All posts by Jim Farren

Born and raised in the mountains of West Virginia, Jim has lived in ten states and three foreign countries. Currently retired somewhere in the Ozarks, he has a passion for his wife, blended (not sour mash) bourbon, Hawaiian shirts, anything fried in bacon grease in a cast-iron skillet, stray dogs, and whatever vegetables are in season with the exception of Brussel sprouts and eggplant.

Slippery When Wet

I killed my husband by pushing him out the haymow door.  He didn’t have no idea I was gonna do it.  He was up there straightening the hay bales left over from winter.  It was a fine spring morning the day I done it.  I was downstairs in the barn sweeping out the feedway and the idea just come over me.  I climbed up the ladder to the loft and pushed him right out.  He landed on a pile of rocks we was saving to fix the foundation with.  The fall broke his neck and crinkled his head pretty good.  I climbed back down and finished my sweeping.  Then I fed the chickens, gathered my eggs, and started dinner for the chil’ren.  They only had half a day of school that day and when they come home I sent them out to fetch their pa to eat.  George is the one who found him.  George is the oldest, after Henry.  George come running into the house screaming that his pa was dead.  I sent Jenny around the road to use the neighbor’s telephone to call the doctor.  The doctor said their pa broke his neck and crinkled his head pretty good.  No one ever suspected I was the one who done it.  We buried him with a fine Christian service and that was that.  I’d have liked it better if he’d had some insurance, though.

Agnes Hazlowe is seventy-four years old.  She dips snuff and is bald from a childhood bout with typhus.  She wears a nightcap, even on Sundays when she dresses for church.  She does not sleep well and__when looked in on at night__is often found awake and staring up at the ceiling.  Her eyes are the size, shape, and color of ripe blueberries.

Jenny!  You stay away from that springhouse before you fall in and drown.  That’s what I used to yell at her.  If I yelled it at her once that summer I yelled it at her a hunderd times.  Stay away from that spring, I’d holler.  But Jenny didn’t listen.  She was out there looking at herself in the water.  She thought I didn’t know what she was doing, but I did.  Mothers have a way of knowing things.  I knew she was looking to see what that new boy from around the road saw.  I knew she snuck off to see him on the sly, too.  Letting him put his hands on her and her liking it.  I knew.  I could see it in her eyes.  The girl had no modesty.  No sense of shame.  Between times with that boy she’d sit in the springhouse looking at herself in the water.  Making herself pretty.  She’d fall in and drown one day, I told her.  But Jenny never listened.  She did fall in, too.  One Saturday.  And I held her under with a mop handle until there weren’t no more bubbles.  Henry and George had gone to the store for me.  When they come back I sent them out to look for their sister.  George is the one who found her.  George is the oldest, after Henry.  George come running into the house screaming Jenny was dead.  I sent Henry around the road to that new boy’s house to use the telephone and call the doctor.  The doctor said she must have hit her head on something and drowned.  They never once thought I helped.  We had a very nice funeral.  That new boy from around the road cried and cried and cried.  But I knew it was only because he missed touching Jenny.

Agnes Hazlowe drools from one corner of her mouth.  Cataracts have formed in her left eye, giving it a milky look and causing her to squint.  She sits most days with a Bible clutched in her lap.  When left unattended she fingers a tattered, velvet-ribbon bookmark imprinted with the words Jesus Loves Me.

Henry was too much like his pa.  That was the problem.  He begun to bossing George and me around like things had become his responsibility of a sudden.  He prob’ly did it because he was the oldest.  He started to cussing sometimes, too, and he was all the time after me about frittering away my egg money.  That’s what he called it whenever I walked down to the store.  Frittering away my egg money, he’d say.  I told Henry he was getting to be just like his pa.  He thought I meant it as a compliment.  That’s why I burned him up.  I told him and I told him he was getting more like his pa every day.  But Henry didn’t listen.  So I finally burned him up.  He was out to the barn currying his horse.  We was in the middle of a hot, dry summer that year.  It was the driest summer anybody could remember.  Fires was very common.  I went out to the barn and hit him over the head with a chunk of firewood.  Then I closed up all the doors and piled loose straw against one wall.  I thew a lit match in the straw and the barn went up like you’d soaked it with kerosene.  Woof, and just like that it was all flames.  The fire roared so loud it hurt my ears.  I never even once heard Henry scream.  I went back to the house and laid down for my nap. George is the one saw the barn burning.  George was the oldest, after Henry.  He come running into my bedroom yelling that the barn was on fire.  I sent him around the road to telephone for help.  Volunteer firemen come and used water from the well to wet down everything in sight, but they was too late to save the barn.  They didn’t know Henry was in there till they poked around in the ashes.  Everybody knew how Henry smoked cigarettes.  They never once thought the fire was set.  I used some of my egg money to buy him a nice headstone.

Agnes Hazlowe has all the infirmities of her age and sex.  Her medication is measured and constant, dosed with and between her meals.  Her speech is monotonous, but not slurred, and she speaks as if from a prepared text.  While she talks she unconsciously plucks at the bodice of her dress with arthritic, grapevine-knotted fingers.

