Something That Will Not Let Go
By William Cohen-Kiraly
Inspired by “Bury My Lovely”
Performed by October Project feat. Mary Fahl
Song written by Emil Adler and Julie Flanders
A shadow from another time
Is waiting in the night
Something happened long ago
Something that will not let go
—Bury My Lovely
The little girl looked out the yellow-crusted attic window at the woman trudging up the long path to the house. Even from afar, she knew it was Junie returning after so many years. Junie had put on some weight in the intervening years and her hair looked scraggly even from this far away. But the girl could feel it was the same person, her long lost friend and companion finally returning.
Junie carried a ripped backpack across one shoulder and pulled a cheap wheeled suitcase behind her. The wheels kept getting caught in ruts in the dirt road leading up to the old farmhouse. She walked slowly, frequently stopping to pull the wheeled case out of the ruts. Every once
in a while, she sat down on the case to smoke a cigarette.
When June finally got to the door of the house, she knocked but got no answer. She knocked a little louder—she knew he was home, his pickup was in the drive— but still she got no answer. Finally, she balled her hand into a fist and pounded on the door with all her might.
She heard the old man walking through the house, banging things as he moved towards the door.
“Don’t know who the hell you think you are but I’m warnin’ you I got a 45 and I ain’t afraid to use it.” she heard him say through the door. Then he pulled it open and, for a second, just stared at her.
“Hello Junebug,” he said finally.
“Hey Poppa, how you doin’?”
“I’m alright but you sure look like shit.”
“Love you too, Poppa, I need a place to stay for a couple weeks.”
“I know, Junie, there was a deputy here askin’ bout you a few days ago. She said some Nashville cops wanted to talk to you about some drug dealin’. I told her I ain’t seen you for 15 years and you’d never come back here.”
“Yeah Poppa, but I got nowhere else to go now and I don’t think they’ll come back here. If they do, I won’t make no trouble, I’ll go with them peacefully and say I made you take me in.”
“Aw, Junebug, I don’t give a shit about that. You can blow away any cop who comes here if you want, I’ll even lend you my guns. Its just I don’t got any money to take care of anyone anymore.”
“I got some money and I can earn my keep if you need something done around here. Just for a few weeks ’til all this shit blows over.”
“You got any extra cigarettes?” he said as the stepped aside and held the door open for her. “I’m nearly out.”
The house was the same as she remembered–falling apart, messy, smelling equally of mold, stale smoke and stale beer. Her father, Lester Bailey, hadn’t changed much in the intervening years either. He had a little more grizzly stubble and a little more beer belly sticking out from his otherwise wiry frame. His hair was a little grayer and thinner.
June Bailey cooked dinner for the two of them. He had some rabbit in the icebox and a few veggies from the garden. She ate at the dining room table. Lester grabbed his plate without comment and ate in front of his TV. After dinner, she washed their dishes and the pile of unwashed plates and forks from the sink. She spent a little time cleaning up the beer cans and empty cigarette packs that were strewn all over the kitchen but ran out of motivation pretty quickly. Her head was hurting and her stomach was already roiling.
The old room in the attic seemed smaller than she remembered it. Her bed stood against the wall, covered with moth-eaten yellowed sheets, probably the same ones that were there when she left 17 years ago. The attic floor was slanted but the brick she put under the bed’s legs was still there. A cracked dresser with drawers that pulled out crooked easily held the small collection of clothes and the handful of personal keepsakes she was able to take with her when she left Nashville.
She started to clean here too a little. As a kid, she spent most of her time up here—as much as she could—trying to keep out of Poppa’s way.
She changed the sheets and started to scrape the years of yellow crap coating the windows.
Amazingly, she had found a bottle of cleaner under the kitchen sink and used it to mop the layers of dust off the floor. For a second, after finishing, she looked down at it and enjoyed the clean, then the smell of the cleaner broke through her stuffy nose and she threw up all over the freshly mopped floor.
“Fuck” she said to herself. Her brain knew it was coming, but somewhere in her heart, she hoped that this time at least, it would pass her by. But now it hit her like a truck. It had been three days since her last fix and right on schedule, the god-damned super flu.
June ran down the stairs, nearly falling on to the second floor and into the only working bathroom in the house. She only barely made it without soiling herself. When she finally was able to crawl back upstairs, she dragged a trash can. June was feeling the wooziness and sick haze that always came with withdrawal.
Her father saw her stumbling up the stairs. “You alright, Junebug.”
“Sure Poppa, just got a bad case of the flu.”
“Can I get you anything?” he asked. “I got some ginger ale downstairs if you want.”
“Naw, Poppa, I don’t need nothin’ right now.”
It was all she could do to try to scape up the puke from the floor into the trash can but she couldn’t even finish that simple task. She was already getting the shakes and she finally had to crawl into the bed. She pulled the sheets up to her neck but the shivering wouldn’t stop. She closed her eyes and felt the shame and the fear and the anger and the pure disgust of having her withdrawal here.
