My grandmother, the only person in my life that ever gave two shits about me without me needing to do anything in return, used to let me sit on her lap while she rocked us on the ancient rocking chair on her front porch. I would curl myself into a ball, her wide lap soft and comforting, while she rubbed my hair.
“Your mama is doing the best she can, you know? She loves you.”
“No, she doesn’t!” My ten-year-old self burst out with a fresh crop of tears.
“Sometimes, sweet girl, people make choices based on the here and the now. They don’t stop to think what the repercussions could be. Your mama? She always jumped first. A little spontaneity never hurt anyone, but the problem is, too much changes everything. Sometimes to the point you can’t go back.”
I was sitting up on my boyfriend’s bed. The dirty rumpled sheet was pulled haphazardly over my naked bottom half. I don’t know what made me think of the last summer I spent with her, right then, at that moment. She’d been gone eight years. Her sudden death left a dark emptiness in my soul I’d been trying to fill since. The knot in my throat swelled as the memories played at random. The heaviness in my chest started to build. I cleared my throat and shifted, pushing the flood of thoughts parading through my mind. Tyler was across the room, sitting at his desk taking his sweet-ass time rolling a joint. Antsy for a hit, I grabbed the lukewarm strawberry Boone’s Farm wine off the nightstand. We’d lifted it from the Mapco earlier in the day. That dumb bitch in her ugly puke-green polo never even looked in my direction.
“Could you move any fucking slower?” I glared at Tyler, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.
“Jesus, what’s your problem?” He was sprinkling buds in the paper like he was going to be awarded for presentation. “This shit’s got a ton of seeds and twigs in it. I’m trying to get just the good stuff. Just chill out.”
I tipped back the bottle again, taking large gulps. My phone buzzed, the screen displaying MOTHER. I snatched it up and swiped at the screen. Seventeen missed calls. “Oh my God! I swear! I am so sick of her.” I threw the phone back down.
Tyler finally rolled a tiny joint and was selfishly taking the first hit. “What’s up?” he choked out while passing to me.
“She’s blowing my phone up. Again.” I took a long pull, the sweet acrid smoke filling my lungs while the beginning twinges of sweet release teased at the back of my brain, tingling in anticipation. “She’s constantly calling me. ‘What are you doing? Where are you going? Who are you with? Well, why would you do that?’” My phone buzzed again. I didn’t bother to pick it up. I took another hit before Tyler snatched the joint out of my hand.
“Just don’t answer. It’s not hard.” He shrugged, turning away from me.
“Easy for you to say.” My phone buzzed again. I snatched it up, answering the call. “WHAT?”
“Where are you?” she asked.
“What difference does it make?” I said and finished off the bottle of Boone’s.
“I’ve been calling you for hours. You know I expect you to answer when I call.”
“Sorry. Didn’t feel it vibrate.”
“See, that’s your problem. You need to turn the volume up where you can hear it. Although if Taylor or Teddy or whoever that thug you’re hanging out with was calling, you’d answer. You still haven’t answered my question. Where are you?”
“Yes. I got that from your lack of being here. When do you plan on returning?”
I popped a few M&M’s in my mouth – also stolen from Mapco – and stifled a giggle. “When I am done.” I looked over at Tyler, rolling my eyes.
Tyler picked up a Mason jar off his desk and shook out a couple of colorful pills. He popped one in his mouth and passed me the other. I motioned for the bottle of water sitting next to him.
“Jamie. I want you home in one hour. I mean it.”
I disconnected her call.
“I feel like I could slice her throat and shut her the fuck up.” My limbs felt heavy and I snuggled down in the bed, pulling the covers up to my chin. I closed my eyes, my body going limp. Tyler slid in beside me easily. I never moved.
“Then let’s do it.”
I promptly fell asleep, awakening three hours later, starving and dry-mouthed. I grabbed my phone as it buzzed. Fifty-seven missed calls and full voicemail.
He tells me, days later, I had agreed. He had just picked me up from our usual spot – the corner by the Mapco. I slid into the passenger’s seat, my pockets full with a variety of candy and chips, and two bottles of Boone’s Farm boldly sitting in my purse. The cashier was blind or she didn’t care. Either way, as long as she was working, I’d always have snacks.
I tell him he is crazy. I can’t kill someone. I was just frustrated – as usual—with her. He pulled into a space between two evergreen trees at the back of the park a few miles away. The sun was just about to go down, casting shadows over us. Tyler’s black Camaro blended in, making us virtually invisible.
