IN GOD’S OWN TIME - SANDRA SEAMANS
“You know, I was seventeen and pregnant the afternoon my daddy died. Somebody put a shotgun to his head and blew his brains all over the Lazy Boy. Hell of a mess that was. I was told they had to toss that old chair out in the trash cause there just wasn’t no cleaning the blood and brains out of the fabric. Pity, it was a nice chair. Daddy’s favorite.
“Oh, hell, don’t look so shocked, Earl, that was twenty years ago, though I gotta admit, it feels like just yesterday. You wanna pull the truck over somewhere along here? It’s time we were parting company.”
“You’re her, ain’t you? Coralee Fergusson. Imagine that, Coralee Fergusson in my truck. You sure you want to get out here? It’s a ten mile walk in any direction before you stumble into anything that comes close to being called a town. Oh, hell, you already knew that. But, hey, I can take you anywhere you want to go, really, it’s not a problem.”
“You’re a sweet kid, Earl, but yeah, I’m sure.”
Earl almost dumped the pickup in the ditch as he jerked the steering wheel towards the edge of the dirt road.
“Man, I can’t believe it, all this time I was riding with a real live murderer sittin’ right there on the seat beside me. Wait’ll they hear about this down at Ruby’s.”
“Yeah, you’ve got one hell of a story to tell, Earl.” Pushing open the truck door, Coralee paused. “You might even say you’re lucky to still be alive.”
Earl’s face took on a sickly hue. “I’m...I’m...sorry. That was pretty crass.”
“Yeah, it was, but I’ve heard far worse and from people a lot scarier than you.” Coralee closed the door, hesitated, then leaned in the window. “Do me a favor?”
“If you run across Sheriff Reeves at the diner, tell him hell’s nipping at his heels.”
“You think he’ll be looking for you? You served your time, didn’t you?”
Coralee nodded. “I served every second of a twenty year stretch. Truth be known, it wasn’t mine to serve. And, yes, I expect Sheriff Reeves will be looking for me. If he ain’t, he’s a damn fool, and I never took my brother-in-law for a fool.”
“If you didn’t kill your daddy, you must’ve figured out who did. Is that why you’re back? You gonna get all up in somebody’s face and make them admit what they did? I’d buy a ticket to that face-off.”
“Revenge? That’s all I lived for those first ten years inside, but now...” Coralee shrugged her shoulders. “These last ten years I’ve come to realize that the sweetest revenge comes in God’s good time. Besides, I don’t know for positive who killed Daddy, but they’re sure gonna have their brains twisted in knots with the wondering. Oh, and Earl, you be sure and tell the Sheriff anything he wants to know, it’ll be safer for you that way. Kevin Reeves can be a mean son-of-a-bitch when he’s crossed.”
“You’ll be okay if I spill my guts?”
Coralee winked. “Hell, I’ll be long gone and lost on the wind by the time he sets the dogs on my track. You take care now, hear?”
Standing in the swirl of dust and exhaust left behind as Earl drove off, Coralee scanned the road for any signs of life other than herself. After twenty years of living in a cyclone of PMS, menopause and any other female hormone that might step up and take a swing or plant a shiv, Coralee had a built-in watch-your-back attitude. That attitude wasn’t something she’d be shaking any time soon.
Home, she thought, if I can just get home before Kevin finds me everything will be all right. She crossed the road, slipped between the strands of barbed wire fence and set off across Tanner’s meadow. Kevin would have his deputies out patrolling the roads looking to scoop her up and hustle her out of town before folks got wind that she’d been released. By traveling cross lots she could avoid having to face the past, at least for a while.
The key was still hung on the nail pounded into the doorframe, but the door was unlocked, just like always. Daddy had never felt the need to lock his door, preferring to leave it open for his friends and neighbors. “I ain’t got nothing to steal and who’d want to hurt me?” he’d always say. Who indeed. But then, daddy hadn’t counted on the desperate hunger that gripped his eldest daughter, her savage need for something she couldn’t have. Jessie May had played them all. Her wide-eyed innocence had killed Daddy and landed Coralee in prison for his murder.
Pushing open the door, Coralee expected to walk into twenty years of cobwebs and dust, but the kitchen was as neat as the day she walked out in handcuffs. The smell of Lysol and Lemon Pledge filled her nose as she strolled through the house. The quiet was almost deafening after twenty years of clanging metal bars and trays, and voices shouting obscenities.
As she walked through the house, Coralee was relieved to find that nothing had been changed, except for the spot where Daddy’s chair had been. A brand new recliner filled that space. At the top of the stairs, she pushed open the door to her old bedroom. The smell of guilt and death hung on the dust encrusted cobwebs inside the room. Coralee pulled the door closed. Sometimes, she thought, God just winks.