Two men walked the fence in companionable silence. Lester drank a beer and smoked a cigarette, the other man walked with his hands in his pocket.
“My little girl is back” said Lester. “She’s a fucking junkie and she’s throwing up all over the place.”
“Yep, kids are a pain in the ass. She gonna be here for a long time?” asked the other man. The man had shoulder length hair, a scraggly beard and mustache and actually wore a bandana on his head. Lester thought he looked like an idiot but had never said so out loud.
“Don’t know,” answered Lester, “I ain’t got any extra money to take care of her. Right now, she’s sick as hell, so I’m taking care of her like I had to when my wife was sick. So she’ll be here for a while, I guess. Maybe I cain’t take as many of these walks with you and maybe you have to keep a low profile ‘cuz I don’t know what she’d do if she knew you were livin’ here too.”
“That’s okay, it’s getting harder for me to come out here with you. My little girl needs me to stay inside with her now. I can’t go up in the attic anyways so I won’t get in your way.”
“I don’t know why the hell you don’t just get the hell out of here.” said Lester, “You can leave your little bitch on her own. Sounds like she can take care of herself. Just go through that gate over there and walk off. ‘ Town’s only about 5 miles away.”
“I can’t leave here.” he said. “My body’s buried somewhere out near where the girl is. I’m tied to that body. I know I keep asking you this but please, can you move my body somewhere, anywhere but here, and then maybe I can go on where I’m supposed to go.
Then the man stopped stopped and closed his eyes and leaned his head back. His face looked like he was fighting something inside himself. “I’m sorry, Lester, I have to go back in the house now. My little girl is calling me.”
For two days, June tossed and turned in her bed. For two days, she didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t get out of the bed. Every time she started to nod off, her legs started twitching so bad the bed shook violently.
She used the trash can for all her bodily functions. Her father did bring up the ginger ale and—wonder of wonders—he actually did finish cleaning up her floor and took her trash can down to empty and clean it when it got too full.
“No more’n I had to do for your mother.” he said. But he didn’t stay much to comfort her which was probably a blessing.
The weirdest part for Junie was the flashback to her childhood. While she lay there, shivering and feeling her mind go in and out of crazy, she thought she felt and heard her imaginary friend from childhood sitting next to her, stroking her forehead and saying “It’s gonna be alright Junie, It’s gonna pass and then you’re gonna be alright again. Everything’s going to be alright.” June hadn’t thought about Mari since the day she left home at 16.
On the third day, the shaking and the mind sickness finally started letting up and she was able to sleep for two more days and nights. After that, she still felt like crap, headachy, lethargic and depressed. She wanted a new fix more than anything but she knew she didn’t have enough money and she didn’t know where to get shit in this crap town anyway.
But at least she was able to get out of bed and go downstairs.
Food was a revelation to her. She hadn’t eaten anything but junk food and alcohol in a very long time. But now, with the drugs out of her system, real food actually tasted pretty good, even the crap her father kept around.
He watched her eat for a long time before he finally said. “Girl, you gonna eat me out of house and home. Shit, every other junkie I know gets skinny. You’re the only one I ever seen who got even fatter on the shit.”
June closed her eyes for a second to hold back the tears—more pissed at herself for almost crying than at him for his words.
That night, when she got back up to her room, she took a look in the mirror that stood in the corner and looked at her haggard junkie face, crooked and drug-stained teeth and her bloated face. She threw her spare blanket over the mirror to hide the reflection.
Laying in bed, June let the exhaustion spread over her. Though the dope-sickness was easing a bit, she still felt sickly. It had been a long day, a long week, a long month. The bastard boyfriend had betrayed her, but that wasn’t a big surprise. She always figured he would screw her over someday. The cops were after her again and that wasn’t much of a surprise either. She didn’t have a lot of choices for making money and most of them were against the law.
Seventeen years ago, she vowed she would never come back here. But then, she was younger, she had a body men would pay to rent and she didn’t have a drug problem. She could get and take anything she wanted without the shakes and sickness she got now every time her supply was cut off.
Staring up at the ceiling, she watched the dust motes float in the moonlight. She lay there for a long time, unable to close her eyes or unclench her hands. But she must have fallen asleep because she felt the little girl take her hand, unclench the claw and put her little head on June’s chest.
“I’m so glad you came back, Junie, I missed you for such a long time.” The little girl said in June’s dream.
On the morning she finally came downstairs, Lester Bailey was pouring himself a shot for breakfast.
“Want some,” he said, pushing the bottle towards her.
June just shook her head and poured herself a bowl of Cheerios. She went to the fridge to get some milk but there wasn’t any behind all the beer. After she took a closer look look at the cereal, she dumped that out too. At least he had coffee and a working coffeepot.
“You gonna live here, you cain’t throw away good food like that.” he snapped.
