“What?” I shrieked, struggling to my knees, covers pulled up to my chin. “What did you say?”
“Was it good stuff, boy?” Mr. Jamison’s eyes narrowed. “If she’s half as good in the sack as her mama was, she’s one prime pussy.”
Ira pounced, twisting Mr. Jamison’s shirtfront in his fist. His other hand dove into the front pocket of his jeans, came up in a blur of motion and clicked open a switchblade. He touched the point to his father’s throat. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Now just hold on, there ain’t no need getting excited.” A thin trail of blood trickled down Mr. Jamison’s neck. “Fuck her all you want, hell, it ain’t no skin off my ass—ow!”
Ira pushed a little deeper. The trickle became a stream. “Goddamn you, what are you talking about?” He slammed Mr. Jamison against the wall, the knife blade now resting sideways against his throat. “I want an answer—now.”
“I done told you, boy. She’s your sister. Hell, I don’t—”
“Liar!” Ira roared.
“I ain’t lying. Y’alls got the same mama. You don’t have to take my word for it, ask Nora or her daddy.” Mr. Jamison glanced in my direction. “They know.”
“You’re lying,” Ira snarled. “You would have told me. You wouldn’t have let me—”
“What happened, I wanted to happen. I just wish ya’lls mama was still alive to see it, goddamn her rotten soul to hell.”
Ira looked dazed. “No, you can’t mean—”
“Get away from me, boy!” Mr. Jamison swung a crutch, clubbing Ira’s side.
Ira stumbled back, lost his balance, and sat down hard. The switchblade flew out of his hand and spun across the floor.
Mr. Jamison moved toward him. “You ignorant little motherfucker, I’ll learn you to pull a knife on me.” He swung the crutch again, landing a glancing blow on the side of Ira’s head.
Outside, the storm crashed and boomed and banged, rained down its full fury upon the house. But inside the bedroom, a much more lethal storm raged.
When the crutch descended for the third time, Ira grabbed it and ripped it out of his father’s hand. He leaped to his feet, and wielding the crutch as if it were a baseball bat, swung, striking Mr. Jamison across the chest. The larger man went down.
Ira growled, “You’ll never hit me again, you sonofabitch.” He brought the crutch down, walloping Mr. Jamison’s head. Then again. And again.
If he didn’t stop, he was going to kill his father. Like he had Bubba Higgins.
I forced my frozen muscles to move, clambered from the bed and raced to Ira. I wrapped my arms around his back. “Stop, Ira, you’re going to kill him!”
Mr. Jamison tried to protect himself, shielding his face with crossed arms. But after five or six more blows, they slipped off his head to the floor.
“Ira!” I hugged him tighter, tried to pull him back, but it was like trying to move a mountain.
I didn’t think he even knew I was plastered against his back. Saying not a word, he continued bludgeoning Mr. Jamison’s face, turning his features into a bloody pulp. Shards of bone glistened in the blood and gore on the floor surrounding Mr. Jamison’s head. And still Ira kept hitting. Why didn’t he stop?
I dug my nails into his chest. “Please, Ira. He’s dead.”
The bashing continued, the crutch making a sickening wet crunch each time it connected.
I gave a hard yank. He staggered back, and overbalanced, we fell to the floor.
“Let me go!” He clawed at my arms locked around his waist. “I’m gonna kill the sonofabitch!”
“He’s already dead, Ira. Please stop.”
He pried my hands apart, skittered on hands and knees across the floor, and retrieved the knife from under the edge of the bed. He crawled toward his father’s body. I grabbed at his leg as he went by, but it slipped through my fingers. “Ira . . .”
He straddled Mr. Jamison’s body. “Lying bastard . . .” He slashed at the neck. “Gonna kill you . . . you lying sonofabitch . . .”
On hands and knees, I made my way to him and wrapped my arms around him again. I pressed my face to his neck, felt him sawing. “Oh God, Ira, please stop.” I hugged him tighter. “If you love me, please stop. For me, Ira!”
