Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Short Story
1619 words
SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Crossing the Line

by Leah Weiss

Sadie struggled to her feet, straightened her back and lifted her chin, then he hit her again. This time she stayed down while he counted “...eight, nine, ten,” then walked out the trailer door and slammed it hard. The latch didn’t catch and the door popped open. Sadie lay on the floor and watched Roy cross the dirt yard and disappear into the woods. Her world had gone sideways again.

“Sadie.” Her daddy’s voice came softly from behind her eyes. “You got yourself in a pickle this time. No two ways about it. Roy won’t stop ’til you draw your last breath. You don’t even look like yourself no more. He broke about every piece of you, girl. You gonna let him break your spirit, too? You gonna just lay there?”

I’m tired, Daddy. Let me rest for a spell. I don’t know if I can lift up my head just yet.

Now her daddy’s voice came from the yard. “If I could follow the bastard and kill him for you, I would, but it don’t work like that.” His voice drifted toward his truck up on blocks. “Don’t lay there too long, Sadie. You don’t need rest.” His words faded and she strained to hear “You need a plan.”

I’m thinking, Daddy.

Percy scampered in from the hunt carrying a baby chipmunk missing its head, and he dropped his gift by Sadie’s hand. When she just lay there, he nudged it closer until she raised a finger and touched the fur. He crawled on the small of her back and curled up like it was normal for him and Sadie to nap on the floor. His purrs vibrated into her spine.

I need a plan, Percy. One I can live with. One that don’t shout killer when the sheriff comes calling. Percy was always short on advice but a good listener.

While Sadie collected strength to move, the shadows lengthened in the trees and the air cooled crossing the threshold. She put her palms on the floor, pushed herself to her knees and Percy slid off her backside without complaint. Her arms trembled from exertion. A bloody smear on the floor marked where her head had landed. She brushed sticky hair off her temple, held on to the Formica countertop and stood, wincing. Roy had cracked another rib.

“You know what you got to do.” Her daddy’s voice burrowed inside her ear, concerned.

I do? Tell me and I’ll do it.

“You’ll figure it out. You got brains you don’t even know about yet.” He loved her better in death than he ever did in life. In life he once threw a night with his ten-year old daughter in the poker pot in lieu of ten dollars. He won the hand. Said he counted on it. But she knew he would have made good on his bet if he’d lost.

Gripping her side, she shuffled to the bathroom and rinsed dried blood off her face, then studied the reflection in the cracked mirror. A tooth was loose, lip split, eye weeping. She looked for herself inside mangled features and matted hair. Who’d have thought a tender-hearted girl married five months and six days ago would come to this.

“Don’t let your guard down, little girl. Roy sold his soul to the devil long ago. You make sure the devil claims it soon.” She raised her nose to sniff her daddy’s cigarette smoke, but there was no smell this time.

Sadie stepped back into the kitchen to start supper. It wouldn’t do for Roy to come back and find nothing to eat. She put on a pot of beans, heated the iron skillet and dropped pieces of rabbit flesh in hot lard. The smell of cooking grease gagged her. She pressed her knuckles against her mouth to keep from throwing up. Dropped a dishrag on the floor and used her foot to wipe up blood. When the food was ready, she sat on the stained sofa and waited.

“You done right, fixing supper,” her daddy spoke from the hallway. “What you gonna do now?”

He passes out drunk sometimes but I don’t want to use a gun or ax. Hard to explain. Easy to get caught. I’m thinking poison. I want to see his eyes when he knows what I done.

“What kinda poison?”

Hemlock. It grows in the ditch nearby.

“What’ll you put it in?”

His moonshine. It’ll mask the mousy smell.

She sensed her daddy’s smile in the gloom and it uplifted her. “I said you was smart, girl.”

Her husband came home with a string of fish he threw in the sink, grabbed a beer, turned on the TV and flopped on the sofa, ignoring her. Percy slinked out before Roy’s foot could find him. Sadie handed the man a plate of food avoiding his eyes. She cleaned the fish and put them in the icebox then headed to the back room and sat on the edge of the bed. Roy guzzled beer and talked at the TV. Wheel of Fortune was a favorite. “The New York Yankees, you dumbass... Everybody knows that.” He belched and got another beer.