“Poppa, it had green fuzz growin’ on it.”
“Well, you’re a grown woman now, if your gonna stay here, you gotta earn your keep.”
“How ’bout I start by cleanin’ this pig sty up.”
Lester just looked over his glass at her and took a couple of sips. “Alright. I’m gonna go hunting. You want boomer or rabbit?”
“Can you get some milk and cereal from the grocery?” she asked.
“You got any money?” he spat back at her, “’cause I don’t. The sonofabitch at the feed store fired me and the government check don’t go far.”
“I got some money, a little bit. I can go to the store for milk and some other stuff after you git back.”
After his old truck rumbled and backfired down the long driveway, June started in on what she could only think of of a monstrous task. Just starting with the living room, she picked up three paper bags full of trash, old papers, used bottles, cigarette butts and a few sticky things she didn’t care to identify. There were dirty plates underneath piles of fast-food wrappers that must have been sitting there for months.
Opening up all the windows did help clear the staleness in the air a bit. She gathered the dishes into the kitchen and washed them in all the lukewarm water she could coax out of the faucet. She was surprised to see he actually did have dish soap and a sponge, neither of which looked particularly well-used.
Mostly, this squalor didn’t really bother her much. She and the bastard hadn’t lived much better in the squat they slept in for the last few months. But somehow, taking care of the old man seemed like the right thing to do, if only to rub his nose in the idea that she had somehow escaped his life and lived a better one. She didn’t believe it herself but maybe he would.
Then she went upstairs to the second floor. Her Momma’s sick room was just the way it was when she left 17 years ago except for 17 years of new dust and rot. Nothing had been moved, nothing had been cleaned, in the nearly 25 years since her mother died. This didn’t surprise her much either. Her father never went into that room after her mother went to the hospital.
The bathroom was a mess, with half-cleaned piss and puke on the floor and walls, pretty much the same as she remembered it. But for the first time in her own life, she got down on her hands and knees and cleaned it until it didn’t stink. She wouldn’t say it was clean but it was a hell of a lot better than it had been.
It was his room that really puzzled her though. It was obviously used and less decayed that the other rooms though calling it clean or tidy would be a long stretch. It was the master bedroom of the house and still had a king-size bed. When she lived here before, he always slept on the far side from the door but now both sides were mussed. Who the hell was sleeping here with him? June prayed it wasn’t Mari.
After Lester got back with his catch, she took the truck and made the trip down to the Piggly Wiggly. It felt surreal going back in there again—nothing had really changed except that a couple of the girls she had gone to high school with were now the women at the cash registers and the boys from school were now the men stocking shelves. Fortunately, nobody seemed to recognize her. It took most of her sparse remaining cash to buy milk, cereal, rice, some apples and a few other staples like coffee, sugar and cigarettes.
She had to hand it to her father, he always came home with game. Between freshly butchered rabbit, some rice and a few shots of her Poppa’s whiskey, she finally had something in her stomach that seemed to ease the lingering withdrawal a little bit.
They didn’t talk much, he watched his TV shows during dinner then they went out on the porch to smoke in silence for a while before she climbed back into her attic.
When she got there, Mari was sitting on the edge of her bed, her legs dangling over and swinging back and forth.
“Hi Mari,” June said. “I guess I didn’t expect to see you here again.”
“Why not?” asked the little girl, cocking her head in a coquettish way,
“I guess ‘cause I thought you were my imagination.”
Mari laughed at that. “Where’d you get a silly ideal like that? We’ve been playing together since you were a little girl.”
“I dunno,” said June, “I guess when I went away and you weren’t there, I figured you couldn’t possibly be read and I must have imagined you to escape my Poppa for a while.”
“Sweet Junie,” said the little girl, “I’ve always been here for you and and you were always here for me.”
June took a long look at the girl, drinking in the visage of her old friend. Mari still looked the same as she had 17 years ago. She looked maybe about 12 years old with mouse brown, unevenly cut hair, a long face halfway between angelic and homely, and beautiful brown doe eyes. She was wearing the same knee-length frayed dark blue jumper with ripped pockets that June had always seen her in.
The little girl smiled at her. “I don’t think you know how much you help me, Junie. Anytime you want to come back home, I’ll be waiting for you here. I miss you when you’re gone.”
Why don’t you come back to Nashville with me? I can take care of you. I’ll even like go straight and treat you like a little princess. We can be together all the time. We’ll get an apartment together.”
The girl smiled back but sadly.
“You know I can’t leave here. I gotta take care of my Daddy.” Suddenly, June thought, her smile looked just a little bit feral.
June thought back on all the midnight talks the girls used to have. Mari’s Daddy had been as cruel and nasty as her own Poppa. “You’re daddy’s here too?” she asked.
“Yep, he lives with your Daddy now. I can’t leave him alone, he needs me.” Mari said, looking down at her hands.
“Does he sleep in my Poppa’s room now with him?” asked June.
