the table. She never missed. There were never any ashes on the table – nary a one. Now the ashtray was empty and Mamma’s smell was so faint I could hardly tell she had ever been here. I didn’t have no cigarettes so I got up and made cassie. I switched to real coffee last year cause Daddy said it would put hair on my chest. But my chest was still bare and wasn’t nobody around so I guessed a little cassie wouldn’t hurt. Yessir, Cassie would do just fine.