“It’s bullshit,” he says, shoving the gear shift into park. He pushed his seat back and reclined slightly. With his left hand, he was easing down the zipper of his fly while his right hand was gently pulling me towards him. “You are fucking eighteen-years-old. She can’t tell you what to do.”
“True. But I can’t move out. I don’t have any money. And believe me: that won’t stop her.” I leaned over and gave a half-hearted effort.
Right on cue, my phone buzzed for the third time, in just as many minutes. I didn’t even bother silencing the call. I sat up, straightening myself.
Tyler’s eyes darkened. “Let’s take care of it.”
“What are you saying?”
“You said you wanted to kill her. Let’s do it. Tonight.”
My heart skipped a beat. My stomach fluttered. My head spun with possibilities. “Really? I mean, what if – I don’t know.” I curled into a ball and leaned against the door.
Tyler took a joint out of his pocket and lit it. After taking a hit, he held it in his right hand, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger reverently. Slowly he released his breath and said quietly, never looking at me, “Hmm. Weird. I thought you were cool.” He shrugged. “I guess I was wrong about you.”
We waited until after midnight before sneaking into the house. Tyler took a minute to dig at the back door latch. Seeing the tag still attached to the stolen crow bar cracked me up and I had to stifle a giggle. He shot me a look. “You’re going to have to get serious,” he yell-whispered. “Like I said, we’ve got to make this look like a break-in. Legit.”
In the kitchen, I pause and listen for signs of movement. Satisfied, I slide over to the counter and pull a long knife out of the butcher block. It is cold and heavy in my hand. The reality of what I’ve agreed to niggles at the back of my brain. Tyler comes up behind me, apparently reading my thoughts while I turn the knife in my hand, catching small, dull, glints of light. I felt the bulge of his gun poking me.
“She nags. She manipulates. She abuses. We’re doing the right thing.”
I take a deep breath and turn away from him, walking towards her bedroom. I pause at the closed door, my hand resting on the cool metal knob. Quickly, I throw the door open and flick on the light.
“What the hell!” Mother pops up in the bed, her hand shielding her eyes from the sudden assault.
I leap onto the bed, my sudden prowess stunning even myself. Landing on her abdomen, I straddle her and ram the knife into her chest. Her eyes go wide, her mouth is frozen into an ‘O.’ I yank the knife out and stick her again. And again.
“This is for treating me like a child! …for never believing me! …for marrying that man that molested me! …for making me get the abortion!”
She had quit moving after the sixth or seventh wound. I didn’t know if she was dead or not. I continued my assault, finding the slight resistance as I plunged the knife into her hateful flesh therapeutic.
Tyler came over the bed. “Babe. It’s done. She’s dead. You did it. Let’s go.”
I stopped my assault and realized I was crying. I looked up at him. He had a look of adoration I’d only seen one other time. He reached over and swiped at my tears with his thumb.
“I’m proud of you. You saw a problem and took care of it.”
Red-hot rage swelled up in me and I dove at him, knocking us to the floor. “Shut up! You don’t know anything!” The knife was still clutched tightly in my hand, I raised it above my head.
He grabbed my wrist and flipped me over in one smooth movement. His gun fell out beside me but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Jamie, what the fuck? Have you gone crazy?”
I softened, hoping he would let go of the tight grip on my wrists. A fresh sob ebbed its way out. “I don’t – I just killed my mother. I think—I don’t know…”
Tyler let go but pulled me up to him. “Shh. Don’t cry. Really. It was for the best. You don’t have to worry any more. You’re finally free of her. This was the only way out. You agreed, remember?”
I let him hold me for a while, letting my crying slow down. Finally, I sniffed. “Yeah. I just didn’t expect…this.” Slowly, I reached out and felt for his gun. “I thought it would be different.” Quickly, I pulled away and pointed the gun at his forehead, so close it was actually touching. Before he could register what was happening, I pulled the trigger. His head flew back, his face frozen in expression.
I stood up and dropped the gun on his chest. I crossed the room to the bathroom. Turning on the light, my sudden reflection surprised me. I was a mess. Knowing a quick hand wash wasn’t going to cut it, I turned on the faucets to fill the tub, dumping in some salts for good measure. “When in doubt, take a bath.” The sign hanging over her tub read. It had always cracked me up.
“What the hell does that mean?” I’d asked her when she picked it up at Target.
“One of these days, you’ll understand.” She smiled smugly.
Slipping into the sudsy water, I felt my muscles relax. I eased in to my chin. I felt better than I’d felt in months. Maybe even years. My eyes popped open. Suddenly, I knew: I would have to do this again.
“The here and the now, baby girl. It changes everything,” I hear my grandmother say. And for a moment, I feel whole again.
Heather Clift asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work