“We don’t really sleep but he keeps your Poppa company sometimes at night. They like to talk all the time.”
“What do they talk about?”
“They talk about how all the women in their lives screwed everything up for them. How they would be so much better off if they never married or had kids. They just like to feel sorry for themselves.
“They used to take long walks out around the farm but I won’t let Daddy do that any more” said Mari, “not since you came back. I keep him in the house now. A lot of times they go down to the room.”
“In the basement?,” asked June, stunned.
Mari nodded her head, June stared at her in disbelief. “Why would they stay in the room?”
“It used to be my Daddy’s favorite room.”
June thought about that for a long time. “Anytime I want to imagine what Hell is like, I think of the room.”
Mari nodded gravely. “Me too, but for my Daddy and your Poppa, I think it was their happy place.”
“That’s a horrible thought,” said June.
After a long time holding each other for comfort against the memories of their long dead past, June finally fell asleep.
In the morning, June woke up to Mari shouting at her and shaking her.
“Junie, we gotta go downstairs to the room.”
“I don’t wanna go there,” said June, still half asleep.
“Junie, we gotta go down there now and take your suitcase.”
“I don’t ever wanna go down their again,” said June, trying to wave the girl away.
“It’s the cops, Junie, the cops are coming up the road. If you stay up here, they’re gonna find you. If we go to the room, they’ll never find us.”
Junie grabbed her rolling case and followed the girl down to the second floor. Junie found her father alone on his bed.
“Poppa,” she said, shaking him now. “It’s the cops. They’re coming. I’m gonna go down into the basement room.”
“Oh fuck,” he said, “somebody must have recognized you at the Piggly Wiggly. I’ll go take care of them.”
June and Mari continued down into the back of the family room. June lifted the rug and the trap door and climbed down the rickety steps. June felt the same terror in the pit of her stomach that she always felt when Poppa dragged her down here as a child.
The steps led into a short, dirt-wall tunnel with one electric bulb hanging from a loose wire. The wires continued down the tunnel and disappeared just above a wooden door which opened into a crudely finished room with a wood plank floor, wall-board walls and a completely unfinished ceiling. One more bare bulb hung from the cord running across the ceiling. The room was just the way she remembered it, smelling musty and vaguely like sour human sweat. It was a a small, claustrophobic room, maybe ten foot by eight foot. The air was cloyingly still. It took every ounce of her strength to walk in this room and close the door behind her.
The big heavy metal bed still stood against the back wall covered with a stained mattress but with it’s handcuffs were hanging loose.
June and Mari sat down on the bed, June placed herself right in the middle but Mari sat on the very edge of the metal frame. The girl was giggling.
“What are you laughin’ at girl?” Asked June.
“You’re sittin’ right in the middle of my Daddy and I don’t think he likes it very much.”
From upstairs, they could hear a pounding on the door. “Lester, I know you’re in there,” someone shouted, “It’s Deputy Hodges. Open your damn door.”
“You got a warrant.”
“Yeah, actually, this time we do, we’re here to talk to June Bailey. Open this door or we’re gonna kick it down again.”
“I’m comin’, I’m comin’.”
They heard the door open and the sound of booted feet tromping in. “I got a warrant for June Bailey’s arrest here, Lester. Best you tell us where she is so nothin’ bad happens to you or her.”
“I ain’t seen her in 15 years, the little whore went up to Nashville.”
“She was at the Piggly Wiggly yesterday, drivin’ your truck.”
“She’s a junkie, I wouldn’t let her near my truck.”
The deputy laughed at that. “You’re a fuckin’ drunk, Lester. How many times we picked you up and driven you home this year already? She couldn’t be any worse than you.”
“My, my, Lester,” said a woman’s voice, “looks like you did a lot of cleaning since I was here a couple weeks ago.”
“I got sick of livin’ in a pig sty.”
“Shit Lester, I don’t think you ever washed a dish in your life.” she said.
“Never too old to start.” He replied sulkily.
“We got an arrest warrant, Lester, and we’re not leavin’ here without your junkie daughter.”
This was followed by the sounds of boots tromping upstairs and doors being opened and cops calling her name over and over. The went in and out of the front and back doors, probably searching the shed and the old decrepit barn too.
June was sweating profusely. She kept watching the trap door but it never opened. After what seemed like an eternity, she finally heard them leave with the male deputy pushing Lester against the wall, saying he was gonna keep an eye on him.
Junie breathed a sigh of relief and Mari looked up at her brightly. “You know, it was my Daddy who built this room.”
That got June’s attention.”I didn’t know that.” she said. “Did he build it for you?”
“No, my parents were protestors, my Mommy said, They were fighting the government to get us out of a big, awful war. My Daddy built the room so they could hide from the FBI when they came.” She paused a moment, “but I don’t think they ever came. But that’s why the room is impossible to find if you don’t know it’s there. They used to keep cans of food and a windup radio down there. Mommy said they were “flower children”, that’s how I got my name.”