His motions slowed, then came to a halt. The knife clattered to the floor.
I opened my eyes and looked down. Ira had almost severed Mr. Jamison’s head, only the spine and a few gristly strings of meat keeping it attached to the body. Blood was everywhere. Ira’s hands and arms looked as if they had been bathed in it. I closed my eyes against the horror.
Ira shifted, and his arms embraced me. I felt the wet stickiness of blood smear my naked body. Mr. Jamison’s blood. Bile rose in my throat. I pulled away and rose to my feet. Ira followed and attempted to take me in his arms again.
“No, don’t touch me!” I sobbed, pushing him away.
“Chloe, what’s wrong?” He looked perplexed, hurt.
“How could you?” I asked.
“How could I what?”
He didn’t know . . . he really didn’t know. “Kill him—your father?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Oh Ira, you’ve done it again.”
He frowned. “Don’t cry over him, Chloe. He ain’t worth a single one of your tears.”
I turned my back, wrapped my arms about my trembling body. “I don’t understand you. It doesn’t seem to bother you at all to kill—”
“Don’t turn away from me!” He grabbed my arm and spun me around, crushed me against him, holding me so tightly I could hardly breathe. He buried his face in my hair. “Are you upset because he said you’re my sister? He lied, Chloe. You’re not my sister.”
“T—that’s only a p—part of it. You killed—”
“He lied,” he repeated, his voice an anguished whisper.
His distress tore at my heart. Pressing my cheek to his chest, I circled him with my arms, comforting him as best I could. “I don’t think so. He didn’t sound like he was lying to me, and besides that, he had no reason to.”
“But how could it be?”
“I don’t know, but I intend to find out. He did say that Granny and Daddy knew.”
He grasped my shoulders and pulled back a little, his wild eyes staring down into mine. “Don’t tell anybody anything, Chloe. I’ll get rid of the trash . . .” He glanced at his father’s body. “. . . and we’ll leave, just like we planned.”
I shook my head. “No, Ira.”
Tears slipped from my eyes. “I can’t. What if it’s true?”
“So what if it is? Does it change the way you feel? It damn sure don’t me.”
“But the baby.” I spread a protective hand on my still-flat abdomen. “What’ll it do to the baby if you are my brother?”
He placed a large hand over mine. “I don’t know, but we can’t take back what already is.” He paused. “Don’t say nothing to nobody. We’ll just leave, and we’ll never have to know. I can live with it.”
“But I can’t. I have to know for sure.”
“No.” I wouldn’t be swayed this time. “I’m going home and talk to Granny. I’m going to find out the truth. All of it.”
“If he lied, I’ll be here in the morning, just like we planned.”
“But then your grandma’ll know. She’ll try to stop us.”
“I’ll have to take that chance. I’ve got to know.”
“Okay.” He sighed. “But what if it is the truth? What’ll you do then?”
I broke away and turned my back to him once again. “I don’t know.”
What was I going to do? What should I do? Ira had killed again. I could no longer lie to myself; something was terribly wrong with him. And this psychotic man-boy, this monster I loved, was most likely my brother.
He moved up behind me, encircling me with bloody arms. “Please don’t go, Chloe,” he murmured. “I love you, I’ll always love you. You promised you’d never leave me.”
Without any warning, he picked me up and tossed me on the sofa, then came down on top of me.
I shook my head. “No, Ira.”
“Yes, Chloe.” His glittering black eyes met mine. “Oh yes, little girl.” He unbuttoned his fly.
“No!” I clamped my legs together, but he easily pushed them apart with his knee.
“Yes!” He thrust inside me. “You’re mine, you belong to me. You always have, you always will. That’ll never change.”
“No . . . no . . .” I whimpered, denying his words. But my traitorous body began to move with his. I couldn’t fight what I felt, not when I was in his arms, not when I was joined with him. With a sob of despair, I wrapped my legs around his hips, pulling him in deeper, and we both spiraled out of control, grasping and clawing like animals, our lovemaking savage.
