I began writing this story in 2008, and I’m surprised I’m still able to connect to the characters and their voices. I didn’t think they had anything else to say.
For now, I’ll call this story complete. It never had a title, and I can’t come up with one now. So it goes.
Something deep and troubling had occurred during Ed’s time away, and it rippled through the park like electricity. He couldn’t come right out and ask his wife Martha what it was; if she knew, she would lie like she always did, no matter the circumstances. There was a time when he and Martha were close, and he would have gone right to her and said, “I got that feeling again,” and they would have talked about it, probably made love and talked some more. But they were different people now.
And this time, things felt much different. Worse. A fundamental shift had taken place.
His horoscope was no help at all. Whatever Ed had—the sight, clairvoyance—wasn’t always reliable, but it was still a hell of a lot more accurate than astrology. But he was in the habit of reading it, if only to get a chuckle. Today’s read: Cancer – You should avoid any extra projects this week. Outlook is good on the creative front, but beware strenuous labor. What good did that do? He was a contractor, for God’s sake. Labor was what he did, but as the cards fell, he wasn’t doing anything today, though not for lack of trying. He and his partner Joe Frampton had just come back from a job in Williston, and his back ached like someone had beat his spine with a shovel. He didn’t have anything in the works until next week, when he and the crew were going to do some demo work out at Greg Anderson’s place. Nothing to do today but contemplate his own list of unending chores around the house. It was one thing Martha dug at him about. “When are you gonna fix up the bathroom?” she would ask.
“I’m not a plumber, Marth,” Ed replied.
“You could fix it and you know it. You’re just lazy and good for nothing.”
If he was lazy and good for nothing, what was she? The exact same. Martha hadn’t worked since being a cashier at Winn-Dixie in high school. She hadn’t even been a good mother. Their first child, a backward looking boy named Rye, was serving ten years for armed robbery, and child services had taken away eleven year old Kelsey to live with relatives over in Robinson county. Ed called Kelsey occasionally, and his only daughter would grunt through the conversation and smack gum. He hadn’t visited Rye in nearly two months. As bad of a mother as Martha had been, he knew he wasn’t exactly in the running for Father of the Year.
Maybe he was good for nothing, except maybe hammering two pieces of wood together. Maybe Martha had the right of it, after all.
But none of this explained the overwhelming sense that all wasn’t right, that something terrible had happened. Ed sighed and grabbed another beer from the fridge and waited for Martha to return from whatever nonsense she was up to.
The nonsense Martha was up to involved disposing of a body, specifically that of Georgia Jenkins.
“God in Heaven, Jilly,” Martha growled as she dragged the duct-taped and blanket-shrouded body from the truck bed of her friend’s dusty Ford F-150. “How many rocks did you put in there?”
“You’re just out of shape,” Jilly said, slamming the truck door and peering around the darkness of the lake. “I hope no one’s out here.”
Martha dropped Georgia’s inert form and breathed heavily. “Too cold. Everyone else is inside, warm and toasty. And we’re out here dragging a body to the lake.”
“What if we get caught?”
“We won’t get caught if we hurry. Come on and give me a hand.”
The two women dragged the body to the edge of the lake and eventually got the corpse pulled between them and began swinging. Georgia Jenkins connected with the icy waters of the lake with a tremendous splash and, after bobbing around like a ghastly cork, sank beneath the surface.
Martha sighed. “Well, that’s that.”
Jilly tried and failed to suppress a shiver that had nothing to do with the biting wind. “Unless she comes back to haunt us.”
“Shut up with that nonsense, Jilly.”
“What, you don’t believe in ghosts?”
Martha withdrew a battered pack of Salem Lights from her front pocket and lit a cigarette. After a greedy drag, she answered, “No, I don’t believe in ghosts, Jilly. And if I did, I wouldn’t be waiting around for Georgia’s sorry ass of a ghost to come dragging its chains to my door. She was a dumb bitch in life, and probably dumber in death.”
Jilly shook her head. “I don’t know, Martha. Maybe we shouldn’t have—”
Martha flicked ashes at Jilly, and a tiny piece of hot rock sizzled in the air. Jilly gasped and jumped back. “If you’re gonna turn spineless, do it when you’re alone. Don’t try to drag me down, too. I’m right as rain with what we did.”
“All right. Can I bum one of those?”
Martha grimaced and grudgingly offered the pack. “I guess you need a light, too?”
“I thought you quit.”
The cigarette trembled in Jilly’s grasp. “I’m starting back now.”
Ed was about to nod off sitting in front of the TV when someone started banging on the door. He snorted and shook himself awake, staring blearily at the clock. It was midnight, and still no Martha. She wasn’t the one banging on the door. Even if she’d lost her key, Martha would be howling Ed’s name and calling him all sorts of things.
Ed polished off the last of his beer as he stumbled to the door. He was shocked to find Georgia Jenkins—naked and shivering—on the porch. But then he immediately felt such strong déjà vu that he stumbled back for a moment. This is it, he realized. This is what’s wrong. Something with Georgia.