Back in the kitchen she found the refrigerator and cupboards had been stocked with fresh groceries. Plugging in the coffee maker she set a pot of coffee to brewing while she fixed herself a peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich. She savored the pure pleasure of eating what she wanted, when she wanted, reveling in the new found pleasure of being totally alone with her thoughts.
She poured herself a cup of coffee and went out on the front porch. The porch swing had been recently painted and a new cushion graced the plank seat. Time raced backward as the June air swirled around her. Her nose filled with the rosey smell of Daddy’s treasured peonies, mixed with the honey sweetness of blooming locust trees all swirled together with the scent of new mown hay. June’s perfume. She’d forgotten how good fresh air could smell and how much she missed being home. All that was lacking was the pungent odor of Daddy’s pipe tobacco and the crisp scent of wood shavings as he whittled away on a piece of soft maple. She’d missed Daddy most of all.
Coralee saw the cloud of dust before she spotted the car racing down the dirt road. She shaded her eyes to get a better look, and found herself staring at Daddy’s old Ford Mustang. A silly grin spread across her face as she remembered the times spent with her friends in that car. Trips to the lake, the mall, even her first kiss had been in the front seat of that old Mustang. Daddy had given her so many hours of pleasure and freedom when he’d handed her the keys to his most prized possession.
The red Mustang came to a sliding halt next to the porch and a lanky young man jumped out. Coralee’s breath caught as she found herself staring into Daddy’s blue eyes. The boy was the spitting image of his grandfather, right down to the cowlick in his hair.
“Who the hell are you and what are you doing trespassing on private property?” the boy asked.
“I could ask you the same thing, but since you’re driving my Daddy’s old Mustang, I’d wager a guess that you’re Jessie May’s boy.”
The boy stood there, trying to digest the new information. “You must be my Aunt Coralee.”
“That’d be me. You got a name, boy?”
“Kevin Lee, after my daddy and granddaddy, but everyone calls me Lee, less confusion that way.” He stood there shuffling his feet, then blurted out, “You were in prison, right?”
“I was, and now I’ve come home for a spell. I needed some place familiar to feel my way back into the world.”
The boy nodded. “My folks never talked much about you or what you did. I’ve heard some whispering over the years, but...” The boy paused, almost embarrassed. “Would you mind telling me what happened back then?”
Coralee patted the cushion beside her. “You might as well sit down and take a load off your feet.”
She waited until he got comfortable, wanting with all her heart to touch him, to feel the strength in those young arms, to pat the cowlick flat and run her fingers across the line of his face. Instead she settled for sniffing the clean smell of him, letting the soft scent of his cologne wash over her.
“It doesn’t surprise me any that your folks don’t talk much about what happened. What happened back then, well, it wasn’t pleasant. Do you really think you’re up for hearing the truth?”
Lee nodded. “I hate the not knowing, but what I hate even more is people whispering behind my back. Sometimes it feels like the whole town is just holding its breath, waiting for something to explode.”
Coralee allowed herself to lay her hand on his, nothing personal, just a reassuring pat.
“You’re old enough to know that the truth isn’t always pretty, but what you might not know is that the truth can slice a person to the bone. And that’s a wound that can’t be stitched back up nor the pain kissed away.”
“That may be, but I’d still like to hear the truth. The rumors, well, they make you and my grandpa out to be something ugly.” He paused a moment before continuing. “You know, I sneak over here sometimes and try to figure out what happened, but when I look at the old photo albums, I don’t see ugly. I can see how much you loved each other. Something like that? Well, it just doesn’t turn ugly like they say, at least it shouldn’t.”
“You’re pretty wise for a such a young man, Lee. The fact of the matter is, rumors have a way of braiding a smidgeon of truth with man’s darkest thoughts. Those twisted truths tend to make the gossips feel superior, helps them pretend that nothing like that could ever happen to them. Why don’t you tell me what you’ve heard, then I’ll tell you the truth of things.”
“I’ve heard a bunch of rumors, like Grandpa raped you. Another was that you just went crazy because he wouldn’t let you go to college. There was even a rumor that you were pregnant and he wanted you to get an abortion.”
“I was raped, but it wasn’t your grandpa. There was a couple I knew who couldn’t have kids of their own so they decided I ought to have a baby for them. The wife held me down while her husband did his business. I guess it made her feel like she was part of making their baby.” Coralee drew a ragged breath, then continued. “Anyway, when your grandpa found out what they did, he threatened to tell everyone, and that’s what got him killed.”
The boy frowned. “If this couple killed Grandpa, why did you take the blame?”
“Because that rumor about Daddy raping me is what they threatened to use in court unless I pleaded guilty to the murder. I was young and stupid and didn’t figure anyone would believe me. Besides, I didn’t want Daddy’s name dragged through the mud.”
“So, were you pregnant?”
“Yeah, I was.”