“Oh, Chloe . . . damn!” His lips found mine in a grinding kiss as he poured out his release. My own came then, triggered by his, shattering my body into a million screaming pieces.
As if from far away, I heard him calling my name over and over.
Gradually, I floated back to earth to the feel of Ira’s hand brushing back hair from my sweat-damp face. My eyes opened to find his watching me, a tender smile curving his lips. I smiled back.
Then I turned my head, and the real world crashed in.
How could I have forgotten, even for a moment?
Mr. Jamison’s body lay in a pool of congealing blood, his battered face unrecognizable as such. I had made love in the same room containing his gory corpse—with his murderer, and most probably my brother. I was as perverted as Ira.
Disgusted with myself, I pushed him away and slipped from beneath his body.
“You still going?” he asked.
I felt bone-deep weary. “That didn’t change anything.” I shambled to the bedroom and began gathering my discarded clothes. I was about to step into my panties when I noticed blood on them and blood on my hands. Glancing down, I saw red smears painting my arms, legs, and torso.
Granny would have a heart attack if she saw me.
I dropped the tainted garments, went into the kitchen and poured water out of a bucket into a wash pan setting on the table. I fished a washrag from the cabinet, wet it, and began wiping off the half-dried blood.
“Here, let me.” Ira took the rag and gently wiped down my body. By the time he had finished, the water in the pan had turned dark red.
“Looks like that’ll do you.” He threw the bloody water out the back door.
“What about you?” I asked.
“I got stuff to do. I’ll clean up after.”
“I gotta take care of the old man, fix it where the bastard’ll never be found—that is if anybody ever was a mind to look.”
I didn’t want to know any of the details, didn’t want to think about Mr. Jamison’s body lying in the other room, his head a bloody, battered mess. I would go crazy if I thought about it.
Keeping my eyes averted, I went to the bedroom and got a change of clothes from the suitcase. When I slipped on my white sneakers, I noticed a few spots of blood, but there was nothing I could do about that.
Stepping into the front room, I fought back a wave of nausea. “I’m going now.”
Ira pitched his father’s crutches on his body, then turned to me. “Are you coming back?”
“I don’t know.”
“What about the baby, Chloe?”
“I don’t know.” I felt his eyes on my back as I shuffled into the kitchen.
I crossed the room and stepped out the back door into the sodden night. The storm had moved on, leaving the air clean and cool in its wake. I walked home beneath twinkling stars, knowing that unlike the sky, nothing could ever wash away the sins residing in my soul.
I knew something was wrong the moment I saw the house.
When I had left shortly after sunset—however long ago that had been—Granny had been sleeping soundly, the house resting in darkness. Now, light poured from almost every window.
Granny knew I was gone.
I had returned to the only real home I had ever known to learn the truth about Ira and me, and confess my truth as well. At least a part of it. The fact that Ira had killed two people, I would keep inside. I couldn’t tell anybody what he had done, first to Bubba Higgins and then to his own father, or he would be sent to prison for the rest of his life, or possibly executed. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that Ira was insane, but I loved him beyond madness and reason. I couldn’t do anything that might cause him harm.
Knowing there was now no reason to slip in the bedroom window, I entered the house through the front door.
Granny rose from the rocking chair in front of the fireplace. “Where in God’s name you been, gal? I’ve been worried sick.” The blue flannel nightgown swallowed her frail, emaciated frame. Tufts of gray hair stuck out at untidy angles from her head. Her sunken blue eyes were fixed on me, waiting for an answer.
I crossed the room and took her cold hands in mine. “I’ll tell you everything after you sit down.” I helped her settle into the rocker, then picked up the lap robe puddled on the floor, spread it over her lap, and tucked it around her legs “And there’re some things I want you to tell me too.”
“I called your daddy, Chloe,” she said. “He’s on his way, and should be here pretty soon.”
“Why’d you do that?” I asked. “We don’t need him.”
