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So Help Me God


[clock] 53-MINUTE READ ISSUE:  Winter 2005

Phone rings. My cousin Andrea answers.

 

It’s a pelting-rain weekday evening last April, just past 7 p.m. and dark as midnight.

Without so much as glancing toward me Andrea picks up the receiver as if she’s in her own home and not mine, shifting her infant daughter onto her left hip in a way to make you think of a migrant farm wife in a classic Walker Evans photograph of the 1930s.

Phone rings! I will wish I’d snatched the receiver from her hand, slammed it down before any words were exchanged.

But Andrea is answering in her wishing-to-be-surprised high school voice not taking time to squint at the caller ID my husband, a St. Lawrence County law enforcement officer, has had installed for precisely these evenings when he’s on the night shift and his young wife is alone in this house in the country except for the accident of Andrea dropping by with the baby and interfering with my life.

“Yes? Who is this?”

Andrea laughs, blinking and staring past me. Whoever is on the other end of the line is intriguing to her, I can see.

I’m checking the digital code which has come up UNAVAILABLE.

Sometimes it reads NO DATA GIVEN which is the same as UNAVAILABLE and a signal you don’t want to pick up. At least, I don’t. In Au Sable Forks which is the center and circumference of my world everyone is acquainted with everyone else and has been so since grade school. It’s rare that an unknown name comes up for on the fingers of one hand I can count the people likely to be calling me at this or any hour which is why ordinarily I’d have let UNAVAILABLE leave a message on the machine figuring it must be for my husband.

UNAVAILABLE could be anyone. Like seeing on your doorstep a hulking individual wearing a paper bag over his head, or a ski mask. Do you throw open the door?

I could wring Andrea’s neck the way she’s smiling, shaking her head, “Which one? Who?” opening the damn door wide. Wish I’d never called her this afternoon hinting I was lonely.

This pelting rain! The kind of rain that hammers at your head like unwanted thoughts.

Andrea hands over the phone saying in a low thrilled voice, “It’s this person won’t identify himself put I think it’s Pitman.”

Pitman! My husband. His first name is Luke but everyone calls him Pitman.

Andrea shivers giving me the receiver. There has been this shivery thing between her and Pitman dating back to before Pitman and I were married. When I’m in a suspicious mood I think it might predate my meeting Pitman when I was fourteen, an honors student vowing to remain a virgin all my life. I’ve never confronted either of them.

Pitman says my Daddy injected my vertebrae with Rayburn family pride, why I walk like there’s a broomstick up my rear. Why I’m so stiff (Pitman is just teasing!) in bed.

“Yes? Who is this please?” I’m determined to remain cool and poised for Pitman and I parted early this morning with some harsh words flung about on both our sides like gravel. My husband is known as a man who flares up quickly in anger but, flaring down, which can be just a few minutes later, he expects me to laugh, forgive and forget as if nothing hurtful passed between us. Pitman is a longtime joker and this wouldn’t be the first time he has played phone games with me so I’m primed to hear his voice in this deep-gravelly male voice so suddenly intimate in my ear asking: “Are you Ms. Pitman, the lady of the house?” Quick as Ping-Pong I say, “Mister, who are you? I don’t talk to strangers.”

You’d think that after living with a man for more than five years and being crazy in love with him for six years preceding you’d at least recognize his phone voice, but damned if Pitman hasn’t disguised it with something like pebbles in his mouth (?) or a layer of some fabric over the phone receiver, and speaking with the broad A’s of a Canadian! Also he’s making me nervous so I am not thinking as clearly as usual. The voice is chiding, “Ms. Pitman! You sound like some stiff-back old Rayburn,” which convinces me that this is Pitman, who else. My face is hot and eyes tearing up as they do with any strong emotion, sweat breaking out on my body, I hate how Pitman has this effect upon me, and my cousin a witness. The voice is inquiring, “Is this ‘Pitman’ an individual of some size and reputation?”—a strange thing to ask, I’m thinking. So I say, “ ‘Pitman’ is a law enforcement officer of dubious reputation, a cruel tease I am considering reporting to authorities.” My teasing with Pitman is never so inspired or easy as his with me, it’s like wrestling with Pitman on our bed: I’m a scrawny ninety-seven pounds, half his size. The voice responds quick as if alarmed, “Hang on, now, baby: what authorities?” and I hear baby, this has got to be Pitman, baby in his mouth and it’s like he has touched me between the legs and any ice-scrim that has built up between us begins rapidly to melt. I’m saying, my voice rising, “He knows who! So he’d better stop playing games,” and the voice says in mock alarm, or maybe, genuine, alarm, “What authorities? Sheriff? Police?” and I say, “Pitman, damn! Stop this,” but the voice persists, “Is this ‘Pitman’ armed and dangerous at all times, baby?” and there’s something about this question, a strangeness of diction, the sick sensation washes over me, This isn’t Pitman and my throat shuts up, and the voice continues to tease, husky and breathy in my ear, “Fuck Pitman, baby—what are you wearing?” and I slam down the receiver.

Andrea takes my hands, says they are like ice.

“Oh, Lucretia! Wasn’t it Pitman, I thought for sure it was.”

Andrea thinks that I should report the call and I tell her yes, I will tell Pitman and he can report it. He’s a law enforcement officer, he will know best how to proceed.

Things you do when you’re crazy in love, you’ll look back upon with astonishment. Maybe a kind of pride. Thinking That could not have been me. I am not that person.

When I married Pitman, my Daddy disowned me. Daddy had come to believe that Pitman had cast some sort of spell over me. I was not his daughter any longer. I had not been his daughter for some time.

My father was a stubborn man but I was stubborn, too.

Eighteen when I married Lucas Pitman, old enough to be legally married in New York State, but not old enough to be so coldly discarded by my father whom I loved. I’d come to believe that I hated Daddy and this was so, but I loved Daddy, too. I would never forgive him!

My mother disapproved of Pitman, of course. But knew better than to forbid me marrying him. She’d seen how Pitman had worked his way under my skin, cast his “spell” over me. She’d known long before Daddy had. Back when I was fourteen, in fact. Skinny pale-blond girl with sly eyes given to believe that, because she’s conceded to be the smartest student in the sophomore class at Au Sable High, she can’t mess up her life like any trailer-trash Adirondack girl.

I never did get pregnant, though. Pitman saw to that.

