Leonicide — Part 2 (Fiction)
I found Mackey and didn’t even have to open my mouth. I guess LaBrant had told him I looked like a vagrant. He got me a ticket to Bend and I figured I could walk from there.
Things got off to rather a rough start, and the bus broke down that night in a podunk town that didn’t have anyplace to crouch. The other passengers pooled their dough to get a spot at a campground and I stayed behind, folding the hundred dollar bill into a swan and then a boat, leaning against the sooty tires of the bus, wondering if LaBrant would notice that it was gone, deciding that he wouldn’t, not caring anyway. “Why get mad when you can forget mad?” my old roommate had said once. I missed her — a little. I couldn’t think about it long enough to miss her a lot.
The next day of driving was rainy and the bus cleared out enough for me to hole up in the back and sleep across a couple of seats. The woman in front of me was going on about Maine lobster — the boy next to her was from the Czech Republic and barely spoke English. He said “okay” every time she paused, and she talked a steady stream as the road bumps and white noise of the drive lulled me to sleep.
We got to Bend at eleven o’clock in the evening and the bus driver was the first person off, lighting up a cigarette in an impressive hurry and blowing smoke in our faces as we filed past. I was the last one off because I had been sleeping and as I jumped off the last step he grabbed my arm.
“Let me go,” I said. Matter-of-fact.
“I don’t know when you got on,” the bus driver said, inhaling deeply. “But we don’t hold with vagrancy in this field of transportation.”
“I have a ticket,” I said, and showed him. As he was looking at it I said, “I don’t see how your opinions about vagrancy should affect the way you behave toward your customers.”
“They aren’t mine,” he said, “they’re those of the company.” And then, “This ticket is fake.”
It didn’t matter to me. I was in Oregon already.
“See how the cardstock splits apart at the edges,” said the bus driver, showing me, but he didn’t really seem angry. “As much of a bum as you look, it’s a bitch to replicate these, even poorly. Who sold it to you?”
“I got it in Chicago,” I offered.
The bus driver examined the ticket. I didn’t think to tell him I hadn’t paid for it. “No matter. I’ll set them straight.”
“I really need to get my luggage,” I said.
“Thank you for choosing Whippet Transportation,” he replied automatically.
“Is it wrong to be named after a street drug?” I asked.
But he ground out his cigarette and went back to the bus.
I didn’t have any luggage. I walked a few blocks to a trendy all-night clothing store and bought the only pair of sneakers they had — green and red. They looked like parrots. Then, without fanfare, I set out on the twenty-mile trek to the horse farm.
It is said that Van Gogh was a notorious walker. I felt a little like Van Gogh then, with the same irrepressible obsession and fiscal irresponsibility. Luckily it wasn’t raining and there was a half moon. The highways in Oregon are generally vacant but I walked in the ditch anyway, keeping an eye out for the funnel webs of hobo spiders.
The fields had had their last mow and the air stank of alfalfa and cow shit. No cars came. The grass was dewy and my feet were dewy. As I walked I counted steps and I counted names. Yelena — that was my roommate. Serbian, thin as a rail with enormous breasts and short cropped hair. Rabbit was her boyfriend — the guitarist. Planck was a mutual friend and regular weekend fixture — he and I went to bed together infrequently. Elsie was a colon cancer survivor — imagine the wasted effort. Austin loved us all but could never hold his drink — he had soiled every toilet in town. He had a horse crop with a pink feather that he took everywhere, in case he needed it. Jason was a chauvinist and a prick and made up for it by supplying the parties with Peruvian flake cocaine. Andy — and here I twisted my ankle a little — Andy was a vegan and had an intolerance to gluten. He mostly ate lettuce and you could damn near see right through him. David wore straight patchouli oil as cologne and it got real bad when he sweated. His girlfriend was a stripper…
The parrot shoes were built for looks and not for function. I started getting a blister after three miles. When I took the shoe off I stepped on some barbed wire and had to put it back on again. The whole night stank. Everything smelled of burning and there was no place to sit — all of the grass was soaked and shitty. My butt started to hurt. My whole body felt like a moldy bagel. I wondered were my parents actually home or had they gone off on a cruise — fall sails into Oregon on lead wings and makes life hard for some people. I wanted a lay — pretty badly. I figured if the house was deserted I could always sleep in the barn, where the straw was warm and dusty and the cats ran around the lofts.