“I thought Mari came from the Bible.”
“My name is Marigold Poppy, like the flowers and my Mommy was Chrysanthemum but everybody called her Chris and my Daddy was Blu Hawk, he wasn’t named after a flower.”
“So your Daddy didn’t build the room to punish you. That’s what my Poppa used it for.” said June.
“When the Government never came to arrest them, I think my Mommy forgot about the room but my Daddy didn’t. He liked to bring me down here too, just like your Poppa. I think my Daddy may have told your Poppa about the room.
“My Daddy took me down here to do things he said Mommy must never know about. He said it was ‘free love’ but that Mommy didn’t understand how important ‘free love’ was. He used to give me some of their drugs to make me enjoy it more, he said, but it didn’t work. I hated the room just like you did.
“But your Poppa is the one who put handcuffs on the bed. My Daddy never did that.”
When June finally came back up the rickety staircase it was like coming up for air after nearly drowning. It was already well into mid-morning..
Lester was waiting for her. He had made her a cup of coffee, something she didn’t remember him ever doing for anybody before.
“Hey Junebug, I just saved your ass so I’m gonna need your help today.” he said.
“You want me to do some more cleaning?’,” she asked suspiciously. Lester was not usually a man for anything but giving orders to his daughter.
“Naw, you know where that little girl is buried out back?”
“I want to dig up the grave next to her.”
“There ain’t but only one grave out there, Poppa.”
“There is someone else buried out there. I don’t know which side of the girl he’s on but he was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere next to her.”
“What?” asked June. “Why do you want to dig up someone’s grave, that’s sacrilegious, ain’t it?”
“I think he needs our help.”
June laughed at him. “You’re talking about Blu Wolf, right?”
Lester looked up at her in surprise. “You know about him?” he asked. “He said I was the only one he ever talked to.”
“No Poppa, I never talked to him but I know his little girl. His daughter is here too. She helped me through all the shit you put me through when I was little.”
Lester’s face clouded over into that look she had always feared. June took a small step back from him.
“What the fuck are are you talking about, what ‘shit’ did I put you through?”
“Hell, Poppa, It’s all done and gone. No need to fight about it now. Why do you want to dig this sorry bastard up?”
Lester looked down at his hands again. “Cuz he’s stuck here. He says as long as his body is in this grave, he cain’t leave the house. If I can dig up his bones and move him somewhere else, he can go on to the next life or somethin’.”
“I’ll make you.a deal, Poppa, I’ll help you dig him up and move him if you help me dig up the little girl. Maybe then I can take her back with me to Nashville.”
“You want to take a little girl ghost back to Nashville with you? Damn, Junebug, you’re still a sick little shit.”
“I love you too, Daddy,” she said, turning to go out to the shed to get some shovels.
It was a hot Tennessee day and neither father nor daughter were in particularly good shape for the difficult task of un-digging graves. Both had to stop and rest frequently, smoke a cigarette or go into the nearby trees and pee.
The difficulty of their task was made much worse because, while the girl’s grave was marked with a handmade painted cross and a few porcelain saints, it wasn’t clear where the man was buried. They first dug a deep trench on the left side of her grave. It took them what seemed like hours to dig down several feet.
When that yielded nothing, they dug another trench on the right side. Here, pretty close to the surface, they found a metal belt buckle, a rotted shoe, one gold tooth where the head ought to have been and a small round white stone which Junie declared looked like a kneecap.
Lester had brought a big wooden box lined with cloth to carry away the body and he put these relics gently into it and closed the lid.
“That’s a sorry lot of body pieces,” June said, lighting another cigarette. “Don’t think movin’ his kneecap is gonna free his spirit to go to hell.”
Lester just glared at her. “I cain’t dig no more, if you still want the little girls body, we gotta do that tomorrow.”
June nodded her head. She was near to exhaustion herself though her Poppa had definitely taken the worst of it. He couldn’t even stand straight. “Let me carry that for you Poppa,” she said, taking the box from him and handing him her shovel.
Silently, they walked back to the house.
Up in June’s room, she found Mari sitting on the edge of the bed, laughing.
June smiled back at her. “What are you laughing about now, girl?”
“I told my daddy that he had to stay here because his body was buried outside. I told him he had to find somebody to move it so he could move on.”
June looked at Mari more closely. “But that’s not true?” she asked.
“His body was carried away by coyotes. My Mommy didn’t bury him very deep.”
“Was that his kneecap we found out there?”
Mari shrugged. “Maybe, I didn’t watch his body too closely. But I told him that to make him go crazy trying to get your Daddy to dig him up.”
Despite her own painful exhaustion, June found herself smiling at Mari’s bizarre little joke. “So why did your Mommy bury your Daddy out behind the barn?”
