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Short Story Fiction: Getting to Know You...
Mount McKinley: Alaskan Mountain Range
The Beginning: A late night snack
Twisting ham and cheese until the sandwich fell apart in her hand Kay choked on her words.
“My first husband cheated on me.”
I stared at her not knowing how to respond. We’d known each other for about a year…worked together at the Hello-Hello Café , but, this was our first night out together. Shamefully, I hadn’t even realized she had been married-well, married more than once, apparently.
“What happened?” I asked in a noncommittal voice. To be honest, I didn’t want to know-I had the feeling the details weren’t going to be pleasant.
“I caught that son of a gun with a floozy from the neighborhood. He never could keep his pants hitched!”
“Where are you from, exactly,” was my meager response. I was quickly earning the award for ‘worse friend of the year’.
“Oklahoma,” Kay replied. “Came out here to Alaska in ’93 and never went back.”
Her hands swept bread crumbs into a little pile on her plate. “It’s hard for me to talk about this,” she smiled embarrassed. “I can remember it all like it was yesterday-it never really leaves you.”
“Sorry to hear that. I mean, I’m sure it was painful, but…it happens to a lot of people. Heck, I’ve been cheated on more than once myself,” I gave a rueful laugh, “definitely not fun…”
Again, the noticeable tension in the air; there was more to this story than the ordinary-sleaze-bag-cheats-on-wife story.
“Well, I haven’t told too many people this,” and she leaned towards me, her voice dropping to a whisper.
I sat up straighter, goose bumps sliding down my spine, “what happened,” thinking to myself, “you are one original commentator!”
Before I could kick myself too long, she began again, her chubby fingers moving nervously around the table picking up a fork, laying it down again, then the salt shaker, resting that in the corner unused; my eyes roving the table along with her movements.
“He had this hat he loved to wear,” she said, “He wore it everywhere. It wasn’t anything special by the looks of it-just some ole trucker’s hat he picked up on one of his runs. It was black, had a little emblem of a cardinal on it-can’t recall where he got that thing now,” she mused.
I waited quietly.
“But, that’s how I knew-I began to notice that he would go out without it. After a while when I noticed it hangin’ on the bedpost I got to wonderin’. Pretty soon, I saw other signs-like him showering to go out with the boys. Anyway-I followed him and sure enough caught him red-handed doing it in his truck with this whore.”
Unable to stop myself I chuckled aloud. “I’m sorry, you are so dramatic about this…how many years ago did this happen?”
“Oh, it was over ten years ago now,” she smiled. “I fixed him good. He knew it when I came up to that window, my eyes glaring and yelling to beat the band!”
I began to giggle. “Well, what happened?"
“I held his hat in one hand and my lighter in the other and set that baby ablaze! He tried so hard to get his pants back on and get out of his truck, but he couldn’t save her. Then, I ran to my car and chased him back down the street.”
I was roaring now visualizing the drama of this domestic scene. “Oh, Kay,” I laughed wiping tears from my cheeks, “You tell a good story.”
“Well, the worse of it was I loved him…still do I suppose, but he’s remarried now. Couldn’t make it work after that bit of infidelity. So, I married the next guy that swept me off my feet and off to Alaska we went leaving him far out of sight. But, I left my boy with him. He didn’t want to leave his daddy and I couldn’t see tearin’ him away from that no good…”
“I’m sorry,” another fact I didn’t know about. I realized how little I really knew about this comical co-worker of mine with the positive disposition and sunny attitude. “I didn’t know you had any kids.”
“Only my boy; he visits every year, but he prefers to be in the lower 48. Can’t say I blame him- Alaska is not for the weak hearted, only for the cold blooded…”
Her eyes drew a vacant stare and again I saw this dark haired, stocky woman drift into a place that was unreachable, her voice turning into a monotone.
The story unfolds
“Butch was brutal,” she said. "I got used to tasting the wrong side of leather real quickly. He took me up to Barrow…her voice drifted off, then, “ever been to Barrow?”
I shook my head, “No, I hear it’s damned isolated.”
Aware of some of the stories the bush pilots talked about in the café I could only imagine the cold, dark village at the edge of the Arctic Ocean.
“He isolated me from everyone I knew and I was stuck-no way to get around, knowing no one.”
My breath slowed as the dread of the real story unfolded.
“Every month provisions would be flown in, including our mail and booze. He’d get drunk and mean.”