As it got closer to dawn a ringing started in my ears and it got a little more difficult to breathe. I thought about the sculpture garden across from where the apartment had burned down — I wondered had the statues been damaged. I thought about bacon and I thought about Kleenex. I thought about a lot of stupid shit to the rhythm of my feet. I didn’t think about home, after dawn. I was a little disillusioned about the idea anyway. My stomach sang a song and I pinched the fat on my thighs. A creature of substance. I really wanted a drink. And I felt really alone.
It took me forever, but I finally got to Lindsey Lane where the house was tucked and I felt like kicking all of the mailboxes. I could see my father’s truck in the driveway and gave it a kick for good measure — the tires were soft. It was over thirty years old. I knocked on the door but no one answered. The air finally felt clean and I sat on the steps for a few minutes, but I got restless and pushed at the screen door until it gave and there I was in the house. I hadn’t been there for years but it still smelled the same, like rot and burnt toast and pipe tobacco. Immaculate as usual and brown and tinny and lifeless.
It was silent, though, which made no sense if the truck was in the driveway. I went to the kitchen where the cupboards were all open and messed. A whole cloth sack of flour was upside down on the floor. I wondered if I could use the sack for something — a painting maybe.
I went down the hall and saw blood on the floor. I followed it to the bedroom where my mother was sprawled across the bed in her Sunday t-shirt — the only day of the week when she didn’t wear a dress. It was Tuesday. She was missing an arm and a kneecap and a big piece of her torso. On the floor next to the bed was a mountain lion with half its face gone. The bullet was embedded in the mattress. The gun was on the floor next to the mountain lion. I turned it over with my foot and it discharged but there were no bullets left. It was my father’s Winchester model 1897 lever action rifle — a really pretty gun. The blood on the floor was sticking to the metal.
My father was nowhere to be found, though. And I couldn’t hear him anywhere.
I went to the kitchen and made a bowl of cereal. At the last minute I changed my mind and poured it down the drain. The smell was awful — I guess I had assumed it was manure — really ripe high noon gastric rupture manure. I found a bottle of Tabasco and took a hit and rubbed my eyes. Even the outside was quiet — not a whinny or a fly drone or anything. Something told me loudly not to go looking for my father but if I knew how to act according to logic I wouldn’t have been standing in the disheveled kitchen of my childhood home with my dead mother and a dead mountain lion rotting in the other room —
I went out onto the back porch and kicked the railing and almost stepped on a big nail. I listened but there was still nothing. I hollered a few swears to break the silence — still nothing. I started singing the only song I could think of — What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor. I sang it lustily and at the top of my voice. I spit on my hands and rubbed them together. I really wanted to know where my father was. And inside the house the phone began to ring.
I went to the closest one — it was made to look like a fish — and yelled hello into it.
“Who is this?”
It was my father’s voice.
“It’s Henrietta,” I replied, at a loss.
“Oh.” He let out a breath. “Henrietta?”
“What in the name of God and peach pie are you doing at the house?”
“Well,” I said, “it’s a long story.”
We both paused.
“Look,” I said, a little desperately, “where are you?”
“Salem. Livestock auction.”
“How long have you been gone?”
“I left yesterday.”
The silence was really, really heavy.
“Do you know Mother is dead?” I asked.
“Yes. I know.”
“Did you kill the puma?”
“What puma? She had a heart attack. I was out working with the yearlings. You know it costs five hundred dollars to call an ambulance… but she must have died right away. She was dead when I came back in.”