“Cuz my Daddy killed me and Mommy finally figured out what he was doing to me. He gave me too much drugs and I couldn’t breathe anymore and he carried me upstairs and told my Mommy that it was an accident but she didn’t believe him.
“She went and got a gun from their bedroom and she killed him.”
“Did you see her shoot him?” asked June.
“Yep, I was already standing there outside my body watching this but my Mommy couldn’t see me or hear me no matter how much I cried.
“Even though he died the same day I did, it was like a month before my Daddy came back so he didn’t see what Mommy did with his body or when the dogs came to dig him up.
“Mommy left a few days later cuz she didn’t know I was still here. She came back though, a few years ago, after she died too. She was much older but she came back to say she still loved me and that I had a brother and sister in Chicago. When she saw how I had to stay here to take care of Daddy, she kissed me on my head and said she had to go but someday we would be together again.”
“I’m so sorry Mari,” said June, not knowing what to do to comfort the girl or if she even needed it. Mari looked back at her with that feral smile back on her face. “It’s okay Junie. I like taking care of my Daddy now.”
“You don’t still have to do free love with him anymore do you?”
“Nope, and now he as to do the things I tell him to do.”
“How do you do that?” asked June.
“I think things at him and now he has to do what I think at him, It’s like my mind is stronger than his. It took a long time to learn how much I can control him—Its like using his own needs and wants against him.”
When June came downstairs again, Lester was sitting at the kitchen table, holding his head in his hands. He didn’t look up when she came in.
June pulled out a couple of frozen dinners which didn’t look too far out of date and cooked them in the oven. The microwave probably hadn’t worked for years.
Lester grabbed a bottle of whiskey and started in drinking straight from the bottle. June knew from long experience that this was never a good sign.
She ate her dinner but he only toyed with his, taking a few bites then mixing up the various sections of food and continuing with his whisky.
After a very long silence, he slammed the bottle onto the table and growled at her. “What the hell do you mean all the “shit I put you through.”
June looked at the sorry-ass scrawny little man who used to terrify her and this time she answered.
“You mean like locking me in the room every time you got drunk and got pissed at me?”
“You were a fucking ornery-ass little bitch, I tried to teach you manners. I tried bein’ nice but even as a little girl you fought me every step of the way.”
A huge guffaw burst from June, almost making her choke on her beer. “You! Teaching me manners? You’re the biggest fuckin’ nastiest piece of shit I know. Learnin’ manners from you would be like learnin’ manners from a rabid raccoon!”
“You fuckin’ little slut,” he spat back at her. “I’m still yer daddy an you cain’t talk to me like that. Not while yer stayin’ in my house.”
A lot of emotions swam across her face. Fury for the years of abuse, hatred of this nasty, ugly, sick, waste-of-skin. But he had a point, she had nowhere else to go now. With her lips trembling against the lie, she said “Sorry Poppa” and turned away to try to keep her fury in check.
“I never did nothin’ to you that you didn’t ask for or deserve. You were an ornery little cuss and a little slut. When your Momma died of the cancer, you threw yourself at me.”
June whirled around back at Lester, taking a step towards him, making him teeter back. “I was eight-fucking-years old and I hated it every time you raped me.”
“I didn’t rape you, You made yourself all pretty and cute and climbed in my bed next to me.”
“My Momma just died and I needed my Poppa to comfort me. I wasn’t tryin’ to get you aroused, for Christ’s sake. Besides, you used to play grab ass with me before Momma even got sick.”
“You came on me. I’m a guy, when a pretty girl comes on to me, that’s how we act, dammit.”
June stood looking at him, not knowing how to answer such shit. Tears were streaming down her face and her fingers were clenched into claws just like they did when she was a child.
“I don’t know what the hell happened to you, you fat ugly pig,” he continued. “When you was little, you was a pretty little thing.”
June advanced on him, only half-noticing in the back of her mind that this time, he moved back instead of her.
“You raped your own goddamn daughter every chance you got. You came into my room and you fuckin’ raped a little girl over and over and over. You are a fuckin’ pervert.”
“You don’t call your daddy names like that, you little slut” he said and he slapped her as hard as he could.
Yeah, June realized, it stung. But suddenly she knew the measure of this man and she knew she wasn’t a scared little girl any more. She pulled back then swung a fist at his face.
Lester was old and unsteady from his years of drinking. She outweighed him by at least 50 pounds and for once, she was mad and he was scared. Her punch literally lifted him off his feet and sent him flying into the wall behind him. He grunted as he hit the wall and slid down it, leaving a small stripe of blood from where his scalp split.
Mari and Junie sat in the attic room, looking out the window at the moonlight path to the house.
“Why can’t you leave here, Mari?” asked June. “Is it like a wall when you get to the gate?
Mari shook her head. “It’s not a wall, it’s just like I don’t have the will to go any further. I don’t want to and I can’t make myself want to.”
“If I took your body with me, could you come with me?” asked June, already suspecting the answer.
“No, Junie, I want to stay here. I want to stay here with my Daddy.”