Luke Pitman was the youngest deputy in the St. Lawrence County sheriff’s department when we first met: twenty-three. He’d been hired out of the police academy at Potsdam and before that he’d served in the navy. There were Pitmans scattered through the county, most of them with reputations. To have a “reputation” means nothing good except when it’s made clear what the reputation is for: integrity, honesty, business ethics and Christian morals. For instance, Everett Rayburn, my father, had a reputation in St. Lawrence County and beyond as an “honest” contractor and builder. Everett Rayburn was “reliable”—”good-as-his-word”—”decent.” Only the well-to-do could afford to hire him and in turn Daddy could afford to hire only the best carpenters, painters, electricians, plumbers. Daddy wasn’t an architect but he’d designed our house which was the most impressive in Au Sable Forks, a split-level “contemporary-traditional” on Algonquin Drive. In school I hated how I had to be friends with the few “rich” kids. I got along with the trailer-trash kids a lot better.

There were Pitmans who lived in trailers as well as in dilapidated old farmhouses in the area. Pitman himself was from Star Lake in the Adirondacks but he’d moved out of his parents’ house at the age of fifteen. He told me he had a hard time living in any kind of close quarters with other people and if our marriage was going to endure I would have to grant him “space.”

Right away I asked Pitman would he grant me “space” too and Pitman said, tugging my ponytail so it hurt: “That depends, baby.”

“Like there’s a law for you, but a different law for me?”

“Damn right, baby.”

You couldn’t argue with Pitman. He’d stop your mouth with his mouth. You tried to speak and he’d suck out your breath. You tried to get serious with him and he’d laugh at you.

How I met Pitman was quite a story. I never told it to anyone except ?
Andrea.

I was bicycling back home from Andrea’s house in the country. She lived about a mile and a half outside Au Sable Forks which is not an actual town but a “village.” Summers, Andrea and I bicycled back and forth to see each other all the time, it was something to do. Andrea had more household chores than I did and my bicycle was newer and faster than hers and I was the one who got restless and bored so it was usually me on my bicycle slow and dreamy and coasting when I could and not paying much attention to cars and pickups that swung out to pass me. It was late August and boring-hot and I was wearing white shorts, a little green Gap T-shirt, flip-flops on my feet, I wasn’t so young as I looked. My ash-blond ponytail swept halfway down my back and my toenails were painted this bright sparkly green Daddy insisted I had to cover up, wear socks or actual shoes at mealtimes. I was maybe smiling thinking of how Daddy got upset, or pretended to, at the least “infraction” of household rules on my part, when Pitman came cruising in the car marked St. Lawrence Co. Sheriff. I wasn’t paying too much attention to this vehicle coming up behind me until a male voice came out of nowhere—”You, girl: got a license for that bike?”

I didn’t know Pitman, then. Didn’t know what you’d call Pitman-teasing. Almost crashed my bicycle, I was so scared. For there was this police officer glaring out his car window at me. He wasn’t smiling. His aviator sunglasses were tinted so dark I couldn’t see his eyes except they were not friendly eyes. His hair was tarry-black and shaved at the sides and back of his head but grew long and tufted on top like a rock musician’s. How old he was, I couldn’t have guessed. I was so scared I could hardly focus my eyes.

What followed next, Pitman would recount with laughter, in the years to come. I guess it was funny! Him demanding to see my “bike license” and me stammering I didn’t have one, didn’t know you had to have a license to ride a bicycle . . . Fourteen years old and scared as a little kid, calling Pitman “sir” and “officer” and Pitman had all he could do to keep from laughing. He’d say afterward he had seen me riding my bike on the Hunter Road more than once, looked like I was in this dream-world pedaling along on an expensive bicycle oblivious of other vehicles even when they passed close to me. He’d had a thought that here was a little blond princess needed a shaking-up for once.

I just didn’t get it was a joke. The way Pitman grilled me asking my name, my Daddy’s name and what did my Daddy do for a living, what was my address and telephone number. These facts he seemed to be taking down on a notepad. (He was.) I was straddling my bike by the roadside trying not to cry staring at Pitman who so captivated my attention it was like the earth had opened up, I was slipping and falling inside. Pitman must’ve seen my knobby knees shaking but he kept on his interrogation with no mercy.

Daddy would say Pitman had cast a spell on his only daughter, when Daddy was being nasty he’d call it a sex-spell and I concede that this was so, Pitman’s power over girls and women was sexual but it was more than only this, I swear. For there was this Pitman-soul you saw in the man’s eyes when he was in one of his moods, or you felt in the heat of his skin, a soul that was pure flame: a weird wild happiness like electricity coursing through him. Just to touch it was dangerous, but you had to touch!

Can’t take your eyes off him, he’s beautiful.

“Well, now. ‘Lucretia Rayburn.’ Seeing as how you are a minor, maybe I won’t run you into headquarters. Maybe just a ticket.”

By this time most of the blood had drained out of my face, my lips must have been stark-white. Trembling, and fighting tears. I was so grateful, Pitman was taking pity on me. But before I could thank him, he said, as if the thought had only just occurred to him: how old was that bicycle, where had it been purchased and how much did it cost? “Looks like a pretty expensive bicycle, Lucretia. One of them ‘mountain bikes.’ You got the bill of sale for that bike, girl, to prove it ain’t stolen property?”

I did just about break down, at this. Had to say I didn’t have any bill of sale but my father might have it, at home. Please could I go home? Pitman shakes his head gravely saying he has no choice but to “confiscate” the bike and run me into headquarters after all—”See! they got to take your prints, Lucretia Rayburn, and run ‘em into the computer. See if they match up with known felons. For all I know, you ain’t even ‘Lucretia Rayburn’ you’re just impersonating her.” And I’m stammering no please, officer please. But Pitman has climbed out of the cruiser to loom above me frowning and severe-seeming. He’s six foot two or three, a hard-muscled youngish man in a uniform made of a silvery-blue material and I’m seeing that he’s wearing a gold-glinting badge and a leather belt and holster and in the holster there’s a gun, and a roaring comes up in my ears like I’m going to faint. Pitman takes my arm, not hard, but firm, and Pitman leads me around to the passenger’s side of the cruiser, sits me down in the seat like I was a little girl and not this skinny-leggy girl of fourteen with a glamour ponytail halfway down her back. He notes the sparkly green toenail polish but refrains from comment. Takes from his belt a pair of metal handcuffs that are these adult-sized cuffs and says, still not cracking a smile, “Got to cuff you, Lucretia. It’s for your own protection, too.” By this time I’m sick with shame. I can’t think how this nightmare will end. Pitman takes my arms that are covered in goose pimples from fear of him, gently draws them behind my back and slips on the cuffs and snaps them shut. These cuffs twice the size of my wrists! Yet I still didn’t catch on that Pitman was teasing. There wasn’t much teasing in the Rayburn household where I was the only child, born late to my parents and so prized by them you’d think I was sickly or handicapped in some secret way. Pitman would say afterward he was beginning to be worried, I was some poor retarded girl, only looked like a normal blond-princess type with the most beautiful brown doe-eyes he’d ever seen.