“I didn’t know what else t’do. I woke up with this funny feelin’, like maybe you needed me. When I got up to see about you, and you weren’t here, I hollered and hollered, but you never answered.” A fine sheen of perspiration covered her face. “I didn’t know where you was, gal, or what’d happened to you. And I still don’t.”
I pulled the other rocker close, sat down, and took her trembling hands in mine. “It’s okay, Granny. I’m home now, and I’m all right.”
“I can see that, gal. I ain’t blind.” Some of her old spunk laced her words. “Now I want you t’tell me where in tarnation you been.”
“You’re not going to like it.”
She snorted. “I ain’t got no doubt about that.”
Yet I hesitated, not wanting to upset her, and knowing that what I was about to say would change things forever.
“Quit jawin’ on it and spit it out.”
I took a deep breath, let it out slowly. “I was with Ira Jamison. We’re—”
“I thought I told you t’stay away from them no account Injuns!” Granny jerked her hands loose from mine.
“Yes, you did. But you never told me why.”
“I did so. They’s trash.” She sounded defensive, angry.
“There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?”
She looked down at her hands that were twisted together on her lap. “They’s trash,” she repeated. “And when I told you t’stay away from both of ’em, I weren’t just wantin’ t’hear myself talk. I don’t want you t’see that half-breed no more, Chloe.”
“He’s my friend and has been for a long time. I like him a lot. I want to go on seeing him, Granny. What’s the harm in it?”
“They’s no accounts. You ain’t gonna have no truck with ’em.”
“But why, Granny?”
Her chin jutted out. “I done told you why.”
“Mr. Jamison told me something different.”
Her head snapped up. “What’d he say?”
“He said . . .” I looked her square in the eyes. “. . . that Ira’s my brother, that my mama’s his mama too.”
Granny’s shoulders sagged. “I just knowed somethin’ like this’d happen. I told David a hundred times that he ought’a tell you.”
My last bit of hope was snuffed out. I felt hollow inside. “It’s true then?”
“Yes, gal, it’s the truth.”
“But why didn’t Mama keep Ira?”
“The Injun didn’t tell you that?”
I looked away. “No.”
“Just dropped it in your lap and seen which way you’d run with it, huh?”
“I guess,” I said, not voicing the real reason: that Ira had killed Mr. Jamison before he’d had a chance to say much more.
“It was decided a long time ago by Melanie’s daddy.”
“But he’s been dead since before I was even born. How could he have anything to do with it?”
“It weren’t just him,” she explained. “Your daddy didn’t want it t’come out neither. He didn’t want nothin’ t’do with an Injun’s get, even if it was Melanie’s too. That was the only thing I knowed of that he wouldn’t do for that evil witch. I thought my boy was a good man what got his head turned by what was betwixt her legs, but it turned out he was tarred with the same brush she was.”
“Why do you keep saying Mama was evil? I don’t understand.”
“Let me start from the first. You might as well know everything.” After a brief pause, she began. “Melanie Henderson always was a wild thing. She was born to the Doc and his wife at’a time when most folks would’ve been bouncin’ their first grandbaby. They spoiled that gal rotten. By the time she was twelve, all the boys here abouts were sniffin’ after her. Some of the men too. She growed up thinkin’ she could have anything she wanted, and she got t’wantin’ John Jamison—though only the good Lord knows why. She was barely fourteen and he nigh on t’thirty and missin’ that leg what got shot off in the war when they started foolin’ around. He was already a hard drinker, but that didn’t bother Melanie none since she had a taste for it herself. Him bein’ an Injun and married to boot didn’t bother her none neither. The way them two carried on, bold as brass.”
“She was so young. Didn’t anyone try to stop it?”