“Georgia, what the hell…” Ed started, but the words died on his tongue. Under the sallow front porch light, the girl sobbed uncontrollably. Her lip was split in several places, her left eyes swollen shut and the color of eggplant. Lashes lay like spiderwebs across her chest, and her right arm had been savagely yanked out of socket.
“Get in here, get in!” Ed said, tenderly taking Georgia in under his right arm and walking her into the trailer. When he touched her, it felt like sparks shooting through him. For an instant, he hurt everywhere that he saw wounds on Georgia’s body. The feeling faded as quickly as it came, but Ed started shaking like the girl.
Georgia’s sobbing increased when he shut the door and left the room to fetch a blanket. “I’m not leaving you, Georgia!” he called wildly from the bedroom. He dashed back in the living room an draped the blanket around the girl’s bruised shoulders. When his fingers brushed her skin, he didn’t feel any pain, which was a relief. “You want some water? Maybe something stronger?”
Georgia nodded, and since Ed wasn’t sure which she preferred, he went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of tap water and a bottle of Jim Beam. Georgia reached for the Jim Beam and took three strong pulls. She shuddered and lay back against the threadbare couch. “I’m okay,” she said, and Ed winced at the way Georgia’s broken-glass of a voice sounded. “I’m okay. Well, at least I’m not dead.”
Georgia turned her good eye to Ed and paused before saying, “Your wife. And Jilly. They did this.”
Deep inside, Ed knew it was the truth, but he still said, “Georgia, come on.” Martha was many things—many of them not good—but a murderer?
“Fuck you!” Georgia’s voice, no longer broken, filled the trailer like thunder. “Martha and Jilly beat me and left me for dead, Ed! They wrapped me in a blanket and taped it up and dumped me in the goddamn lake! I got out because they’re too fucking stupid to do anything right!”
As soon as the fury had entered Georgia, it evaporated. She sank back onto the couch and into the blanket, glaring at Ed from a tangled of wet brown hair. “So fuck you if you don’t believe me,” she went on quietly, “but this isn’t the kind of thing a girl’s mistaken over.”
Now it was Georgia’s turn to laugh. “Why? Because they’re lunatics. And because of me and Jilly’s husband.
Despite the bruises and cuts, and the dislocated shoulder that was becoming more uncomfortable to look at with each passing second, Georgia Jenkins’ beauty still shone. Sure, lots of women in the park were jealous of Georgia. And yes, Georgia hooked up with John Martin after he and Jilly split but before he cut town for good, but to kill her for it?
Georgia sighed and took another drink. “After a few more sips of this, I’m gonna need you to pop this shoulder back in. Okay?”
“Yeah,” Ed said.
Georgia stared at her bloodied palms. “I get lonely sometimes, just like everyone else. You know, when men do it, no one gives a shit. But let a woman run her life like she wants, and she’s a goddamn whore.”
Georgia shrugged and winced when her right shoulder flared with a fresh wave of pain. “Let’s get this over with,” she muttered and stood up. She let the blanket fall, and waited while Ed studied her naked, brutalized body. “And I’m gonna want some clothes. Don’t know why they stripped me.”
Ed reached out and took a hardy pull on the Jim Beam. He reached out and touched Georgia’s swollen shoulder. If he concentrated, he could almost get inside Georgia’s head. She was scared, but more than that, she was angry, and the anger was growing. “You ready?”
“As ready as I can be.”
Then three things happened: Ed snapped Georgia’s shoulder back into place, Georgia screamed so loud the windows rattled, and Martha opened the front door.
No one said anything for what, to Ed, felt like an incredibly long time, but was only a few seconds. He had read somewhere that the human mind goes into hyper alert mode when it encounters a serious threat. Time seems to slow down, and looking back, it’s like you can notice every small detail. In super slow motion, Ed watched his wife’s expression go from blank to shocked to scared, and then turning, he saw Georgia’s expression morph second by second from hurt to animal rage.
Time snapped back into place, and Georgia flung herself across the room so fast that Ed didn’t have time to react. Martha outweighed Georgia by a good fifty pounds, but she wasn’t ready for the attack. They both tumbled out the door, off the porch, and into the dirt.
“You tried to kill me!” Georgia screamed. “You dumped me in the fucking lake and left me for dead!”
People were running now to see what the commotion was, and when they arrived at the little plot of dirt and grass in front of Ed and Martha’s trailer, they were treated to an eyeful. Georgia Jenkins, naked as the day she entered the world, was straddling Martha Irwin and choking her. “How does it feel, bitch?” Georgia yelled. She dashed Martha’s head against the ground.
Ed was just about to pull Georgia off his wife when Georgia suddenly let go of Martha and sat back. “Get me some goddamn clothes before I freeze to death,” she snapped at Ed, “but nothing of hers. Some of your stuff is fine.”
