This thing was a hell of a lot of fun. Check out Patti’s blog for links to the other stories.
And here’s what I did with my assigned opening…
One More Mess
By Patrick Shawn Bagley (opening paragraph by Keith Rawson)
The bath water is near freezing by the time I get out of the tub. I barely noticed the temperature when I first lowered myself into it. I vaguely remember it being close to boiling; my skin turning bright red, my pores opening wide and yawning; dripping sweet, cutting small rivers through the grit and blood that covered me from head to toe. I recall vomiting over the side of the tub, a thin yellow acidic drool that filled my nostrils and burned my gums. I only remember that because my first step out of the tub is into a slick puddle of it.
I go down, slamming my knee against the cracked and pitted linoleum. One more pain among a dozen others, it helps jar me into full wakefulness. I grab two towels from a shelf above the old claw-footed tub: one to wipe the puke off my leg, one to dry myself. Knowing I shouldn’t, I take a look in the mirror. My lips and nipples are blue from the cold. No surprise there. But the sight of my face makes me want to turn away and puke all over again.
J.P. had gone upside my head with a stick of cedar kindling. Then, when I was kneeling on the floor and holding a hand to my bloody ear, he’d started in with the belt. “Let’s see how many men want you after this,” J.P. said. He grabbed a fistful of my hair to keep me from running off. If I tried to pry his fingers loose, it left my face exposed to the belt; if I tried to cover my face, he yanked my head back and forth while lashing my breasts, back and belly.
Now my face is cross-hatched with purple welts and stipples of dried blood. I wrap the towel around myself, walk into the bedroom. My breath hovers in the air. The woodstove downstairs must have gone out hours ago. Dropping the towel, I open my bureau drawers and try not to look at the mess on the bed. It doesn’t matter. That’s a picture I’ll never get out of my head…Tom Moody grunting away on top of me, telling me to hold still and stop my fucking crying…then his face erupting in a red shower, followed a heartbeat later by the roar of J.P.’s 20-gauge.
It takes me a few minutes to pull on clean underwear, a pair of jeans and my red sweater. God, I move like an arthritic old woman. My face feels like I got stung by a hundred wasps. My ribs ache so much that it hurts to raise my arms or take a deep breath. There’s a knot on the side of my head where J.P. smacked me with that piece of cedar. I hobble down the stairs, my knuckles white as I grip the banister.
Once at the bottom, I stand there with my eyes closed and wait for my breathing to slow. I could keep walking, go right out the front door, get in the truck and drive away. But somebody would come by looking for J.P., not tonight but probably in a day or two. They’d see the bodies and call the cops. Sooner or later, I’d get picked up. So I sit on the bottom step, right where J.P. left me after he dragged me down the stairs, and try coming up with a plan.
“Bastard got what was coming to him.”
I jump at the sound before realizing it’s my own voice. That’s it. I can’t sit here waiting to get busted. There’s blood to clean up, corpses to dump. I’ll roll my husband and Tom Moody into a couple of tarps. If I weigh them down with J.P.’s skidder chains, I can sink them in the bog down at the far end of the old pasture.
Yeah, that’ll work. It has to work. I’ll get the house cleaned and try to cover my welts and bruises with make-up. Anybody comes by the house, I’ll just tell them J.P.’s gone down to visit his mother in Solon…which everybody knows means he’s really whoring over to Millinocket. That gives me a couple days to heal up and decide where to go, maybe find some of the money J.P.’s got stashed here or out in that old falling-down barn.
First thing is heat. I have to start a fire in the stove, so I get up and walk into the living room. J.P. lies there on the floor in front of the couch, his belly a ragged red mess where I emptied both barrels of the 20-gauge into him. He had been whipping me so hard and fast that the belt flew out of his hand. When he let me go to pick it up, I grabbed the shotgun. He even stood there laughing while I loaded it, was still laughing when I thumbed back both hammers.
Looking at him now, all I can see is the mud on his work boots—it would never occur to J.P. to stomp his damn feet off outside. No, he’d come tromping right in and get mud all over the house, then yell at me for not keeping the place clean. I shake my head, tell myself to get busy. The woodstove door squeaks when I open it to lay in some crumpled newspaper.
I jump again. Then I smile and tell myself to get a grip. The worst is over.
Oh, Jesus. Still crouching in front of the stove, I pivot on my feet and look over at J.P. His eyes are open and he licks his lips. “Help,” he says.
If he’s still alive, then it’s not too late. I can get him to the hospital. They’ll fix him up. I won’t have to go to jail or on the run. I can tell the cops about Tom Moody coming here, saying he had to leave a chainsaw for J.P. to fix, but forcing his way into the house to attack me instead. They’ll believe me when I say my husband killed Tom. They’ll believe I only shot J.P. out of fear for my own life. J.P.’s a vicious son-of-a-whore. Everybody around here knows that.
They all know it.
They’ve always known it.
“Carol,” J.P. says again. The words come out wet and thick. “Call…help.” And there it is; that light in his eyes, the same light I see in them when he hits me or calls me a stupid cunt. How long will they keep him in prison for killing Tom? Eight years? Twelve? Maybe even twenty? That seems like a long time.
And yet, it doesn’t.
I pick up J.P.’s 20-guage and the box of shells I had dropped on the couch. He tries to move his head, tries to watch me. I step over to where he can see me loading the gun again.
I shush him before pointing the barrel at his head. I’ve already spent fourteen years cleaning up his messes. I don’t mind one more.