“Nobody had the nerve t’say anything t’the Injun, not even his wife, I reckon. He was too big and ornery to mess with. Melanie just told her folks it was a lie, and they believed ‘er—till she come up pregnant. From what I heard tell, the Injun was all ready t’leave his wife and marry up with her, but Melanie wouldn’t have that. She wanted her daddy to abort the baby, him bein’ a doctor and all, but he wouldn’t since he was Catholic, and they don’t hold with such things. But he didn’t want her t’keep the baby either, so he sent her to some friends in Texas t’have it. Then he went t’the Injun and his wife and offered t’give them the baby if they’d say it was all theirs. Since he couldn’t have Melanie, I don’t think the Injun wanted it a’tall, but his wife did. They’d been married seven or eight years and didn’t have no kids, so I reckon maybe she couldn’t. Karen Jones, the Injun’s wife, went off for a long visit to his relatives on the reservation, and came back with a papoose just before Melanie came back from Texas.”
“Didn’t everyone around here know what was going on?”
“I reckon most folks might’a suspected, but they didn’t know for sure.”
“But you knew, Granny.”
“Because Melanie’s daddy told me all of it before he died.”
“He did? Why?”
She sighed and leaned back in the rocker. A bundle of raw nerves, I sat perched on the edge of mine.
“When Melanie come back from Texas, she took up with your daddy,” Granny said. “It weren’t long before they were makin’ plans t’get married. Anyway, I reckon Doc thought we ought’a know about the Injun’s kid, so when she wouldn’t tell your daddy and me, he did. It didn’t change your daddy’s mind about gettin’ married, but it sure made Melanie mad as all get out at her folks. And it weren’t long after that when she kilt ’em.”
“Her mama and daddy.”
“Mama didn’t kill anyone They died when their house burned down.” I knew Mama had been strange, but a killer?
“Yeah, the fire’s what kilt ’em, but it was Melanie what set it, and your daddy knowed she done it. He lied for her, and may the good Lord forgive me, he talked me into keepin’ quiet about what she’d done. I shouldn’t have. Melanie weren’t quite right in the head. She should’ve been locked up for what she done, but instead I kept my mouth shut and let your daddy marry her.”
“Are you sure, Granny?” I found it hard to picture Mama capable of murdering anyone, but then I thought, Like mother, like son. A chill ran down my backbone.
“Couldn’t you have been mistaken?” I asked.
“Oh, she kilt ’em all right. She showed up here in the middle of the night, laughin’ and goin’ on to your daddy, sayin’ she’d sure fixed ’em. When he finally got her to tell him what she’d done—she’d raked some coals outta the fireplace onto the rug after her folks had went t’sleep—he loaded her in the truck and high-tailed over there. But it was too late; the house had burnt t’the ground with Melanie’s folks in it. Your mama and daddy told everybody they’d come home from a date and found it that way, and nobody was ever the wiser.”
I sat stunned, attempting to take in everything she had told me. She reached over and squeezed my hand. “I know it’s hard to believe, Chloe. If I hadn’t heard her tell your daddy with my own ears, I’d never knowed it myself. If I live t’be a hundred, I’ll never understand how he could still love her after that.”
But I understood, all too well.
“They got married right quick after that, and your daddy moved her in here,” Granny said. “Pretty soon she took t’goin’ on about her baby boy and how her daddy wouldn’t let her keep him, like she hadn’t wanted an abortion in the first place. Then she started in on your daddy for him t’get her baby back for her. He told Melanie that he didn’t want it. They fit a lot about it till she come up pregnant with you. That seemed to calm her down a bit. But me and Melanie never did get along, and it got t’where I was a little scared of her, wonderin’ if I was gonna be next. Finally, I told your daddy t’take her and leave, that I couldn’t live in the same house with her no more. They went plumb across the state. And exceptin’ for a phone call from your daddy ever now and again, that was the last time I heard from ’em.”
Mama’s words skipped across the surface of my mind, about missing him, about making a mistake. Daddy’s words echoed, letting him come between them. The him they had been arguing about was Ira.
Steeling myself for what I was sure would come, I said, “Granny, I didn’t tell you everything about Ira and me.”
To be continued . . .