“You having trouble with them cuffs, Lucretia? Not resisting arrest, are you?”

This comical sight: I’m so scared of this uniformed man looming over me, I am actually trying to keep the damn handcuffs from sliding off my wrists behind my back.

Finally Pitman laughs aloud. And I realize he isn’t serious, none of this is serious. Pitman’s laughter isn’t cruel like you’d expect from boys my age but a tender kind of male laughter that enters my heart with such suddenness and warmth, I think I began to love Pitman right then. This St. Lawrence County deputy sheriff who has scared the hell out of me has become my rescuer, hauling me up from drowning. Saying, “If the damn cuffs don’t fit how’m I gonna arrest you, girl? Might as well let you go.”

For a moment I just sit there, dazed. It’s like a bad dream ending, I can’t believe that I am free.

The smell of the man (hair oil, tobacco, spearmint chewing gum) is close and pungent in my nostrils. The feel of the man (a stranger, touching my bare arms!) will remain with me for a long time.

Last thing Pitman tells me, deadpan, he won’t be writing up his report—”Best keep it a secret between us, Lucretia.”

Pitman climbs back into the police cruiser and drives off. But I know he’s watching me in his rearview mirror as I get back onto my bike and pedal behind him, shaky and self-conscious. I can feel how my little Gap T-shirt is damp with sweat. I can feel the muscles straining in my bare legs as I pedal the bike, and I can feel the thrill of my quickened heartbeat.

Something has happened to me! I have become someone special.

Three years, two months and eleven days after the handcuffs, Pitman and I were married.

Daddy disowned me and good riddance!—I disowned him.

A wife cleaves to her husband and forsakes all else. I think so. Mom was hurt, heartbroken, wet-hen-furious, but couldn’t stay away from her only daughter’s wedding. (In secret) she harbored a liking for Sheriff’s Deputy Lucas Pitman herself.

It was hard to resist Pitman when he wished to make you like him. A man that size deferring to Mom calling her “Mrs. Rayburn” like she was the most gracious lady he’d ever met. (Probably, Mom was.) Called her “ma’am” with such courtesy, like her own son, she’d forget objections she was trying to make.

Till finally Mom hugged me one day, conceding, “Your husband certainly adores you, Lucretia. Maybe that’s all that matters.”

“All that matters to me, Mom.”

I spoke a little stiffly. In this matter of allegiance a wife cleaves to her husband. She is reticent with her mother. Anything else is betrayal.

We had our honeymoon house. A rented, winterized bungalow outside town. Pitman whistled painting the outside robin’s-egg blue that dried a brighter and sharper color than the paint sample indicated, and I made a mess painting the rooms inside: pale yellow, ivory. The little bedroom was hardly big enough for our jangly brass bed we’d bought at a farm sale. This bed for one oversized man and one undersized girl, I took pride outfitting with the nicest sheets, goose-feather pillows and a beautiful old handmade quilt in purple and lavender. This bed Pitman and I would end up in, or on, more times a day than just nighttime.

Only a coincidence: our honeymoon house was close by the Hunter Road. In the foothills east of Au Sable Forks. Mt. Hammer in the distance. Our bedroom overlooked a branch of the Au Sable Creek that sounded like rushing wind when the water level was high and like a faint teasing trickle by late summer when the water level was low. Our house was exactly 2.6 miles from my parents’ house in town.

Some months after we came to live here, Pitman was assigned to a new shift. Later hours, farther away. Now he and his partner patrolled little crossroads mountain towns like Malvern, North Fork, Chapprondale, Stony Point and Star Lake. From his miffed attitude I had to conclude that Pitman wasn’t happy with this assignment but he’d only joke: “That’s where a cop can expect to get it. Up in the hills.”

It’s cruel for a law enforcement officer to joke in this way with his wife but that was Pitman for you. Seeing tears in my eyes he’d turn repentant, brushing them away with his big thumbs and kissing me hard on the mouth. Saying, “Never mind, baby. Nobody’s gonna get me.”

This seemed likely. Pitman was fearless. But Pitman was also shrewd and knew to watch his back.

This night. It was a turn, I’d come to see later.

Pitman came home late from his night shift smelling of beer, fell into our bed only partly undressed hugging me so tight my ribs were in danger of cracking. He hadn’t wakened me from any actual sleep but I was pretending so. Pitman disliked me to be waiting up for him and worrying so I had a way of feigning sleep, even with the bedside lamp and the TV on. In those early months I was grateful my husband came home at all, wasn’t shot down or run off the highway by some maniac, I’d forgive him anything, or almost.

Pitman hid his hot face in my neck. Said, shuddering like a horse tormented by flies: “This thing over in Star Lake, baby. It’s ugly.”

Star Lake. Pitman’s old hometown. He had family there he kept his distance from. There’d been a murder/suicide in a cabin above Star Lake, detectives from the sheriff’s office were investigating. Not from Pitman but from other sources I knew that a Star Lake man had strangled his wife and killed himself with some kind of firearm. I had not heard that any Pitmans were involved and was hoping this was so. Pitman had many blood-relatives with names not known to me including some living on the Tuscarora Indian reservation.

I had learned not to press Pitman on certain matters having to do with his job or any of his personal life in fact. He’d promised he would always tell me what I was required to know. He would not upset me with the things he saw, that upset him. Or things a woman would not wish to know. Law enforcement officers have this way about them: they don’t answer questions, they ask. If you ask you see a steely light come into their eyes warning you to back off.

Pitman was asking did I know what a garrote was, and I rightaway said no, no I did not know what a garrote was, though in fact I did, but I knew that Pitman would not wish his eighteen-year-old wife who had only graduated from high school a few months before to know such a thing. Pitman raised himself above me on his elbows peering into my face. He had horse-eyes that seemed just a little too large for his face, beautiful dark staring eyes showing a rim of white above the iris. They were eyes to express mirth, wonderment, rage. They were not eyes to make you feel comfortable. Pitman said, “A garrote is a thing used to strangle. It’s two things. It’s a thing like a cord or a scarf you wrap around somebody’s throat, and it’s a thing like a tick or a rod you twist that with. So you don’t have to touch the throat with your actual hands.”

Pitman was touching my throat with his hands, though. His hands that were strong, and big. Circling my throat with his fingers and thumbs and squeezing. Not hard but hard enough.

