|Oct/Nov 2013 Fiction|
Electronic/fiber artwork by Phillip Stearns
Someone once told Mac his life would make a good children's story: The Farmer and the Beauty Queen.
"It might not be what you think," was all he could say, especially since he had already decided he would have to murder Kay, his wife. Parents, typically, don't like to read murder stories to their children. Such stories can generate nightmares that pierce a parental sleep like an icepick scraping an old-fashioned chalkboard.
As with most things Mac did, he had a plan. Like most plans that people have, it didn't turn out as planned. Not at all, he would have said. No, sir.
Some might have said that love got in the way, a possibility since Mac loved Kay with such a fierce passion that he one time spelled out her name in the planting of 60 acres of corn. He even let that corn stand through the winter and on into the spring, an expensive tribute that led their friends to chuckle out romantic words like "whipped," and "gaga," and "love struck."
Some might have said the plan must not have been well-planned, but that would have been wrong. Mac was a methodical man, a thorough man, a detail man who loved precision and exactitude in all things.
Mac, for his part, would simply have said, "We did everything together. I must have forgotten that."
Children's stories aside, then, here is how Mac did it.
He crushed a whole container of tramadol pills and poured the powder into Kay's orange juice one morning. She drank about half of it and then said she might go back to bed for a while. Mac helped her up, made some inane, sexy comment, and then took her robe off of her. By then, she was both giggling and yawning.
Easily, Mac very big and Kay very small, he put her over his shoulder. Oddly, he found this intimate contact with her flesh distasteful, not at all like those moments over the years where they'd swirled themselves into a stupor of carnal excess. That morning Mac was reminded of various carcasses he'd hefted in a similar fashion over the years. Those were not good memories, only necessary ones.
Soon, however, it would be all over.
Kay, of course, didn't know she'd been punched up with her morning juice. She was still young enough that a touch of this (arthritis) and a touch of that (osteopenia) yielded regularly to minor league soporifics like the tramadol, so it wouldn't have occurred to her that minor had just been bumped up into major, at least not right away. Thus, she giggled a little, babbled a bit, but hardly complained as Mac picked her up, opened the kitchen door, and headed for the barn, both of them, Kay and Malcolm, by then in a distant place where love couldn't find any towers and every conversation began and ended with "No signal available."
The barn door slid open easily with one hand, the tracks and rollers well-greased because Mac was like that, a good farmer. He liked to think he was a good husband, too, like now where he was carrying Kay with courtesy and dignity (almost, Kay's butt right next to his cheek) instead of wrapping his hand in her hair and dragging her across the barnyard. Like anyone, Mac had forces inside urging him toward despicable behaviors. He was yielding to one, he knew, but that didn't mean all vestiges of marital decency had to go by the board.
The silo, attached to the barn, had two openings, the one near the floor no longer useable with about four-thousand pounds (wet) of corn and alfalfa and bean silage already in there, but the opening near the ceiling was still accessible. He'd have to climb about ten feet up the ladder with Kay on his shoulder. He'd thought about maybe tying a rope around her ankles and putting a pulley on the ceiling to haul her up that way, but dignity (again)—you had to give her a bit of that. He was only killing her and not butchering a hog.
Kay, after all, only weighed a hundred and nine pounds, still as thin as the Fiber One picture shoot, as thin as the Payless shoe shot, as thin as when they painted her white for the 7-Eleven Christmas TV ad—Kay about as magnificent a ghost as he'd ever seen. The photographer had offered Kay the use of his studio shower after the shoot, but both she and Mac had said, no, they'd take care of it when they got home. Mac didn't think he'd ever had a moment as exquisite as when, looking down at his penis after Kay had given it a good rubbing, he saw that it was covered in white paint.
Mac got her up to the opening and then pushed her through. She fell, but it was only a few feet down to the top of the muck.
"Oof," he heard as she landed, not quite on her stomach but turned enough so that a slick slime covered her face.
"This might be what they call poetic justice," Mac said, "if I thought for a minute you could understand anything about either poetry or justice."
Mac was not pleased that he'd said that since Kay, having a college degree, was not stupid. Regularly, too, they discussed consequential things like the economy, crop prices, and politics. Kay, politically, stood a little to the left of center, while Mac felt more comfortable a little to the right. It had never been a contentious separation.
No more of that, he decided, no more snippy remarks. He climbed back up the ladder with the plywood door and slipped it into the opening. A steel bar dropped over the top of the plywood sheet. He secured that with a nut and a bolt.
Mac thought he heard Kay say something, then repeated to himself, No more of that. No more words because, truly, I am not angry. This has nothing to do with anger.
Kay licked her lips and wished she hadn't, but it was enough to prompt her to brush her fingertips over her eyelids before opening them. Very wet. Everything.
Looking around, then. So he's put me in the silo.
Quite smelly. Something of rot. Strangely, something of a refinery south of Chicago they'd driven past one time.
I know what he's thinking. He's thinking that I'm thinking myself above this foulness, that any dirt I confront should be of the highest purity, that any trash, any garbage, any composted bioessence ought ideally to be made of linens or silks or, at the very least, dry-clean-only polyesters.
Kay looked up toward the top of the silo and thought, That's a long climb.
Steel support rods curved around the silo's interior. She touched one and could feel right away how slim the purchase would be. Toe tips and fingertips. How good are you, honey? Still, any falls, at least from some height if not all the way to the top, would be cushioned by this evil sludge. Maybe. Or she might just sink down thunderously and do what farm kids have always called a dry drowning.
She could yell, of course, Kay with a voice always considered robust given her small frame. Yell to her sister's house a mile away, the sister (Marjorie) who'd called her cranky and argumentative and feisty and retributive ever since they could understand such words. Kay thought retributive hadn't come up until high school when the jealousies of lesser girls had resulted in a lot of unkindness.
A really high climb and then a really big yell. Still, were there similar supports on the outside of the silo? Could she climb down on the outside once she'd climbed up on the inside, and then perhaps look for Mac and together they could have a good laugh about it and how sweaty and dirty and ugly she'd gotten—"Beauty queen, my ass!"—a good laugh before—maybe—she went into the living room and took the antique anvil off the mantle and began dropping it on all manner of sensitive areas of who she'd forever after have to refer to as her ex-husband, possibly her late husband?
Analysis, Kay finally decided, might make you wise, but it won't necessarily make you free.
What, she wondered, was Mac's plan?
Mac thought there might be enough digestive gases in there to cause Kay to suffocate, but the silo was open at the top so you couldn't count on it. The cap had blown off during a storm and he didn't have the three-thousand bucks to get it fixed. He'd do it himself someday, maintenance always high on Mac's lists of things that need to be done.
The silo was, of course—as anybody knew—a tidal basin, a hot tub, a virtual swarm of bacteria cooked by fermentation up into a quite rowdy muck. For seasonings there was always Roundup™, nitrogen, ammonia, and all manner of random hydrocarbons. Methane, too, sometimes referred to as the old farmer's best friend, quicker and cleaner than pneumonia. Mac's methane detector had never gone off, but you could always hope. Kay, he decided—some things just work out, don't they?—would be an indelicate experiment in a Petri dish of massive proportions, the enemy present in a googolplex of numbers, yet invisible.
Good notion there for the philosophers, Mac thought, possibly the Pentagon.
He tried to remember if she'd suffered any cuts or scratches lately, the damn skin, unscathed, such a fine defender. Nothing came to mind.
Wife devoured by bacteria in tragic accident.
Would it actually hurt? he wondered. To be eaten up by invisible things that didn't even have teeth?
Is there a bacterial equivalent of the knife and fork?
Then Mac thought: the health of a marriage can certainly be gauged by the kinds of questions raised about it.
Back at the house, he looked around and thought things looked pretty good. Tidy, indeed, Kay a good housekeeper even with all the work she did spreading her aesthetic wonder out into the world. Still, a tidy house lacked stories and he needed a story. Story was important. Without stories, life was just random residue, things that needed to be cleaned up. What could he say? How might he frame things for the wonderfully congenial (always) Marjorie?
She left, that's all I know. Cleaned the house up, this house that she dearly loved as you can well see, and took off. Unlike her to leave those frozen toaster tarts on the counter but I imagine her mind was on movement, on getting out of here. Cleaning up the toaster tarts is probably small jones when you see yourself as breaking out for better times, which we could have had, you know. I realize that. I like to work and I may have neglected those things that were important to her. Other men, though, they had their eyeballs on her all the time and she could not ignore that. I do not, no, I do not know if there were consequences to that, though from time to time she would express carnal desires to me the origins of which I could only guess. You know, I can tell you this because you've always struck me as being intelligent, Marjorie, Kay had some things about peeing and some things she liked about the feed lot when it was muddy from the rain. I can tell you those things because they were oddities about your sister, not flaws. Maybe they're even oddities you share. Anyway, could well be she had to meet someone since she was always meeting someone; thus, the abandoned toaster tarts. I like the pineapple ones, by the way. Might be she went over to the church but I doubt it. We haven't done much church since the one Wednesday night when they called her out during service and said she must confess as to how she'd misused her beauty, confess or every mirror she passed would shatter, confess or she would be inflicted with ticks in the eyes until her eyeballs fell from her head. I was hurt by all of that, Marjorie but, truthfully, once a man begins to see his wife as a whore she becomes one in all she does. That's about as true as gravity so there is no end of blame I will take in this business. It is unfair and something against which a woman has no retort. Still, I believe I miss her already, and even miss those damn beauty contests and that applause and, well, let me be honest about it, the money, too, and those commercials—Jesus! She could sing!—but, shit, she's gone now. Maybe she'll call me or call you. Who knows? I sincerely believe we should keep in touch.
Yes, Mac thought, that's a good story, especially the part about the pee and the feed lot, a spark in the story sadly lacking in the lives that were lived. He would not tell Marjorie that, while Kay would give him a hand job every week on Sunday afternoons, she hadn't let him indulge in penetrating intercourse in a long time. Might have been her self-esteem (as they say), the good and the bad of being on display, of being measured and judged and maybe found wanting because of a mole on your thigh or a slight smear to the toenail varnish. Kay told him one time about a judge who'd literally sneered at a girl when she spotted just the tiniest laparoscopic appendectomy scar on the girl's tummy. Faults, judgments. We tell ourselves not to take it all so seriously, but it's advice we always ignore.
So Kay could do a hand job and know immediately she was good at it. Instant gratification with no need for theatrics.
All of which Mac had accepted because he thought being a good husband required an understanding of moods foul and moods grand, of rages she'd indulged over people he'd never met, of flatteries she'd accepted knowing they had about as much truth as that man who surfaces now and again and predicts the end of the world.
So he'd always fold his socks together before putting them in the laundry basket and, without fail, he'd wash her car inside the barn after she'd taken it out somewhere—things a husband does—even when he had a foul certainty that she'd just had sex in it.
Mac, though, in those early moments after dumping Kay in the silo, sat down in the wicker rocker in the living room to call himself to accounts. A life that was more than random jottings on scraps of paper needed links, needed whole chains of why's and what's and because's to keep it from turning into a nonsense cartoon. Mac believed that as he thought:
I didn't do it because of the beauty contests. No, sir.
I didn't do it because there might have been other men in her life, even in her body. I am a modern man and a modern man can accept the strange turns that desire often takes.
I didn't do it because of money or greed. She knows I would have sold the farm to buy her a gold-plated bathtub if that had been important to her.
I did it because we had gotten to that point.
'What point is that?' you say.
Kay could feel the rash begin on her ankle, redness and fat hives, no doubt the foul remnants of some pesticide or an herbicide. Always had she had sensitive skin (grown thicker, though, she'd joke with Mac, upon entering the pageant circuit). Standing too close to the smoke from a pile of burning leaves had made her break out as a child—and still did. A slight defect in the immune system, that was all, signifying nothing, though she had had to withdraw from Exquisite Equine '09 after getting dotted up from eating butter pecan ice cream. She won it the next year.
Now, though, something gooey, something sticky, a honey pot (no bees!) of cornstalks, leaves, alfalfa dross, and an occasional cob of corn. She thought she might try digging downward to the opening near the floor. Mac had bolted up the one right here, she'd heard that, but he might not have done that to the one down there, figuring it was already covered by ten feet of biosludge and that she just wouldn't think of it as a possibility.
Itchy, too, she decided. I wonder if I've started on a countdown to my life's ending? Well, that's always going on, regardless of whether or not there are helpers in the process. We all know that. Mac, though, the plan had to be murder. I'm sure of it. Starvation would be a good plan, as would popping off that plywood and reorganizing my life plan with the .12 gauge.
Such a young life, too, she thought, with oh so much remaining to be done. Let's see—I've had only one vacation (Wisconsin Dells), two cars, one big trip (California, finishing 29th in the Miss University U.S.A. Pageant, one sex partner (Mac—regardless of what he thinks, the man a sex bunny of fantasies), one lobster, one operation (elective: boobs, a simple necessity about like steroids for athletes), and one dog (electrocuted by Mac, the circumstances slightly mean, though the dog was pretty sick). Really, that was hardly a list you could present to St. Peter and expect praise for a life well-used.
The digging wasn't all that hard, the muck having an affinity for motion, a kind of integrity (one of Mac's favorite words). She scooped with two hands right next to the wall of the silo, a downward tunnel beginning and eventually deep enough that she was no longer outside it but in it. She noticed, too, as she took a moment to catch her breath, that the rash was now on both legs and moving up toward her thighs. I have been told my thighs are first-rate.
In only a few minutes she could see the top of the opening. She touched it. She was not yet down far enough to get any grip, but it seemed loose, moveable.
As am I, she thought. The flaw in Mac's plan was all too obvious, the flaw being the tramadol that got her a little buzzed up, but that never lasted long. Didn't he know that by now? A dance routine on a sore knee, she could do it with tramadol, then emerge coherent enough to spell out her plan for ending global food shortages or the poverty of Nigerian peasants.
By the time she got to the bottom of the opening she could feel the silage above and around her diminishing in structural reliability. It wiggled. It seemed to breathe. It had wanted to welcome her as a needy newcomer but now was trying to persuade her to stay.
I believe I am more than compost, Kay thought.
"Nothing to it," Kay said to Mac. "That piece of plywood just slid right up out of the opening and I tumbled out like a hundred-pound bag of sludge. Thus, do you see me."
Mac wasn't seeing anything clearly as he lay on the kitchen floor, his skull fractured enough from the piece of water pipe in Kay's hand that he could feel a shifting in the bones of his head. He thought he'd read somewhere about pending legislation that would require all married couples to wear football helmets, but that, not totally silly, could also be the result of some cranial hysteria. Was his brain swelling? He hoped he wouldn't have to sneeze.
He'd gone from the living room back to the kitchen where he'd made some coffee. His big thoughts finally at rest, he'd been sipping coffee at the kitchen table when Kay walked in. The pipe in her hand hadn't registered as anything interesting, Kay's simple presence taking most of his attention. A water pipe. Farms are nothing but parts, he knew, and the parts were usually all over the place.
So he'd said, "You look like shit."
"I'm being eaten alive," she'd said. "It's not a good feeling."
Then she'd hit him, a sidearm whack to the side of his head.
"I think I'm hurt," he said as Kay stood over him. "Badly hurt."
He began shifting around on the floor, not at all stable, trying to get up.
"Imagine how I felt," Kay said. "You gave me solitary confinement along with the dissolution—in time, darling, it would have taken a lot of time—of my flesh."
"Well," Mac began, "our differences. They've gotten pretty bad."
"Just when, though," Kay said, "does a man decide that it's okay to kill his wife? When did you do that? When did murder seem better than divorce or giving her to a Mormon commune or selling her to an Arab sheik?"
"This isn't going well," Mac mumbled. Kay noticed it was a mumble, coherence slipping away. She noticed, too, a bit of blood dripping from Mac's nose.
Kay went over to the sink, wet a dishcloth, and then bent down and wiped the blood from Mac's nose and mouth.
"I wonder if I've killed you," she said.
"You may have done that," he whispered, "but not quickly. If I am killed, I would have wished it quicker. Wow. This really hurts. My head hurts."
"I'll call Marjorie," Kay said. "She can be here in a minute."
"Not an ambulance?" Mac said.
"Oh, honey," Kay began, "with an ambulance we'd have to explain what I did to you, and how that came out of what you did to me, the evidence of which is creeping all over my skin. Really, I don't think you're up to dealing with all that right now."
With that, she took the pipe and slammed it as hard as she could into Mac's knee.
Mac moaned in pain and anger and said, "That's not going to help the killing, Kay."
Marjorie, the big sister, and truly that, a good foot taller than Kay and four years older, and always ready to lay out for Kay all the minutiae Kay could attend to so that her life would be broader, richer, deeper, or at least more like Marjorie's—Marjorie was at the house within five minutes, pulling in to the drive in her Hummer and fairly gasping as Kay, still naked, came out of the house.
"You're mottled," Marjorie said as she looked at Kay.
"I'm filthy," said Kay.
"You've killed Mac?" Marjorie said. "That's what you said on the phone?"
"I believe so," said Kay, "although he's not dead yet. His head looks funny. I mean, you know, bent out of shape—truly."
Kay quickly filled Marjorie in on the traumatic morning as they walked into the house.
"Maybe he just wanted you out of the way," Marjorie said, "putting you in the silo like a timeout or how we used to have to sit on the pouting chair. I mean, it's a vicious thing to do, but—"
"That silo is filled with harmful stuff," Kay said. "It's not like the old days and Mac damn well knew that."
"I suppose he did," said Marjorie.
Neither of them were surprised to find that Mac was no longer in the kitchen. The small pool of blood on the floor, however, was enough to persuade Marjorie that Kay most likely wasn't making anything up.
"Your clothes?" Marjorie said.
"I can hardly get dressed like this," Kay said, "and there hasn't been time for a shower. We have to find Mac, honey. I'm not at all interested in saving him, but you can't have your dead husband falling down just any old place."
"Why don't you look around in here," Marjorie said, "and take a quick duck into the shower. I'll look outside."
Kay didn't find Mac anywhere inside, but she did take a few minutes to give herself a quick wash in the shower and to throw on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. She noticed the rash was up to her waist, but decided it would start to subside now that she'd gotten all that foul smear off of herself.
"Marjorie?" Kay called out from upstairs.
"I'm on the porch," Marjorie called back.
As soon as Kay stepped onto the porch Marjorie said, "Oh, shit."
"Oh, shit?" Kay said.
"Did you look in the mirror after you showered?" Marjorie asked.
"I was in a hurry," Kay said.
"Your face is all red," Marjorie said, "and your legs. Where were you?"
"I told you," Kay said. "Mac threw me into the silage. I think he was hoping I'd drown or suffocate or dissolve into parts too small for a sheriff to identify."
"Well you've certainly had a reaction to whatever is in there."
"I'm clean now," Kay said. "It'll go away."
They looked down the road then in the direction of Marjorie's house. They saw nothing.
"There," said Kay, looking in the other direction.
They saw Mac then, maybe a half mile down the road. He was moving slowly and awkwardly, limping. There was nothing in that direction for several miles—no farms, not a town. Eventually the road bent around to connect with the highway, but it was a long walk.
"I hit him on his knee, too," said Kay. "I'm surprised he's gotten that far. He's pretty tough, though. I've always liked that."
"Let's get my car," said Marjorie.
"No," said Kay.
"Kay?" said Marjorie.
"I'll go get him," said Kay.
"I want to help," said Marjorie.
"Just go home, Marjorie," said Kay. "This is just Mac and me. When he's dead—and I know he's going to be that way, his head like a hard-boiled egg ready to peel—I'll call you. Then we can do what sisters do at such a time. Maybe we can build him into a losing tussle with one of his machines. I don't know. I just wanted you to be prepared for that—why I called you."
"I don't know, honey," said Marjorie.
"I do," said Kay.
So stunning this morning, Kay thought, a double sheet of sky, pure blue right above, a slate panel off on the horizon, a kind breeze, too, October on the cusp. No rain, not yet, though that slate blade was slicing toward them quickly enough. Nervous birds—just the commoners: robins, cardinals, jays—all around in chatterey asides about winter and why it is worms taste so awful these days, probably about the way she would taste if anyone wanted to do that. Anyway, a good day to take Mac down to the creek for a swim—well, absent certain other considerations. They'd done that many times, though, naked, both of them, loving and panting out fun and desire, passion in a grand blend of God's own rainwater and God's own manufactured effluent—Monsanto, DuPont, and all manner of city liquors from Procter and Gamble.
"Wouldn't it be fun," she said one time, her comment connected to one of her sponsors at the time, "to swim in a pool of root beer?"
"It might be sticky, Kay," Mac had said.
"But it would be fun?" she said.
"If you say so."
Mac had said so many times he didn't deserve a beauty like her, that she was a blend of all the dreams of lonely men: small and manageable, hair as black as... as black as, well, he couldn't always think of things like that, especially not when he was looking at her eyes, deep-set eyes, good brown eyes that could sweep an audience and persuade them to give her just a bit of a cry, sympathy oh so effective on the judges. Mac said he wasn't all that much of a breast man—too many cows milked over too many years, he'd laugh—but he thought hers signaled the haven of a soft belly, a place to rest for only a moment before those perfect legs opened up and took you beyond words, beyond pain.
Nice words, Kay thought, from a man not usually very wordy.
Kay wondered what had changed all of that. They'd both thought it was a harmless lark at the beginning, her entering the Mrs. Chubby thing at the county fair, then winning it. The three-hundred and fifty dollar prize, though, not bad, motivation enough for Kay to lose sixty-four pounds and move on to Freemason Grand, then County Pork Queen. Harmless, all of it, but fun and profitable the way any good business should be. She was that, too, a good business and still a good wife even if, as could be expected, Mac had started getting edgy with the boob job and then the regular manicures and pedicures, the hair work, going all the way into town to the gym four days a week.
"It's not the money," he'd said once, "not the going out of it or the coming in of it."
"Okay," she'd said.
"Nor all the things you do where people look at you and take pictures in their minds and take those pictures home. I understand pictures. Pictures give us hooks we can hang our thoughts on."
"That's interesting, honey," she'd said.
"But it seems like you've gotten to a point where—"
"Yes?" Kay had said.
His words got away from him then, but he'd taken her in his arms and kissed her and then mumbled something about how he had a lot of work today and things, he was sure, would be okay. "They really will," he'd said.
Kay's hand felt itchy. When she looked at it she saw blood dripping slowly from her fingertips. The other hand, too, with both arms red and blotchy. What in the hell has Mac been putting on his fields?
Kay, not racing, not at all out of breath, was quickly closing the distance between herself and Mac.
She could see he'd grabbed a stick from somewhere for support, the leg she'd hit even harder than she'd hit his head injured, though functional, she thought, as long as the audience is allowed to wince, maybe squirm a bit.
Audience, she thought. We don't have that. The truly great fights of all time, the bedroom set-to's, the kitchen smack-downs, the backyard slashings, so rarely there, up front, where entertainment lived. Always in private with so much hurt never shared, never elevated to the realm of the informational. Thus, we all have to learn it on our own: offense, defense, the cuts, the stings. That battered wife, then, poor dear, gets presented to the world as an instance and gets cheated out of being part of a process.
Kay wondered for a moment if that last thought was a bit anti-feminist. What I meant was, the thing about battered wives is ….
"Mac?" she said, some fifty feet away now. Along with her leaking fingers, she knew she was now leaving bloody footprints on the gravel road. Not hard for this Hansel and Gretel to find their way home!
"Mac?" she said again. He could hear her. She knew it. His limping gait now seemed more of a stagger, enough so that she could feel just the slightest burp of pity deep inside.
A burp. Not a stab. Not a welling. Hardly a feeling. This ruin of her husband more like a bad meal than a tragedy. Just that morning, at breakfast (Jimmy Dean sausage, soft-boiled eggs, cornbread, blueberries, orange juice), he'd looked at her and said, "Just how many men have you had relations with?"
Oh God bless this Protestant farmer! He believes his wife is a whore because she's had … relations?
She'd laughed at the time, sensing a joke, then found herself really, really woozy, off-center by a mile and a half so that by the time she realized he'd drugged her he had her over his shoulder, out the door, and on the way to the barn.
She'd said, her head down near his waist, "Do you really believe that I—" but coherence had taken a hike and she couldn't remember what she wanted to say.
Belief, though, wasn't that a problem in most marriages? Everyone always wants something from their spouse but they never tell them what it is. Kay remembered hearing a man, a friend, say one time to both her and Mac, his face flushed and wet with tears because they'd been talking about his almost-final divorce, "I have for years felt as though I'd failed her in about ten different ways, yet I have never known what any one of those ways was. You want to correct things, don't you? But they never tell you what's wrong."
Twelve little contests in four different states, that's all, for a total of, what, about four-thousand dollars in prize money, one whole packaged and frozen pig, and a scholarship to a community college six-hundred and eighteen miles away.
So for all of that—the circuit, too, truly minor, the most minor of the minor circuits, not quite Miss Navel Fluff or Mrs. Dust Bunny (she'd won only eight outright and for that had garnered only two small articles in the local paper)—such limited, such average fame. Even her commercials had run only on late night and local TV. Good Mac, decent Mac, thought she'd become the sperm bank for a whole lot of nameless depositors. Was Mac demented?
Maybe, she finally decided, you shouldn't even try to think about marriage because none of it made any sense.
Kay hadn't found any panties after her quickie shower so it was obvious that blood was beginning to well around her crotch, no menstrual blood, no, no more than the wetness she didn't even want to look at in her armpits. Maybe it was only honest sweat, something that happens when your husband runs (limps?) away because he thinks you might be truly dangerous. Maybe.
Still, she was only a few yards now from Mac, who could clearly hear her even if he wasn't responding. Nice to know his final moments would be like so many earlier ones.
Mac stopped then.
Good enough, Kay thought. She was feeling tired from the walk, even weak. A cold feeling of unease swept over her, too, as she began to worry about this leaking of blood. At one point she'd coughed and spit up a big, clotty clump of blood. Clearly treatment, serious treatment, was in order for both of them, but she hadn't had the chance yet to figure out how they could do that, how they could frame a story or two so that things didn't get all litigious. That curious bottom line, too, they had to get away from that: I don't want you hurt, honey, only dead.
Mac stepped off the road and sat down in the shade beneath an old maple tree. He took a deep breath and released a great, relaxing sigh. His face and chest, Kay saw, were covered with sweat and dirt and more blood leaking from his wounds.
"Oh, darling," Kay said as she sat down beside him.
"Looks like we might have done something," he said, "something bad. You don't look so good."
"Did you poison me?" Kay asked.
"No," he said. "I just gave you some extras of those painkillers you sometimes use. But in the silo, I don't know, that's a cumulative place. Two plus two can equal fifty-seven. Anyway, so much always needs to be killed on a farm. Maybe a devil or two. Wicked angels. There are insurgents everywhere and the only army you got is yourself."
"Wicked angels?" Kay said.
"Yes," Mac said.
Kay smiled and said, "I like wicked angels. I feel like I could deal with wicked angels."
"That's possibly what you're doing," Mac said, then added, "It shouldn't have been so hard."
"Yes?" said Kay.
"Us," he said. "Why'd we make it so hard?"
"Do you think it's ever easy for anyone?" Kay said. "This whole marriage thing? It was just started by a bunch of old men who wanted to live forever. They didn't."
"I guess I just meant the two of us. I tried to kill you today."
"I know. I tried to kill you, too."
"So here we are," Mac said, "either stupid or incompetent."
"Mac?" Kay said.
"I don't think we're incompetent. Not at all."
"You might be right," Mac said. "Of course that leaves us holding on to stupid then."
"Stupid's a big basket," Kay said. "It can hold a lot of things."
Kay leaned away from Mac for a moment, closed her eyes, and vomited.
"Are you hurting?" Mac said.
"No," said Kay. "It doesn't hurt at all. It just feels like everything inside me is shifting around and falling apart."
"How in the hell did you ever hit me that hard?" Mac said.
"It was just the angle," she said, "and the way I had my feet. I wasn't even sure I could lift that piece of pipe but I guess it all worked out."
"My brain's coming out of my head now," he said. "If you think about it, that's a pretty spooky thing to say."
"Marjorie came over," Kay said.
"She's all right," Mac said. "You know I've always thought Marjorie was okay."
"Yes," said Kay. "She's always said something like that about you, too. I think she wanted to call someone. The sheriff, maybe the paramedics. I told her no."
"That was good," said Mac. "You were right earlier. None of this would be easy to explain."
"I thought so," said Kay.
She scooted down then and rested her head on Mac's lap. She said, "Such a beautiful morning. But those clouds—looks like some rain coming on."
"Rain will be good," said Mac. "Clean us up a bit."
"It will," said Kay. "That'll be good."