George is a good son.  He’s the oldest, after Henry.  He always minded me and still does.  He pays all my bills so I don’t have to fret over them.  I have a little money of my own, but George won’t take it.  He makes me spend it on myself.  He’s not a bit like his pa.  George is a good child.  Not like Jenny and Henry.  He’s got a daughter, though, and she’s been a trial to him.  Her name is Susan.  She’s real snotty and has a smart mouth.  George makes her come visit me sometimes, but I can tell she hates it.  Susan doesn’t like to visit her granny.  She doesn’t wear any underclothes, either.  She says she does, but I know better.  She wears tight pants and puts her hair in pigtails.  She wears makeup, too, and her only thirteen.  She always has a lollipop stuck in her mouth.  Slurping on it and talking around it in that snotty voice of hers.  When George makes her come visit she sits in that chair and stares at me like I’m a fly on the wall.  Just sits and stares with that lollipop sticking out her mouth.  Susan, I tell her, Susan, you’re indecent.  Put some underclothes on.  Don’t look so trashy.  She just laughs at me.  Susan, I tell her, one of these days you’re gonna fall down with that sucker in your mouth.  Fall and choke to death.  That thing’ll get shoved down your throat and you’ll strangle, girl.  It’ll be the best thing for your parents, too.  Save them a lot of trouble when you get older.  You’re gonna cause your pa heartache, Susan, and don’t I know it.  That’s what you’ll do, cause him heartache.  Unless you choke to death first.  When I tell her that she just laughs at me.  She won’t get it shoved down her throat, she says.  She says she knows better.  I know better, too, but she won’t listen to me.  She don’t believe her granny.

Agnes Hazlowe picks at her food.  She talks to whoever is nearby, seeming not to care whether they listen.  She fantasizes, the doctors say, and is unable to differentiate reality.  She is often recalcitrant, almost childish.  She suffers from progressive senility, the doctors say.  Recalcitrance and senility, though, are standard diagnoses for the aged.  Although difficult to manage at times Agnes is__the doctors assure us__otherwise well mannered and harmless.

Do me a favor, won’t you please?  On your way out tell that cleaning lady I need my floor waxed again.  Tell her she’s got to wax it every single day like I told her.  The slick wears off so quick when she don’t wax it every day.  Tell her I want it waxed every single day between now and Friday.  Friday’s the last day Susan is coming to visit her granny.  And thank you for stopping by.  You be real careful on your way out, hear?  That floor gets slippery as sin when it’s been waxed and I wouldn’t want you to fall and hurt yourself.