I laughed and pushed at him. I wasn’t going to be frightened by Pitman-teasing.

I asked if that was how the woman at Star Lake was strangled, and Pitman ignored my question as if it had not been asked. He was leaning above me staring at me. I remembered how at the wedding ceremony he’d been watching me sidelong, and when he caught my eye he winked. Just between the two of us, a flame-flash of understanding. Like Pitman was thinking of that first secret between us, how he’d handcuffed me in the police cruiser on Hunter Road.

How reckless Pitman had been! Risking all hell playing such a trick on a fourteen-year-old girl. Misusing his authority. Sexual harassment it would have been called if given a name. Except we’d been fated to meet, Pitman believed. That day or some other, in a town small as Au Sable Forks, we’d have met and fallen in love.

Of course I’d never told my parents. It was the great secret of my girlhood as it marked the end of my girlhood. Never told anyone except my cousin Andrea but by that time I was seventeen, a senior in high school confounding my parents and teachers by deciding not to apply for college as I’d been planning and everyone was expecting of me.

(Secretly) engaged to Pitman by then. (Secretly) making love with Pitman every chance I had.

He was saying now, stumbling out the words as they came to him: “A garrote takes time. A garrote takes planning. Anybody who garrotes his victim, it’s ‘premeditated.’ There’s a sick purpose to it, Lucretia. You wouldn’t know.”

Damn right I wouldn’t know! I was trying not to panic pushing at Pitman’s hands, easing them from my throat. His big thumbs I grasped in both my hands as a child might. It wasn’t the first time Pitman had put his hands on me in a way to frighten me but it was the first time when we hadn’t been making love and it hadn’t seemed like an accident.

Pitman said, “See, if you garrote somebody you can strangle her till she passes out, then you can revive her. You can strangle her till she passes out again, then you can revive her. You don’t exert any pressure with your own hands. Your own hands are spared. It’s a cruel method but effective. It’s the way Spaniards used to execute condemned prisoners. It’s rare, in the United States.”

This was a long speech for Pitman. He was drunker than he’d seemed at first, and very tired. I knew not to let on any uneasiness I felt for that would offend Pitman who deemed himself my protector. I only laughed now, pulled his hands more firmly away from my throat and leaned up awkwardly to kiss him.

“Mmmm, Pitman, come to bed. We both need to sleep.”

I helped Pitman pull off more of his clothes. He was big and floppy like a fish. By the time I leaned over to switch out the lamp Pitman was asleep and snoring.

It was that night the thought came to me for the first time It’s a garrote I am in.

“Such an ugly story! Those people.”

My mother spoke with repugnance, disdain. Those people referred to people who got themselves killed, written up in local papers. People of a kind the Rayburns didn’t know.

I was in my mother’s kitchen reading the Au Sable Weekly. For some reason our paper hadn’t been delivered. On the front page was an article about the murder/suicide in Star Lake fifteen miles to the east. The name was Burdock not Pitman. I resolved that I would not make inquiries whether the two might be related. It was my reasoning that mountain towns like Star Lake are so small and remote, inhabitants are likely to be related to one another more frequently than they are elsewhere. If Pitman was related to the wife-murderer/suicide Amos Burdock it wouldn’t be helpful for me to know.

“I didn’t actually finish reading it.” Mom sat across from me, pushing a plate of something in my direction. It is a mother’s destiny always to seduce with home-baked cookies evocative of someone’s lost childhood but I would not eat, I would save my appetite for my own mealtimes with Pitman. “I suppose Pitman knows all about it. Is he ‘investigating’?”

No mention of a garrote in the article. Only just the coroner ruled death of the female victim, the wife, by strangulation. It was secret information, evidently. Known to only a few individuals.

“Pitman isn’t a detective, Mom. You know that. So, no.”

Strangle, revive. Strangle, revive. The way Pitman had teased me on the Hunter Road. Scaring me, then seeming to relent. Then scaring me again. Really scaring me. And then relenting. Best keep it a secret between us, Lucretia.

Daddy’s favorite music is opera. His favorite opera, Don Giovanni. Which I came to know by heart, listening to it all my life. The way Daddy took us to any production of any Shakespeare play within a fifty-mile radius and each summer for years to the Shakespeare Festival over in Stratford, Ontario.

For Daddy, Don Giovanni and Shakespeare were rewards for the time he spent in the world “out there.” Dealing with men, customers and employees. Dealing with building materials. Making money. Pitman seemed to think a lot of money. Your old man’s a millionaire, baby. Why you’re so stuck up. Hell, you got a right.

When I’d wanted to rile Daddy up I would say the world isn’t Mozart and Shakespeare, the world is country-and-western music. The world is cable TV, Wal-Mart, People. I knew that I was right, Daddy’s face would redden. I was the bright schoolgirl, Daddy’s little girl also something of a smart aleck, like Daddy himself. He’s a handsome man for an old guy in his fifties with a high, hard little belly that looks like a soccer ball under his shirt that’s usually a white starched cotton shirt. Prematurely white hair, trimmed by a barber every third Friday. Daddy would no more miss a Friday in the barber’s chair than he would miss his daily morning shower.

I knew that I was right but Daddy never gave in.

“Not so, Lucretia. The world is Don Giovanni, and the world is Shakespeare. Minus the beauty.”

Not so, Daddy. The world is plenty beautiful. If you’re lucky in love.

For a long time, I believed this. I think I did.

Soon as I married Lucas Pitman, I had to know the man was vigilant.

Through the day he’d call on his cell phone. Mostly from the cruiser. In his lowered sexy voice saying, “My little princess is never off my radar.” Asking where was I, what was I doing. What was I wearing. What was I thinking. Was I touching myself? Where?

Pitman was proud of his little blond princess-wife. A rich man’s spoiled daughter he’d seduced, slept with while she was in high school and married soon as she turned eighteen thumbing her nose at her old man. Pitman was proud of how she adored him but he didn’t like other guys staring at her. Well, he did, sure he did, but not too obviously. It had to be a subtle thing. It could not be crude. Pitman had a temper, his own friends backed off from him when he’d been drinking and was quick to take offense.

