Mary’d heard the word “bitch,” of course, often yelled, many times from her husband Arlo. She and Arlo sat at dinner, and he cussed her again, and he used the word “bitch.” More completely, what he said was, “I’m tired of coming home to this shitty food, bitch.” That was the context in which he said his penultimate word. Until that moment she was listening to his complaints, nodding quietly and deferentially in her way, but the word got her thinking.
She realized it was an odd thing to call her, because she never really bitched. In fact, come to think of it, she never bitched once the whole time they were married, not to Arlo, not to anyone. She tried to remember: Not once. Not one time. She never bitched at all, yet the word he used was “bitch.” She found this confusing.
Lost in thought, she quit nodding. She forgot to look sorry, let alone to feel shame, and that was when it happened. He reached out and slapped her, only once on the chin to regain her attention. Then he glared at her, daring her to object. It was not the first time he had done this. She whispered an apology, and he returned his limited attention to the meal. He scooped a fork of mashed potatoes, put it in his mouth and chewed loudly to let her know he was annoyed with her for making him strike her.
She held the palm of her hand to her chin and backed away from the table. She left the kitchen in a daze. A moment later, he heard the bathroom sink run cold water, and it squeaked as the tap was shut off. She stumbled around in the back of their doublewide a few seconds. A drawer opened and closed. Arlo grunted. He heard a click and assumed she returned to the kitchen still snuffling. She had not. She held his H&R six-shot revolver in her hand. He said “what” and heard a deafening roar, simultaneously feeling a blow of great force to his neck. He tensed to leap from the table but somehow found himself drooping to the floor. There was blood in his eye, and although he believed it was from falling on hard linoleum, it was not. It was arterial spray from his throat. He died thinking he’d get up any minute to beat Mary senseless.
Skinny, once deferential Mary stood over him, five-two in her sandals, and watched hot blood spurt from his neck in vivid arcs. He died with one eye open, the other still mashed awkwardly into the floor, and she watched as this happened.
It occurred to Mary there were still five bullets left in the gun. She thought it might be nice to see red holes in other men, not just Arlo, but other men in other places in town. She got in the car and drove nine blocks to her father’s house. Her father, who kicked her ribs and slapped her arms every week for seven years, was not at home. Instead she found her brother Troy, who got drunk once and forced her to fellate his friend William. She found Troy sitting on the couch and playing video games. He said nothing before she shot him, as he was trying to beat a level of his game and didn’t look up to see her approach. She shot Troy through the cheek below his right eye. The eye turned red as he fell off the couch. She sat next to him Indian style and slammed his head on the floor as he died. She made not one sound the whole time, except when his red eye turned to look at her near the end, and even that sound was only a chuckle.
From there she drove west toward her father’s place of business. Along the way she stopped at a fast food restaurant where William worked as a fry cook. She ordered a #3 with a Dr Pepper and pulled up to the drive-thru window. There she paid for her food, which she set beside her on the front seat. She ate a French fry while it was still hot and asked the fat Latina cashier, Dolores, to bring William to the window. The smear of blood on Mary’s forehead did not alarm Dolores, who was preoccupied by her crush on a local video clerk. Instead she called William to the window as instructed. When William appeared at the window, Mary shot him in the chest and drove away as screams and keening charged the air behind her.
I note in passing that William lived. He will never make more than twenty grand a year, because six years and seven months from now, he will die in a single-vehicle car crash in Arlington, Texas. He’ll be drunk. On that day last week, though, he lived. It’s strange the things I’m given to know in this moment.
Mary found her father Bob Devane working in Crandall’s Garage on the outskirts of town. A dirty 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass rested on the lift, and Bob was in the process of replacing its brake pads. She shot Bob Devane in the groin a few inches from his penis because, in addition to beating her, he sometimes raped her in the back seat of his Ford LTD. Bob fell to the ground shrieking and holding his crotch as if he needed to pee. She wanted to shoot him again but she needed the last two bullets for other projects. Instead she set the gun on a nearby counter and bludgeoned her father with a tire iron until his shrieking stopped and his face looked like a plate of old hamburger. The iron felt good in her hand, but after the beating she had difficulty closing her fist around the revolver. She took a deep breath and wrapped her wounded fingers around the grip. A popular guitar song played on the radio, but Mary didn’t stop to enjoy the last chorus before she left the garage.
She heard sirens as she drove into town, but amazingly, three police cruisers sped past her without turning around. It’s strange that I know this: The officers neglected to pull her over because Dolores the window cashier misidentified the make of Mary’s dusty Honda Civic.
Instead, Mary parked in the lot of her part-time employer, Main Street Cleaners. There she waited patiently for a customer to leave before shooting my father, who owned Main Street Cleaners, in the forehead. She did this because my father, who coached Little League baseball in his spare time and had a rubber singing fish on the wall of his study at home, once put his hands on her breasts and vulva when he was drunk. I knew my father was an alcoholic, but I didn’t know he enjoyed groping female employees. Had I known, I would have loved him somewhat less than I did. I was on spring break that sunny afternoon, four days ago, but I stopped at Main Street Cleaners to say hi to my dad on the way to South Padre.
I walked in as the thunder and cry of my father’s death scattered blood in all directions. Without thinking, I touched Mary’s arm near her shoulder. There was a single bullet left in Arlo’s gun, the one she saved for herself, but in surprise she turned and shot me in the stomach. I fought death as young men will, but that was four days ago, and now, in thirty seconds, I will die and there is nothing coming after.
I know so much in these final swollen moments, but I find myself unable to speak the words. My mother weeps on the crater in my stomach, and my girlfriend screams Mary’s name and calls her a bitch. And though my life will not progress beyond a dark point fifteen seconds from now, I have no regrets—because there’s nothing in my future to miss, and I was one of the good ones. I treated women as I should, and if I had known Mary, I would not have called her bitch or made her do things she didn’t want to do. I was one of the good ones, and yet, blessed as I am with all this rich, mysterious comprehension, knowing Mary as I do, I find myself unable to blame her