Trigger Warning: violence, sexual abuse
In my dream, Bette and I had stolen down to Honey Swamp Island to smoke some weed and escape the nightmare that had been our childhood. I’d never been to the island, but in my mind I knew exactly what it looked like. Tall cypress creating a canopy for the canary grass and wild flowers beneath it. I’d also never smoked weed, but I enjoyed the notion of being cool enough to hold the joint between my thumb and forefinger—like the girls in my Latin class. They often snuck away from Sister Bernard Marie and lit up in the bathroom while I was stuck doing verb declension, and promising not to tattle.
When Bette wasn’t in my dream, it was Joe. In my reverie, Joe and I always did more than share a toke, and I often went to bed beckoning the images of him to come visit while I slept.
I was just lighting up when the odor of the swamp and sewer rested upon my lips. As the aroma continue to fill my nose, I started to dream that my chest was being crushed by a feral pig, and I couldn’t breathe. The pig’s tusks lunged at my eyes and the swamp in my nose smelled of Sazerac laced with a heavy cigar. A thick wetness spread across my lips like the ooze of the slime mold that snaked at the bottom of the trees outside my window. I jerked my brain awake and leaped out of the deepest corridors of sleep with my fists raised.
“Hey now, Jax, you don’t wanna wake nobody up.”
The dirty bastard reeked of money; Garden District, invitation-only, Hurricane party-money. But I knew better. Even at seventeen, I could see the grime and smell the residue of a wicked man barely hidden beneath the three-piece suit stretched to the limits at its buttons.
Mama said she felt sorry for him after his wife died, but the town knew she let him stay because he was our one source of income, and a ticket into a decent parish school. She wasn’t about to walk away from an extra dime or two, and he wasn’t going to turn down a female offering sex for a little spending money.
The rank man leered at me from a kneeling vantage-point on my bed. The single tuft of red hair on his head was messy and even in the dark, I could see the slick of fried chicken grease in his pork chop sideburns. My fingernails dug into my palms as I looked around for my youngest sister who usually shared my bed.
He backed off the bed, and pulled a chair over from the desk. He flipped the back so that he could straddle the chair and face me. In the moonlight, I could see that his pants were undone, though he could have busted out of them, I wasn’t sure.
“She’s at the house with Millie and Gigi.”
Sleeping in the shack off the main house was always a risk, so at least I knew Mason was in a safer place than myself. Mama and Aunt Millie were two formidable woman, so it was no surprise that he chose the younger, more vulnerable Seydoux females to harass. He said he’d kill all three of us if we ever said anything.
“And you, Miss Jackson, I’d make you watch first. All of it.”
I’d attempted to tell Aunt Millie before, but she wasn’t a very good listener. Millie had her personal skeletons, and my half-confessions stirred painful old bones buried in the locked chest at the foot of her bed.
I’d inherited Millie’s willowy frame and pale blue eyes, and unfortunately, not a lick of her temper. “She could start an argument in an empty house,” goes one Southern expression, and that about described Aunt Millie to a tee. She even taught me to curse in Cajun, hoping she could get a rise out of me. “Little warbler,” she often called me, because I could set off a string of four letters and make it sound like I was singing Amazing Grace to the Sunday congregation.
The first time it had happened, I was just trying to be polite to Mama’s new boyfriend. I thought he was confused and making a mistake. I didn’t want to make him mad, so I endured and cried myself to sleep after saying three Rosaries.
Over the years, I’d learned to fight back, because the sin of teenage pregnancy outweighed my fear of this old couillon (coo-yaw), “Leave me the fuck alone,” I said between my teeth as I gathered the dirty sheets around my body. The word felt good on my tongue, and I made a mental note to use it again as needed.
Mama wasn’t much for housekeeping in those days, so I could feel my stomach churn with disgust as I continued to smell the swamp and liquor in his pores mixed with the dried blood and sweat on the sheets.
“Your other sister, she keeps a room to herself. If you don’t want to cooperate, I’ll just head over there.” His lips pulled back to reveal yellow teeth, blackened roots thick with chunks of tobacco and half-eaten food.
I screamed and lunged at him. I was a whopping one hundred ten pounds, but the years of fury his abuse had built was enough to knock him onto the corner of the desk. His head made a horrible knock and I could feel the weight of the blow in my teeth. His body went limp, and I watched the blood pour from the back of his skull and pool into the cracks of the peeling linoleum floor. I could taste blood and adrenalin in my mouth as the realization of what I did invaded my body.
“Damn, the head sure bleeds a lot.” The matter-of-fact voice came from the doorway and I lifted my eyes to meet Bette’s –my younger, beautiful, dark-eyed sister with curves that belonged to a woman more than a thirteen-year-old.
“He was getting ready to take his turn with me or go see you. I couldn’t let him do it again. I just couldn’t, Bette.”
She crouched beside me, two teenagers with a highly regarded community member laying highly dead between us. Without words we grabbed arms and legs and dragged him onto the back porch. The grey wood smelled of must and moth balls. My stomach couldn’t take it any more, so I puked all over the ground.
“You never could hold your supper,” Bette said.
I wiped my mouth and looked at the pool of blood mixed with my vomit—almost giddy at the irony of it. The notion that this man, born into linen and freshly pressed privilege would meet his end after crossing an angry swamp rat one too many times.
“What are we gonna do with him, Jax?”
“Gonna bury him. Fetch my car keys, and don’t tell Mama or Millie. I know just the place.”
I know this is a strange and dirty take on the prompt, but there’s a reason. I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this month, and wanted to be efficient with my time. At first, I didn’t think the prompt would work, but as you can see…I may have just created the ‘inciting event‘ as a result. Jax and Bette have been playing hopscotch in my brain for several years – it’s only fitting that I introduce them to you in private first.
Only 5K more words to make the 50K goal and complete a partial first draft. The novel I have sketched in my head and in hundreds of notes on my desk, is closer to 80K – murder, mystery, sex, lies, and deep-seeded family ties and secrets. People will wonder about my sanity if it ever comes to print. That’s okay…that’ll mean I did my job 🙂
PS: This piece is highly unedited (wrote in less than 2 hours), and rough on purpose–I don’t do a lot of editing during NaNoWriMo. Open to suggestions, ideas, and “what ifs.” The idea to murder the rank man came when I read Christy’s prompt. Don’t you love it when that happens?