In these country places in the mountains where Pitman was known. Weekends he’d take me dancing, for a while after we were married as we’d done before we were married, and Pitman would dance like some stoned MTV kid, long legs, arms, feet as fast as my own, grabbing me and leaning me back in my high-heeled shoes, little T-shirt and jeans tight so that the crease pinched me between the legs and Pitman could run his fingers along that crease quick and sly not minding who might be watching. Pitman the law enforcement officer out of uniform, wild to have a good time. Desperate to have a good time. He had a few cop-friends, younger guys like himself. I was too young to realize that Pitman and his friends were not likely to be promoted very far up police ranks; I was too adoring of Pitman to guess that his superiors—even that Pitman had “superiors”—might not admire his brashness the way I did. His scorn was for desk work, computers, “investigating teams” that depended upon forensics lab reports and not action. He liked being in uniform, in the cruiser and in perpetual motion. He liked the .45-caliber police service revolver visibly gleaming on his hip.

Pitman was an Adirondack boy, he’d grown up with guns. In our honeymoon bungalow he kept his “arsenal”: two rifles, a Springfield double-barreled twelve-gauge shotgun, several handguns. He’d wanted to teach me to shoot so that we could go hunting (white-tailed deer, pheasant) together, but I refused—”Why’d I want to kill some beautiful blameless creature?” Pitman winked, “Well hell, baby, somebody’s got to.” I had to love how Pitman took boyish pride in his Smith & Wesson .45-caliber revolver with “zebra wood” gun grip, he’d acquired in a poker game. He took pride in his Winchester .30-caliber deer rifle with its long sleek blue-black barrel and maplewood handle he was obsessive about keeping polished the way, at our house, my Mom kept the good silverware polished; this was the firearm Pitman kept loaded and ready at all times, in case of intruders, break-ins. He’d showed me where the rifle was positioned on the closet shelf, how I was to take it up and hold it, how I was to shift the safety off in any time of danger but I was nervous backing off, laughing and fluttering my hands. No, no! Anybody was going to protect me, it had to be my husband.

At our kitchen table while I prepared a sizzling frying-pan meal Pitman would drink Coors and listen to Neil Young, sometimes Dee Dee Ramone turned up high as he dismantled, cleaned and oiled his long-barreled police service revolver with the tenderness you’d hope to see in a man bathing an infant. Pitman interpreted my fear of firearms as respect for him, and he liked that. Of all things Pitman required respect. The Pitmans and their numerous kin were not generally respected. They were feared and scorned in about equal measure. Pitman wished to be feared and respected in equal measure. Sure, he liked to laugh and have a good time but respect was more important. He knew of my father’s disdain for fishing, hunting, guns of any kind and had a way of alluding to “your esteemed father Mr. Everett who pays other guys to do his shooting for him” that was startling to me, like for an instant Pitman’s brain was sliced open and you could see the shrewdness inside, the class-hatred, anger. The next instant it was gone, Pitman liked to tease-taunt me in a way that was like sex, the prelude to sex. Telling me of the times he’d had to use his weapon. Drew his gun and aimed it as he’d been trained—and called out a warning—”Put your hands where I can see them! Put your hands where I can see them! Come forward slowly! Come forward slowly!”—but he’d had no choice except to fire. Since being sworn in as a deputy sheriff he’d had to shoot and kill two men, and he’d wounded others. Not always alone but with his partner, or others. It was rare for a law enforcement officer to use his weapon alone. Did he have any regrets, hell no. He’d never been reprimanded for excessive force. The shootings had been investigated and cleared. On one occasion, Pitman was credited for saving the life of another deputy. He’d received citations. He never dreamt about these actual shootings but he dreamt about shooting. A lot.

Pitman smiled his slow easy smile, telling me this. I felt my breath come short.

It was a requirement of the St. Lawrence County sheriff that deputies were required to fire no less than two bullets at their target if they fired one.

“Why is that? What if you change your mind?”

“You don’t.”

“But, if you’ve made a mistake …”

“You don’t make a mistake.”

“A deputy never makes a mistake?”

Pitman laughed at me. Those days, I never knew if I was pretending to be shocked by him or truly shocked. I saw that steely light come into his eyes. He leaned over and drew the revolver barrel along the side of my thigh, slowly. In a way that made me know he was quoting somebody he revered he said “A forty-five is not an equal opportunity employer.”

The last time Pitman took me dancing.

This hillbilly tavern out on Hammer Lake. We’d been married about three years. We’d go out with other couples, the guys were friends of Pitman’s. (My old high school friends, I rarely saw. They were away at college. When they came home to visit, I made excuses not to see them.) Still I was Pitman’s blond princess he loved to show off. Still I was in love with Pitman in terror of what it might mean if I was not. Old disco music blared on the jukebox. Music to make you laugh it’s so awful yet there’s the beat, the tawdry-glamour beat, raw-sex beat, gets you on your feet dancing like the floor beneath you is burning hot, you can’t stop. I felt Pitman’s strong arms against my ribs and smelled his breath and oiled hair and it came over me like a sickness how I missed Daddy, I missed my Mom and the house on Algonquin Avenue so bad.

Sharp-eyed Pitman knew my every shift in mood.

“Where’s your mind, baby? You look spaced out.”

I was drunk. A few quick drinks made me drunk. And “I Will Survive” pounding on the jukebox.
I laughed and hid my face against Pitman’s chest. Slid my arms around him and pressed so close against Pitman I heard his big heart beating like it was my own.

It was after Pitman’s partner and close friend Reed Loomis died, Pitman began to drink mornings.

This was early in April. Not long before the anonymous calls began.

Was there some connection, yes I guess there must have been. I tried not to think what it was.

Oh, I’d liked Reed Loomis! Everybody did. The friendliest man, a blunt porky face and buzz-cut hair, more resembled a high school sports coach than a sheriff’s deputy. Loomis was six years older than Pitman and even bigger than Pitman, he’d asked him to be his son’s godfather and Pitman was deeply moved by the request. “Only time anybody’s going to hear ‘god’ and ‘Pitman’ in the same breath.”

Pitman wasn’t the one to tell me, he could not utter these words, but Loomis had died of a fast-spreading pancreatic cancer. Pitman was stunned and distracted. Pitman looked like a man staring into a blinding light unable to shield his eyes. Muttering, “Can’t believe it. Reed is gone.” He’d been noticing how lately he was doing most of the driving in the cruiser because Loomis had a headache, trouble with his eyes, was feeling “weird,” one day Loomis’s legs give out in the parking lot and his white blood cell count is crazy, there’s a diagnosis and a few weeks later Loomis is dead.

Abruptly one day Pitman ceased speaking of Loomis. If I brought up the subject, he chilled me out.

Sometimes he tried to hide the morning drinking from me. Sometimes not.

“It won’t bring Reed back, honey. What you’re doing to yourself.” (Did I say these words? These are words you say, believe me.) Pitman sneered like he was just discovering he’d married a mental defective. “This ain’t for Reed, baby. This is for me.”

