by Patrick R. Shepard
I once hid money in a jagged hole in the bottom of the hollow wooden bedroom door in my house trailer but Clayton found the bills, more than five hundred dollars, so I now keep my stash in my bra, where he never looks.
Clayton’s not my cousin, but he’s somewhere in our family tree that twists like kudzu. He showed up at a family reunion, his pickup rutting the grass as it fishtailed to a stop at the bottom of the small hill, about ten feet high, where Daddy and I stood, drinking Keystone.
He got out with his father and stepmother, a wall-eyed woman, took one look at me and scrambled up the hill, pumping Daddy’s hand and winking at me as if that would excite me. It did.
“C’mon,” Daddy yelled to his distant kin at the bottom of the hill.
Theo and his wife started climbing; the problem was they were both drunk and fell backward halfway up. They went at it a second time and Theo made it but his wife fell backward again. She screamed, “The hell with it!” and stayed by the pickup. Theo laughed his ass off.
Clayton bumped his broad shoulder against me as we laughed. He had blue eyes and black hair and seemed almost as big as Daddy, who made other large men step aside whenever he entered a bar. I didn’t sleep with Clayton that night, but I did the following weekend when he showed up at our trailer with a six-pack for Daddy and afterwards, two condoms for me. We married a month later when I got knocked up; Clayton had gotten tired of buying rubbers.
Those were the good days when Clayton treated me like I would break if I lifted anything heavy. The doctor announced that the ultrasound showed that I was carrying a boy. Clayton’s blue eyes shined even when he didn’t have a beer buzz, and he often skipped his men’s softball games to stay home with me, which was big time because he was his team’s Mark McGwire. But I lost the baby in my third month, and Clayton lost something that he never got back. He never looked at me the same again, as if I been weighed like a grain truck and had come up light.
As soon as possible, I tried to have another baby; I jumped Clayton’s bones, but he had lost all interest, except when he came home drunk but was limp dick half the time. He acted as if he had given me a chance and I had blown it.
For a while, I believed him.
He stayed out late at night with his buddies and, from what I heard, other women. I once bitched to Daddy, but he just shook his head. “You’re a married woman. You got to handle your own business.” Momma had died when I was ten, so Daddy was all I had, and now I no longer had him.
I started saving a dollar here, a couple there, from running the register at the Dollar General, putting it back because a woman has got to have money to make her own way in a man’s world. Just when I had saved enough to get away from Clayton and go and try my luck in another town, he discovered my money in the bedroom door.
“What the hell is this?”
I looked up, pulling out the casserole dish of Shake and Bake chicken from the oven, and saw him waving my money and rocking back on his boot heels, half drunk.
“That’s mine!” I yelled, grabbing at the money, but he backhanded the shit out of me.
“Been holdin’ out on me!” he shouted, all bowed up.
My head spun. My lip bled. My legs collapsed.
“You can’t birth my son and you steal my money.” He spat on the floor and slammed the trailer front door behind him.
I heard his pickup squall away as one side of my face pressed against the cool linoleum and I smelled the baked chicken and tasted the blood filling my mouth and watched the room darken.
After that night, I started squirrelling away my extra money where I knew Clayton would not look. And I saved even more than before, going hungry at work during lunches and coffee breaks.
One evening I walked over to Daddy’s trailer at the other end of our trailer park. He smiled at me when he opened the door, like he would to a Girl Scout selling cookies that he would tease but never buy from.
“Where’s Clayton?” He stepped back inside his dark trailer; I followed.
“He’ll be home shortly. He’ll hear the same thing I’m about to tell you.”
He plopped down in his cloth chair. “And what’s that?”
He frowned. “Come again?”
“I got a Greyhound ticket to St. Louis.”
“St. Louis? Who in the hell do you know in St. Louis?”
“Nobody. But I’m goin’.”
He ran one hand through his curly, gray hair. “Now hold on here. What’s Clayton goin’ say about this?”
“He’s got no say. Neither do you.”
“I’m just sayin’ bye, Daddy. So,” I shrugged, “bye.” I left his trailer, forcing myself not to wipe my eyes in case he was watching through a window.
Clayton steps through our front door after work, expecting supper before he goes out to the bar to see his friends. His skanks.
I swing his softball bat at his shins and he squeals like a little girl. Bone cracks. He drops to his knees and I clobber his head, knocking him flat on his back. His nose blows red bubbles and his blue eyes never open. I toss the bat on his chest, and walk out, not needing to wipe my eyes.
And my bus ticket is to Memphis.