Martha was on her hands and knees, coughing and vomiting up what looked like chicken pot pie and Kool-Aid, and it smelled like stomach acid and whiskey. Jilly broke from the crowd of onlookers and was going to help Martha up, but she stopped when Georgia said, “Leave her. I know you had reasons to hate me, and while I’m not real happy about you trying to kill me, I get where you’re coming from. That piece of shit”—she kicked a rock at Martha—“is a cat of a different fucking stripe.”
Ed came back with what he figured were reasonable clothes for Georgia: a flannel shirt, jeans he hadn’t been able to fit in for ten years, a braided belt, some white socks and a pair of old slippers. Georgia stood up and took the clothes, saying, “I’m stepping in here to change. See to your wife, but you make sure she’s still here when I get done.”
“Okay,” Ed said, nodding. He looked at the crowd, which had broken up. People had their own problems to deal with, and when it was clear that Georgia wasn’t actually going to choke Martha to death, they decided it wasn’t worth their time anymore. The only people who stayed were Jilly and Pesto Bill, an old man with rheumy eyes and who was missing his left arm from a farming accident.
“You gonna let that girl whip on your woman like that?” Pesto Bill asked Ed.
“I reckon I didn’t have a choice,” Ed replied. Pesto Bill shrugged and walked away, whistling the same tune he always whistled, “That’s Alright, Mama” by Elvis.
“Georgia said I couldn’t touch you,” Jilly whispered as she bent over Martha, who was still coughing. Her breath wheezed in and out of her lungs. Every time she tried to speak, she coughed. She finally gave up and sat back in the dirt.
“Listen, before Georgia comes back here,” Ed said, walking forward, “I gotta say, this is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done. And we both know you’ve done some dumb shit over the years.”
Ed directed his comments toward Martha, but he glanced over at Jilly so she knew his statement included her, too. “This is attempted murder. It’s not like you just scared the girl or tried to run her off. You threw what you thought was her dead body in the lake. What was your plan after that? To keep that terrible secret for the rest of your life?”
Martha shook her head, but she didn’t try to answer. Ed would have found out, of course. Martha wouldn’t have been able to keep thoughts of Georgia’s murder hidden. He did his best to stay out of Martha’s mind, but the murder would have been a flashing red beacon that he couldn’t have possibly ignored. He would have confronted her, she would have denied it…and then? They would pretend it hadn’t really happened? Ed wasn’t sure he could have done that.
Georgia stepped back outside into the chilly air. She was more composed, and it looked like she had tried combing her hair. Ed was once against struck by how pretty she was. He stepped aside and let Georgia pass, keeping his mind as far away from hers as possible.
“You two listen, because I don’t plan on repeating myself,” Georgia said. “I’m not calling the police or pressing charges or any of that shit because it’s not worth my time. There’d be a trial and lawyers and people poking their noses in my business, and I’m not having it. But Jilly, you’re leaving. Tonight.”
Jilly didn’t move. She looked like an animal staring into headlights, and she stayed that way until Georgia clapped her hands together. The clap sounded like a gunshot, and Jilly jumped. “Go!” Georgia roared. “If I see you around here again, I will shoot you in the cooter, I swear to Christ.”
After Jilly had scrambled away, Georgia turned to Ed and winked, though there was no mirth in her expression.
“As for you, Martha Irwin,” Georgia said, “you’re staying put where I can keep an eye on you. I haven’t decided your punishment yet, but believe me, it’s coming. There will be hell to pay for what you did, but I need to think on it.”
Martha stared at Georgia and then Ed, her expression pained. Aren’t you going to do something? it said to Ed. Ed sighed and turned to Georgia. “Can we talk for a moment inside?” he asked.
“No,” Georgia said. “I’m tired. But thank you for your help. Martha doesn’t deserve you.” She whipped around to Martha and said, “But just because I feel that way doesn’t mean I was going to fuck him, you stupid cunt. Are we clear?”
Martha nodded, and so did Ed. Georgia said, “Okay then. Ed, I’ll return these clothes to you after I wash them. Right now, I’m going to get a drink and sleep for a day or two.”
Ed didn’t say anything as Georgia walked away. When she was out of sight, he gave his hand to Martha, who took it grudgingly and pulled herself up. “We gotta handle her,” she whispered, wincing in pain as she did.
Ed reached out the smallest bit with his mind to touch his wife’s, just to see if what she was saying was bravado or if she really meant to try to kill Georgia a second time. He pulled back almost immediately after skimming the black, hot surface of her thoughts. She was serious, God help her.
Ed didn’t say anything as he helped Martha inside the trailer. He hoped Jilly was packing and getting ready to split; he hoped Georgia was back in her trailer and able to have a moment’s peace. As for him, he was going to have to find a new way to live with Martha…but he didn’t expect that would last long. One way or the other, either Georgia or Martha were going to have to go. And after tonight, Ed wasn’t sure which one he wanted it to be.