Sometimes hearing just the intake of my breath, Pitman reacted quick as an animal defending itself. Shoving me aside, hard. “Get away! Don’t touch.”

And he’s out the door, and gone.

It was a cold season, I wore long sleeves to hide the bruises.

Scarves tied around my neck. Makeup layered on my thin pale face and lipstick so cheery you’d expect me to burst into song.

Never said a word to Andrea. Certainly not to Mom.

Nor to Daddy who it seemed was watching me, waiting.

By this time, four years into the marriage and still living in the four-room bungalow off the Hunter Road, I understood that Daddy had forgiven me. Daddy had not a thing to say about my marriage. So much time had passed, maybe he was impressed I had not once asked him for money. In fact, Daddy had offered Pitman and me money at Christmas to buy a new car replacing the ‘88 Chevy Malibu but Pitman had his pride just as Daddy did, I knew to say Oh thanks, Daddy! But no.

During the day Mom frequently called. A ringing phone and RAYBURN on caller ID meant my mother. Sometimes I picked up eager as a lonely child. Sometimes I backed off, sneering.

Oh Mom was cheerful! Though cautious. An intelligent woman aware of mother-in-law jokes. She knew not to press too far with her questions. Asking how is Pitman and I told her Pitman is fine, you know Pitman. And I’m fine, Mom. What about you and Daddy.

Like a tick beneath the skin the idiot word fine had snagged in my vocabulary. Itchy as hell, hard to dislodge. There was always a beat, a moment when I might have told Mom more. And maybe Mom knew more. Probably yes she knew more. Au Sable Forks is a small town, word travels fast.

Mornings, afternoons! The slow slide into evening.

It was, as Pitman said, a shitty spring. Pelting rain, so much mud people laid down planks to walk on.

Cloudbursts, and a leaking roof. Like an animated cartoon figure I set out pots, pans, baking trays to catch the drips. Then the sky opened, there came blinding sunbursts. Truly, your brain is sliced open. In rubber boots I went tramping along. Hunter Road, along farmers’ lanes and into fields. I hiked beside Au Sable Creek where the mud-colored water rushed like a speeding vehicle. This is a part of New York State where the sky draws your attention. Not the mountains, that are mostly covered in trees, but the sky forces your eyes to lift. Always there is the anticipation of seeing something in the sky you can’t name except to know you won’t see it anywhere else.

This was the season I sent away for catalogues from Cornell, St. Lawrence University, McGill University in Montreal. Hiding them in the closet beneath towels, bed linens where Pitman would never look.

Cornell was where I’d been planning on going. Before I fell in love with Pitman. Except maybe this wasn’t so. Maybe I’d fallen in love with him that day on the Hunter Road. The rest was just waiting.

You never think you will get old. Or even your face.

The happiest time of your life. Oh, Lucretia …

Mom was weepy, nagging. My senior year at Au Sable Forks High. That year I’d quit most of my “activities.” Cut classes. A blur in my memory as if I’d been riding in a drunken speeding vehicle. The landscape is beautiful but moving too swiftly past to be seen.

Think what you are giving up. For that man. It’s your body, Lucretia. Wanting to have babies.

I hit her then. I hit my mother. I saw my hand shoot out, I saw my mother wince, I never told anyone not even Pitman.

Didn’t want Pitman to know the meanness in my heart. His blond princess.

Daddy had ceased interfering. Daddy kept his distance, a gentlemanly distance, those final months. While I was still his daughter, living at home. Could not trust himself to speak to me.

Goddamn I’d vowed I would not cry. Neither of my parents could make me cry. I wasn’t their virgin-daughter, I was Pitman’s girl. I would be Pitman’s wife. You want to know if he fucks me, yes he fucks me. I fuck him, the way he’s taught me. I don’t cry for you now, I cry for Pitman. Of all the world only Pitman has that power.

The one thing Mom did, with Pitman in agreement, was arrange for a church wedding. An actual church wedding. Very small, and hurriedly arranged. Daddy threatened to stay away but was finally the gentleman, of course he came. Though stony-faced, force-smiling. Having to see how at the very altar Luke Pitman nudged his daughter in her silken white side and cast her a sidelong winking bad-boy grin.

I was repainting the bathroom, a better quality paint this time.

Smiling. I think I was smiling. Having to concede, when you’re in high school you can’t wait to get out, it’s like a prison you have come to hate, then when you’re out you look back, remembering.

I didn’t drop out of school, finally. Attended my graduation with the others. My last term was the worst in all my school years, not a single A. If I hadn’t broken his heart marrying a man my father considered low-life Adirondack trailer trash I’d have broken his heart getting such rotten grades.

Painting the bathroom ivory. Not hearing the phone ring.

The anonymous calls came in the evening or middle of the night when Pitman was out. Whoever it was knew Pitman’s schedule. Or knew from the driveway that Pitman’s car was gone.

Or it was Pitman. One of his games.

Sometimes I drifted to the phone waiting for it to ring. And it rang. And I saw UNAVAILABLE on caller ID and I smiled thinking You can’t. You have no power over me. I am not afraid of you.

I never answered. I erased the answering tape without listening.

Well, maybe I listened. Maybe once, twice. The voice was as I’d remembered it: husky, Canadian-sounding. I had to wonder if it belonged to one of Pitman’s fellow deputies. One of Pitman’s relatives. Someone Pitman had made an enemy of. Gotten under the skin of. It was no one from my life, I knew.

“Hey I know you’re there, baby! Know you’re listening. Whyn’t you pick up, baby? Afraid?”

Pause. Breathing wetly into the mouthpiece.

“ ‘Lady of the house Ms. Pitman.’ Pigman? Standin there all alone.”

Another pause. (He’s trying not to laugh?)

“Maybe not alone enough, eh? Baby?”

It wasn’t Pitman’s way of speech, I thought. The broad Canadian vowels, the quirky eh? Still, this might be a trick. Pitman might be there beside the caller, listening.

After the calls when Pitman came home there was a strangeness between us. I think this was so. I don’t think I was imagining it. Pitman was waiting for me to acknowledge the calls. (Was he?) But it was too late now. There had been too many. And if the calls were made by someone else, Pitman would be uncontrollable, so furious. I had to acknowledge, he might blame me.

I’d had boyfriends, a few. In school. But only just boys. And nothing sexual. Pitman knew this but possibly he’d forgotten. He was likely to be jealous. Suspicious. Why hadn’t I told him after the first call? I could not tell him But maybe it was you.