“Why do you want to stay here with him? He hurt you. He made you do things no little girl should ever have to do”
Mari nodded her head slightly in thought. “Yeah, but now I can make him do things.”
June looked at her sharply. “Do you make him do those kinds of thing?”
“No,” said the little girl, “I just control where he goes.”
“Can anyone but me see you and talk to you?” asked June
“There’s been like five families that have lived here since I died and they all had kids. All the kids could see me but none of the adults.”
“Did they believe in you or were they all like me and thought you were imaginary?” asked June.
Mari smiled gently at her and touched her arm. June thought it was like feather brushing her skin. “You really believed in me, at least while you were here. And they all did, in some way or another. Some knew I was a ghost, one little girl thought I was a fairy. Some of them told their parents and none of them believed them except for the one man and his wife. That little boy was named Joey and his sister was a three-year-old named Adele.
“I got to sit with all the kids when their parents read to them, and we’d play in the attic and sometimes when we were outside. My favorite game was always hide and seek.”
“Why,” asked June, “because you knew all the good hiding places?”
“No, silly.” She said and she disappeared and June could hear her giggle. Then she popped back, laughing even more.
“Did all the adults see your Daddy?” Asked June.
“No,” said Mari, “only two of them. One was Joey’s dad and the other was your Poppa.
“Joey’s dad got really scared listening to my Daddy and one day he told is wife they had to get out of here and they moved away the very next day.
“I think Daddy could only talk to people who understood what he wants and Joey’s dad maybe felt the same things but couldn’t really go through with it.
“But your Poppa and my Daddy used to take long walks around the house and into the woods as far as Blu could go. Your Poppa used to drink out there, away from your Momma and they would talk and talk about us.
“I don’t think your Poppa really believed my Daddy was real though, not for a long, long time. He thought he was a hallucination from drinking but that didn’t stop him from talking about you and your Momma to Blu. He used to say terrible things and Blu would keep encouraging him.”
There were silent for a very long time until June asked “What’s it like being dead?”
“Its a relief, really. I don’t need things the same way I did before.
“When you’re alive, you need things. You need food, you need water, you need to go to the bathroom. When I was alive, I went through what you did when you first got here. My Daddy had given me drugs so many times, I felt like I needed them.
“When I died, all of those needs went away. I could play, I could walk anywhere I want, I could come and go from existence as I wanted.
“But when my Daddy came back, he still needed his drugs and he still wanted to free love me but even at the beginning, I was stronger than he was.
“I only wanted one thing, to make him feel the pain he put me through when I was alive.
“I think when you’re dead, you only need the most important things you needed when you were alive.
“He couldn’t touch me and I couldn’t touch him any more but I could use my desire and his needs to make him cry, to make him plead.
“And since you’ve come back, I want more than ever to hurt him because he made your Poppa hurt you. But he made me too, like your Poppa made you.
“When you first got here, i started making my Daddy stay in the house. Then I made it so he has to stay in the room, like they did to you and me. Now I made it so he has to stay in the bed and you made it so your Poppa has to stay in the bed too. I think that is beautiful.”
“Could i do that to my Poppa if we were dead?”
“I don’t know,” said Mari, “but I want you to stay with me and maybe your Poppa will stay too.”
It was probably an hour or two later when Lester regained consciousness. He opened his eyes and was nearly sick. He lay there looking up into the one single bulb hanging from the ceiling. He was back in his room—”the” room—laying on “the” bed. When he tried to shift to ease the headache, he realized he was cuffed to the bed with the handcuffs he used to use on Junie when she wouldn’t do what he wanted. Even worse, he was sharing the space with the ghost of his friend Blu Wolf, he could feel him flowing through him.
He tried to talk to his friend but Blu didn’t answer. Instead, he could feel the dead man like a liquid mist flowing in his ears, out his nose, through his stomach. It was like a smell, he couldn’t smell, a touch he couldn’t feel, a sound he couldn’t hear, all enveloping him in swirling eddies.
He lay there for hours. His head was bursting with pain from the concussion and his arms were stiff and sore from being stretched out. He tried to pull on the cuffs but they just cut into his wrists. He hadn’t had a cigarette or a drink for hours and he was really feeling the lack of both.
When June finally did come down, she offered him a drink of water and a few drags on her cigarette.
“Remember when you used to lock me down here” she asked. You never brought me water. You made me lie here for hours or sometimes even days with no food and no water.”
“You were a little girl. You could handle it. I’m an old man. Please, for Christ’s sake, let me go. I cain’t be like this for very long or I’m gonna die.”
“Ohhhh,” she said with teasing in her voice, “we wouldn’t want that now, would we?”
“Please, Junie, please.” he said plaintively.
“I remember saying ‘please, Poppa, please.’” she said.
Lester started crying.
