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About Slow Death

Previous Entry Slow Death Jul. 7th, 2006 @ 01:38 am Next Entry

The sound that tore Majorie from her pillow should have been a nightmare. It was too loud, too howled to be anything else. A reverberating crash, like an aluminum screen door colliding with its frame, then an ugly ribbon of pain streaming from a man's mouth.

Majorie sat up quick, incautious, and scraped her hairline against the textured ceiling. She fell sideways, holding her head, and looked out the window of her parents' trailer, navigating through the darkness, past the barn, down the dirt road and out the gate, to the yellow house insignificant in its fluorescent pen on the corner.

The howl held a moment longer, then winnowed out. Majorie felt her extremities humming and twisted in her bunk. The fabric of her pajamas snagged the sheets. She reached into the muddle of junk on the ledge beside the window and extracted a hand-me-down gift from her father, an astronomer's telescope. She sat up again and balanced the device on her knees. The telescope stole a circle of yellow siding from the faraway house. She cast around, looking at the side door first, margarine-white under the exposed bulb, then at the window covered from within with waxy brown paper. It made Majorie think of a wasps' nest.

Listening to the hum in her arms and legs, she let the telescope drop. She'd been woken by dream sounds before-- a friend of her father's, screaming for his face back --but nothing so vivid. It was outside her experience. She replaced the telescope, then huddled against the head of the bed, sheets pulled up, pillow folded behind her back, and waited.

Ten minutes later she was asleep.

* * * * *

It was still first light when the alarm went off. Majorie slipped off the top bunk and padded to the bathroom. The incident was strangely neutral in her mind, not worth mentioning. She changed into the plainest, most comfortable clothes she could scavenge from the floor, a sleeveless white tee and jeans, appraised the scrapes on her forehead as worth ignoring, and made her way through the dim living room to the kitchenette.

Majorie prepared breakfast. The automatic coffeemaker belched green tea. She shoveled scrambled eggs onto a plate and shouted down the hall toward her father's bedroom. He cursed back in reply. "Goddammit, M., it's ten minutes 'til! You're gonna be fucking late!" She ignored him and poured herself a bowl of cereal.

He emerged, buttoning a flannel shirt, and surveyed his side of the table with begrudging approval. Her side, less so. "Just cereal?"

The flakes were moist cardboard in her mouth. "I'm not that hungry." It was the truth.

* * * * *

The old Ford was up to its usual tricks, refusing to crank until she stroked the dashboard. Majorie waited until her father's frustration was unbearable, then touched the parchment-dry vinyl above the glovebox, hoping he wouldn't notice. She knew he'd ridicule her for being superstitious.

Aside from forcing herself to ignore the yellow house, the ride to school was average. She tried to enjoy the drive in silence, watching the ditches slide by, appraising the rubbish, but her father wouldn't abide. He prized at her with incessant chatter, then flew into a rage for failing to elicit a response. Majorie didn't understand. His flubbed final observation had been to point out an asshole ignoring a four-way stop. What kind of rapport was he trying to establish?

He swung the steering wheel roughly to the right and threw the truck into the parking lot. Majorie went on automatic, shouldering her bag and opening the door; she only stopped to gauge the rage on his face. He leaned across the split faux-leather seat. "We're going to have a Talk, when I pick you up."

She slammed the door. He spun out. If only it wasn't summer.

* * * * *

Come the afternoon, Majorie was surprised to find her father in a better mood. No dark looks, no ill-tempered insinuations, not even any inquiries about class. She figured he had either resigned himself to having sired a flunk, or had gotten royally stoned before returning. She banked on the latter. He smiled, not saying much of anything. Pleasantries. There was some maintenance at the farm that needed doing, some menial distractions. She almost looked forward to it. He indicated that it would involve the tractor. Less exciting, but still.

They rode back the same meandering way. The roads were abandoned. One of the blessings of living in the country, Majorie felt. They came to the last intersection before the farm. She found herself compelled to glance at the yellow house, and saw a brand-new traffic sign posted beside the driveway.


The back of Majorie's mouth went acidic. She heard her father chuckle. "I hear it was, too."

"What?" She tried to decipher the flat black letters on the reflective metal. They made her want to squint. The edges of her eyes were dry.

They passed the sign and turned onto dirt. "A slow death." He waited a moment, impatient to read her, then decided to carry on. "You never met the family. A father, son and daughter." Pulling the truck into its customary place, he switched the ignition off. They sat in the cab, waiting for the orange dust to settle. "I was in town earlier, talking to your Gran'ma, and she said the police chief had been by the church, talking about it. Daughter had been lodging complaints for the better part of a year, but nobody had done anything, so last night, she went and got her daddy's shotgun. Gutshot him and the brother, too."

He opened the door and stepped out. Majorie didn't move. The humming had returned. She stared through the windshield, the pine, past the cactus garden her mother had planted, wondering why she hadn't heard a second blast. In defiance of the news, wondering if she'd heard anything at all.

He leaned against the truck, looking down. "Police are embarrassed as hell. Chief told Granma he didn't want to do anything about it. Told her he told the girl to pack a suitcase and run. Just another small-town homicide."

The driver's-side door closed with a resounding report. The truck shook. Majorie watched him follow the fence down towards the barn. She lifted her bookbag off the floorboard, wrenched the lever to open the door, and prayed that the remainder of the day's labors would be enough to send her to sleep.
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