By Emily Graham
It was after midnight when he came calling. The rattle of his knock on my metal screen door woke me. I was dressed lightly. Even at night, it had been sweltering in the little house. Randall Clem Casey was standing on my front porch, his hands thrust deep in his pockets and his face coated in sweat, dressed in the same cut off shirt and ratty jeans as always. He had wandered in and out of my life since high school. His work boots hitting the wood floor of my bedroom had once been a comforting sound. Now I resented his thundering steps as we made our way through the house.
“What’s the matter with you? It’s late Randy.”
“Autumn I did somethin’. Somethin’ I’m gonna spend the rest of my life in prison for.”
“What are you talkin’ about?”
“I didn’t know where else to go.”
Randall was pacing. He was wound tight; I could see that much. As I watched him, I slipped back in time to the summer we were together. I could recall the smell of motor oil, the sound of his laugh while we nakedly whispered to each other for hours. He was a different person now, a man I didn’t know. I kept my arms crossed, leaning on the door to my room out of
some intuition of flight. My hair was draped anxiously over my shoulder, un-brushed and needing to be washed. I wasn’t self-conscious, not the way I usually was around him. In this moment, there were other things weighing more heavily. He stopped in front of the window and lifted his hat to run a filthy hand through his hair.
“I didn’t mean to do it. It just happened so fast.”
“Randall, what are you talking about? You still haven’t told me.”
“I was with Martin tonight.”
His body shuddered and all at once I realized this was what he looked like sobbing. He bent double, holding himself up by resting his hands on his knees. It was such an ugly noise, a sound that made me unsure about everything in my life. I had never seen Randy cry, not even when he broke his fingers a few years back.
“My god… what happened?
“I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t mean to.”
“Where is Martin, Randy? Look at me for Christ-sake.”
Randy didn’t stand, nor did he turn to face me. Instead, he continued to make that awful sound, the sound of my deepest fears. It was only us, bathing in the judgment of the moon. He stood up straight and drew an arm across his face. I had forgotten how tall he was, how thin his arms were. His narrow face, scarred from acne and exaggerated by his thin sly mouth, used to be less desolate. Randy had been my first, and because of that misguided fact, I was always going to care for him. Damn me for it now.
“He’s dead. I think I killed him.”
He wasn’t sobbing anymore. He was pale, haunted. He didn’t blink. His hands formed to fists and the hair on the back of my neck rose.
I was sitting in the passenger seat of Randy’s old Ford truck. I didn’t know much about cars, what year his was or whatever. I only knew that the window on my side didn’t work and I felt like I was suffocating. We didn’t pass a single car on the way to the garage Randy worked. He had convinced me I needed to help him, to check and see if Martin was okay because he couldn’t do it alone. He didn’t speak, just gripped the steering wheel as if it was the only thing keeping him from floating into space. I didn’t say much either. As we rounded the wheat field on the outskirts of town and pulled into the gravel parking lot of the garage, he began shaking. He tried to hide it, balling up his hands and bracing his body on the back of his seat. There was no color in his face.
“He’s up behind there, the metal building.”
“Will you go with me.”
We got out of the truck, big heavy doors thudding against the silent backdrop of the small-town stillness. That time of year, the crickets drown out most other sounds in the evening. Little fiddle players in the tall grasses. That night, you wouldn’t have known they were there at all. My feet were dragging, my stomach swirling in on itself. But I followed. The gravel churned underfoot as we passed through the parking lot. I remember thinking it was louder than breaking glass. I was walking towards the end of reality and the whole world must know it, hear it. We passed the main garage and onto the soft earth behind the secondary building Randy had pointed out. We waded through some overgrowth before coming to a small clearing with a metal drum in its center. It was still lit up with the fire from earlier in the night. Beer cans littered the area, cigarette buds mingled with miscellaneous other garbage. And when I saw him, spread-eagle on the ground and outlined in shadow, all the breath in me was snatched away. I came to a halt, grabbing at Randy’s thin wrist and snapping the other hand to my mouth. A feeling filled me and disgusted me in an instant. My legs buckled and I fell, dust rising from under me as I did. Randy did not stop my fall, nor did he allow me to continue to hold him. He crossed to the body quickly and hunched over it. His unstable fingers reached down to touch Martin’s neck before he removed his hat, sunk his face into his hands, slumped to the ground and that horrible sound that had filled my room began to echo up and out into the dark air.
The smell of smoke was dancing in my nostrils when I witnessed Randall Clem Casey drag the lifeless body of his friend, Martin, into the field and out of sight. I remained collapsed, hand still over my mouth, bugs swarming around my face. The spot where Martin had been was black in the limited light. Like an inkblot on paper, it burned an image to the back of my eyes. I
had to get rid of it, I had to erase it. I got to my feet and in one wild motion, kicked the barrel over, sending ash and embers flying. For a little while, it all burned contentedly, slowly-ineffectively disguising the mark of sin that had been left in anger upon the dirt. I waited for Randy to return in silence, standing over the smoldering pile. The crickets returned and their music pounded alongside my heartbeat in my ears. When all this ruin found me again, I would whither in its misery just like Randy. Randy whose soul was surely dammed, cursed to hold the bucket of flesh he had stolen in obscurity of thought for all his life. His hands would be forever stained, his wrists forever shackled by his own servitude to rage. I hadn’t realized he was back until he started screaming. The cloud of guilt already hung over his eyes as he came at me, face contorted in emotion and mouth wide with panic. The embers from the barrel had set the surrounding grass on fire in my mental absence. My effort to escape the reality of our situation had most certainly doomed us both. And this is the split second of time they tell you about- in the movies and in the interrogation room, the police shredding you to tiny pieces. Why did I not run or make some form of escape? Why would I not leave as soon as Randy disappeared into the field, get help? Why would I let this happen before me like some bystander, or worse? I had no answer for it. Not the day the police picked me up at work, not the day I sat in a courtroom full of people I didn’t know. I would spend a lifetime with no answer. I just had to get that blood off the ground. The heinous brutality, hidden in the murky depths of one man’s conscious would be washed away and I could go home to my couch and my pajamas, free and clear of any obligation to justice or moral standard. We would both be free, I had thought, watching the flames devour the dry landscape. I remember the day he died, my Randy. I was sitting in my concrete room, feet freezing in the Texas evening and head hung low.
“That motherfucker’s dead Autumn. Got beat to death for taking some shoes or somethin’.”
“Good. Now maybe he can be with Jesus if he made the right call before the reaper came.”
Maybe he could be, but I didn’t think he was.
Category: Short Story