Stella got off the phone from arranging for a homecare provider to make daily visits to Beau. And screw what he thought about it, too. She and Jake had planned on going into town for dinner, but now he was in some kind of mood over her attentions to Beau’s health, and over some note Gypsy left, and who knows what else. He’d started popping pills while shoeing horses, complaining of how bad his back hurt. And he was stricken right ornery.
Stella wasn’t sure how long before she’d be back up this way again. She had to leave at first light. There was a board meeting to prepare for. This one for the committee she chaired that helped trafficked women and girls to transition. Ironic, when she considered the path that brought her the means to do such a thing. But then sometimes the antidote came of the poison. And she was good like that. Good at turning a thing her way. Still, any chance of enjoying the evening with Jake was completely unsalvageable. “I’m just going to leave you to keep getting all crossed eyed by yourself. Off to town, love. Don’t wait up.”
He might have responded, but she wasn’t listening. She learned the long and hard way, there was no point carrying on an agitated conversation with anyone under the influence. She grabbed the truck keys and her purse, and walked out of his house, her mind set to make something of the night anyway.
And just to spite him, she took herself for Indian food. Extra spicy. Loads of curry. The one and only place in town she knew he’d never take her. It was good to be free. Good to have choices. Life was good. The chaos could spin all around, but for her, life was damn good.
She called the local theatre for the movie listings, but nothing appealed to her. A couple of kids’ flicks and a trio of action and adventure movies. Typical. Beau was still weighing on her mind, so she decided on picking up a couple lattes and some soup from the new hipster shop where the barber used to be. She could read to him maybe. Something from his library. Service, or Frost, or some other old dead guy. He’d like that.
When she opened the cabin door her heart fell to the floor. Beau was motionless in his bed, the fire long gone out. And then he coughed and sputtered and rolled over. He was alive! Of course he was. Stubborn old man. She put the lattes in one pot, and the soup in another, both having gone cold on the drive out to his place, stoked the fire, took up a chair, and waited for some heat to bring the place back to life.
Staring into the lamplight, it came back to her so vividly now. She shook her head. Stood up and perused the books on the corner shelf. But it wanted to be remembered. And things that want to be remembered have a way of hijacking sentiments against a person’s will.
A fly buzzed about the Aero Stream and landed on Beauregard’s nose. It crawled in and out of his nostril, but he was passed out cold.
Here Stella was thinking, she might have some way to keep her baby. Some kind of opportunity that didn’t involve the way the nuns handled things. Teenagers dream impossible things like that. Scenarios with happy endings that don’t add up in reality. Reality had just told her the exact score. She’d been delivered her into the mouth of a lion.
But she had a plan.
She opened the cupboard above the sink, careful not to let the hinges creak. She knew Beauregard kept a coffee can up there with a stash of money in it. The plan was to get the money and split. Head west. Maybe waitress unit the baby was born and she got her figure back, and then try her luck in the movies.
She strained on her tip toes, searching blindly for the can, until she grasped her hand around it. As she brought it down, a long strip of course woven fabric fell at her feet. What gave him the right, she thought, running her hands over the blue sash. What gave him the right?
She pulled the bills from the can and stuffed them down the front of her pinafore.
Yeah, what the hell gave him the right? His pants sat in a heap on the floor. She slid the leather belt from them and placed it on the table. He had no right. No man did. The plan just got significantly more detailed. From her belongings, she pulled a needle and a spool of thread. She cut a long strip from the spool with her teeth and slid it through the eye of the needle, methodically, fear giving way to the clock work of machinations clicking in her skull. He was the lion, but she was the snake. The one he couldn’t see coming up on him.
She folded the already bunching sheet over his body and started at the bottom of his feet by joining the ends together with the needle and thread. Her fingers worked quickly, making short sturdy stitches, ones that would hold. Before she placed the final stitches at the top, she hoisted her dress, wiped her ass with the sash and draped it across his face. And then she calmly finished entombing him in his bed sheet shroud.
An amateur might have thought to use the buckle end of the belt. But Stella was no amateur when it came to the use of a belt, only now she got to be on the giving, and not the receiving end. If you did it right, you could cut flesh like a knife through butter, given the proper belt and technique. She wound the buckle end around her hand.
Drool had soaked through where the sheet covered his face and his breathing was becoming strained and laboured. She raised her hands above her head and brought the belt down over the wet spot in the sheet. Beauregard was like a cat in a grain sack— alive and thrashing all at once. She smacked the belt across his body again. He let out a sour shriek. It fuelled her rage and she whipped him again. She whipped him for every single man she ever knew, and everyone she didn’t. For the priest who shattered her fairy-tale dreams and taught her the dirty cost of love. For the Irish prick that never even gave her mother a pound of bacon. For the school boys who told her she was an ugly whore and her freckles were bird shit. Fuck them all.
He writhed in the sheet, trying to claw his way to freedom. He wriggled and squirmed, until he fell from the bed and landed on the floor with a thud.
Stella drove her right foot through the air, connecting it with his ribs. The sheet nearly exploded, as if the thing inside had been jolted by an electrical current. The fabric began to rip. She dropped the belt, grabbed her leather bag and ran for her life.
One of the cowboys called after her, as she crossed the park lawn, but she kept right on running. She wasn’t stopping for nothing.
The first cowboy to find Beauregard collapsed just inside the door, he was laughing so hard. The second had to step back out of the trailer to catch his breath, tears rolling down his cheeks..
“Sorry, boss. I know it ain't funny,” the first cowboy said, taking out a jack knife to cut the rest of the sheet away.
The second cowboy had composed himself enough to find a cup and some whiskey. “Here, Mr. Plait, I bet you could use this.”
Beauregard slammed the cup and went to work directly on the bottle. His hair, usually coiffed to perfection with brill cream, scattered every which way. A stabbing sliver of pain each time he took a breath, told him he probably had a broken rib or two. Well, she had spunk; he had to give her that.
“What happened?” the first cowboy asked.
“Little bitch sewed me up in my own sheets while I was sleeping and hung a lickin on my hide.” A smile of admiration crossed his lips for the cunning of it. She was clever. And scrappy. He hadn’t felt so rough since the time he’d been caught cheating at cards by a couple of sailors in Michigan.
The blue sash on the floor.
She was clever. Too fuckin clever.
The sash that had been in the cupboard.
He ripped the open the door open and grabbed the coffee can.