Prose Header

What Comes Around

by Gary Clifton

“Mama, man comin’ up the lane,” Clarissa, eyes wide, burst in the door, the armload of firewood she’d gathered scattering across the rough wooden floor. Blustery wind blew a blush of snow in behind her.

“Man? On foot in this weather?” Sally Rose pushed the door closed and pulled back the burlap curtain. “My God, child, it’s Billy Dee.”

“He gonna kill us, Mama?” Her vivid red hair was clean and combed, like her mama’s, but not even a distant color match to Sally Rose’s brunette.

“No, baby,” Sally Rose pulled her mackinaw off a hook beside the door. Tugging the coat on, she felt the weight of the .38 she kept in the pocket as protection against wayward drifters. She doubted she had the nerve to use it.

“Clarissa, dial the long ring. Tell the operator to send Sheriff Anderson out right away. Billy Dee Jones has come ‘round.”

She stepped out onto the porch into the blowing snow. Sharp wind through the tall southern pines moaned softly.

“Billy Dee, man ought not to be out in this weather.” She tried to soothe the quiver in her voice into a pleasant tone. “Catch your death.”

She subconsciously touched the scar on her forehead. He’d aged twenty years during his eight in prison. A scar across his nose, flecks of grey in the bright red hair visible beneath the hoodie, a single front tooth missing only added to the ugly, permanent scowl molded on his hard face. From twenty feet, his eyes warned he was drunk.

“You walk all the way up here, Billy Dee?”

“Hell, yeah.” He kicked in the snow like a proud bull.

“Hadn’t heard you was home. You bust out?” This time she was unable to cover the fear in her voice. He saw it and grinned.

He stopped, boots planted in deep snow ten or twelve feet from the steps. “Paroled. Last week. Stayin’ over at Mama’s. Jes’ wanted to see my baby girl.” He leaned sideways to try for a glimpse of Clarissa, who had come out onto the porch and was hiding behind her mother. “She mine, too, Sally Rose.”

“Mama,” Clarissa whispered. “Sheriff’s comin’, but it’s gonna take thirty minutes in the snow.”

“Billy Dee, you only served what: eight years for what you done to me?” Sally Rose touched her forehead again.

“Sally Rose, you know you was a wantin’ it. You damn well know it waren’t no rape. Look at the fine child we got.”

“You mighta planted her Billy Dee, but she sure as hell ain’t your child. And if you’re thinkin’ your trash mouth hurts her, she already knows how she got started. Buck’s her daddy.”

His grin morphed into a leer.

“Billy Dee, I’d only gone over to that movie in Bee Gap with you ’cuz you begged. You gotta know I had no intention of goin’ all the way with you. I was fourteen and didn’t know no better.”

“Ain’t the way you acted, Sally Rose. Men like me know when a woman is wantin’ to.”

“Was part of that ‘knowin’’ why you near beat me to death?” She felt the scar for a third time.

“Aw, Sally Rose.”

“Billy Dee, Buck be comin’ home soon. He catch you here, there’ll be hell to pay. Now leave the same way you got here.”

“Sally Rose, I jes’ come from town. Buck on a run down to the county seat. Won’t be back till after dark. Reckon I could jes’ come in outta this cold for a cup of coffee?” He took several steps toward her. “I can tell you glad to see me.”

“Don’t come no closer, Billy Dee. It ain’t coffee you’re after.”

“Sally Rose, I been dreaming about havin’ some more of you for eight long years.” He put one foot on the bottom step.

Even in the wind, she caught a whiff of whiskey breath. “Stop, Billy Dee. Now.”

“Baby, I can tell you’re ready.” He rose another step, kicking snow off the boards for better traction.

“Sheriff Anderson already said he’d lock you up for comin’ up here. You wantin’ to go back to the joint.” Her hands freezing, she thrust them deep in her coat pocket, brushing the cold metal of the .38.

“You scared, ain’tcha, baby?”

Terrified, she retreated slightly toward the door. “Yes, I’m scared. Please stop, dammit... Now... please.”

He chanced another step, now onto the porch floor. Reaching out, he said, “Aw hell, girl, scared makes it better. Whutchu gonna do about it?”

Terror-driven, her survival instinct flared. She whipped the .38 from her coat pocket. The sharp report of the pistol echoed across the trees to the far side of the valley.

“What somebody shoulda done long ago, Billie Dee.”

Face frozen in a stunned expression of shock and death, Billy Dee fell stiffly backward like a cut juniper tree, landing face up, one foot still twitching on the bottom step. Eyes staring upward at eternity somewhere above the trees, his body oozed a slowly widening circle of crimson in the bright white snow.

Clarissa peeked around her mother. “He dead, Mama?”

“Think so, baby. Let Mama stay out here and watch, ’case he ain’t gone. You run in and tell the operator I kilt Billy Dee.”

“She’s jes’ gonna tell me it’s gonna be a while before the sheriff gets here.”

“Well, baby, he oughta be good and dead by that time. Now use the phone.”

Sally Rose stood on the edge of the porch, still pointing the .38 at the dead man stretched out below her. Blowing snow had already started a slight drift on the north side of his body. Soon, he’d be covered, but his memory would remain, permanently burned into her.

She touched her forehead one more time. “Shoulda not come out here, Billy Dee.” She lowered the pistol. “Not never.”

Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton

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