He lay there in his own mess. His arms were on fire from the way he was cuffed. The bulb was off but he felt like he could see things anyway. It was like watching a movie of his life. When he was young, he swore he would never be like his own son-of-a-bitch old man. When he was young, he could handle drinking. He could see when he was young and in love, he could see June’s mom when they were both 19. He had a job, they had a house, they had a beautiful little girl. And he could see how beautiful this little girl was and how his wife stopped wanting him and how good all that whiskey tasted.
When the bulb turned on, it was like the world exploding in his mind. He hadn’t even heard her when she came down into the room.
“Junie,” he said, surprised at how dry and raspy his own voice was. “Are you gonna let me go, baby?”
“I don’t know yet what I’m gonna do. Me and Mari are talking about it.”
“That little girl,” he croaked, “you gotta be an example for her. If you let me go, maybe she will let her daddy go. You gotta show her what true Christian forgiveness is for your soul and her soul too.”
June laughed at him. “She’s not a little girl any more. She looks like one but she’s lived here for nearly 50 years now.”
June sat down on the edge of the bed and gave him water and some food and some tobacco. Then she pulled his soiled pants off and washed him and gave him clean underwear, throwing the pants in the corner. He wanted to kick her but found his legs were like pieces of lead that he could barely lift.
“Baby, can you get me some whiskey, please?” he said.
“Already thought of that” she said, smiling at him. She pulled a flask out of her pocket and winked at him. “Got it right here.” then she started drinking it herself.
“Oh Junie, please, just a mouthful.” he asked, ashamed of the whine in his voice. She relented and poured from the flask into his mouth.
“I was just lookin’ at that picture on the wall in the living room of you and me and Momma.”
“It’s a nice picture, ain’t it?” he said. “You and your Momma look so pretty there.”
“Yeah, we look like such a happy family.”
“We were, baby, we were. Until your Momma got sick, we were a happy family. Don’t you remember the good times before your Momma got sick?”
“Yeah, Poppa, I was thinkin’ of all the good times when you was drunk and yelling at us. I remember when I couldn’t go to school for three days cuz you gave me a big black eye. I remember Momma holding me when I was crying but she never really did anything to stop you. Hell, sometimes she would just start screaming her head off at me too.”
“Oh, God, Junie, surely you must remember something happier than that.”
“I just burned that picture in the fireplace, Poppa.”
He felt tears running down the sides of his face because he couldn’t remember any better times himself.
“Hey Poppa, I remembered another really happy time. Remember when I was six and you burned me with your cigarette?” June lit herself another one.
“It was an accident, you walked in to it.”
“The hell it was, you grabbed me and held me down and yelled at me. I don’t even remember what for now.”
“I’m really sorry, baby” he said, watching the glowing tip of hers as she took a long drag then dropped her hand to her knee.
“Please Junie, don’t do that, let me go, please. I promise I will never hurt you again. I promise I won’t ever tell anyone you did this. Fuck, I’ll even give you my truck. Just, please let me go.”
“I guess I’m gonna think about it.” she said, Then, with a quick jab, she put her cigarette out on his crotch and left him there writhing and sobbing.
Two days more, she visited him once a day, at least he thought it was once a day. Time was starting to blur with him.
She fed him and cleaned him but didn’t do anything for his wound which was starting to puss up. He felt himself getting weaker and more brain-fogged. He begged and pleaded but she just kept saying she was thinking about it.
On what he guessed was the third day, she came down the stairs carrying a big pitcher.
“Please Junie, I need a doctor, I need some medicine. It hurts so bad.” He was whining again but he couldn’t stop himself.
“Okay, here’s some medicine” she said, grabbing the pitcher and pouring liquid on his wound. He screamed in agony and even more in fear when he realized it was gasoline and it burned the suppurating wound into unbearable pain.
“Oh, poor baby. Let me make you feel good like you wanted me to before.” And she grabbed his member and started rubbing. Much to his dismay and horrible pain, he felt it stiffen. The wound screamed and so did he.
“No Junie, please God, no. Let’s talk about this. Maybe I can help you. Lets go upstairs, please, no.” But June sloshed gas all around the little room, soaked his mattress and soaked him.
“Want a cigarette, Poppa, want one last cigarette before we go?”
He shook his head back and forth violently, feeling gasoline spray out of his hair.
“Well, I’m going to have one and she sat down on his stomach, driving all the air out of his lungs and lit one up and blew smoke up toward the ceiling. His eyes watched the glowing tip go up and down and up and down again.
“Mari and I have decided we’re going to destroy this horrible house. Maybe you and me are going to join her and her Daddy and be a happy family for ever and ever or maybe we’ll put an end to this little corner of Hell and we’ll all be set free. Either way is okay by me.”
Then she casually flicked her cigarette into the puddle of gasoline on the floor and closed her eyes.
Lester screamed as the flames followed the gasoline around her and lit him up. She sat there calmly and quietly inside her circle of flame until it caught her too and put an end to all her pain and desires.