He’d snag on a word sometimes. A word would snag on him. I wondered was this a thing that happened to drinkers.

Face, for instance.

Baby-face, he’d call me. Angel-face.

Or, “Just don’t get in my face, Lucretia.”

Or, “Want me to break your fucking face?”

Burdock had been a relative, in fact. He’d garroted his estranged wife, blew himself away with a shotgun. Not from Pitman did I learn this of course. Pitman never spoke of any of his relatives. His mother was still living, I think. He had an older half-brother in Attica serving a sentence of thirty years to life.

Like shrapnel working its way outward through tissue Pitman’s fury was surfacing. Pitman! Crazy guy. That admiring way men have of speaking of a friend who’s cracking up. Bringing Pitman home falling-down drunk and the Chevy Malibu left behind as far away as Tupper Lake, in the morning I’d have to drive Pitman back to retrieve it. In June, Pitman pursued a drunk driver west out of Malvern on Route 3 resulting in the young man (twenty, from the Tuscarora reservation) crashing his vehicle into a bridge and shearing off part of his skull. The St. Lawrence County sheriff defended his deputy (publicly) but reprimanded him (privately). Pitman spoke of quitting his job. He spoke of reenlisting in the navy. He seemed, in his indignation, unaware that he’d become a man in his mid-thirties and was no longer a brash young kid of eighteen. A ring of flesh around his waist, his tar-colored hair streaking with gray and thinning. No longer could Pitman stay up much of the night drinking and rely upon three or four hours’ sleep to restore his strength, his clarity of mind and his willingness to face the next day.

From the cruiser Pitman would call on his cell: “Hey baby, this is a fucking long morning. It ain’t even noon?”

You could get addicted to it. The anger. The taste of it on his mouth like hot acid. I never believed that Pitman was crazy. He was too shrewd and methodical. Just this fury in him. It was more than Reed Loomis dying. Those little mountain towns dying. Pitman himself dying. He’d sweat through the bedclothes groaning and grinding his teeth after the boy died on Route 3, Pitman insisted he had done nothing wrong. He had followed procedure. He’d used his siren, his lights. The kid had outstanding warrants which was why probably he’d accelerated his speed to almost eighty miles an hour on that sharp-curving highway in the mountains, narrowing to a single-lane bridge. Drunk kid, thumbing his nose at the law. Pitman said fuck, he had no regrets, wasn’t going to lose sleep over this one. One Sunday afternoon lying with me on our bed gripping me in his arms as if we were drowning together. Not releasing me for forty-five minutes and only then when I begged him insisting I had to pee, did he want me to wet the bed?

“You would not ever betray me, Lucretia? Would you?”

In the cruiser calling on his cell. These were not UNAVAILABLE but WIRELESS CALLER so I could pick up if I wished. Calling me Baby, saying he loved me he did not ever mean to hurt me, I was the only thing he loved in this shitty life he hoped to Christ I knew that, he’d make it up to me. Saying it was a hard time for him right now, he was begging to be forgiven. Saying I was his princess, I was never off his radar.

Phone rings. Impulsively my hand lifts the receiver, “Yes? Hello?”

It’s like striking a match. That quick. UNAVAILABLE isn’t prepared for a living voice. I hear him draw breath. I’ve surprised him. Maybe I’ve shocked him. It takes him a moment to adjust.

That low gravelly mock-courteous voice, “The lady of the house, Ms. Pitman?” and I hear myself say, “Who’s this?” and he pauses not expecting this, either; doesn’t expect a female voice that isn’t intimidated.

“Your friend, Lucretia. This is your friend.”

There’s excitement here. The way he pronounces Lu-cre-tia. It’s no way I have heard Pitman pronounce my name. These past few months Pitman has not called me by any name at all only Baby. Or you.

This is the first time I’ve heard my caller’s living voice since that pelting-rain night in April. And it’s late August now. And Pitman is away. I’ve been watching local TV news out of Canton, Watertown. Surfing the channels. It’s nearing midnight. Old movies, Law & Order reruns. Final ten minutes of a rebroadcast of a performance of Tosca, one of Daddy’s operas. Lying on the jiggly-jangly brass bed. The handmade quilt, fraying-soft from many washings, is neatly folded at the foot of the bed. I’m in a silky champagne-colored nightgown, also fraying-soft from many washings, Pitman bought me when we were married. Still warm, flushed-feeling from my bath. And still with some makeup on my face. Pitman doesn’t care for washed-out female faces, I know from remarks he’s made. I try to look good for Pitman, it’s a habit. Whether he sees or not. Whether he’s here or not. In my hand a juice glass of Parrot Bay Puerto Rican rum I stole out of Daddy’s teakwood cabinet last time I visited the house on Algonquin Avenue. The type of liquor Daddy never drinks, the near-full bottle pushed to the back of the cabinet.

I’m not drinking to get drunk, like Pitman. Only to make the sharp edges of things softer.

Saying, in my scratchy voice, “My friend who? Who’s my friend? I want a friend, friend. I’m needful of a friend.”

This is daring! My toes are twisty, twitchy. Wish I could see this guy’s face, the surprise in it like someone has grabbed him between the legs.

Now it begins. Now, like Ping-Pong. He’s asking me why I need a friend and I’m saying ‘cause I’m lonely, that’s why. He’s asking why a married woman is lonely and I’m saying that’s what I’d like to know, too. He asks what am I wearing, and I say, Ohhh this outfit with just one button I got for my birthday. So funny, I’m laughing to make the brass headboard jiggle. I’m laughing, the plumy-dark rum near about spills on my belly. My caller, my friend he calls himself, is laughing, too. Saying oh baby he wishes he could see that birthday suit. I say actually I just got out of the bath. I’m all alone here just out of the bath. And he says, D’you need help drying, and I say, Noooo. Maybe. And he says, First things first, honey: your titties. Start with your titties, honey-baby. Your nipples. And I’m feeling my breath come short. And I’m laughing so it hurts, like a knife blade in my side. Being called honey, baby: it’s so sweet. It’s funny but so sweet. I know that I am making a terrible mistake like accelerating on black ice but I can’t stop. He’s saying more words, I can’t hear for laughing. Throwing your life away, oh Lucretia your precious life my mother had wept. It’s my life to throw away, God damn my life. It’s my life not yours leave me alone. And I’m thinking This is Pitman, he is testing me. He will murder me.

Might’ve said, “Pitman! I know it’s you. Damn you Pitman come home I’m lonely.”

Instead, I slam down the receiver. I’ve been staring at my toes. Narrow waxy-white feet. Haven’t polished my toenails in years. Last time, Pitman failed to notice. In fact, my feet look like some withered old-woman feet, not a young girl’s any longer.

