A Compatibilist Woman: Crime and Poetry
My lips are thin. My eyes are blue.
“Mama, what should I do with my life?” I ask my mother, the teacher.
My mom says, “Do anything, but don’t be a teacher.”
“Be a hooker. Don’t be a teacher.”
She says, “Don’t get married. Have kids, but don’t get married.”
My hands are small. My breasts are large.
We have many cats that can be seen from the highway, sitting on the tall ladder that Mom set outside the tiny high window. The cats can climb up and come into the house. They land on the chair below that window in the hallway across from my brother’s bedroom door.
My mom is single. She doesn’t want to marry. Anyone. Ever.
“Marriage,” she says, “is the worst institution ever created.”
I was a good girl but I’ve turned trailer trash slut. That’s what they say.
Ryan says, “You live in a cathouse.”
Ryan plays football. Quarterback. They win the Homecoming game.
Ryan says, “Don’t let her go. I’m on fire tonight. I want her.”
The night ends with me trapped in a red bed, surrounded by wood paneling, water marks on the ceiling, dead plant hanging in macramé, Book of Mormon on the nightstand.
My feet are large. My fingers are tiny.
I start to live this life that happened to me. I have to be Ryan’s girlfriend because I’m ruined. God will hate me now unless I cling to Ryan. Make him a wife someday. I’m less afraid of everything because the worst is over. Ryan says we’ll get married and it will all be fine in God’s eyes. I don’t cry because I’m grown now.
And I’m a good Christian again. I have faith and I have morals. I tell Ryan that pornography is hurtful to women.
He says, “You’re just jealous. You’d be in pornos—if you were pretty enough.”
My legs are short. My heart is strong.
My mama says, “Be a hooker…” but she doesn’t mean it.
She says, “You don’t need that sex ed information anyway. You’re not old enough for sex. Besides, you’re years from marriage.”
My nerves are shot. My pregnancy test is positive.
Ryan tells his father, the banker a.k.a. the Mormon bishop that I’m pregnant. Word gets out. In a town of eight hundred, there’s nowhere to hide. Guilty. A crime has been committed.
Ryan buys me a wedding ring. It’s a plain circle. Simple.
Ryan’s mother says, “A man buys you a ring like that says he loves you. Says you’ll have a simple life. A good life without complications.”
My knees are weak. My legs are strong.
I go to church almost every Sunday. I don’t want to be a Mormon, but I have to go to church. That’s how it is here in this town. My actions don’t match my intentions. I’m not unique.
Ryan says he has to go away. On a Mission. Says he’s not even sure the baby is his.
“The baby doesn’t belong to me,” he says.
The bishop comes for the wedding ring.
My nose is hooked. My ears are large.
I sense a change. I learn to hear. The baby is growing. And then she’s born. I name her Emma. And Ryan comes home. Emma’s got his nose—unhooked. He demands a paternity test.
And I’m not free. Again. Ryan threatens to take the baby away from me, unless I marry him.
“Why would you want to marry me?”
“Because you’ll never cheat on me.”
My eyes are open. My upper lip is stiff.
We marry on a Sunday.
My mama gives me a pretty wicker picnic basket. “It’s for your wedding, for becoming a mama and it’s so you can take that dear sweet baby on little get-away picnics.”
Ryan’s mother gives me a new deer knife and a hand-embroidered handkerchief with Ryan’s initials. “Every woman oughta have a good knife. I know your mama brought you up right and you know how to hunt and how to render what your husband brings down. Now that you’re married, you oughta have a knife of your own. And the hankie takes care of your widow’s tears long years from now.”
The bishop gives us gas and motel money to go to Las Vegas. I take the baby along.
“She’s such a devoted mother. I was the same way,” I hear my mother-in-law say as we walk away.
It’s our honeymoon night. I put the baby to sleep in her crib. Ryan does what new husbands do. And then he falls asleep.
I go downstairs and out the door to a grocery store. Buy a picnic lunch and sundress—paper towels, trash bags, dishwashing gloves and such. Pack up the picnic basket.
The next morning, we drive out into the red sandstone. The red, red sandstone and I start to smile. It’s the perfect setting for a honeymoon with Ryan.
“Let’s park here and hike out that trail. I brought a picnic lunch and plenty of water.”
“You’re like a Mormon pioneer woman.” Ryan smiles. He’s proud.
“I’m learning,” I say.
I sling the baby on my back and strap her in like a little pioneer baby. Ryan leads the way because he’s the pioneer man. We walk and walk and walk. We’re far out on the trail.
“Let’s go off the trail. Stop being tourists already,” I say.
“Okay,” he says and off he walks. We stop for a while and I serve him the picnic.
“Let’s stay out here. Save our money and not give it to the gentiles,” I say.
“Okay,” he says and lays down right there on a flat sandstone boulder.
“Nice view here,” I say.
Ryan falls asleep as the sun begins to set – it’s been a long, hot day. Emma hasn’t cried. Not even once. I take the baby out of her wrap on my back and strap her in, facing me.
And I take the dagger, put on my dishwashing gloves and Ryan becomes the deer. Easy slit across the throat. Ear to ear behind a plastic trash bag barrier.
And the red sandstone bleeds and the sun sets orange and burgundy.
I take my bloody dagger and wipe it on his clothes, put it back into the picnic basket, silvery and shining. Wrap Emma onto my back again. Cover up the body with stones.
“I love sandstone,” I tell Emma.
Emma still hasn’t cried. I worry about her. She really oughta cry more. I’m sure that someday she will. We head back to the car. We walk and walk and walk.
I don’t live anywhere you’ve ever heard of.
Let’s keep it that way.
This story originally appeared in the online literary magazine Voices from the Garage.
The obituary was unique, not because of the life the man had lived but because of the story he told of his life and because this life story was then told in a court of law that sentenced his killer to twenty years in jail.
The man was picked up by his murderer in Colorado on a lonely stretch of highway on the Indian reservation. The murderer was a cowboy, without a license, registration or proof of insurance. He was undocumented.
He claimed that the murder was unintentional and purely accidental.
The murderer said that the man had left his wife of twenty years with three teenagers in a house in the Oregon suburbs. The man had been a good provider and an un-abusive and non-intrusive presence in the home until one day, he cried in his garage because of the table saw.
That day, the table saw spoke to the man, according to the cowboy’s re-telling of the story. Told him to leave before he was forgotten and unnecessary. Told him to go southeast into the southwest and live a cowboy’s wandering life.
The cowboy became enraged with the man. He told the court, “When soft-bellied, overpaid suburban men can just grab a pair of boots and hitch-hike through the desert, well,” he paused because he was choked up, “that’s a terrible day for all of us.”
“I ran us into an arroyo. I was thrown clear upon impact. Every cowboy knows that you never do up a seat belt—it’s a death sentence. And in this case, it was.”
The cowboy had sacrificed his truck like his forefathers had sacrificed their horses. The horses and trucks expected as much.
So the cowboy took care of the problem of suburban angst.
Saved us all from a less than satisfying western American mythology.
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