“Well,” I said, “there is a dead puma here. And it is missing half its face. And your Winnie is on the floor next to it empty and Mother is all eaten up.”
I could hear the wheels turning on the end of the line.
“It wasn’t me,” he said. “I haven’t seen the Winchester in years. I actually thought I pawned it on our last trip to town.”
“Well,” I said, “You didn’t.”
“Obviously,” he said.
“Obviously,” I echoed.
There was a loud snort on the other end of the line.
“That’s Maeve,” my father said. “She’s all swaybacked now- you wouldn’t recognize her.”
“Mother has been eaten by a mountain lion,” I yelled. “Someone else killed the mountain lion.”
“Well, gosh, Henrietta,” said my father, “farms are not the most secure places in the world, you know. After old Blue died we were pretty much fucked for security.”
“God damn it,” I yelled.
“Listen, Henrietta, dead is dead. I had obligations to stick to — how do you carry a corpse in the car? The whole farm already smells like rotten shit — what’s a corpse on top of it.”
I really did not know what to say.
“Henrietta,” my father said, in coddling tones, “what are you doing there anyway?”
“My apartment complex burned down,” I said.
“Dead is dead,” I said.
“I got a fake bus ticket to Bend,” I said.
“Bend is twenty miles away,” my father said.
“I know it. My calluses know it.”
“A hundred people died,” I added.
“In the fire on the apartment.”
“You’re lucky to be alive,” he said.
“I seem to be the only one with that luck,” I yelled.
“Except for me,” he replied.
“Oh, go fuck your old self,” I said.
I must have made him mad because he hung up.
The gravel crunched like footsteps out front. I scratched the scabs on my buttocks. Where the phantom intruder got the bullets I had no idea. My father hadn’t used that gun in ages. The screen slammed and there was my uncle Dandy looking at the kitchen mess.
“Hello, Henrietta,” he said.
“God damn it,” I said to the ceiling.
“The puma did a number on the house,” he said. “I got a really lucky shot. I should have called it in but they’re an endangered species here, you know.”
“Where did you get the bullets?” I asked.
“Bucky’s dresser drawer,” he said, referring to my father. “He kept them there in a sock.”
“It didn’t hardly look at me,” he added. “It was too busy working on your mother.”
“I hate you,” I said. And then, “Mother had a heart attack.”
“No she didn’t,” said Dandy.
“What do you mean?”
“Your father poisoned her,” Dandy replied simply. “With strychnine.”
I walked back to the bedroom. Dandy followed me. The smell was really bad now. The sun was going down and in the dusky light everything looked blue.
“This is really awful,” I said.
“Tell me about it,” said Dandy with glazed eyes. “I’ve never killed anything in my life.”
“What are you doing here anyway?” he asked.
“It is a really, really, really long story,” I said.
“Well,” he said, “let’s make coffee.”
We made coffee on the stove and took it out to the front steps. I didn’t even wonder where the horses were. Maybe the puma had picked them off one by one before having my mother as a digestif. Maybe I didn’t actually care. I felt like vomiting up my toenails.
“Dead is dead, Henrietta,” said Dandy.
“Oh, shut up,” I said.
I left the coffee cup on the steps and went inside to the living-room. The liquor cabinet was unlocked and I took the most expensive bottle of scotch I could find. On top of the cabinet was a box of matches. I took a fortifying pull from the bottle and started lighting matches, one after the other, and dropping them in a trail on the carpet. Some of them sputtered out but some of them caught and pretty soon the room was creeping into flame. I left the matches on the table and went back outside. Dandy was gone and the truck was gone. The house was getting smoky and smelly and I allowed myself a single tear. I blew a kiss to the porch and the tin roof and the broken railing and walked across the arena to the barn, where I curled up on top of the scratchy straw in the loft and listened to the mice and tried to pretend everything didn’t hurt as badly as it did. I felt something give in my chest and I sunk into a deep stupor, and then into dreams, and when I woke I was alone again for the last time, and all the world was ashes.