I’m mopping the kitchen floor with leftover dishwater when I see Leon peeling paint off the back porch, trying for a fast get away. I holler out the open window. “Get back here you ornery shit. You don’t need to be seeing that woman. She’ll poison you.”
“Catch me if ya can Meggy,” he yells running across the yard.
I grab something off the counter and fling it as hard as I can in his direction. He stops and drops. “Really?” I yell. “I’m not buying that, get up.” He’s not budging. “I mean it, get your possum ass back up.”
Then I see the red. God Almighty. I run out in the yard and there’s a butcher knife sticking in his back. Where did that come from? I pull it out and wipe it on my shorts. “Oh no, Leon, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, you know I wouldn’t hurt you for anything in this world.” I pull my blouse off over my head and put it over the bloody gash. Tears fall down my face. I’m pissed as hell. He used to be quicker.
He looks up at me grinning. “Meggy,” he says, “About time you hit something, but that rock’s gonna leave a hell of a bruise. Did ya need to use such a big one’?”
“Honey, it’s bad. Worse than you think.”
He reaches back and feels the wet, then brings his hand round to his face. “Jesus Christ, Meggy, what did you fling at me?”
“That ole butcher knife. I didn’t mean to though. I just grabbed something and sailed it. I wasn’t looking.”
Blood’s coming fast. I press myself up against him to trying to sop it up with the shirt. He gasps and blood bubbles up out of his mouth.
“You’re in trouble,” he says, trying to get a breath… “Pop’s gonna be… be mad…he’ll strap you half to death.
“I don’t care about Pop right now. I need to get you some help.” I look around and see a big, flat rock lying next to the fence. I scramble over, grab it, stuff my blouse in the cut as much as I can without hurting him, and lay the rock on top. “Don’t you move, I’m gonna get someone.”
“Stay.” He grabs my hand. ”Get our story straight.” He’s struggling now. “Tell Pop…I fell.”
“No, that won’t work and shut up talking, so’s I can run and get help. I’ll run up to Lizzie Hughes. She’s a nurse’s aid, she’ll know how to fix you. Stay put.” He closes his eyes and smiles.
“I’ll be here,” he whispers, “less she walks by…then I’m a going with her.”
“Shit,” I say, pulling my hand from his grip. “Don’t start with that mess again. It’s that woman what caused this in the first place.” He starts to hum a song. “Stop it,” I say. “She don’t love you, she don’t love anything but the devil in a man’s pants.”
His face pains. “Don’t talk about that…not your business.”
I stand up, start away, then stop. “Leon?” His eyes are closed.
He nods his head and whispers, “I know.”
I run, shirtless, my titties flicking up and down as I trip over tree roots and broken sidewalks. I don’t wear a brassier. Nobody here to help me with those things and there’s not much to deal with anyways. When I was little, Mama would brush my hair every morning and say, “You’ll grow up to be a beautiful woman someday.”
But she died and nobody tells me that now. I guess I never made it to beautiful and Mama was either pretending or she was just plain wrong.
I get to Lizzie’s and she’s hanging clothes on the line out back. I’m naked from the waist up, covered in blood and I’ve got a butcher knife in my hand. The run got me all worked up and I’m crying and wheezing and can barely get a sane word out of my mouth. “Le..Leon…Oh, Jesus, help…us. Leon’s gone an…well…he, he fell on a knife and died.” What? What am I saying?
“Lord have mercy! Give me that,”she says, jerkin’ the knife out of my hand. She drops a sheet off the line, wraps it around me, binding me up like a nut job in a straight jacket. I start to wail. She slaps me hard cross the face.“Stop it. What happened? What’s wrong with Leon? Where’s your Pop?”
“Pop’s working. Leon’s hurt. Please, we got to go save him.” The sun streams through the wet clothes. A pink, half slip, a girdle and two enormous bras, flip around in the wind, making the light flash and slow down time.
Why did I do that, what’s wrong with me? I’m the worst there is; a bloody, not beautiful, hateful, horrible thing, who just murdered her big brother.
Lizzie pulls me in the house, lets me free my arms up and makes me drink an Alka-Seltzer while she dials the operator. The fizz reminds me of the red bubbles coming out of Leon’s mouth. I jump up, untangle myself and run out the door. Lizzie drops the phone and follows, dragging the sheet along with her. When she sees him lying dead-like on the ground, she starts slapping me, once for every word: “What (slap) in (slap) God’s (slap) name (slap) happened?” (slap)
My head reels, but I deserve it, so I don’t turn away. “We was just fooling round and he fell.”
Leon hears us and opens one eye. His coloring is all wrong. “Just fell.” He mutters.
Lizzie takes the rock off his back, lifts my blood soaked shirt, and says,”help me get him inside.
She puts the sheet across his back and starts to roll him over. He’s a big man and Lizzie struggles to flop him on his back. I stand there sobbing, chewing on my fingers to make them hurt. Drops of sweat fall off her nose and onto my brother’s face. She pulls the ends of the sheet under his arms and back over his head and says,“we got to drag him.” She hands one end of the sheet to me. I put it over my shoulder and we start moving him towards the house. “Keep him high up,” she says. “You done enough damage already.”
“Don’t lie to me Meg Porter,” she says. “Nobody stabs themselves in the back.”
“Yes ma’m, but I didn’t mean…” she gives me a look.
“Meaning and doing are two contrary things that usually gets a person in the same damn mess. If Leon dies, your pop will beat you to death. No man wants a daughter when he could have a son, specially a man without a wife.”
It’s hard to drag him up the porch steps without scraping his back. Leon cries out and a whoosh of blood spurts from his mouth. His eyes open, then he’s gone.
Lizzie and I sit down on the steps beside him and cry. She closes his eyes, smooths his hair and prays. “Lord, please take this boy’s soul to heaven instead of hell where it probably belongs. And forgive this foolish girl. She’s better than most people think. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
She puts her arm around me and says,”You done it now Meggy. Your pop won’t let you last the night.” She takes off her apron and ties it around my neck to cover me.
I shoo flies from Leon’s mouth and watch as cloud shadows change the blood from bright red to crimson. The factory whistle blows in the distance. I know what waits me. I’d just get up and run off, but I can’t leave him like this.
“Well,” I say to Lizzie. “At least that nasty woman won’t ruin him. That’s some comfort.”
Lizzie sighs.”You can’t take comfort, not after what you’ve done.
“Stay.” I say. “Stay till Pop comes. Maybe he won’t hurt me as bad if you’re here too.”
She looks out towards the road and says, “I’ll do more than stay. I couldn’t save Leon, but I’m gonna save you. She fumbles through his pants and pulls out his pocket knife, reaches under him to see where my cut is, lines up and stabs him in the chest hard enough to push through and stick out the other side.”
“Thank you,” I whisper.
We sit there till we see Pop come over the edge of the road. He gets a wild-eyed look and starts running towards us, jerking off his belt, and waving it buckle end out, before he even knows what happened.
Lizzie spreads her arms out, stands up in front of me and says, “No need for that, Mr. Porter. Leon did it himself. Meg and me tried hard to save him. It’s a sorry thing, but your boy fell on his own knife and died.”