“What happened to your baby?”
“Well, he was born while I was in prison and, for a whole month, I got to nurse him and take care of him and fall in love with him. Then, one morning, they up and told me he’d died during the night. I never saw him again, not even when they buried him.”
“It was a boy?”
“Yep, the sweetest little boy you ever did see. I named him Lee, after my Daddy, just like you.”
“I’m sorry your baby died.”
“So am I, Lee, so am I.”
Coralee caught a glimpse of dust on the road. “Where are my manners? A hot day like this, you must be thirsty. Why don’t you go inside and grab yourself a soda?” She looked at him and grinned. “Or a beer, if you’re old enough to drink. There’s sandwich fixin’s, too, if you’re hungry.”
Lee looked out toward the road as he opened the screen door. “Looks like my Daddy’s heard you’re back.”
“I expected he would.”
The Sheriff’s car pulled into the driveway and slammed to a stop behind the Mustang.
Kevin got out of the car, his face red with anger, his ever ready nightstick tapping the side of his leg. “My boy here?”
“You know he is, unless there’s another red Mustang floating around the county.”
“Don’t get smart with me, Coralee.”
“He’s inside, getting himself a soda.”
“What’d you tell him?”
Coralee heard the refrigerator door close and footsteps coming down the front hall. “The truth,” she said. “He asked me what happened back then, so I told him.”
“You told him you were his mother?”
Lee was just pushing open the screen door, but his father’s words stopped him, the soda can slipping from his hands.
“Now how could I tell him that? My Lee died in the prison infirmary, didn’t he?”
Lee nearly knocked his father over as he pushed past him. “Lee, wait,” said Kevin, reaching out to grab the boy’s arm.
Lee shrugged him off and headed for his car. He slid into the Mustang and spun out across the lawn, roaring off down the road.
“He can’t outrun it, you know. No matter how hard you try, you can’t ever outrun the truth,” said Coralee.
Kevin had started to follow Lee, but changed his mind. He pointed his nightstick at Coralee, his voice shaking as much as the stick in his hand. “This is all your fault. You shoulda never come back here. Now, you tell me every word of what you said to that boy.”
“I told him about the couple who raped me and killed Daddy, and how my baby died while I was in prison.”
“You told him your baby died? Maybe there’s some fix to this yet.”
“Of course I told him the baby died, that’s what they told me. But I knew, I knew exactly where my son was. If you and Jessie wanted that boy so bad, you should have taken him the day he was born, not let me feed and care about him. I grieved long and hard for that boy.”
“It was better for him, being nursed, at least that’s what Jessie said.”
“And neither one of you gave a thought to what that might do to me, did you? You let me fall in love with my son, then stole him away. You might as well have cut my heart out.”
“You were in prison, you couldn’t have raised him anyway.”
“So that made it all right?”
“Right enough for everyone concerned.” Kevin stepped down off the porch. “I’ve got to find Lee and try to explain things to him. Now, your daddy left some money for you and we ain’t touched a penny of it. There should be enough for you to get your life started over. Just make it far away from here. Away from my family.”
“Rumor has it that the house belongs to me, so I won’t be going anywhere. The way I figure it, serving twenty years in prison for what you and Jessie May did and bearing you a son gives me the right to live anywhere I damn well please.”
“And what are you figuring on doing? Telling everyone in town your version of the truth? Nobody will believe you. Now, I’ve got to go find my son and try to make things right.”
He’d reached his car, but her next words stopped him cold, and forced him back to the porch.
“Make things right? Do you know how many people sent me a copy of the county paper when you and Jesse May announced the birth of your son? I could have papered the walls of my cell a dozen times over. You’ve gone way past making anything right, Kevin.”
Her laughter struck him like a slap in the face. Anger shook him and he raised his nightstick in a high arc, bringing it down hard on Coralee’s shoulder, narrowly missing her head. He brought the club down again and again but he couldn’t stop her laughter or the fact that his sins were catching up with him.
“You can beat me all you want, Kevin, but you can’t hurt me anymore. Oh, and you might as well know that Lee isn’t your only problem,” Coralee said. “Your wife is upstairs in the bedroom where the two of you raped me. Seems Jessie May decided that putting a bullet in her head was easier than facing up to the rumors that have been chasing the pair of you for the last twenty years.”
“Don’t even go there, Kevin. I was riding in a pickup truck with a kid named Earl when your wife killed herself. And I’m pretty sure everyone in town has heard about that by now.”
Kevin’s knees began to wobble and he dropped to the porch floor, defeated.
“Now you know,” said Coralee.
“What it feels like to lose your whole life in the space of an afternoon.”
BIO: You can find Sandra’s stories scattered around the internet in places like Spinetingler, PulpPusher, and The Thrilling Detective. Her scattered thoughts about writing can be found at My Little Corner.