So help me God is a way of speaking. You might laugh at such a desperate way of speaking until it becomes your own.

It was to keep him from hurting me. It was to keep him at a distance. Just to frighten him off. I knew that I deserved to be hurt by my husband but I was terrified of the actual hurt. A man’s fingers closing around my throat. There is nothing so terrible as strangulation. He would thump my head against the wall. Thump—slam!—my head against the wall. I seemed to be remembering this, it had already happened. Unless it was the brass headboard he’d shoved me against, jangling and creaking.

You would not ever betray me, Lucretia. Would you.

Whimpering to myself like a frightened child, a guilty child fumbling in Pitman’s gun closet. Overhead the lightbulb swings on a chain. This closet I have avoided, never open. Disliking and fearing Pitman’s weapons. Repugnance for Pitman’s weapons. But now I need the rifle. Have not seen Pitman’s deer rifle in years but I recognize it on the shelf at eye level: the long sleek blue-black barrel, polished wooden handle Pitman so admires. Loaded and ready.

Safety lock off.

You have been so reckless. You have made a mistake. Drunk reckless mistake. Others can forgive, but not Pitman.

The rifle is much heavier than I expect. You think of a rifle as a graceful weapon unlike a shotgun but this rifle is awkward in my arms, and so heavy. I’m not drunk but I feel faint, sick. My heart is beating like a crazed thing inside my ribcage. My breath comes so fast and ragged, I’m having trouble focusing my eyes.

Trying to see where the trigger is. How my fingers should fit.

He’d wanted to teach me. He’d taunted me, I was Daddy’s little princess, content to have others do my shooting for me.

I love him! Want him to forgive me.

I will beg him I didn’t mean it, I was only pretending. I knew it was you, my friend on the phone. Pitman, I knew!

Seems like I have already told him this . . . Then my head thump-thumping against the wall.

It’s a bad sign, Pitman arrives home early. Lately he’s been staying out until the taverns close at 2 a.m., doesn’t get home before 2:30 a.m. but tonight his headlights swing into the driveway at just 1 a.m.

So I know. I can’t not know.

I am waiting for him, hiding. I think that I am starkly sober as a creature that has been skinned alive but still my hands are shaking and my teeth are chattering and I’ve been crouched so long my knees are beginning to buckle.

Ask me why I did not run away, I am that man’s wife. Nowhere for that man’s wife to hide. He would find me if I ran to hide with my parents. He would hurt my parents, too.

Pitman enters the house through the back door, into the kitchen. Making no effort to be quiet. Stumbling, cursing. In the bedroom where I am crouched behind the bureau, amid a smell of spilled rum, animal panic, perfumy steam . . . from the bathroom, the TV is on, muted. The phone receiver is off the hook. Only the bedside lamp is burning. At the foot of the brass bed, the quilt of lavender and purple squares has been neatly folded. In the night Pitman kicks the quilt off, in the morning I haul it up, spread it back over the bed neatly. Pitman has acknowledged, yes the quilt is “nice.” Like other things I’ve brought into the house. If “nice” things matter.

The heavy deer rifle I’ve laid across the bureau top, aimed toward the doorway. This could be an intruder, any night a woman is alone in a house in the country is a night of danger, risk. I think it must be a child’s desperate strategy. A hope that magic will intervene. I don’t know how to shoot a firearm except to aim, shut my eyes and pull the trigger. Thinking it might be a Pitman trick, what if the rifle isn’t loaded?

“Hey, baby. What the fuck.”

Pitman stands swaying in the doorway. His face is dark and glowering, but bemused. His jaws are stubbled, he hasn’t shaved since 6 a.m. the previous morning. The eyes are Pitman-eyes, horsey eyes glassy but alert, interested. There’s a relief in this, I’m thinking that I will never again have to smell another woman on him. I will never again have to smell the fury leaking through his pores . . . A slow smile breaks over Pitman’s face. His big horsey teeth bared, almost happy. You’d say it was a mean taunting smile but mostly it’s teasing.

“Baby, you better take careful aim with that fucker. You got one shot before I’m on you.”

“What we will do, Lucretia, is …”

He’s my Daddy come in the night to help me. Ashen-faced and shaken but taking charge. He’s in clothes he threw on hurriedly over his pajamas. Saying, licking his lips and repeating as if he’s having difficulty articulating such words, “What you will say, Lucretia, is . . .”

I called home at 1:14 a.m. Not 911. Phone records will show. How soon after I called Daddy has arrived I don’t know. I was on the floor in the darkened living room where he found me. Through this roaring in my ears I am not able to hear everything Daddy says, he must grip my shoulders, shake me gently. This drawn sickly-white face is not exactly Daddy’s handsome face but of course this is Everett Rayburn. I can’t recall when his hair has become so thin. He has led me into the bathroom to wash my face. Comb out my matted hair. I rinsed my mouth, that plumy rum-taste. I could not reenter the bedroom, Daddy went inside to bring clothes for me. A pair of sandals, I laughed to see sandals! I have not looked into the bedroom since Daddy arrived. When he first came and went immediately to see Pitman where he’d fallen, I’d been frantic crying, “Is he dead, Daddy? He’s dead, isn’t he?”

Dial 911. Daddy dials 911. Daddy dials the (memorized) number of his lawyer who lives in Canton.

“Yes, honey. He’s dead.”

The rifle that was too heavy for me to lift in my arms and aim is on the floor of the bedroom, where it fell. Daddy has seen but not touched the rifle. Daddy has crouched over the man’s body, seen but not touched.

Two bullets. For the first was not enough to stop him.

In the distance, a siren. It’s rare to hear a siren in the night in the country. In my skinned-alive state that seems to me a pure and spiritual state I am sitting on the living room sofa, in the way my parents wished their daughter to sit at mealtimes. Perfect posture. Head back. Take pride, don’t slump shoulders. Not ever.

Now we’re alone in this house Daddy has never visited, Daddy seems clumsy, confused. He’s breathing so quickly. Gripping my hands in his. Before he became a builder and a rich man, Daddy was a cabinet maker, still works with his hands sometimes and his hands are strong and calloused. I like the feel of Daddy’s hands, though the fingers are not warm as I remember. Hands so much larger than my own.

Daddy is swallowing hard and trying to control his breathing hearing the siren approach saying again that I must tell the truth exactly as it happened why I had to fire that rifle to save my life.

And all that led to it. All.

“Just tell the truth, Lucretia.”

Which is what I will do, so help me God.

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