In the dimness her daddy’s spirit pressed up against her spine. It felt like a heater casting warmth against hollow bones. “Don’t get second thoughts, girl. Don’t think you can change this man, ’cause you can’t. You hear me?”

I hear you.

“Now go to sleep. You need your rest to do the deed.”

Roy had fallen asleep on the sofa, snoring, with the TV on all night. When Sadie got up at first light, muscles stiff and face still swollen, she found the floor around him littered with beer cans and a half-empty jar of moonshine. His head hung to the side with the mouth slack, drooling. She picked up trash, put on coffee, clicked off the TV and stepped outside to breathe clean air. Percy appeared at her ankles, meowing. “I see you, kitty, but I’m too sore to bend down to love on you.”

“You too sore to bend down for me?” Roy stood in the doorway scratching his crotch lazy-like and yawning. His saliva was thick, his lips dry and cracked. When Sadie ignored his crudeness, his face grew dangerous. “Pack two lunches. Me and Billy going hunting.” He added with disgust, “And clean yourself up. You look like shit.”

Sadie stayed out of her husband’s way while he wolfed down stale donuts and gulped coffee while collecting his hunting gear. Billy showed up in the yard and his weasel eyes sought her out. Whistled when he saw her battered face. “Damn, you already used this one up, buddy.” He slapped Roy on the back, laughing, and they left.

Sadie poured a cup of strong coffee, drank it leisurely standing in the doorway staring hard into the woods then gently put the chipped cup in the sink. Still wearing yesterday’s bloodied dress, she walked to the shed for a shovel with Percy by her side. Jumped when a hunter’s gunfire sounded close by. Walked the dirt road to the ditch with hemlock. Drove the pointy shovel deep into the loamy soil. Pulled the roots free with her calloused hands. Shook off the dirt and filled the hole. Dragged the shrub home and freed the toxic roots with a hatchet. She hid the rest under dead leaves.

“Good thinking, girl.” Her daddy’s voice draped weightless across her tired shoulders. “Be careful of that mousy smell when you boil them roots. Don’t want to tip him off.”

Percy’s gonna help, Daddy.

The water boiled and the plan cooked. She went to the yard and struggled to pull Roy’s stash of moonshine from some hollow logs underneath the trailer. She brought the jars inside, unscrewed the tops, poured a portion down the sink and refilled them with poison. Her heart fluttered against her fragile shell like a trapped sparrow flapping for freedom. When the jars were back in place alongside two dead rats, Sadie washed up, changed her cotton dress and sat on the sofa with her knees together.

While Percy slept in her lap, she sipped a soda and waited patiently as light leaked out of the sky and hope took tenuous hold of her heart. A nervous giggle bubbled up her bruised throat. Life’s gonna be different, Percy. You’ll see. We gotta be patient a little longer. She rubbed behind his ears the way he liked.

A voice flew out of the air. “Sadie, you in there?”

She jumped and spilt soda on the rug. It wasn’t Roy or her daddy’s voice.

“Sadie, come on out,” Billy shouted again. “Roy done got shot.”

The girl stepped down from the trailer into the twilight where Roy’s body lay on a makeshift stretcher. His camouflage coat had a dark patch the size of a pie. “Somebody took him for a buck I guess. I brung him home for you.”

Sadie blinked. It could be a trick. Roy could pop up to scare her. But when Billy stepped toward her, traced a line down her throat with his dirty finger and squeezed her nipple through the thin fabric, she knew Roy was dead.

“I’ll be back,” he whispered roughly, then licked her cheek and snickered as he walked away.

The girl looked down at the body of her dead husband looking smaller than he usually did. Looked back at the trailer that didn’t appear half-bad in the dusky light. Looked at the back of Billy’s weasel body leaving. Sadie locked her jaw and lifted her chin. “Hey, Billy,” she called out strong. “Why don’t you take Roy’s moonshine? He won’t be needing it now.”


SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Leah Weiss

Photo of Leah Weiss

began her writing career as a contributing writer for a local magazine. She writes short stories and memoirs, and has completed a novel whose opening chapter won first prize in a national contest.

Her work has been published in Deep South Magazine, Blue Lake Review, and Every Day Fiction, and is forthcoming in The Simple Life magazine. She won the December 2011 Writers Journal “Write to Win” contest.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury