Tessa sent up a hasty prayer for forgiveness while she slipped on the dress Mama had bought her in an exchange for a promise not to marry Al. She twirled in the mirror and admired the bright red polka dots and pretty lace trim. Funny how it always seemed to be the dress she wore when she planned to do something downright evil.

The day she had professed her love for Al, Mama’s eyes had gotten all squinty like they always did when she was angry. “You ain’t marrying no Halson boy,” she said, looking for all the world like a toad while she squatted on her favorite chair with her green muumuu spread out all around her. “Nothin’ good ever came from a Halson, unless they’re dead.”

Tessa was eighteen then, her head full of dreams and ideas about love and kissing and babies. She married Al anyway, red polka dots and all. Mama had cried all through the wedding. Al took her home to a twenty-year-old trailer house overrun with rats and roaches. The metal roof squeaked in the slightest wind and leaked with every drizzle. Married life meant she cleaned, fed the chickens, and mowed their shabby two acres of land with an ancient riding mower which possessed a mind of its own.

Chores she didn’t mind, but the other parts she hadn’t reckoned on. Like the two or three nights a week when Al stormed in from his job at the factory, hollered for his dinner, then left just as quick for the bar down the street. Most times he wouldn’t even get home until the chickens began to announce their morning egg production. On good days, he’d fall into bed, passed out and gone to the world. If he didn’t, well, she’d always thought marriage was about passion and romance. That sure wasn’t nothing like what he’d put her through. She’d get up with fresh bruises and pain shooting through her entire body. He never once treated her like a lady. Every bit of their relationship was for him and came at her expense.

For a while she hoped for a baby. Perhaps if she had a little girl to share stories with and keep her company, maybe then she could bear everything else. Five years had gone by, and no baby dared poke its head into the old trailer. She didn’t blame it.

Mama had warned her. Now Mama was at rest under the cold ground in the Presbyterian cemetery. Tessa imagined her sitting up in her grave, like a big grape in that awful purple suit they had buried her in, shaking her handful of lilies and shouting, “I told you so!”

Tessa fluffed up her hair and spread lipstick on her trembling lips. She swung her suitcase off the bed and pulled it into the living room. What else did she need? She had her purse, the keys to the truck and the secret hundred dollars saved from the chicken money.

Her hand was on the front door knob before she glanced back to the kitchen table with its cheerful yellow cloth. A stiff human hand, bearing a gold-plated wedding band hung from the side.

She’d almost tripped over his body when she stepped out to feed her chickens this morning. His eyes were wide and staring, his skin already blue. Tessa glanced around to make sure none of her neighbors were out and reached down to check for a pulse. He was a goner.

“Glory be,” she whispered.

Muscles built up after years of hard labor came into use as she wrestled him up the porch steps and dragged his body into the kitchen. “Lucky you’ve always been such a skinny stick,” she said through clenched teeth while she hoisted him onto the kitchen table.

She stripped off his shirt and stared down at his pale, hairy chest. No wounds or sign of a struggle. He had plain up and died of alcohol poisoning. Tessa knew it happened to plenty of folks, especially in this town where the bartenders worried more about full tills than folk’s health and well-being. Her quick fingers sorted through his pockets and pulled out his wallet and keys. Twenty dollars was in his billfold, and the checkbook said fifty more in the bank.

A pang of guilt hit her, this calm she felt. No sadness filled her heart for this man she had married. Any love for him drifted away a long time ago, like pretty dandelion seeds on the wind. All she held was a wilted stem.

She turned the doorknob and stepped into the morning air. The polka-dotted dress still fit her real good; it made Tessa almost thankful she had never had any babies to make her fat. Somehow it renewed her courage and gave her power. She climbed into the old Dodge truck, glad she knew how to drive it. For a moment she bounced on the seat and stared at the broken porch steps and the rusty lawn mower parked beside them. Who would discover Al’s remains? Would they believe the scribbled note of explanation left beside the dead man on the table? One thing was sure. No one in this town would ever see her again. She turned the key in the ignition and started off down the rough dirt road. Nothing good ever did come of a Halson, except when they were dead.

The End

Find more stories like this in Angela Castillo’s Hidden Pictures, Twisty Little Short Stories and Poems on Amazon HERE