“Oh, hell, he was always mean,” her mouth twisted into a wry sneer, “just doubly mean when he was drunk. He was Satan in the flesh.”
I nodded dumbly.
“No, seriously, psychotically mean. His eyes would glaze over and he would go after me and…”
Her brown eyes welled up with tears and I noticed mine were glassy as well. We had both stopped eating by this time-I had lost my appetite, too captivated by this woman’s life story; and she, well, I don’t believe her intention ever was to get a bite to eat as she had originally suggested.
I wondered why tonight, of all nights, she decided to share with me her earlier trauma. I thought back to our evening at work and could not remember any possible triggers-a customer perhaps that had looked like her ex; a particular remark…nothing rang a bell.
Stars and Northern Lights
“One night it got worse than ever,” she whispered, “he had been drinking all day and I couldn’t get away from him. Finally, I fell asleep in a corner, the blankets were kind of shielding me from his view and he fell asleep in the rocker across the room. The fire was burning in the wood stove and it was going out. I could feel it getting colder and colder and I had to get to the wood pile or all hell would break loose.”
“I crept by him slowly, stopping any time those floor boards would creak and managed to get open that squeaky door without disturbing him. Stepping out into the frigid air I scrambled to catch my breath. It was so cold, but so invigorating, I could clear my head for a moment. And, as I gathered an armful of wood I looked up and there was the most awesome sight. A million stars blinked above and the Northern Lights danced in the sky-greens, whites and even red that night. You don’t often see the red, but when you do-well, it’s just special.”
For a brief moment a smile swept over her face and her eyes met mine.
“I felt the butt of his shotgun hit the side of my head and I went down hard. I could feel the blood trickling out because it was the warmest thing happening to me at the time. He pointed the gun at my head and mumbled something about being a no good whore who was doing every guy in the village. I tried to protest, but that was the wrong thing to do.”
“He kicked me in the ribs and told me if I didn’t shut up I would eat the bullet, and I didn’t doubt for a second that he wouldn’t make that happen. At some point I wondered what I had done to deserve this treatment and I made my peace with God as he poked that rifle in my chest again and again.”
“When he ordered me up and into the house I could barely walk, I was so scared. He had that psychotic look in his eyes again and when we got into the cabin he told me he was going to kill me-I was a burden that he could do without.”
I listened, both mesmerized and nauseated. It was incredulous, this story. I wanted to be supportive, yet, inside my head I was screaming shrilly, “stop, stop, STOP!”
I heard her say, “He took the bottle of whisky and started to drink again, sat down in the rocker and pointed the shotgun at me. I knew I was going to die that night. I prayed to God to forgive all of my sins and began to feel real calm. I was praying he would drink and pass out like he had before, but he got restless, started shouting like a madman, and then began laughing out loud.”
“It was the most evil, blood curdling laugh I had ever heard and it ran chills through my body. I don’t know how I knew, however, I was sure he would fire at me. I jumped out of my chair, which startled him, and yelled loudly, running towards him.”
“Well, I grabbed that gun with all of my strength. I figured if I was going to die, I wasn’t going to go down without a fight. I wrestled that drunken bastard for that gun and in the fight the gun went off. I shot him…I shot him,” she said, looking quietly into my eyes.
I sat not moving, afraid to blink, breathe or talk.
“He died. I shot him dead; shot him clean through the heart. He lay in a pool of his blood and I sat in bed curled up in the covers and waited. I waited for a week before that plane came in with supplies. I moved his body out into the shed and the pilot found him there.”
“What happened, then?” I asked, nervously, “Did you go to prison?”
“They had a trial; everyone knew the kind of abusive man he was. I was acquitted. They said it was self-defense.”
“I’m so sorry, Kay, I had no idea.”
I was stunned silent by her story. Who knew? How can any of us ever know what another person’s sorrows are?
“Kay,” I asked puzzled, “Why did you tell me this story? You certainly didn’t have to share it with me and I’m just curious.”
“Don’t you remember our earlier conversation,” she reminded me, “we were talking about things we would never do and you told me you would never commit murder.”
Written by Denise Handlon
November 18, 2011
All rights reserved. No portion of this original story may be copied, printed or reproduced in any way without the written permission of the author. This story is purely fictional and any resemblance to any person, living or deceased, or situation is purely coincidental.