That Damned Ol’ Hog

When Clayce Talcott and Luther Twoshoes entered the ramshackle shack at the edge of town they found Dickey Bub McClung on the kitchen floor and Jocko Fayette at the table.  Dickey Bub had a butcher knife in his cold, dead hand while Jocko had a jelly glass of corn likker in his live one.  The table was littered with dirty dishes, the floor with empty beer bottles. The air smelled of cordite.
+++++“What happened here?” Clayce asked from the doorway.
+++++“I kilt the sonuvabitch is what happened,” Jocko said.  “He come at me with a knife so I shot him.” He nodded toward the revolver on the table next to the Mason jar of moonshine.
+++++“Why did he come at you?”
+++++“It was that damned ol’ hog again is why.”
+++++“Hog?”
+++++“Uh huh.  Two year ago his hogs got loose and I found one rooting in my garden.  I kilt it and cured it for bacon.  Dickey Bub didn’t much like that.  Ever’time we got to drinking he’d bring it up again.”
+++++Clayce moved into the room and took the revolver from the table.  Opening the cylinder he checked the loads then put the gun in his jacket pocket.  Luther followed Clayce into the kitchen, his dark eyes taking in the details.
+++++“Look around while I talk to Mr. Fay-ette,” Clayce said, then waited to take a chair until Luther slipped thru the doorway into the rest of the shack.
+++++Jocko slapped the table top with the flat of his hand and raised his voice. “Twoshoes, my woman’s back there somewheres, and she’s nekkid.  You don’t be taking no free looks, y’hear?”
+++++“Free looks?” Clayce arched an eyebrow.
+++++Jocko leered and reached for the Mason jar. “Ain’t nothing free in this world, mister Chief of Po-lice.” He took a drink of moonshine before adding, “If the price is right I’ll rent her to you for a bit.” Then, after belching loudly, “I don’t like yer pet injun snooping around my place.”
+++++“Too bad,” Clayce said mildly.  “I didn’t know you had a woman.”
+++++“Neither did I ’til a couple of weeks ago.”
+++++“Where did she come from?”
+++++“She got tired of being married to Dickey Bub.”
+++++“Oh.”
+++++“That’s Dickey Bub’s gun in yer pocket, too.  She brought it along with a cardboard suitcase and two quarts of likker.”
+++++“A makeshift dowry as it were,” Clayce said without humor.
+++++“A what?”
+++++“Forget it. How did Dickey Bub feel about her moving in here?”
+++++“About like you’d expect, I reckon, but he had to know she wadn’t gonna stay with him.”
+++++“Why not?”
+++++“She was on the prowl is why not.  Sometimes us boys played cards over to their place on Friday nights.  She was all the time running around half-dressed and Dickey Bub mad if he caught you looking.  I never once saw her in a full set of clothes.  Now that she’s living here, I just keep her naked. It’s easier that way.  She’s one of them, uh, what’a’ya call it when a woman wants is all the time?”
+++++“A nymphomaniac?”
+++++“Yeah, what you said—nymphomaniac.”
+++++“So, tell me what happened tonight.”
+++++“Ain’t much to tell.  We been drinking since supper and Dickey Bub got onto that damned ol’ hog again. That and Arvetta moving in here after cleaning out the bank account and stealing his gun to boot. He bitched about me not shutting the windows at night. Said he could hear the two of us going at it, what with Arvetta being kinda loud when she gets wound up. Then he allowed as how his life had basically gone to crap the last couple of years, which took him right back to that damned ol’ hog.  Next thing I know, he grabbed a butcher knife off the drainboard and come at me with murder in his eye.  It was self-defense, plain to see.”
+++++“So you grabbed his gun and shot him?”
+++++“No, I grabbed my gun and shot him.”
+++++“You just said the gun is his.”
+++++“Truth is, I misspoke.  It maybe was his ’til Arvetta brought it with her.  What’s that they say about having something being nine-tenths of the law?”
+++++“Possession?” Clayce provided.
+++++“Yeah, what you said—possession.”
+++++Luther reappeared in the kitchen doorway and leaned a shoulder against the jamb.  Both Jocko and Clayce looked to him, but Luther looked only to Clayce.
+++++“Arvetta McClung’s in the bedroom naked as a jaybird, hoss.  She’s got a black eye and bruised ribs and swears she fell down the stairs.”
+++++“What stairs?”
+++++“That’s what I asked, but she didn’t have an answer.”
+++++“Does she want to press charges?”
+++++“I asked that, too, but she said how do you arrest a flight of steps?”
+++++“Anything else back there?”
+++++“Nothing illegal if that’s what you’re asking?
+++++“So, what do you think, Luther?
+++++“About what, Arvetta?  I think Jocko smacks her around for whatever reason or maybe no reason at all.”
+++++“And Dickey Bub?”
+++++“Oh, Jocko murdered him alright, hoss.  No doubt about that.”
+++++“What?!” Jocko barked as he sat up straight.  “You’re fucking crazy. I tole you it was self-defense, didn’t I?”
+++++Ignoring Fayette, Luther said to Clayce, “You remember a year or so back when Dickey Bub and Ross Fugate went at each other in that juke joint parking lot out on Route 60?”
+++++“I do,” Clayce said.  “Cut each other up pretty good as I recall.”
+++++“They did,” Luther nodded.  “Had what we call a two-quart-of-blood fight.   By the time we broke it up it looked like they’d been butchering beef.  Anyway, hoss, Dickey Bub was a blade man.” Nodding at the corpse on the floor, he added, “Look at the way he’s holding that butcher knife.”
+++++Both Clayce and Jocko looked down at the dead Dickey Bub.
+++++“No knife man worth his salt holds it that way, with the cutting edge down like you’re gonna slice meat or chop carrots.  A knife man comes at you with the cutting edge up so he can gut you like a carp.  I figure Jocko put that knife in Dickey Bub’s hand after he shot him.”
+++++“That’s a lie!” Jocko spat. Then with a sly look, “And even if it ain’t, you can’t prove different.”
+++++Clayce pulled out a pair of handcuffs and tossed them to Luther who snatched them in mid-air like a camp dog catching a biscuit.
+++++“I don’t have to prove it, Jocko,” Clayce said mildly, “that’s the prosecutor’s job.  You’re under arrest.”
+++++“Well, I’ll be go to hell,” Jocko snarled as his right hand dropped into his lap under the table.
+++++“Don’t,” Clayce warned.  Dickey Bub’s revolver had somehow appeared in his hand, the muzzle leveled at Jocko’s belly.  “Maybe you have a gun under there, maybe not, but we already know this one works, don’t we?  Put your hands up.”
+++++Jocko’s empty hand reappeared. He grabbed the Mason jar and guzzled the last half-inch of moonshine before offering his bony wrists to Luther. Looking through the open doorway, he yelled, “Arvetta!  Put some clothes on and get your ass out here.  Call my daddy, tell ‘im I’m gonna need a lawyer and bail money.”
+++++There was the padding sound of bare feet on hardwood floor somewhere back in the shack.
+++++Rattling his shackles like Marley’s chains, Jocko hawked up a wad of phlegm and spat it between Luther’s boots. “Fucking injun,” he said as if commenting on the weather. Giving Clayce a look that would freeze water he said, “If I’d knowed you was gonna arrest me, I’d’ve shot you crossing the yard.”
+++++“Not likely.” Clayce waggled the gun barrel. “Get on your feet.”
+++++“I still say it was self defense,” Jocko grunted as he rose. “Hell, me and Dickey Bub’d still be swapping ends with Arvetta if it hadn’t been for that damned ol’hog.”